Country guy at heart

In a time when pop and rock when pop and rock and R&B take turns hitting the top of  the Billboard charts, it won’t come as a surprise if the industry would declare country music as “dead.” And just when you thought the likes of Garth Brooks and The Dixie Chicks are uncool or old school, this country music singer-composer breaks into upon the music scene.

After a careful deliberation of turning his songwriting hobby to an album, Ben  finally released “Faith, Love, & Country Music” to the music industry that owed as much to the old country singers back in the day as it did anyone on the radio now.

The 35-year-old Cebu-based budding song artist has the country music feels, but with flicks of modern pop thatrevolve on a story-based theme just like any traditional country song. “Wanda the Wanderer” is about a girl who can’t make up her mind, and then there’s “Rita and Mary” and other tracks. Ben composed them all with a pen of classic-inspired ink from the back of receipts or daubed tissues. The Play! pool met with Ben Cinco at The Pyramid the day after his album launch at the Rescue Bar in July.

Tell us about your trip here in Cebu

This classic charming voice of a country singer-composer was back again yesterday at The Pyramid for some country music night and dine.  If you chance upon his future gigs, you are likely to hear a rising revival of country music feels that are now made available on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play and Amazon. Follow Ben Cinco on Facebook page, BEN CINCO MUSIC. This may be his first leap but he proved that there has always been a market, if you   know what you do—and do it well.

There’s no stopping this guy from marching to the beat of his own drum.Tell us about your trip here in CebuTell us about your trip here in Cebu This trip was really meant for, I guess what you’d call on album-launch-kind-of-thing, right? I arrived here Thursday, and then Friday, we did some rehearsing. And then on Saturday, we also did some rehearsing and then on Saturday night was kind of like the big event. To be honest with you, this was the first time that I’ve ever ever done such a thing. I never expected that I would be launching an album; performing at a bar.

It’s not something that I do. I used to sing in singing contests back when I was younger and then I’d perform at some gatherings but never in a public place where it’s my show.  Yes, that was totally a new experience. I didn’t know what to expect. I thought there’d be only a crowd of 20 people. My family was at the front and center but I didn’t expect the place to be packed.  So yeah, this trip was really for the album launch and maybe do some promotions for the album.

Why country music?

That’s just who I am. I guess 1995 was the starting point of my journey with country music. It was the very first time I heard country music. Fine, okay, it was “Achy Breaky Heart” back in grade school! (Laughs). But it didn’t really catch on. In 1995, there was a music channel called Channel V. I think they’re still on now.

They used to air Billboard Hot 100 Singles countdown from the US. The number one single was Garth Brooks, The Red Strokes. Maybe this sounds new to you but in the country music scene, they’re called royalty now pretty much. After that, it was Shania Twain’s very first major hit. Her first hit was “Any Man Of Mine” and it was very country.

I guess you could say I grew up listening to a lot of country music from the 90s to early 2000s. But nowadays, you also hear a lot of pop country. I hate to mention but Taylor Swift was country before she became pop. There are a lot of influences from the 90s country to the pop country, so I guess that’s how different my sound is. My sound really has been engineered. A lot of it had to do with a good friend of mine named Michael Curan.

He goes by Mike Curan. He’s also Cebu-based. He’s also part of another band called The Difficult Stranger but him and I have known each other for a very long time. Friendster days pa. (Laughs). Early 2000 pa lang, we collaborated in some work and then eventually we both evolved. Me as a writer, him as a musician. So when I write, he arranges my music, and then he helps come up with the sound that you hear now on the record.

I guess in a lot of ways it’s different because he’s country and punk rock. I am country and pop. So when he created this sound, it was very acoustic. Think about it as a stripped down version of a rock song with a lot of influences of pop and country. You can hear it, for example, in the track, Forbidden Lovers. It’s country but at the same time it has some licks of, you know, guitar licks, acoustic. As for It’s Gonna Be Alright, it’s very country but at the same time may mga solo na guitar play.

What’s your musical roots?

My parents were music fans back in the 80s or 90s. Siguro when they were younger, they listened to a lot of music, so when I was a kid, I grew up listening to their favorites such as ABBA, Barry Manilow, and  Air Supply. I think Air Supply was really my very first perennial favorite.

I was only nine years old when I first heard Air Supply, and I still listen to them up to this day so in terms of, is there anyone in the family who plays instruments, there’s none. If there’s anyone who likes to sing, everyone likes to sing if you’re a Filipino. (Laughs).

But no one is really into music as I am, I guess. My mom used to sing songs by The Carpenters but my dad, not really, he just likes listening to music.
Who were the music personalities that you grew up listening to? The Dixie Chicks, Alan Jackson, Brooks and Dunn, a bit of Faith Hill. She was a bit of country back in the 90. There’s Trisha Yearwood, LeAnn Rimes. That’s the kind of music I really grew up listening to.

How does a song come to you?

I guess it’s more of the emotional state at that point in time. For example, we were at Abaca Coffee yesterday with my dad, my brother, and my nephew. I actually told them that “People Watching” was written in about 20 minutes when I was literally sitting in a corner booth sa Abaca Coffee shop. Abaca doesn’t have wifi.

It encouraged a lot of social talk. I have a laptop; I don’t have anything to do because if I can’t put up my laptop and connect to a wifi, there’s really not much to do. So I sat there and I people-watched and started writing “People Watching” and in about 15 to 20 minutes the lyrics was done.

I met Mike the day after in Handuraw, Gorordo because really had scheduled a writing session for that particular day. I told him that I have some new material that maybe you can put some melody to.

I showed him the lyrics and just started strumming his guitar and then before you know it, in quite a few minutes, he had finished the melody to the song; I had rewritten some of the lyrics and so “People Watching” was born.

