In the face of the global pandemic, when live shows were put on a temporary standstill and the global music landscape at odds with the challenges that come with the sudden shift to the digital realm, more and more artists have rolled up their sleeves and surprisingly made records that represent the specificity of the times.
Be it for giving a sense of normality while the rest of us are locked up in uncertainty and growing anxiety, or providing a tool for emotional and mental relief that uplifts listeners, musicians have been channeling their personal experiences during forced and self-imposed quarantine through songs that function like the pep talk the world needs right now, validating our collective rage, loneliness, and frustration inside.
Joining a number of local and global acts who have released music in the time of quarantine, are two new singles from local pop rock band, The Itchyworms, that capture the universal sentiments of grappling with an invisible peril. The band comes back strong as they drop back to back releases under Sony Music Philippines—a first under a major label since 2008’s Self-Titled.
Interestingly, at the time of confinement, the OPM force releases “Armageddon Blues” and “The Silence”, inspired by the band’s response to the ongoing social, mental, and emotional crisis that people from around the globe are facing in the midst of a pandemic.
“Armageddon Blues,” in particular, is a track that harks back to an old demo recorded by Jazz Nicolas (lead vocals, drums, piano, keyboards, keytar) and Chino Singson (lead guitarist and backing vocals). With crunching guitar riffs, Beatlesque pop melodies, and raw but in-your-face production, the latest track from the band exhibits both ends of the emotional spectrum, as filtered through the lens of happy-sappy music geeks. Singson recalls. “I remember it being a fun song to record. If you listen to the lyrics, you’ll see it’s very tongue-in-cheek, but very heartfelt.”
Written in 2005, the song was initially lined up to be included on the quartet’s critically acclaimed album, Noontime Show and the follow-up record, Self-Titled, but the group felt that it was thematically different and completely ahead of its time.
“Time jump to more than 15 years later, I was the only one who had a copy of the demo,” Jugs Jugueta (co-lead vocals, rhythm guitar, percussion, keyboards) narrates. “Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) happened, and I sent them the demo of ‘Armageddon Blues,’ telling The Itchyworms to release the song, because it captures the somewhat end-of-the-world vibe of our present situation. A couple of weeks into the ECQ, we realized that we’re in this for the long haul, and that we had to do something creative. We decided to write and record a few songs inspired by our experiences during COVID-19.”
The songwriting sessions gave birth to another single, which already made its rounds on Facebook a week earlier. Following the official release of “Armageddon Blues” on all streaming and digital platforms worldwide a day late, “The Silence” was written by Jugueta and Nicolas, and was then recorded and produced by The Itchyworms entirely during the government-mandated quarantine.
“It’s what we think everyone is going through right now. Nobody could’ve foreseen 2020 to be like this,” the frontman shares, talking about the underlying theme behind the song.
Musically, it’s a mish-mash of influences that put Depeche Mode, Radiohead, The Beatles, and The Walking Dead in a blender. The production seethes with soaring builds and nuanced sonic details, before ending abruptly in faded noise—as if the transmission is suddenly lost in the background, its silence “killing us” infinitely and metaphorically.
Both tracks are part of their upcoming album, Waiting For The End To Start, which was conceptualized and recorded while the members of The Itchyworms were confined in their homes, connected digitally by their resounding “shared” experiences. “Expect it to be unpolished and imperfect,” Nicolas describes the new album. “Maybe a little lo-fi. It’s not necessarily all about COVID-19, but this is the result of what we feel during this time. So, there’s restlessness, loneliness, boredom, delirium, fear, uncertainty, and all that jazz.”
Singson puts into perspective the concept behind the 8-track release, which is slated to drop sometime in July 2020. “Like any collection of music, it is a record of its time: A snapshot of the artist’s reaction to his or her circumstances. But it’s a concept album in that our aim was to create art in the midst of a pandemic, to capture our emotions in the music we record, even with the limited recording gear we have at home. So, you’ll hear amp buzz and imperfect vocals, but for me that’s part of the spirit of true rock.”
Waiting For The End To Start is their second album to be released under Sony Music Philippines. After their groundbreaking major label opus, Self-Titled, which made an impact in the local music scene at the tail end of 2008, the band was forced to go indie after the label’s short-lived hiatus handling domestic releases.
“Aside from the fact that we felt a sense of familiarity with Roslyn Pineda of Sony Music PH, as we’ve known her since our college days, we believed that Sony, being an International record company, could help us reach a wider audience. We want to reach new and foreign audiences, because our music is universal and capable of touching several hearts here and abroad,” Jugueta shares.
This was seconded by Singson, saying, “I feel that Sony is a good place to be for an artist. Their team is small but they work hard and have their artists’ interests at heart.”