Journey into Paranoid City
Filipino synth pop band Paranoid City rocked their first show in Malaysia just a few weeks ago during Asian Connection, a project created by Darren Teh – the vocalist of local pop band An Honest Mistake – to build a connection between regional artistes in Asia.
Formed in 2009, the Philippines-based band is made up of four good friends – Dax (vocalist, guitarist), 8-Bit (dual synth operator, vocoder), Eric Strange (beat engineer, drummer) and 4-Track (support synth operator, loop scientist).
The quartet band released their first album “Viewfinder Dreams” in 2011, and one of their singles “Two Minutes to Paranoid City” was used in an online viral ad by a famous Philippines clothing brand, Bayo.
The band has also played at various music events and festivals including Culture One, Bazooka Rocks III, Summer Siren, Sonic Boom and more.
During the band’s visit to Malaysia, TheHive.Asia chatted up with the members who told us everything from how they first met, to their music inspiration, song themes, views on music and also future plans.
Hi Guys! Introduce us to your band!
Dax: I’ve known 8-Bit since college back in 2003. We met Eric from a different band around 2004, but at that time, we were concentrating on our specific bands. When our band went on hiatus, I called Eric and asked if he wants to start something different with me and 8-Bit. We first started as a trio, and when the first album came out in 2011, 4-Track officially became the fourth member.
|(L-R) 8-Bit, 4-Track, Dax and Eric Strange.|
Dax: What’s different for this band as compared to the conventional formula where you have a bass guitar, a guitar, drums and vocals - we took away the bass guitar. What we have is a bass synthesizer. Predominantly for this band, it’s all keyboard synthesizers.
4-Track: And the set-up is like, we don’t have any pre-programmed effects. Everything is by hand, analogue, like the bands from the 80s.
8-Bit: Basically we play old school
Dax: So there aren’t any loops, there isn’t any pre-recorded stuff.
What are your musical influences?
Dax: For me, I was very inspired by bands like Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Killers. That type of music was an influence for this band many years ago. But of course, we’re a lot older now, so the music has evolved and it will keep on evolving because that's how it should be.
How did the name Paranoid City come about?
4-Track: It’s from the 90s TV series, “Friends”.
Dax: There was an episode where they talked about Ross’ love life, of how he was so trusting, and then Phoebe said, “Carol left him and BAM – paranoid city!” And when I heard that, it stuck. I suggested the name to everyone, and they all liked it.
How did you get involved with Asian Connection?
8-Bit: We first met Darren in 2012 in Manila. I visited them during their An Honest Mistake gig.
Dax: We met him again in 2013 at the Sonic Boom festival, and then we hung out backstage with him and his band mates. We got along so well because Darren and his bandmates are awesome guys!
Eric: Our original plan was to visit Singapore because a local music group invited us to play. Then I suggested that since Malaysia is so near, why don’t we visit Darren and probably play some gigs there.
How would you accurately describe the genre of your music?
Dax: We label it as synth pop.
4-Track: It’s like an inclusion of dance, electronica, new wave, pop and anything in between.
8-Bit: But if you talk about the themes of the songs, the first album; we made it seem as if you were going to Paranoid City – it’s like a story.
4-Track: It’s like you’re in a car, and then it is your first time in the city, so it’s like a journey throughout the city.
8-Bit: For our second album, the songs are a bit more personal, there’s some angst and frustration.
Dax: A little more mature, because the first album was written by 24-year-olds, and this album was written by 30-year-olds.
Speaking of song-writing, what's the process like for the band?
4-Track: Sometimes it is writing first, sometimes melody first, other times we do it like assignments.
Eric: Well, it depends. Sometimes one person will write a song, sometimes one person will start something like record a melody, and the rest of us will just put the lyrics in it. Basically, it’s free-style! We don’t have any specific formula. In terms of themes, it varies.
Dax: Sometimes we talk about nothing, sometimes we talk about everything. But the one common factor is everyone has to have a say, and everyone has to get a vote. So majority wins, and if it’s a tie, we have to convince each other of our points. It’s basically a democracy, which makes it awesome but hard at the same time.
Are there any certain topics that you wouldn’t like to sing about in your music?
