Twenty years. Twenty fucking years.
The mere thought of doing anything with the same intense passion and fierce love of craft for a little over two decades is both intimidating and, well, seemingly impossible. Times change, people change, and so does everything else in the grand scheme of existence, no matter what you believe in… Everyone should know by now that having and keeping a great fucking rock band together to create music that resonates timelessly is indeed, no small feat: it is alchemy, the by-product of planets aligning, a well-choreographed dance of variables and intangibles both working and adapting to the overall shitshow that is existence on planet earth. Needless to say, it definitely isn’t the cool, fabulous, and glamorous life most people think it is.
But yeah… fucking Urbandub, man.
By now, any music fan worth his/or her weight knows the story: vocalist/chief songwriter/guitarist Gabby Alipe, guitarist John Dinopol, and bassist Lalay Lim were musicians from Cebu who, in the most basic sense, LOVED music. They formed a band, made great songs, and rushed to complete their 2001 debut album, Birth since it was simply a souvenir they wanted to gift to their original drummer, Jed Honrado. Though Alipe, Lim, and Dinopol still insist it was all pretty basic, as soon as people heard the tracks on the album, there was an almost immediate connection to the sonic genius of the songs on Birth, as it was mostly their peers and contemporaries in Manila who were exploding with excitement. [I remember playing the Sinulog festival one year in Cebu, running into Queso’s 8 Toleran and Ian Tayao, and they were insisting I check out Urbandub’s performance, or else they’d fucking shoot me… just kidding, both are nice chaps.] And for the entire night, all the musicians and friends I’d run into in Cebu were all going to check out Urbandub’s performance. So I did. And we all somehow knew that Urbandub would be kicking our asses soon. It was just a matter of time.
Fast-forward a few years, and Urbandub took the giant leap of coming to Manila. They bet it all – real heart-on-the-line shit – hopped on ferries, ate at fucking food courts, played shit clubs with shittier gear and borrowed guitars and stompboxes, and basically dived head-first into the culture, learning and trading know-how with musicians in Manila, and well, also witnessed the bullshit that came with it. They navigated things on their own, but if one thing was consistent, they always killed it with their live performances – it was almost impossible to catch a bad Urbandub gig, and looking back, Urbandub was unknowingly bridging the gap in the local scene, which was invisibly divided by musical sounds and styles; Urbandub was not only influenced by and not only played various genres, but they brought a whole new standard of excellence to the game; they were the reminder that no matter what you played, you’d better do it well.
It was during these back n’ forths when the band began writing songs that would make it on their sophomore full-length album, Influence. And needless to say, it was that album that found the band in full focus and determined to defy the odds, bringing out the ineffable chemistry between its members and turning the local rock scene on its head. And as soon as the album was released, the band played even more furiously, and its fan base began to grow outside of musicians’ circles and serious music fans. By this time, everyone was starting to pay attention.
Needless to say, the years that followed found the band working consistently and achieving milestones whilst staying in their own comfortable lane: though there were the inevitable trappings of success all around them, they were relatively… normal. No in-fighting and real beefs with fellow musicians (though they did recruit a new drummer, Janjan Mendoza, who fit like a glove…), no bouts with vices, no controversies – generally, they just did what they did, and always reconnected with each other and took careful steps to the next phase: more hit singles and awesome music videos, even more high-profile performances in and outside the country, and well, everything – they did not stop.
That is, until their fifteenth year, when the band went on an indefinite hiatus. Many were saddened and alarmed, and there were those who speculated it was the end of the band. Alipe released a solo album, John joined fellow hard rockers Faspitch, and Lalay started a family. But there were also a lot of us who kept the faith – and who were rewarded when they announced around three years later that they’d be hitting the stages once more. The collective fire to play music was re-ignited, as evidenced by their incendiary performances and the enthusiasm and gusto of a newer generation of audiences who just can’t seem to get enough of them. They are still one of the biggest live draws anywhere in and out of the country, and both their peers and younger contemporaries still cite them as one of the best to do it ever. Big praise – which they all take in a humble stride and modesty, since, well, it’s all just a by-product of staying oncourse.
