BACK IN BUSINESS
PINOY ROCK LEGENDS THE DAWN RELEASE THEIR LATEST “EARTH”
AND RESUME THEIR JOURNEY WITH A REJUVENATED GUSTO
Words by Joey Dizon / Images by Richie Macapinlac
After surviving the first three decades of triumphs, tribulations, tragedy, an infamous disbandment and well, musical trends and evolution, it was needless to keep counting the years for veteran rock band The Dawn. If they proved one thing, it’s that for certain groups – particularly theirs – there is no expiration date when it comes to producing music that is equally inspired and timeless.
With their latest track “Earth,” the band – vocalist Jett Pangan, guitarists Francis Reyes and Rommel “Sancho” Sanchez, drummer JB Leonor and now-bassist Bim Yance – finds itself channeling a more organic and raw approach to writing a song that tells a story, both lyrically AND melodically, complete with everything that made the band great in the first place: anthemic choruses, a tight and steady rhythm section and impressive guitar dynamics and solos.
We recently caught up with Pangan and Reyes, and fired-off a few questions about the new single, and its immediate plans now that the world has started turning again.
PULP: It’s exciting to hear new music from The Dawn, considering all that’s happened in the past two years or so. Take us back in time a bit: what was it like for the Dawn – as a group – during those times, right before you started working on new music again?
JETT: It was tough just to believe the band still existed; we occasionally checked-on eachother via Zoom and whatnot mainly to see if we and our families were okay… During those online meets, song ideas came up – then we’d try to figure-out how the hell to put them together on record without leaving our homes: each of us really didn’t have state-of-the-art recording gear, but at least it gave us some sort of therapeutic activity…
FRANCIS: The pandemic was obviously difficult for everyone. No gigs, no rehearsals… Individually, we were all very careful health-wise: we wanted to get-together somehow to at least just hang out between windows of lockdown leniency, but we weren’t going to risk it. We did a few online versions on some of our older songs and posted them on Youtube; it was a bit of a challenge recording our parts individually, but we pulled through. I did the basic guide tracks, then we all did our parts in our home setups, and Sancho mixed everything. It was definitely therapeutic for me – it broke the daily cycle of wake-up-worry-eat-worry-do-light-groceries-worry-eat-sleep-repeat! Even trying to practice or learning new things lost their purpose for a while, because there was no end goal – even on a personal level… Doing the online versions felt purposeful; there was a target I could focus on. I looked forward to recreating the basic parts on my computer and whenever I did, all the fear and worry would dissipate. I felt hopeful. And I held on to that.
PULP: Was it hard getting back on track after that period? I’m sure you were fired-up to get back to work, but were there new challenges you had to face as far as the creative process was concerned?
FRANCIS: The silver lining I suppose was that – at least for me – the canvas became more open: it’s normal to fall into habits collectively and individually; it actually provides consistency that is the foundation of the band’s identity… But since there was some distancing (no pun intended, but whatever…) with no gigs in sight anyway, I figured I wanted to try a few ideas. We did agree to keep trying to write; again, no end goal, no deadlines, but just a way to get keep us creatively engaged. We did come up with a song called “May Bukas Pa Tayo” which came from a thought JB had which is “an upbeat celebratory song when all this is over!” I wrote a synth-pop-meets-rock thing, and Jett came up with beautiful melodies and harmonies, and hopeful lyrics. It has an instrumental section in 13/8 time just to keep things challenging, and also to give the song some jitters; the idea was that there was still going to be an undercurrent of unease beneath the gloss and hopefulness – it wasn’t meant to convey a message that “everything is ok!“
That section and the synth layers… Sancho did ask me, “Ah, papa’no natin gagawin ito live, if ever?” And I said, “Bahala na, matagal pa naman yun!” The song came and went… maybe the timing was way off. And we still haven’t attempted to rehearse it!
JETT: We also managed to do a few protocol-laden rehearsals and gigs here and there during eased restrictions, so that somehow helped to keep the creative wheels turning…
PULP: Tell us about the new song “Earth.” How did it start? Was it with a title, a line or a riff?
JETT: Kiko and I had weekly e-numan sessions, which was basically him and me venting online with our respective cans of beer! Pero laging may ideas na nangyayari sa kwentuhan. I pitched that we should create something that’s got a guitar riff and vocals doing the same melody – there’s a great young band called Muni Muni that I once guested on my podcast. They have a song wherein the vocals and the guitar are in unison; na-inspire ako sa style na ‘yon. After some back-and-forth demos, the lyrics took shape: it’s about how fear can make us look the other way when unfavorable things happen, especially now with all the bad stuff going on in the world…
FRANCIS: Jett would message me, “You have a berrrr widju?” or something, so I’d go off and buy a beer or two from the 7-11 around the corner… if there was no QC liquor ban that is! One time, he said he had a song idea, and played guitar and sang, and said that I could layer synths on it, so I fired up a softsynth program… It’s still an unfinished idea in my computer but “Earth” was created like that. He sang a melody with rough lyrics, and he said he wanted the guitar to shadow the melody. So I plugged in my guitar and did half-distorted double stops; I was immediately thinking about the intro of AC/DC‘s “For Those About To Rock.” We discussed the song’s overall theme and feel, and I felt that the “For Those…” intro had a seething quality to it… so I based the vibe off it. Once we agreed on the rough tempo, I immediately started making the demo.