8-Bit: So far, we haven’t really covered everything. So, it’s too early to say that we have a limitation.
Dax: Well, there have been arguments about our song having a certain curse word. 8-Bit is a stickler with regard to curse words, he doesn’t like it in the music. In my case, I think it doesn’t matter, especially if it fits the song. Because for me, as long as it gives justice to the songs – that’s my motto! But then again, it’s always a vote.
Eric: In terms of topic, we probably haven’t covered all aspects of life, we haven’t touched base on politics. Maybe in the future we will, but for now we’re not really pushing ourselves to write what we don’t feel like writing.
What’s your best gig to date?
8-Bit: For me, I think one of the best gigs I have with this band was a show that we had in Singapore last year at the Esplanade, because I have always dreamt of playing there. I think that’s the single particular gig that almost made me shed a tear, because it’s a huge thing for me. I’m a full time musician, but it’s not a socially accepted profession. I have a lot of friends who don’t treat my passion very seriously, even though they support me. So, I think that the gig really sealed the deal for me, for now!
4-Track: For me, it was last year too. It was at Summer Siren, a beach festival in the Philippines. Summer Siren is your typical beach party with big-named performers, but the only thing that struck me the most was when the manager of the festival told us that, “You guys sound better than those professionals, you are underrated.” The words gave me the courage and push that I needed. I mean, we are an underrated band, but people responded very well to our music. So I believe that if you perform honestly, people can connect to your music no matter what. It feels like we are going to a certain level, we’re stepping up even though we’re not really trying so hard, but sometimes it is the people who motivate us to keep on playing.
What are your views on mainstream music?
8-Bit: At first, I used to hate mainstream music, but as we grew older, I analysed it. I finally understand that we can learn a lot from mainstream music by looking at its content and how it connects to the current audience. There is a formula, and the formula they use is the oldest formula in the book like repetitive lyrics and music. Some people think it’s a bad thing, but it entertains a lot of people, so I don’t think that’s bad.
Dax: I view it like watching movies. Sometimes, there will be certain movies that you want to use your brains for like “Inception” where you have to be constantly thinking. But sometimes, you just want to turn your brain off, a good example of that would be Michael Bay’s “Transformers”. You’re not thinking, you’re just enjoying the ride. With regard to mainstream music, sometimes you appreciate the way it was written, and sometimes you enjoy a song just because it sounds nice, like “Gangnam Style” by PSY. As a Filipino, I don’t understand the lyrics, but it sounds good to me!
Would you consider signing to a mainstream label?
Dax: Why not? I mean being indie is awesome, you have more freedom and a bit more honesty. But, if given the chance to have a label help you out with marketing, it would be even better. It’s because you can reach more people through a label.
8-Bit: And at this stage, we are pretty much open to all options.
Dax: Yeah, there was once a time where we were kind of closed off, like we only wanted to be indie, we only want these specific type of gigs and etc. But as you grow older and as years goes by, things start to change, so we kind of don't really mind anymore, we just want to play music.
Now that you’re here, is there any particular artiste in Malaysia that you would like to collaborate with?
8-Bit: We just did. With Darren on An Honest Mistake’s new single, I played the synth parts for that particular song.
4-Track: They also shot the music video of that song in Philippines two weeks ago.
8-Bit: Personally, I wanted to play overseas. I want to connect to other countries as well. I mean if they want to play and if we can help them, then why not? That’s basically what Darren is doing right now, and that connects our band to him and the Malaysian audience as well. Music should be a binding factor, it should always be about collaboration and making new stuff for the people.
Dax: Collaboration isn’t always about the music, it’s about connecting with other musicians.
Eric: We’re just part of a bigger population.
8-Bit: And we want to play our part.
Eric: That is the dream, but of course what we can do now is to get to know the other artiste. Hopefully through these gigs, we will get to know other bands better like how we did with An Honest Mistake, and form something together in the future. The possibilities are endless.
4-Track: To wrap this up, our music is filled with positivity.
So, what are you guys up to next?
Eric: Our next album is going to be out this September.
8-Bit: But before that, we will launch our new single from the second album with a new music video by July.
Dax: So we got a lot of things going on for us, it’s a busy year and hopefully next year we will get to come back to Malaysia.