Now, it’ll probably be a too much of a long-ass article for all of you youngsters if I attempt to write down every single detail of the band’s existence… like I keep saying: twenty years. So I decided to crash-in on one of the band’s rehearsals barely a week before the big vinyl launch of Influence and went straight to the source: letting Gab, Lalay, and John do the talking.
PULP: I feel like all the details about Influence have been discussed recently, with the upcoming vinyl launch happening soon. So let me start with this: where are your minds at right now, individually?
John: “Personally, I’m glad we’re busy again. Since we’re not really working on new material, this celebration of Influence and with the recent release of Rebirth, I feel that we’ve really been productive this year.
Gab: Everything was planned, in essence, and the timing was perfect: coming off of the pandemic, having no gigs, then suddenly pushing to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Birth and getting the masters of Influence again and being able to put them up on streaming platforms, then getting the offer from Warner… It took a year of planning with [Warner Music Philippines A&R] Kelly [Mangahas] and the entire team; so we’re sticking to a schedule now. Instead of just re-releasing the albums, we wanted to throw in a bonus for both: with Birth, we released a re-recorded version of it, and for Influence, since it was the 20th anniversary of its original release, we wanted to release it on vinyl form. to us, it’s the album that really captured the sound of the time – and it was Urbandub at full-strength.
PULP: When you began working on Influence, did you somehow know that you had a great collection of songs and that something major was about to happen?
Gab: After recording Birth, we started sending out the songs to radio stations as a joke, with no real expectations – but then the songs got picked up. So it was sort of a natural progression of the band: out of an accident, we found out that we could perform and write together. There was chemistry, so we pursued it. To me, it was that period when focus came into play: everybody started helping everybody in the group; it was a pool of everyone’s effort/s.
John: We were more dedicated to the body of work. I mean, we’re all natural musicians – the drive to create has always been there, and we love new music, but again, when we were invited to play gigs and got played on the radio, that amp-ed up the drive that we had. So yeah, we were aware somehow that we were onto something…
Gab: We had a clearer idea of what we wanted to do… It helped that we would go to Manila. Those first few runs of shows; our minds – especially as songwriters – were opened: new music was being released from bands like Typecast, Imago, and the like. We were watching performances from all these bands, so when we returned to Cebu, we had a new perspective towards things…
Lalay: Also, there weren’t too many gigs in Cebu, so it was a common thing for bands that they’d spend their time writing new music. So it was definitely a little funny that we’d play a string of gigs here in Manila, and when we got back, it was sort of like, “ok, so now, what do we do?” [laughs]
PULP: I’ve always noticed and appreciated the fact that no matter what trends were in music, Urbandub always seemed to sound like… Urbandub. I know you all love different types of music, but what do you think is that distinct quality that makes your sound uniquely yours, as it was especially hard to specifically pinpoint where the sound of Influence was coming from?
Gab: I can’t say exactly… But personally, I’m thankful, and it’s great that we all have a sense of compromise when it comes to what we listen to: we share music; whatever it is John or Lalay is listening to, we all listen to it, and interestingly enough, we all like it together and can see the merit behind it.
Lalay: We would listen to the whole album, too – from start to finish; and it would end up in our individual collections of music too…
John: … and we’d adapt what we heard to our sound.
Gab: We’d listen to it, collectively like it, but have very different interpretations, even with Jai (Dolino) and especially with Janjan [Mendoza]. We’d hear the nuances, and it would make it to our songwriting; it was almost like another language amongst ourselves – we would reference the elements and parts of the music, and we all understood and tried to apply it but in a way that didn’t necessarily sound like what we were listening to. Again, it’d be an interpretation of what we all heard together; it worked well for us, that constant sharing of music…
PULP: Do you remember the hardest part of recording Influence?
Gab: The money to pay for the recording… During those years, John quit his job, Lalay was a fresh graduate, and I had no job – I quit all of my jobs. We were all-in.
John: I think we all knew it could go somewhere…
Gab: I didn’t know. But it felt good.
