Ben&Ben shows us that friendship and artistry are two sides of the same coin

Ben&Ben shows us that friendship and artistry are two sides of the same coin

“This album is the first album that’s really a super solid mesh and collaboration between all nine of us, equally.”

There are two narratives that form the double helix of the Ben&Ben success story.

There’s the career trajectory narrative, which frames success in terms of clout and sales. After the release of an EP under the stage name the Benjamins and a PhilPOP song that landed them on the cultural radar, Miguel Guico and Paolo Guico, the two Benjamins in question, carved a place for themselves in the local music scene as the little folk pop act that could. What began as a duo evolved into a nine-piece. The band’s crossover potential was realized. Their songs play in malls, in schools, in coffee shops, with the kind of ubiquity most musicians have to work decades to achieve. The official release of “Limasawa Street” is getting the kind of pomp and pageantry normally reserved for British Royal Family weddings. At the center of it all are the two brothers. Double barrel frontman power. The stars of the show.

But there’s also the other narrative. The one which involves violinist Keifer Cabugao forming his creative foundation by jamming out to Yellowcard. The one which involves keyboardist Patricia Lasaten testing the extent of her musicianhood and sharpening her pop savvy in her old band Runway Hits. The one which involves Toni Muñoz getting her groove in percussion collective Briganda before divvying up beat duties with fellow drummers Jam Villanueva and Andrew de Pano. The one where guitarist Poch Barretto and bassist Agnes Reoma bring their music production knowledge in the booth. Ben&Ben aren’t just Ben and Ben.

Ben&Ben’s debut album is a “super solid mesh and collaboration” between all nine members.

“From January to May of 2017” shortly after the release of the then-duo’s EP as The Benjamins “we started playing as a unit, all nine of us,” Paolo shares. “It was a very interesting time kasi we weren’t official yet as a band, but we really stuck together. And I think one of the things that really made us stick together was what happened outside the gigs. Eating, fellowship, movies, and all of that stuff that really bonded us, more than just because we played together.”

Listening to Paolo and Miguel talk about how the band formed feels like watching your favorite tito reminisce while looking at a photo album. During that five month period in which everyone was still getting a feel of each other, “I would initiate small talk,” Miguel says. “Kunyari, “O, si Toni! Nag-college of music! O diba, kayo rin? Okay… talk.” The rest of the band lets out a laugh, with the kind of tone you only hear from friends who’ve known each other for years. “Talk about your commonalities!”

 

If there is anything that deserves the illumination of the gigantic lantern on the album’s cover art, it’s the fact that the Ben&Ben success story is a story of friendship.

 

 

There is actually one thing that binds everybody from Ben&Ben together, aside from a mutual love for John Mayer, a story that involves, as Andrew recounts, scouring different stores for a flash drive to put the album in, and Poch keeping Mayer’s pick in a frame. (“It has his fingerprints!!!”) It’s a shared willingness to let the ego step back, and serve the song before the self.

This is something Poch learned while serving in music ministry. “Something that I really value from what I learned, playing music in church, is the importance of serving the song, more than the instrument that you play,” he says. “So whatever the song must give, musically, emotionally, serve that.”

For Patricia, this was a shift in her old creative process in Runway Hits. “When I was starting out, kasi bagong-bago ako sa band, feel na feel ko ‘[D]apat kaya kong i-play lahat, so I’ll play everything!’” she says. “But with eight other people, I had to adjust, and respect, and give everyone space to play.” Even Toni, Jam, and Andrew align with this exercise of restraint, which is an amazing thing to hear from three drummers. Kidding aside, Andrew puts it best when he says, “After months or years of playing as nine members, you kinda realize that it really shouldn’t be about you.”

“Limasawa Street” is out now.

The funny, paradoxical thing about this creative self-erasure approach is, because it prevents egos from competing, everyone gets a chance to strut their stuff in “Limasawa Street.” “The first few songs kasi were very centred on yung roots nila [Ben and Ben] as a duo. We just built on top of that,” Andrew says of the act’s earlier work. “But this album is the first album that’s really a super solid mesh and collaboration between all nine of us, equally.”

Consider Keifer taking the lyrical reigns in War, or Poch’s searing leads in Pagtingin, or Agnes’s pulsing bass in the album’s title track. As Miguel puts it, “I guess one of the goals of the album, musically, was really to introduce the full spectrum of what Ben&Ben sounds like.” If fans of Ben&Ben loved them when they were still finding their footing, wait till they get a load of the nine-piece now, perfectly in step, in both meter and emotional wavelength.

By the time you read this, the date will have already passed, but May 10 was an anniversary. Paolo describes May 10, 2017, as the DTR moment of the band, one in which the unit came to officially be, and everyone vowed their commitment to the come-what-may, amor fati deal of pursuing music together.

You could say, then, that “Limasawa Street” is an anniversary gift, and that if there is anything that deserves the illumination of the gigantic lantern on the album’s cover art, it’s the fact that the Ben&Ben success story is a story of friendship. You watch everybody in the band banter and jive with each other in comfortable earnestness, and see that sense of joy transfer to their performances in the way they draw the crowd in with open arms, and you’re sure, the story cannot be told any other way.

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Get to know all nine members of Ben&Ben with these handy collector’s cards.

Photos by Kitkat Pajaro
Styling by Poch Barretto
Shot on location at Artesania
Tags:
#friendship #music

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