How long did it take to finalize the album?

The album itself took about three years to complete. That’s the whole journey because I come home to Cebu just once every 2 to 3 months. We do try to record a song when I’m here but at the same, schedule doesn’t always permit my work. It was first conceptualized back in early 2015 when we lay down that first track, “When You’re By Yourself.” Mike said, “Why don’t you come up with your own album?” I said, well that wouldn’t be such a bad idea.  So I got introduced to Glenn Alonzo. He’s the producer of the album. His recording studio is called Chainzaw Records. I’m the only country artist there and everyone else is rock. (Laughs). They cater to independent artists.

How did you come up with the album title?

The album title, “Faith, Love and Country Music,” actually came from another song that didn’t make the album. I wrote a song before I turned 31. It’s titled 31 and in it, it says, “I believe you need faith and love for you to know you’re alive now that I am thirty-one.” The words “faith” and “love” came from that song. And then of course, country music because country is who I am.

Why didn’t it make to the album? Because I’m already 35 and so if I include a song about 31, that would be so outdated. (Laughs).

“Wanda the Wanderer” is quite an interesting song. Is it directed to someone in particular?  The first title of “Wanda the Wanderer” was actually “Lady on a Trampoline.” I was just humming the melody and then I started to write. The melody came first, and when I asked my brother to read the lyrics and listen to the song, we’re both like, “What the hell is Lady on a Trampoline?” The names on the tracks like “People Watching,” there’s Mary, there’s Rita, and Wanda, of course, for Wanda the Wanderer. These are names I hear a lot in country songs or western movies. So Wanda—the wanderer. Hmmm … that’s a very catchy line. We did the lyrics about a girl who can’t make up her mind. It’s not inspired by anyone in particular but, I think at some point in our lives, we meet people who are like that.

What about “When You’re By Yourself?”

I have a condo in Manila and I was waiting for someone to arrive. It was taking too long and I had nothing better to do so I sat down and started strumming the guitar, when you’re by yourself, you might wander … Hmm … And I started humming and humming the melody. When I had the melody already, I started writing the lyrics. It took about 20-30 minutes. Back when I was a lot younger and there much less distraction, sometimes I’d wake up in the middle of the night with a melody in my head and I would start humming it into radio nga naay cassette player and microphone.

Wala pa ma’y smartphones ato. So it used to come easy, and then as I grew older and life got a bit busier, panagsa na lang makasuwat, when the opportunity comes na lang. I told my friends actually that if it takes me more than 30 minutes to finish a song, I can’t finish it anymore. The moment is very fleeting. So when I’m inspired, I have to sit down and write.

I suppose you’re among those who write on tissues or at the back of the receipts. Yes! Tissues! (Laughs). I do that kay basin malimtan ang lyrics; not on my phone kay mas nindot gyud ba kung i-hand write.

What was the first song that made you realize you can, indeed, write songs?

I was in first year high school. Around first year college, I wrote my very first song, “If I Didn’t Have You.” It was for my best friend that time who had a girlfriend and I wrote it for them. I wrote something like “a better day to be alive,” and then eventually I wrote something I thought would be a Christian Gospel song titled, “You Are My Everything,” and eventually taking a ballad which was inspired by a girl. That was the first time I wrote something na murag passable na gyud siya. And I recorded it back in 2001 and until now I still call it my signature song. That’s when music began easier to write. I also co-wrote two or three songs with the late John Clemens Go. That was my really first jam at song writing. He was the piano player and I was the guitar man.

Of all the songs that you’ve written, which one is your favorite? My most favorite until now is “You Are My Everything” simply because it’s the first song that I could say that I can really write. Until now, it’s the easiest song for me to play.

Is music for you a hobby, passion, or a job?

It’s a hobby. Listening to country music, singing along to their country tunes is something that I will always do, so it’s a lifestyle. Song writing, I would like to make it a part-time job eventually but in terms of whether I’m very passionate about music, I would say that it’s more of a hobby. Don’t get me wrong, I love music and I love to write but passion is a whole new different ball game.

Do you have a full-time job?

I do. I work for a travel management company in Manila, CWT or Carlson Wagonlit Travel, for three years now. I’m an Operations Manager there and I handle about 60 people, and it’s growing. ERM is one of the teams I handle, and the other one is Customer A. I work there from 7:30 a.m. to sawa! (Laughs). It’s a great job and this is a shout out to everyone.

 What’s next for you now that you put the first album out there?

Music to me is more of like a hobby. I love music but not to the point where I’d consider it a passion. I guested on Monster Radio, few days ago, to promote the album. I didn’t expect to do that; I didn’t expect to pack a venue with people at Rescue Bar; I didn’t expect that I would get friend requests from people I don’t know. These things I didn’t anticipate because this is not something I thought would ever happen to me. I like to think of myself as a song writer first than a singer. When asked what if celebrity status would hit you? I said, I don’t think it’s something that I’d crave at this stage in my life. If I could have someone sing the songs for me, that would be cool. But right now, I have to sing my own songs because they don’t know who I am and what I do. That’s why I have to put it out there. I already have a concept and I had this ran through Mike Curan, I said, I know what I already want for the second release already. I know what the title album is going to be. I have a framework of what the songs will be also. We plan to release another five songs in the future.

What’s your message to those who want to pursue music?

If you’re passionate about music or anything, go for it. I think I’m at a stage in my life that I know who I am. It took a while before I accepted who I am and all that. Be comfortable with who you are. Don’t try to be someone that you’re not. I used to join pop singing contest and I was very afraid to play country music because it’s something different. It wasn’t until I started writing and my song won in a contest that I realized I can put myself out there for who I am and still get to be cheered on. So don’t be afraid to be different.

TAGS: At, country, Guy, Heart
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