PULP: Here’s a bit of a weird question, but I’ll ask it anyway… was it around this when you were aware that you made it? That the band was doing well?
Gab: Personally, it was after the [NU107] Rock Awards. Personally, that was my dream… I’d watch it on TV; it’s a different perspective, being a band from Cebu – because all of those bands you’d watch on TV or read about in the magazines… It was a real dream for me. And after that, it all started: we were offered a deal by a label and invited to bigger gigs… We were busy.
Lalay: Yeah, that label offer… Every single, there was a video, and the people were essentially pushing to make sure we’d get to the next level. It was like, “Wow… I never knew we’d be this busy because, again, up to that point, it did feel like we were having fun with this sort of… hobby.” But then, we moved here, and it became a serious thing— a career.
John: Before, a week or two weeks playing in Manila was sort of a long time already…
Gab: It sounds so romantic, right? Play gigs, have fun… But yeah, there were gigs during the early days, playing for pansit, or we’d get home with just enough money to buy load for our cellphones; a lot of the money we made was literally just enough to pay for rent at places where we’d stay, overhead, and all that; it took a LONG time before we were able to get to a comfortable place.
Lalay: Even when we were on a label, I remember, it was funny and sad at the same time, the thought of playing onstage, people were screaming and cheering us on, but we’d get home and we really didn’t have anything [laughs]. It was sad because, seemingly, it all was just onstage when we felt that we were successful [laughs].
PULP: So twenty years. How different was Urbandub then compared to what it is now?
Gab: Definitely the fact that before, we were just immersed in music. I mean now, we’ve all got families, relationships, and well… we’re older. There’s a schedule to negotiate with and follow, and not everything is focused on music.
John: … the maturity of [having] time management skills slowly creeped its way into our systems [laughs].
PULP: So what else keeps a band like yours together after all this time?
Gab: The respect for each other’s personal lives and as musicians. When we’re in the studio, work is work. But as soon as we’re outside, we leave all of the work in the studio and we’re back to joking around.
PULP: Will you allow these personal life lessons and experiences to seep into the new songs you plan to create sometime in the near future hopefully?
PULP: So I asked you a while ago how the band has changed, but what do you think is the biggest change you went through as individuals?
Gab: … because the practice regimen is still the same as before: we still rehearse for three to four hours at least; we’re not the kind of band to sit on our asses and just wing it onstage.
Lalay: We actually didn’t practice the entire time during the pandemic, but as soon as we were able to go out, we did.
PULP: It just hit me that since Influence is now 20 years old… that Urbandub is now classic rock. How does (that) term that make you feel?
Gab: It’s a dream come true. We lasted this long, and we never felt we would. It was already an amazing feeling when we reached the first decade, then the fifteenth, and now its (it’s) our 23rd year together. It’s nice to still be… not ‘relevant,’ because it’s not the exact word that I’m looking for… but the fact that the music is still there, and people still sing and react to it – it’s more than any band can wish for. The reason you write songs is so you can connect to people, and for that to still happen even though two generations of music fans have passed… it’s exciting and keeps us pushing forward. We don’t write for people, we only write for ourselves, which is why there’s really not much pressure if we do start writing again – we don’t write to make hits, so the new challenge, obviously, is how to write music that’s relevant to us; at our age, knowing what we’ve learned through the years and after all the stories that we lived through. the discussion seems to be: “What do WE want to say NOW? What else is there?” Because things are no longer the same as before.
PULP: So let’s talk about legacy. What would you want Urbandub’s legacy to be?
Gab: It’s hard to define your legacy on your own… we’ll leave that to the people. Sila na bahala. But I do love the fact that my son – and our children – are able to hear the music that we’ve created, and they can see the progression of the body of work we’ve released. Which is why it’s important for us to write new music, so they can get a glimpse of who we are now, as compared to the people we were when we were younger, in reference to both the musicianship and the stories we’ve lived through. It’s especially important too that we’ve released Birth and Influence on the streaming platforms because the catalogue is now complete: even the Dubistas can get an idea of how the band has grown and progressed through the years. The circle is complete… for now.