THE STORY OF ‘POBLACION’ | My new single with Chito Miranda

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“Pour me a drink,

Make sure it’s your strongest one

it’s funny, people drink to forget…

I drink to remember…”

I remember, the streets were quiet then…

and conversations mattered.”

I have lived in Poblacion since 2007. I was fresh out of college then, newly moved out from under my parents roof… sidelining as a teacher, part-time medical equipment salesperson, and working in a restaurant… and oh yes my favourite sideline, singing for a hard rock band in one of the original Poblacion spots… Back then, I was a leather boot wearing, ripped jeans rockin’ tangled hair wailing little woman. I never got tired. I never got sick of the noise I could sleep through the flashes of neon lights from neighbouring bars…  That was then, I can’t say the same for today.

Over the years the bars just multiplied… wall to wall, street to street neon signs, stripped brick walls, the thrill of finding someone perfect (or so you thought) for just one night… and then forgetting everything you ever talked about the next day… perhaps even forgetting their name… the smoke, the food, laughter that would ripple through the entire neighbourhood. 

Nicole Laurel Asensio

It was vivid… some of the most colourful years of my life … at least amongst the ones that I can recall. And now that I’m locked in, where in between walls it’s quiet, I wanted my memories to roam free… so I had to write about it.

One rainy evening, My friend Norris Lopez came over, I poured him a gin tonic, and myself a whiskey, neat.

He couldn’t stop singing the words “Naglalakad ako nung isang gabi, nang madapa ako sa isang tabi….”

I asked him— “what are you singing?….”

Norris replied, “Gusto ko magsulat ng kanta na parang story ng isang lalaki… na……” He grabbed paper scraps and continued singing to himself, pen in hand.  

“Sabi ko sa mamang may suot na maong, sandali lang po manong pwede bang magtanong?”

Intrigued, I asked him, “So what happens to this guy?”

“Nothing”, he replied,  “just a series of drunken unfortunate events.”

“I’m down for something like because we’ve been writing a lot of dramatic, ‘hugot” songs… so why not something light… can I write in a girl character? Who’s looking for him all night because he keeps getting into trouble?”

And so there we begun a narrative.

Ang gulo naman ng mga karakter na ito no?, saan ba sila?

I said, it sounds like a night out in Poblacion… and Poblacion sounds like our song title!

As Norris fleshed out more of the verses in between his second and third glass and I penned the Chorus –

“Gapang lang malayo pa’ng mararating 

Ano ba ang akala mo sa akin?

Hindi ako Lasing!”

We exchanged papers and started laughing because the story was starting to make sense…but then again, there was whiskey and gin on the table… Norris left before midnight and I misplaced the pieces of ink stained tissue and scratch paper we wrote those lyrics on… misplaced for months… I don’t remember how our characters ended up… and I bet if they were real, they wouldn’t have remembered either anyways.

Months later, a classmate of mine from the Elements songwriting camp, Miru, came over and started strumming on a guitar. He asked if I had anything I was working on…. “Poblacion” instantly returned to mind nearly word for word as I heard the sound of whiskey hit his glass… Miru was the missing ingredient to finishing these song lyrics. We shook our heads while laughing at these characters, and as we toasted the last glass of the evening, We even decided to make them trade what they were drinking in the lyrics, that it would be the girl drinking the gin and tonic, and the guy drinking whiskey…. Or worse absynthe!

It then came to mind that I would need the right male artist to fill this role… someone who wasn’t afraid to laugh at himself… “but who?” Miru asked me… “Come on, if you could have anyone on this track, anyone at all, suntok sa buwan… who would it be?”

I said, “Nah nevermind nakakahiya…”

He goes, “come on!”

Ira Cruz, who had just arrived from a gig to join our little jam, he entered the door, guitar still on his back and just blurted out “Chito! Chito Miranda.”

He read my mind.

All I could say was….  “dyahe ako eh.”

Miru and Ira both egged on, “text him! You know each other already anyways.”

“Nahihiya ako kasi nakasulat na yung kanta, baka hindi nya trip….”

I poured myself another neat and messaged Chito, not expecting a reply, it was past midnight after all and We hadn’t spoken in months.

Not more than 5 minutes later my phone started ringing.

It was Chito.

I gave him a brief summary… not expecting him to like it at all… at this point the whiskey would have softened the fall anyways…

Ok (random expletives) galing…. Astig! sendan mo ako ng demo….

Wow

“Miru, Ira, … We get a demo to send.”

We wrapped at 4am 

Demo sent.

Bottles dry… and the widest smiles on our faces.

It was during these times I was beginning a little foray into the world of Big-band music. I was often collaborating with members of the AMP Big-band and a handful of their horn players were session players for some of my gigs too. I got real close to the horn players, they’re like family to me. Michael Guevarra who is my ultimate go-to guy for sax and a formidable arranger for jazz music and I were in talks about various other projects… 

I happened to mention “Poblacion” to him… I mentioned a wanted a Big-band sound… something era specific and whimsical. I didn’t care for a pop sound for this track after all we were doing it for fun, so I wasn’t thinking of commercial viability at this point… and it was more of a narrative that a melodic song piece anyways… so let’s just be like old cartoons I dunno, remember the sound of tom and jerry chasing with brass blaring in the background or something? Let’s have fun with the Big-band, Mike!

