Moonstar88 marks 20 years with new album

Rick Olivares

Posted at Jul 31 2019 05:57 AM | Updated as of Jul 31 2019 08:38 AM

Indie rock band Moonstar88. Photo provided by author

MANILA -- Indie rock band Moonstar88 is releasing its latest yet untitled fifth album sometime soon.

The band's last three albums – "Press to Play," "Todo Combo," and "This Year" -- came five years apart. “Inadvertently,” qualified guitarist and sole remaining member of the original Moonstar88 lineup, Herbert Hernandez.

The new one – with nine songs so far – is arriving after only three years. “At least one doesn’t have to wait for an additional two years to hear our new material,” chimed in bassist Buddy Zabala.

Welcome to the second life and times of "no wave" band, Moonstar88.

“No wave” because they were never really part of any wave or genre. “No wave” because the band defies conventional wisdom. They gig and tour when they can. They make albums when they can. While this 2019 is the band’s 20th year – yes, they have been around that long – it doesn’t feel like two decades. 

When this indie pop rock band came out in 1999 it was the tail-end of the Eraserheads’ incredible run during the 1990s. At the time Moonstar88 scored hits with “Torete” and “Sulat” that was during the rise of the nu-metal scene or in local parlance, the “kupaw band era.” Slapshock released its second album "Headtrip," Cheese released Pilipinas, Greyhoundz put out its self-titled second album (that sold 40,000 copies) ad infinitum. 

On the pop side, there were all these female soloists played either pop, acoustic sets, or sang bossa nova songs such as Kitchie Nadal, Aiza Seguerra, Nina, and Sitti to name but a few.

At the time of the release of "Todo Combo" in 2007, one of the singles, was “Migraine.” It was followed by a cover version of the APO Hiking Society’s “Panalangin” that became a staple of the band's live performances. Around the same time, it was these retro bands like Orange and Lemons, the Bloomfields, and Juan Pablo Dream that were making names for themselves, while pop rock bands like Cueshe, Hale, and Sponge Cola reigned.

Five years later, when Moonstar88’s fourth album, "This Year," hit the shelves, true to form, hiphop stars such as Gloc-9, Ruby Ibarra, Loonie, KJah, and indie label Uprising Records to name but a few were ushering in a new age of Filipino hiphop.

“We are a band that really worked at our own pace,” remarked Hernandez at Moonstar88’s uncanny sense of timing. “As a band, we run a marathon, not a sprint. And underground kami, at the same time, we could also play mainstream. Wala kaming positioning.”

The original version of Moonstar88 was noisy. However, when Herbert’s older brother Darwin (who now manages the band) gifted the band the song “Torete” they went to a more pop-ish sound although still in tune to their alternative roots.

“Never kami sumabay sa uso,” summed up vocalist and guitarist Maysh Baay. 

However, a confluence of factors – the rise of streaming, the resurgence of the local band scene, and the addition of Zabala to name but a few -- saw Moonstar88 belatedly become a top draw, a headline act if you will with top brands now working with them. Making up a huge number in the audience is the younger set, some who were too young to have even heard “Torete” or “Sulat” when it was first played on the radio.

The band has paid their dues and found themselves performing to a whole new generation of fans who discovered their back catalogue through streaming and social media. 

Given second wind, Moonstar88 plays not only with more confidence as befitting a veteran band, but with an aura of a band at the top of its game. When they perform, they have the undivided attention of the crowd that sings along to the songs. Hernandez is a much better guitarist and an accomplished songwriter. Drummer Bon Sundiang may be a bit less vocal than his other bandmates, but his beat and backing vocals complement the band including Baay so well. As for Zabala, he adds a sense of order to the band as befitting someone who has worked with an accomplished band like the Eraserheads and the Dawn. His presence can be felt at sound checks, jams, recording, and right down to the band’s set lists. 

And speaking of Baay, she is one of the best frontwomen in the band scene today. She is at once radiant and sexy with her well-toned figure’ the result of hitting the gym. Yet, Baay is more than another pretty face. She can more than hold her own on stage and is certainly most engaging.

“When I joined Moonstar88, it wasn’t like I was handed a bed of roses,” she recalled. “We had to put in a lot of work. There were gigs na wala pa rin tao. What we have achieved as a band today is because of the work we put in. We are not a band that has only three hits. We always made a conscious effort to write better songs and not rest on our laurels.”

With the world at their fingertips, it is refreshing to see that there are no plans for world domination. The goals are modest, simple, and down-to-earth.

“Nobody knows what the next big thing will be,” put in Zabala. “It’s best for us to hunker down and work on our craft – our shows, songwriting, studio work, and come up with more stuff. The band is finding its footing and we’re solidifying it.”

“I think all these years of performing, taking things in stride, have taught us to be content with what we have,” added Baay.

“We just want to play for Filipino audiences,” divulged Hernandez. “We had opportunities before but mas marami now. Like we are making up for lost time. So dito muna kami. Tugtog. Go to our day jobs (because we all have families). And record a single every now and then.”

“We never get tired of performing kahit makatatlong ulit kami sa isang lugar,” offered Sundiang.

On deck is the yet-untitled fifth album of nine songs. “The recording is done and we’ve going to decide when we put this out,” summed up Hernandez. “We make sure the format, the marketing is different. Pagandahan din ng gimmick, packaging, and how to launch the album. Our last album won a Best Packaging Award as well so kina-career namin.”

And what a career it is for this "no wave" band. Twenty years of hits and the band is finding themselves enjoying the fruits of their long and hard labor. 

To quote the Man from Hoboken, Moonstar88 did things, “their way.”