In writing songs, Josh Villena, or totâ, sometimes runs out of words—a typical writer’s block. But with the emotions and the creativity still lingering, his pen still touches the paper and finds release by illustrating creatures. That’s how totâ writes songs, visiting back on his drawings and harvesting the words to finish his songs.
“It’s not just the music,” totâ said. “It’s also the visual arts.”
“While i was writing my songs as tota, sinasabay ko siya sa illustrations. Minsan [when] I get stuck or hindi ako makasulat, I tend to draw yung mga gusto ko isulat,” he recalled.
During the pandemic, totâ experienced anxiety and fear from the uncertainties brought by the lockdown. He suffered writer’s block writing for Autotelic. That’s when he came up with the idea to write for himself instead.
“Nagkaroon ako ng writer’s block writing for Autotelic so i decided to write for myself, and ‘di ko akalain na lalabas ang ganitong sound,” he told Soundstrip.
totâ released his first single “Malikmata” last May 5.
As an introvert, totâ said the song is about the fear of being left out and realizing that the fear is only a phantasm. “All of a sudden, nawala lang lahat pero imagination mo lang siya—namamalikmata ka pala,” he said.
Asked what took him long to produce his own single, totâ said it took him some time to build confidence as a solo artist.
He explained, “For the longest time, sanay na sanay ako mag play sa banda and sanay mag write ng songs with a band, and hindi for myself.”
Throughout his career, he played guitar for Peryodiko and Reese Lansangan, wrote songs, and performed with bands Maya’s Anklet and especially Autotelic.
“But during the pandemic, nagkagulo gulo, nagka-shift sa mindset and creative outputs,” he said. That was the time when he finally earned the courage to try venturing into the music scene as a solo artist—as totâ himself.
Why “totâ?” He explained that it was what people called him growing up. “Hanggang ngayon, sa bahay, ‘yon ‘yung tawag sa akin,” he shared.
totâ promises to release more music in the future as totâ himself. He revealed he already wrote an album and is looking forward to releasing it sometime this year. He is also considering future collaborations, saying, “I have artists in mind.”
But the question is: is totâ or Josh still a part of Autotelic? The answer is yes.
totâ said he is still performing songs with Autotelic, sharing that they have a lot of upcoming gigs as a band.
He compares the songwriting process as Josh and as totâ, saying, “I can say that the way I write for Autotelic is a general feeling, [‘yung] parang mas pagdadaanan ng pangkaraniwang tao… sa everyday life nila.”
“Sa totâ, it’s more personal like I’m talking to myself. Hinanda ko na rin ang sarili ko na hindi lahat siya madi-digest,” he reflected.
“I separate myself from Autotelic as totâ,” he said.
“Malikmata” is now available on all major streaming platforms.
Interview by Edwin P. Sallan