Michael Had the arrangement written and back to me after a week. We assembled a few fine men of Pinoy jazz… AMP Bigband Members Jun Austria on Drums, Simon tan on upright bass, Joey Quirino on Piano, all around sessionist Janno Queyquep on guitar, and my go to Trumpet and Trombone, Lester Sorilla and Isla Antinero who played for most my other tracks. Michael brought an entire collection of brass artillery to the studio and played 4 layers or so to thicken it up. Joey who we call JQ recorded the piano solo in One take. One solid take. Lester was warming up his trumpet and decided to jam into JQ’s Solo… 

“Hala kapatid kala ko soundcheck lang.” Lester said

No that’s it!  We’re good! That was perfect! I exclaimed….

JQ shrugged and looked at me wild eyed and said… you sure? I have a better one, you know!

I smiled and said: “Whiskey for you, dear sirs!”

I was daunted to say the least that these “Nyors” would agree to play on this little song that was not only self produced but totally un-serious in terms of subject matter, but more than daunted, I was just utterly grateful… what started out as a joke… was now in a full production.

We added my Mom Iwi Laurel and Cousin Gino Lopez to join backup vocals in the bridge and ending… and we we’re mostly done with the backing track.

Once all the instruments were in, I recorded my vocals early in the afternoon… 

Enter Chito Miranda. 

Jess Fermino manned the booth in Wildgrass studios, and after a pizza break I cracked open a whiskey as Chito walked in smooth… with his signature Apir to the boys in the room.

He was smiling and looking ready as ever.

“Would you like a drink? Or maybe Coffee? Or food?”

“Relax ka lang, Nicole”

“Teka bakit ako yung kinakabahan?” I said while glancing at Miru… 

We both turned a corner and secretly giggled because we couldn’t believe a drunken midnight phonecall to Chito came to fruition and that he was actually here recording our song.

Grabe ang galing ni Chito, kahit anong genre. kayang kaya

And that’s it the song was done… everyone walked wobbly steps down the stairs and called it a night… everything that happened up to this point and would happen after was simply wishful drinking… I sent the track once again to Angee Rozul for mixing and Abbey Road for mastering…

Miru said to me… “Well you got your wish….. now it’s time to make a music video…. Who’s on your Wishlist now?”

“I don’t know… I wanted a little tidbit of spoken word slightly grazing Mr. Quirino and Mr. Sorilla’s meaty solo… I reached out to some rapper friends… but the schedules weren’t working out…”

A week later, I was at my grandma’s birthday party when in the very back of the room, shrouded in her signature mystique and radiant beauty was the legendary Ms. Cherie Gil. 

Here we go. Wishlist right? Would she possibly be game to do an indie produced music video for a song that started out as a joke? Go big or go home they said. And I was just about ready to head home so I thought I might try and go big before heading to the parking lot.

There was no whiskey at this party… so I had to ask her without the help of liquid courage.

“Hi Tita.”

“Oh yes, you are allowed to call me “Tita”…

“Would you be game to……..” the conversation was a blur…. All I recall was her voice saying

“…… So tell me how these music videos work….”

And next thing I knew I was in and out of meetings and gigs fixing a catering rider and setting up ingress with the talented team of GWARD INC films at 5am after flying in from Singapore.

And there she sat, glamorous even without hair and makeup.

I could go on and on but that’s a whole ‘nother video.

And if you watched the last video…then you’ll know that right when everything was recorded, mixed, mastered, and shot….this project had to be put on the shelf… everything we worked on wouldn’t make any sense to release while so much was going on around the world….  suddenly the world we knew changed. How crazy would I be to release a silly song of a party night now?

Enter the time of Corona.

yes, So much has changed in the last year. In fact if you told me a year ago that I wouldn’t be able to leave the house without a mask or shield on my face, I wouldn’t believe you.

But this is the strange surreal world we live in today.

So what are you singing about? talking about? What’s your point?

Life is short, unpredictable, forever changing shape, and we are often forced to change with it, whether we’re ready or not. Times get dark, that is a reality of life… we lose people… sometimes we lose ourselves… but I think…

We must never lose our spirit to celebrate the lighter moments in life… 

we must never detach from the colourful memories (or lack of memories) that make for stories or songs to laugh about. Sure… things are different now, perhaps just for the time being…. But we can still look back great times doing silly crazy messy things… because that’s what people do… We do silly messy things… we make mistakes and we learn to laugh about them later…. we grow up…. we continue living and press forward a stronger, more faithful breed. And I feel like the best way to honour the ones who have gone before us is to make the best of what we have now…

Just because we are suffering now, it doesn’t mean our fondest memories have to suffer too.

Our memories and our stories are where the many versions of ourselves can run free, dance with the what ifs and maybes… 

the more we’re locked in, the more the mind needs to escape.

Poblacion is quiet today. My ripped jeans are tucked away, Not a boot print left in sight. 

And that’s alright… we’re just resting…. Even the colorful lights need to be unplugged so we can appreciate what the stars look like at night.

Things might suck sometimes…. But maybe we can tell stories about the things that make us laugh… maybe it’ll make someone else laugh it off too.

Kapit lang…. Gapang lang….. Kaya natin to 

This is Poblacion.

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