Monday, September 26, 2011

Please Transpose: Kris Dancel and the Eraserheads

A good read about the Eraserheads AFTER Ely Buendia.

Please Transpose: Kris Dancel and the Eraserheads
by Aldus Santos


I am at my favorite Filipiniana-themed restaurant along Kalayaan Avenue, yet, somehow, it feels like the train at a dead hour, and I keep straining for the security guard's whistled warning; after all, it appears like I have accidentally stepped into the ladies' portion of the train. My peripherals tell me that's Earnest Zabala at the head of the long table that's otherwise empty, save for her and a friend. In a matter of a few minutes, artist Cynthia Bauzon-Arre will arrive, husband Arnold Arre in tow. In a matter of a dog's tail-wag, decorated bass player Myrene Academia will also step in, all smiles. And, as if on cue, the woman I am meeting: Kris Dancel, singer-guitarist for Cambio, Duster, and, most notably, Fatal Posporos. Old wood and yellowing portraits abound at the resto, and, because of the vaguely antiquarian interiors, teleportation (or, to some degree—though imagined—time travel) is on my mind: tonight's dramatis personae feels like a modern recasting of Isabel Allende's House of the Spirits with its strong women—Nívea, Blanca, Alba, Clara—and it is making me feel small. The song in my mind right now, for obvious reasons, is that one by Space, the one that goes “The female of the species is more deadlier [sic] than the male.” Lest I reference to oblivion, it needs to be said: these great, strong women have one thing in common—they were, in one way or another, connected with the Eraserheads. Kris Dancel, as a matter of fact, was one.

kris dancel

The Eraserheads were, as usual, touring their then-current record, 2001’s Carbon Stereoxide—which, by all accounts, was nothing like the sunny Eraserheads of yore. On the creative front, the band was as restless as ever, but, on the personnel front, things have been going a little haywire. And then, that fateful day came, and, when it did, Kris Dancel was being a wife and a mother. “Nakikipaglaro ako sa baby ko, and then, nag-ring 'yung phone, and Vin answered it; it was for him, the call. It was Raymund, or Buddy, or maybe both of them—I don't remember—but, anyway, they were asking for advice [on] what to do, kasi umalis na daw si Ely sa grupo,” she recounts from seven years back with visible effort, continuing, “And, of course, Vin, hearing the news, he didn't take it silently: 'Ha? Umalis si Ely sa 'Heads?!' Siyempre, medyo violent 'yung reaction niya, 'di ba? Which is, narinig ko. So, sabi ko, 'Okay, sige, ako na lang 'yung papalit.' Siyempre, I was kidding; I wasn't serious.” There was panic at the Dancel household. These are their friends, and their mega-selling band was practically on life-support. The man of the house, at a loss for words, relayed his wife’s quip to Marasigan and Zabala, “Ha-ha, sabi ni Kris, siya na lang daw 'yung papalit.” A bit of dead air, and then, “Siguro, less than an hour later, tumawag uli sila, sabi, 'Sige, Vin, punta na kayo dito.' Kukunin na nga daw nila ako!” you can still hear Kris shriek, adding, “and, as a fan, kahit sinuman 'yun, kung i-o-offer ka na maging part of that band, hindi ka naman hihindi, eh, 'di ba?” She challenges, “If you receive that call, would you have refused? Hindi, eh! So, 'yun, I accepted the job. In a way, para akong napasubo, pero, in a way, okay din, Masaya; sobrang saya.”

Kris was no stranger to the scene, being the frontwoman of then-burgeoning band Fatal Posporos. However, her good fortune also translated to a delicate situation. It was, after all, Ely Buendia who left. She had no time to seriously sink her teeth into this scenario, however, because, “When I stepped in, trabaho agad siya, kasi may commitments at gigs na agad, eh. Siguro, I had about two weeks to study, like, thirty songs. Nakalinya na 'yung mga gigs, and, in fact, they wanted me to play a gig three days after the call. Gusto nila akong isabak na agad! It was a busy environment. Okay naman sila, very helpful, et cetera, et cetera. Pero, kumbaga, I started working agad.” When this new Eraserheads lineup debuted at the Hard Rock Café, the band was shaken but very, very excited. Kris shares, “Si Raims—may video nu'ng first gig, eh. Kita 'yung reactions nila. Si Marcus, 'yung reaksyon niya, 'Ang haba naman ng slit nito.' [laughs] Mahaba raw 'yung slit ko! Hindi raw siya sanay na ganu'n 'yung kasama niya onstage. Tapos, naaalala ko, nabuhos ni Raims 'yung beer sa drums niya, tapos sabi ko, 'Kaya pala malagkit 'yung tugtugan!' 'Yun 'yung mga natatandaan ko.” “Hindi siya, kumbaga, shinowbiz—I don't remember it being like that,” the singer-guitarist adds.

“'Yung songs naman—since binubugbog na rin naman namin sa practice—ayos din naman. Singing and playing guitar—hindi naman siya alien to me at that time, kasi I also do that for Fatal Posporos. And, the Eraserheads songs, hindi rin naman sila alien,” the lone female Eraserhead in Pinoy rock history recalls. However, her femininity—which of course brings along physiological, and, consequently, musical issues—brought on some minor changes in the band’s dynamic. “Pr-in-actice namin sila [the old songs] in my key. Same progressions naman, transposed lang—pero hindi pa rin siya super-natural,” Dancel shares with no hint of apprehension. Transposition, in music, merely involves a horizontal shift in the key a performer would play a piece in. If, say, “Magasin” was sung by Buendia in the key of C (C, E-seventh, A-minor, F), Kris, I’ll venture a guess, probably sang it a whole step higher, in the key of D (D, F-sharp-seventh, B-minor, G). In more general terms, however, to “transpose” would equate to putting something in “a different order,” as with rearranging words within a sentence. A new set of songs was, therefore, in order.

