MANILA -- For Ebe Dancel, the stage musical "Sa Wakas," which featured songs of his former group, the disbanded Sugarfree, was unexpected.
He was surprised being personally approached by "these eager kids from Ateneo" who have high regards for his work.
"They approached me one day and told me they wanted to do a musical using my songs. And it was a time when I was feeling low in my career. I said, yes, of course, by all means. I thought that was it. Then they asked me to compose a new song, something exclusive for the musical they are doing, which I learned was titled 'Sa Wakas.' I was more surprised by their frankness, nag-yes na nga ako to use my songs tapos they asked me pa to compose a new one," he said, laughing.
The new piece was "Bawat Daan," written in 2013 for the musical's initial staging.
As it turned out, the musical was a big help for him. Sugarfree disbanded in 2011 and he had just launched his first solo album "Dalawang Mukha ng Pag-Ibig" in 2012 under Warner Philippines. Then came "these kids from Ateneo."
It can be said the musical helped Dancel get back on track again. "Sa Bawat Daan" eventually became the title of his second solo album, released in 2015 under Star Records.
Now after nine years, he is back with PolyEast Records.
"It's like coming home. 'Baliktanaw' is a long-awaited album. It has nine songs from my Sugarfree years," Dancel told ABS-CBN News. "And it is just tip of the iceberg. We might launched it in vinyl later this year."
He enumerated these titles: "Burnout," "Mariposa," "Unang Araw," "Kwarto," "Cuida," "Tulog Na," "Dear Kuya," "Wag Ka Nang Umiyak," "Hangover," and a new single titled "Hanggang Kailan Kita Mahihintay."
"If you noticed, maraming 'di nakasama like 'Hari Ng Sablay,'" Dancel said, pointing out they can only have 10 songs.
"PolyEast and I collaborated in trimming the list. We meet halfway. Ang gaganda talaga ng versions na ito. Maganda rin naman 'yung nauna pero ito, pati vocals kundisyon na kundisyon. These are versions of my songs the way I want them to sound right now."
One may wonder, why he chose PolyEast, then and now?
"Looking back in the 1990s, PolyEast (formerly EMI Philippines) was the only label that wanted to take me in. Nanggaling kasi ako sa wala eh. Tumutugtog ako sa Mayrics, lima lang ang tao, aalis pa yung dalawa," he said, laughing.
The carrier single, "Hanggang Kailan Kita Mahihintay" has been made available on Spotify and other streaming devices. On February 29, "Baliktanaw" will be released in physical CD format during his solo concert at Metrotent Convention Center in Pasig City.
Dubbed "Ebe Dancel with The Manila String Machine," the show is accompanied by a 20-piece orchestra with Paolo Valenciano as creative director and Chino David (formerly of Silent Sanctuary, now with Hale) as musical director.
"The carrier single was originally written for Paolo Valenciano's debut album in 2014," Dancel pointed out.
Speaking of composing songs for other artists, Dancel said it's been a decade when he made a promise to Regine Velasquez and he has yet to submit one.
Dancel also said he wants to write songs for or have a duet with Sarah Geronimo. "She's the most talented artist I've known and I wanna give her the best because she's the best," he said and paused for a few seconds.
"But I wanna write for myself. Kakabigay ko ng kanta sa iba ako nauubusan," he added, laughing.
When it comes to collaborating with other artists as co-performer, he readily mentioned of Unique Salonga, the 20-year-old composer-rock singer and former frontman of IV Of Spades. Many consider Salonga as one of the main torchbearers of his generation. Like Dancel in his early years, Salonga composes hits and potential hits, he can sing and he has lots of years ahead of him.
"He's the best songwriter I've come across with in a long long time. He writes the perfect songs that I can identify with. He's a wonderful person. He's terrific on stage. That young man is going places. Well, he's already going places."
Asked for advice to budding musicians who want to write their own materials.
"Stop looking into writing your first or next hit because these days, you don't know what's going to hit or miss. The tastes of people? They change. You write and write from the heart and everything will fall into place."