MANILA -- Sheila and the Insects were the second act to hit the Summer Noise 2019 stage at the Greenfield District last May 18. With the setting sun in their eyes, the quartet nevertheless, delivered a powerful performance as they are wont to do.
The Cebu-based quartet – vocalist and guitarist Orven Enoveso, guitarist Ian Zafra, bassist Wesley Chiongbian, and drummer Vince Yap -- has been prolific music-wise with their entire repertoire all sung in English. And the Summer Noise crowd received an added treat when the band launched their fifth album, "Love or Limbo," during the show.
"Love or Limbo" crackles with energy and soars, propelled by a manic beat and thumping bass reminding me of a young (New York band) Interpol circa "Turn On the Bright Lights" and "Antics." Enoveso’s baritone adds much to the seductive mystery (such as on “The Teleporter”) that the album suggests. And you get the feel it is a late night urban soundtrack for meandering on rain-swept streets, subtle flirtations, and inward reflections.
The album features nine tracks and I’ll give it a 10 out of 10.
We spoke with Enoveso about "Love and Limbo," which in our opinion, is perhaps the band’s strongest effort to date.
Q: I was surprised by how the new music sounds like Interpol. And I love it. If the first album is characterized by New Wave influences, is "Love or Limbo" leaning to a new millennium sounding alt rock?
A: Although the band has had among its influences New Wave music when we first started, I don't think our music is. It's as good a foundation as any I would think for a band to build its body of work but what makes a band's sound distinctly its own is not the foundations but the finishes and the flair. It's in the songwriting and the details and that I think is very personal and unique to the artist. In this I think it's hard and probably wrong to peg our music to a specific movement or genre. That would be severely limiting on our creative working space. I think that's why we've tried to avoid labeling our music as much as we can.
Our first two albums, "Tangible Rhymes" and "Plastic Eyes Static Minds," I would think were of a certain pop flavor. Our third, "Manipulator," was intentionally dark and experimental. Our fourth, "Flowerfish," was probably more candid and carefree -- that was a very stressful and fun album to make. "Love or Limbo" though was built up over a prolonged creative process such that I think it naturally captured a wide spectrum of stories and ideas that came and went over the years for us. And I think that is a good thing because I hope it makes the whole collection quirky and different on each track.
Q: Is there a concept behind "Love or Limbo"? Why the two covers? I wish the font sizes were bigger. it is so hard to read anything on the album.
A: Yes, the common thread of the (nine) songs in the album is that they are all very emotional stories. But all stories have two sides. Here's the text in the album art where we associated the themes with each song in the album:
Alarm = Invitation
Monolove = Commitment
The Last Awkward Moment = Woo
Teleporter = Admiration
The Wave = Freedom
Love in Fashion = Passion
Venus to Mars = Honesty
Always = Dream
Escape = Choice
Alarm = Seduction
Monolove = Commitment
The Last Awkward Moment = Flirt
Teleporter = Obsession
The Wave = Farewell
Love in Fashion = Lust
Venus to Mars = Hostility
Always = Delusion
Escape = Regret
Each story has two sides and our album title tries to tease that duality. The same theme can be viewed from different perspectives depending on whether you are in love or in limbo. In the list above, we had fun inserting "commitment" as the same word for both "Love or Limbo" as the theme for the song "Monolove." This wasn't a typo. My view is that commitment works great for certain people and is viewed as a prison for others so it's already dual-meaning.
Q: I love Sheila and the Insects' being steadfast in terms of its song. You know performing in English and the music. How has the band stayed this course all these years?
A: Hahaha, it's because we can't write Tagalog songs to save ourselves. We're not native Tagalog speakers although we speak and understand the language. It's awkward for us so we can't confidently write in that language even if we tried, I never even considered it because I know my limitations.
My consolation is that I believe stories make powerful connections regardless of language or culture.
Q: To date, what have been the band's biggest gigs/shows? Any plans to perform abroad?
A: We have not broken through yet that's what I think. Although we're happy to have our friends and fans, we'd love to be heard by a wider audience -- who doesn't. So as to biggest gigs and shows, we're still looking for that. We did play in Singapore some years back but we have not been too active in the gig circuit in the past five or so years because we've been busy putting in work on "Love or Limbo." But we're slowly building ourselves back up and hopefully, we can be more active on gigs and tours.
Q: Are there any particular stories about the songs from the new album?
A: "The Teleporter" was a song that I had written many years ago when EDM (electronic dance music) and the DJ'ing culture was very popular so that particular song harks to my fascination with that movement. It was a fleeting fascination though because I didn't get the music. I enjoyed listening to certain songs but I couldn't really find a connection so it was a short-lived interest but enough that I was inspired to write about it.
You can order Sheila and the Insects’ Love or Limbo through the band's Facebook page.