Kris remembers, “Ginawa namin 'yung Please Transpose as a songwriting exercise for the band, to see how we would work together. EP lang muna siya, kasi wala pa kaming label at the time. And then, hindi namin r-in-elease 'yung EP na 'to officially. What we did was, du'n sa rehearsal studio namin sa Thirdline, we invited friends, family, at saka 'yung mga record labels—to see the band perform, and, also, to give away that EP, para makita namin kung ano 'yung reaction nila. It was good.” Said EP even produced a modestly well-received single called “You Make Me,” as well as a supporting music video. Meanwhile, her life as a musician was drastically changing as well. While the Fatal Posporos existed in a low-key manner, the ‘Heads, naturally, couldn’t escape its superstardom, and they were always wanted in different parts of the country. Dancel was, naturally, nervous about the undertaking, because, mainly, “First time kong sumali sa banda na super-duper legend—Eraserheads 'yun, eh. Kasi, iba 'yung audience ng Eraserheads, eh. Para kang batang itinapon sa dagat na maraming pating—'O, sige, matuto kang lumangoy!' Ganu'ng klaseng kaba: na, any moment, p'wede kang kainin ng pating.”

With beauty comes terror—I forgot who said this—and the whirlwind excitement was coupled with a polarizing backlash on the fan front. However, Dancel was unperturbed, saying, “Ang hirap isipin pa 'yung mga externals na ganu'n. I wanted to focus on the music, 'di ba? Nakakahiya naman sa mga tanong nakikinig, at nakakahiya rin sa bandmates ko! [laughs] Siyempre, mas concerned ako sa iniisip ng bandmates ko, kaysa sa kung ano'ng iniisip ng audience. Kasi, 'yung nga may ayaw naman sa band, 'di na rin naman sila nanonood masyado. Pero, du'n naman sa mga nanonood, na-notice ko rin naman na, you only had to sing one line, tapos kakantahin na nila 'yung the rest. So, it's really the songs din; may power 'yung songs ng Eraserheads—sobrang catchy nila, sobrang nakadikit na sila sa ulo ng mga tao.” As for occasionally bumping into the man he replaced, “Even before he left, hindi kami masyadong nag-uusap [ni Ely]. Natatakot ako, eh, parang may fandom [pa rin] ako, eh. Hindi ko alam kung ano'ng sasabihin sa kanya, even before. After, ganu'n din. Nahihiya rin ako sa kanya, na-sha-shy ako sa kanya, kasi fan din ako, eh! It's slightly awkward, parang, 'Uy, ano ba'ng chords ng...?' [laughs] Hindi, eh, it's not right, eh! Hindi tama, eh! To make small talk naman, parang, 'Is there an elephant? Is there an elephant here?'”

Kris Dancel would be in the Eraserheads for almost two years, and the band would gradually morph into what is now known as Cambio. Sugarfree’s Ebe Dancel, her brother-in-law, will join them, as well as Monsterbot’s Diego Mapa. The name-change, however, was prompted by Marcus Adoro’s decision to finally leave the band. “By the time na officially umalis na si Marcus, we understood, kasi, at the time, surfing mode siya, eh. Ang saya nu'n, eh—kung kami lang, marunong!” she shares, opining, “Nu'ng umalis si Marcus, medyo ridiculous nang gawin pa siyang 'E-heads,' kasi dalawa na 'yung wala.” Some people may have scowled at the thought of an Eraserheads being fronted by another person other than Buendia, but Dancel rose above it all, and, when it ended, she was able to take good things with her. “They're brilliant people, and they inspired people to be more creative. They inspire creativity; hindi sila selfish, never sila nagpaka-rockstar sa amin. Sobra nilang open and collaborative. Alam mo talaga na love nila 'yung craft, and they really have talent,” Dancel speaks of her colleagues with the glinting eye of a rabid fan. The ‘Heads were a band, after all, who, after over a decade of reigning the scene, seemingly had to start again. If the seven-song EP Please Transpose was to be any indication of their individual skills, however, it would be safe to say that they still ruled; they still sounded like a band that played, toured, and wrote nonstop. “You Make Me,” “Everything,” “I-centric,” “Lahat,” “It’s Not You, It’s Me”—as well as two transposed and rethought-of versions of “Paru-Parong Ningning” and “Dahan-Dahan”—these songs (most penned by Marasigan, some co-written with the rest), would have signaled a new era for the ‘Heads, in spite of the not-so-minor changes that the band went through.

“Dynamic sila; they're never stagnant. Sa sarili mo, you should always raise the bar—ganu'n 'yung attitude [na tinuro ng Eraserheads]. Wala 'yan sa number of albums sold. They're very human, very sincere. I feel that our circle of friends, sobrang dynamic. Lahat tayo, gumaling, eh! 'Yung Eraserheads 'yung nag-set nu'n, eh.”


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