We both agreed it should be a loud guitar song that will build, in contrast to the synth mindset were on previously. And stick to 4/4! There’s anger and frustration in the song. Nothing in it should be gentle…
PULP: There’s a dark vibe to the song, and I love that it has that steady rhythmic thump to it; although The Dawn has always dabbled with many musical styles under the rock vein, is this a sign of the band’s newer direction and sound?
JETT: Thanks! The previous album Ascendant is a nod to how we really like it chunky and loud – but we’re all about parts that complete the whole message… It is a sign, though, that we’ll always have the itch to crank it up.
“Earth” is Mon Legaspi’s last single with us before he passed away. His bass tracks alone show how we prefer telling a story as a unit…
FRANCIS: We haven’t really talked about any specific direction… actually [now that I think of it] we never did anyway! Personally, I would like to write a couple more tunes in the “Earth” vein. I do have one waiting in my hard drive. I suggested to the band to maybe just keep writing, maybe have not just one song “in the vein of…” because we tend to write things as independent entities… like a specific style or mood and do something else for the next one. It would be fun to do more from each approach.
We liked assembling “Earth” and we really enjoy rehearsing it; live, we’re really a loud guitar band, so another loud guitar song would feel great! Then we balance it out with other ideas and so on. And with Bim Yance in the band, there are ideas we haven’t tapped into yet: he’s a pro arranger and writer, too…
PULP: Speaking of Bim, how did you end up choosing him to play bass? Any interesting bits about him and how is playing differs from your previous bass players Mon and [original The Dawn bassist] Carlos Balcells?
FRANCIS: Bim is an incredible and tasteful bass player; I worked with him when I sessioned for True Faith briefly, and he has always been a friend of ours… but I forgot how technically able he is! He knows the band’s music and is familiar and respectful of every bass player – and their basslines – the band has had. He has the chops and maturity to handle those lines easily… and quite a few of Caloy’s and Mon’s lines are tricky.
He also has an arranger’s mind, like Buddy Zabala… A big bass tone is central to the band’s sound: you cannot be meek when you play with JB Leonor! The dude’s full of Ideas and enthusiasm too, and very proactive: he thinks of the totality of the band. We were thinking of getting a regular session bassist and we did have a short list of players we love, but when Bim volunteered to help-out on a couple pending gigs, it was practically a no-brainer, from the first rehearsal/hangout.
PULP: It’s hard to NOT talk guitar because, well… Francis and Sancho. As far as the approach to the guitar playing on “Earth” is concerned, where were you both coming-from and pulling inspiration from?
FRANCIS: For me, there’s Angus Young, and a bit of Van Halen specifically their version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” where Eddie simulated the original’s sequencer pattern with double-stops. For the full-on distorted parts, Jerry Cantrell… his tones are huge! I was definitely aiming for that… and it made even more sense when Jett added vocal harmonies: we both love Alice In Chains. I think Cantrell is a great songwriter.
There’s also some Alex Lifeson in there; his chordal work influenced Sancho and me… I love playing suspended chords and major 9th voicings and things like that with distortion; there’s also hints of guitar synth pads underneath just to pull-out those chord colors a bit more. For the solo, I decided to use the riff in the chorus as a theme to give it more focus and shape.
A few people said they get a The Cult-meets-The Church vibe from the tune, and Sancho said he did reference The Church for his parts: I think he used a glitch delay from his Helix for those warbling watery pitch-shifted parts that add this eerie sort of atmosphere that fits the mood incredibly well…
PULP: What’s in the-near future for the band? Anything big lined-up for the year?
JETT: There are concerts and tours planned, a few more songs to write – this time, with
Bim on board… again, he’s a great guy and an awesome bass player, which makes even rehearsals something to look forward to again…
FRANCIS: We’re still talking about stuff: we’re actively writing and discussing new ideas more consistently now. There are a few technical things we’re excited to explore and implement for gigs. Collabs are on the table, which I hope will happen… The tragedy of losing Mon is not lost on us, but we do feel recharged on so many levels. PULP
Listen to The Dawn’s latest single “Earth” here:
You can also watch the official lyric video of “Earth” here: