Saturday, 24 November 2012

Building Capacities with Armi Millare of Up Dharma Down

Image courtesy of Chico Limjap
ca·pac·i·ty /kəˈpasitē/ n. pl. ca·pac·i·ties
1. The ability to receive, hold, or absorb.
2. The maximum amount that can be contained.
3. a. Ability to perform or produce; capability.
    b. The maximum or optimum amount that can be produced.
4. The power to learn or retain knowledge; mental ability.
5. Innate potential for growth, development, or accomplishment; faculty.
6. The quality of being suitable for or receptive to specified treatment.
7. The position in which one functions; role.

To these definitions, we can now add: title of the soon to be released and much anticipated third album of Up Dharma Down under Terno Recordings.
The Scenester’s chief contributor, Kristo Babbler recently “sat down” with Armi Millare, keyboards and lead vocals for Up Dharma Down to take stock of the band’s evolution to date, their creative process in the lead up to their third outing, and Armi’s personal journey all throughout. A rather revealing exchange ensued.

Kristo Babbler (KB): Judging from Turn it Well (see video below), Capacities sounds like a very different album from Bipolar or Fragmented. I sense a more upbeat feeling from it, more life affirming, is that true of the rest of the album? And if so, was that by design, or did it just evolve that way over a period of time?
Armi Millare (AM): It’s part of our evolution as music-makers. I think we’ve consciously tried to re-interpret some things in a different way. Not because the theme is wrist-cuttingly sad, doesn’t mean it can’t be upbeat. There are ways around expression that we can toy with. I used to have the impression that anger was expressed with a lot of high register singing, but there is pent up anger, there are passive aggressive episodes and there are hopeful moments that don’t necessarily have to reflect into a fast beat.
KB: It’s been four years since you released Bipolar. Many of your followers are actually second and even third generation ones. Are you concerned that with this third album, your followers might not “get it”? Or are you fairly confident having road-tested the first track?
AM: We also wanted to explore new heights, always trying to do something new. We perform these songs at least three times a week and on a technical aspect, and so we want to keep ourselves inspired by creating new things (that) we haven’t done before. I don’t think that’s a crime. This is all we’ve got, so (we) might as well give it our best shot; might as well enjoy it. You can’t please everyone. And that’s been our mantra all these years. I think the reason why we stuck together was mainly because of that.
I realize that most people forget that even if we have not released a record in 4 years, we were relentlessly gigging since 2004 and a little before that. We were living the life of a performing band that hardly took any breaks because that's how we want to spell out our commitment. In those 4 years before the actual CD was pressed, we have released tracks that kept us going. Most of them are only being heard now by a wider audience. Capacities has become a compilation of those 4 years and I would like to make sure that those singles do not go to waste when the album had always been on our minds soon after Bipolar was released.
We truly appreciate our listeners and we show that by interacting with them a lot. We feel grateful for their support, but I think the reason why they like the music is exactly because we don’t try too hard to please them. We’re pleased with our work, we’re mighty proud of it, because we wrote them from experience and there’s not one bit of a half-truth in this record. I bet all my chips on this one. Because in the next life, I’m going to be an anthropologist!

