As the year draws to a close, one of Hong Kong’s largest homegrown music successes will once again take to the stages at the Central Harbourfront. Clockenflap, now in its twelfth year, is welcoming a host of artists and musicians back to our shores, including international household names like Halsey, controversial hip-hop artist Lil Pump, Brit crooners Mumford & Sons, and Japan’s inimitable Babymetal.
One surprising act has found itself on this year’s line-up: Philippine nine-piece extraordinaire, Ben & Ben. Though their name may not (yet) be familiar to Hong Kong audiences, rest assured that you have probably heard one or two of their songs before in passing. After all, in their three short years of being a band, they have racked up more than 150 million Spotify plays for the tracks Maybe the Night
and Kathang Isip
combined and found their songs included on the soundtracks of Philippine featured films. Not bad for a band who has only just released their debut album earlier this year.
Ahead of Ben & Ben’s Clockenflap debut, we speak to Paolo and Miguel Guico, the twin brothers who started the band and now serve as its vocalists, guitarists, and songwriters. They share with us their musical background, the challenges, and endless fun of being part of a large touring family.
Tell us a little bit about your journey as a band. How did you get to where you are today and how did you end up recruiting seven more people into the band?
Miguel: Back in 2014 when we were university students, my brother and I had a duo called the Benjamins. We started writing songs, performing them mostly to our friends and family. We grabbed every opportunity to play! It wasn’t really a full-time thing since we were both taking up engineering degrees during that time. However, it was in these shows that we got to know musician friends from other groups as well, most of which later on became our bandmates.
Years later in 2016, immediately after graduation, we decided to try music as a full-time pursuit. We then gathered some of our trusted friends to try recording the songs and playing them in a one-night-only show. We then decided to stick together ever since.
When we began, original band music wasn’t as big in the Philippines, but we played anyway. We did all kinds of shows in different places. It’s been an uphill journey ever since, but we’ve enjoyed every step of the climb. Today, we’re very grateful for the immense love we receive from our listeners everywhere we play.
The reason why Ben & Ben is a nine-piece band is that we wanted to bring back a truly live sound so that our audience can really feel raw human energy and emotions flowing in every song during a live performance.
As a nine-person band, what difficulties do you face when working together on ideas and songs, or when travelling together?
M: The most important thing both in creation and travelling is direction, balance, and clear communication. We always make sure that everyone is able to move and decide freely and at peace, but our minds and hearts are aligned towards a unified direction.
It’s a struggle to achieve and we’re all well aware of that, but we always keep these things in mind as we go along. That’s why communication is so important because nothing is left unsaid and clarity is always achieved on all ends. However, the hardest of all our challenges is deciding where to eat. Just kidding!
It took a few years to get around to releasing your debut album, but now, with a deal with Sony Philippines under your belt, you’re one of this year’s biggest runaway successes. What was that process like?
Paolo: On our second anniversary as a band, we released our first-ever album, Limasawa Street
. Artistically, we wanted to be sure of our sonic identity first before releasing our debut. We wanted to come up with a record that tells stories from our place of origin, Manila, but speaks to a universal audience. We wanted our music to be there for the people who need help in getting to a better state of mind and being. We also wanted something that sounds both lush and intimate, incorporating organic acoustic guitar sounds with percussion rhythms, substance-driven guitar lines, hopeful piano passages, and violin melodies.
We put out a lot of singles before moving on to the album. We didn’t rush anything and we felt that we have to know each other in the deepest way possible both musically and personally before embarking on such a huge milestone.
Finally, we wanted to develop a close relationship with our fan community because they got us to where we are now. So when the time was right, we locked ourselves up for five days to finish writing and arranging for the album.
We spent the first four months of the year to record all of it while
touring and shooting a film we were part of as well. It was the most difficult project we’ve done as a band, but we’re extremely happy with the results, and we’re even happier that our fans love it and that the community is just growing bigger and bigger after our release. We just really want to reach out to as many people as possible.
You have built up quite a following in the Philippines. Is it hard to translate that success off of the island and into the rest of Southeast Asia?
M: We’ve only just begun sharing our music to audiences outside the Philippines, so it’s safe to say that we’re just diving in head-first with the excitement of translating our vision in other parts of the region. For sure, it’ll be a rather steep climb uphill, but we’ll just enjoy the whole process. Hopefully, we’ll be able to rub off some of that infectious energy to the new audiences we’ll meet.
Most of your songs are written in Tagalog. What are your thoughts on how an international audience can relate to your lyrics?
P: We owe it to our Filipino fans who got us here to write in our language, but we also express our own perspectives, thoughts, and ideas about life and its intricacies in languages that are universally understandable. Thus we plan on releasing more songs in English and other languages starting in 2020. Melody, however, is universal, and we’ve gotten several messages from people about how our music moved them, even if it is in Tagalog and not in their language.
M: At the end of the day, people long for understanding, acceptance, and love, no matter what language, nationality, or religion you are in. And so we want to bring out these messages especially in these times.
This will be Ben & Ben’s second time performing in Hong Kong, and you’ll get to do it in a big way on a Clockenflap stage after a small debut at the Wanch in April. What are you most excited about for your next trip to Hong Kong?
P: We’re excited to eat. We’re also excited to play for both our fans in Hong Kong and the general music audience since it’s our first time to play in such a big international festival. We’re nervous but we’ll do our best!
M: We’ve also decided to be head-on in supporting the festival. We believe that we all need music that heals, moves, and unites these days. Clockenflap is a symbol of that especially this year, and so we’ll just enjoy playing our music to anyone out there who’ll listen!
Hong Kong has a large Filipino population. How are you hoping to connect with them while you are in Hong Kong?
P: Definitely! We want to hang out with them, as they are a big part also of why we got all these opportunities. We also want to connect to any nationality as well, because as musicians, there is the chance to connect deeply regardless of origin or race. We want to do our best to achieve that.
Any words of advice for young, budding musicians who are just starting out?
M: Trust the process! Plan out well, but don’t think too much. After you feel that there’s enough of a plan, just dive into it head-on and enjoy every step. You’ll see that a lot of things won’t go exactly as planned, but eventually, they’ll turn out fine anyway as long as you learn to trust, breathe, and keep on moving. Also, listen more than you play. A lot of what comes out of you when writing and performing is from what is stored in your subconscious memory.
Tell us about your plans for 2020 and beyond.
P: We want to spread our music throughout Asia and beyond. We would love to collaborate with artists from Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore and more! We’d love to share more of who we are and our sound to these places. It would be such a dream to reach that point.
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