“The idea of creating music with each other again, I was intrigued by that.”
Words by Aldus Santos
Illustration by MC Galang
Where do I start? Where do I start except to say you just have to take my word for it? There was, in the early aughts, a handful of bands working the same venues, going through similar grinds, fighting mirror battles. Several of them played well, a great deal had charisma, but not all of them meant anything. Narda meant something. They didn’t look the part, but they were indie stalwarts. They didn’t fit any previous mold, so fuck it, they built a new mold: one that served as blueprint for post-millennium DIY. But really, if that doesn’t mean anything to you and you’re just here for the music, those first few releases alone (A Postcard From, Suwerte, and Burador) were indie candy indeed. Never mind that they were mass-burnt on CDRs, hand-packaged, and sold almost exclusively from car glove to car glove, from backpack to smelly backpack. Those tunes—penned in the early years by drummer Ryan Villena (Tungaw, Techy Romantics) and bassist Wincy Ong (Us-2 Evil-0, Patience Dear Juggernaut)—were case studies in melody, arrangement, and the ever-elusive hook. “That feels amazing, doing something nobody’s ever done before, but also not being conscious of it,” says singer Katwo Puertollano, who modestly adds that while she was there for the ride, she was doing minimal steering.
And speaking of steering, how did we get here? And I don’t mean just this story. Not even just this screwy society. I mean how did we get here, at this point in history, when a thirst for continuity and completion dictates that we fill in the gaps in the telling? When did sheer recollection give way to archeology? Perhaps not everyone is there just yet. But Wincy definitely is. A polymath with bylines in music, film, and fiction, the Narda bassist just couldn’t accept the gaping maw of time chewing up his old band’s well-loved discography. “I was afraid for those releases to be completely forgotten. Lost to the ravages of time,” he says in a mix of English and Filipino. He himself didn’t even have copies of their own releases—the aforementioned trio of early releases, followed by Salaguinto’t Salagubang, Formika, and Discotillion—and he was slowly running out of leads. A rendezvous with latter-era member Tani Santos would yield the motherlode, most of which were still shrink-wrapped. And so, with money saved up from over four years of corporate work, Wincy started working with Big Baby Studios on remastering their releases for long-overdue reissues on Spotify. “I decided na gugulatin ko na lang silang lahat,” he says, the childlike chuckle audible from beyond the ether.
Never mind that they were mass-burnt on CDRs, hand-packaged, and sold almost exclusively from car glove to car glove, from backpack to smelly backpack. Those tunes were case studies in melody, arrangement, and the ever-elusive hook.
With the cat out of the bag, the band found itself on an inevitable walk down memory lane. They started doing weekly Zoom calls during quarantine—with members spread across Manila, New York, California, and Canada—and initial discussions gravitated towards doing a livestreamed set to launch the remasters. “It felt like that was the natural thing to do, because we’re such a live band,” Katwo says. The idea, however, quickly soured from the weight of sheer logistics. The short of it is, well, they’re all semi-retired from full-time music-making, and most of them no longer even had gear. But talked they did, and recapturing the camaraderie was paramount. “We wanted to reach out to each other and see how everyone is doing,” Ryan shares. Though largely seen as the band’s mastermind, he’s currently gearless. But gearless is nothing if you’re fearless. He then brought up the example set by the Eraserheads, who broke fifteen years’ worth of silence through twin releases via Esquire: “Sabado” and “1995.” “The idea of creating music with each other again, I was intrigued by that,” he says.
And because these conversations involved different lineups of the band, the potential for either an interesting behemoth or a grotesque Frankenstein’s monster was in the offing. And that alone makes it worth exploring. “‘Yung creativity dito, parang hinahamon ka to be the best you can be,” Ryan offers. Guitarist Ed Ibarra, meanwhile, alludes to occasional bouts of Lennon-McCartney-style creative sparring, saying, “It was exciting but [unnerving]. I was very curious to try and make new music [with these guys], and I took it as a challenge.” New songs were drawn up, guitars were dusted off from their cases, and Narda was alive once again, some fourteen years after they gasped their last breath. We all know how bands are amalgams of warring tastes and disparate timbres—guitarist JV Javier loved Slayer, Wincy dug Blur, and Katwo most probably the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (I didn’t ask)—but what called to me, specifically, was the getting here, the measured tennis between potential and kinetic energies. How to potentially marry the jangly indie of young Narda with the postpunk of the Discotillion era. And now we can stop wondering.
The impetus for noise, always, is a silence that lingers like a bomb. And by the same merit, the impetus for heroics is a protracted grappling with being pedestrian: something Narda has always stood for.
A first taste of what was previously speculative fiction is now here. “Juskopo,” a riff-based punk number that takes tasteful detours into psych-rock territory, is the first in a string of new releases the band is poised to spring into the world. Ryan jokingly calls it Narda A.D., while Wincy playfully puts the upcoming singles under the imagined banner Natin2020: Let’s Piece It Together, owing to the renga-like manner they are, uhm, piecing things together. In any case, the Katwo-penned rocker is another laurel on the Narda continuum. The New York-based singer is, as always, self-effacing about the enterprise, claiming, “Honestly, I’m not that original. And if you’re not that original, it’s better to just follow someone who is. Over the years, I’ve come to respect [that idea].” The impetus for noise, always, is a silence that lingers like a bomb. And by the same merit, the impetus for heroics is a protracted grappling with being pedestrian: something Narda has always stood for. It’s been said to death before, and it deserves restating now: Narda is the hero in plainclothes, awaiting a great reckoning.
With everyone rounded up from the inaugural lineup (Katwo, Ryan, Wincy, JV, and Ed), mid-career (multi-instrumentalist Nico Africa), and swan song (guitarist Tani), Narda is set to soar once more. “I don’t think anyone has an answer as to what this postcard [would eventually look] like. We’re more a collection of different postcards right now,” Nico says, and the band echoes the sentiment. What started as a curatorial project for Wincy, an act of recovery, if you may, has yielded a discovery. And maybe that discovery doesn’t mean anything yet, but the excavation is a reward in itself, maybe more so than any hard outcome. It should be.