KB: There was a rumoured collaboration with Paul Buchanan of The Blue Nile, the Scottish band from Glasgow that UDD has been compared to. Did that actually materialise?
AM: Yes, it did. I still can’t believe the odds of that happening, really but like I have been telling myself, at the end of the day there’s always a silver lining made of gold [editor's note: this part of the interview was meant to be off the record as Terno Recordings meant to keep things hush hush until after the launch, but the news somehow got leaked to the press, which is why it has been included here]. All of the things I’ve gone through as an individual has broken me down to morsels, many times I’ve been recycled to the woman that I am now and I’d like to think was taken too many times apart from day 1, but this project with Paul Buchanan makes it all worth it. I am grateful to have known him not just as a musician but also as a mentor and a friend. Knowing him has taught me a lot on how to deal with being a brooding songwriter, and getting to know him makes it even more apparent, their music is a spring of truth.
KB: Did you follow the Blue Nile’s lead by waiting 4-6 years before releasing your next album?
AM: We have admired The Blue Nile for the last 8 years since we got signed and I suppose waiting 4 years was somehow, subconsciously influenced by TBN’s work ethic that has represented refinery and mastery. They have always been about the music and this resonates no frequency can beat. Everybody can hear this when they listen to TBN.
KB: It’s been said of UDD that you are a prime candidate for gaining a wider international/North American audience because of your sound. What do you think will be the reception of Capacities from abroad?
AM: I have absolutely no idea how the international market would have a stake in this. As Joan Armatrading once said, “its in the lap of the gods.” To me, luck has a lot to do with how an artist gets places. Hard work is a prime ingredient, but life has its uncanny way of delivering news, be it good or bad. That’s luck. But we’ve been decent kids, maybe we can cash in our chips to get good luck?
KB: After over eight years together, not only have your musical abilities improved, you’ve gained a lot of life experience as well. That seems to come through in Turn It Well. Do you think it has changed the way you guys approach the song-writing process?
AM: Definitely. We’re very open to trying out new things in terms of songwriting. Now there’s the internet and the mighty Dropbox. We leave things there and have other members pick it up to play with. It’s pretty fun, actually. I like to travel and use that time to write songs. Usually I send it via email for them to judge. What’s difficult is translating this live. We have to raise the standard in terms of how productions see bands in Manila. Sometimes they think we’re being really demanding when we’re only calling for what we need to deliver a good show. We carry a lot of equipment with us and electronics and its especially hard when gig producers think they can just give us amps and a drum kit when its obviously a lot more complicated than that. We cannot adjust to this even if it makes things “easier” because the product will change gravely.
Up Dharma Down from L-R: Paul Yap,
Carlos Tañada, Ean Mayor and Armi Millare.

The band as they once were: notice Ean sporting a Sonnett LVIII tee.
This is the same shoegazer band we featured in The Scenester Issue 6

And here's the Shaggy-Do version of UDD. See, Armi?
Ean did have long hair back then.
KB: You were a student at UP’s conservatory before forming the band weren’t you? The rest weren’t “trained musicians” as such. How did that affect the dynamic within the band? Did it help that there was someone with some technical background, or did it at times get in the way?
AM: It’s helped, and at the same time it’s also gotten in the way. For a good while I couldn’t write songs without knowing what key it was exactly. So, what I did was I kept writing everything on the guitar. I never write in keys because I know it a lot better and it gets in the way of creating something that I want to surprise myself with.
KB: What should the listeners out there expect from your third album?
AM: They shouldn’t expect anything. I don’t think we all want them to. We just want them to open their minds and see that there’s a reason so thick for why we did this record and why it took “too long” in the people’s eyes.
KB: That wouldn’t be possible of course under a major label, right?
AM: I honestly think that music should be done this way, and should take longer if the product needs further incubation. The fast food industry is different from the music industry, so we took all the time we needed to make this one. That way we all end up happy with the result and make no room full of regrets.
KB: And so finally, and perhaps most importantly, we end on a fashion note: you and Ean both started with long locks, now you both have short cropped hair. Do think now it’s time for a change again? Perhaps a dye here or there?
AM: You probably meant Carlos? With big curly hair. [editor’s note: no, he meant Ean, but anyway…] I’ve always had short hair even in high school. I just decided to grow it when I got to college and met the band but have wanted to have it cut. At that time people associated me with the hair, and I just realized that it didn’t have to be that way because I’m the one who had to deal with it everyday.
I cut my hair because I found it too taxing to think about what to do with it. I’m a very on-the-go kind of person. So are the boys. I think UDD represents the young working class and in that sense, even in the way we dress, we try not to do frilly things. We keep it simple in many ways because apart from being simple people, we don’t want our image to be on top of the music. Sometimes it can get distracting. We just have nothing to prove except enjoy what we do and hope that people like it too.
KB: (scratching head wondering, “what have I gotten myself into?”) I didn’t mean to suggest anything … er, uhmm…just thought I’d close on a light note(?), but, sorry if I …
AM: (interrupts) I also have this bit of a protest to represent women who are not all about image and try not to stick to the usual look. It seems that you always have to have long hair to appear attractive when there’s so much more than just hair. I’ve also grown up in a male-dominated environment where all my friends are boys and I have 2 older brothers, so I’ve been quite the boy, and I thought it wouldn’t hurt to be that kind of girl because that’s the real me.
I’ve had the wrong impression of being on stage when we were a younger band. I listened to what people thought I should wear ie heels, dresses and a lot of makeup at one point when it goes up against my personal standards. Now I don’t hold back wearing suits and have set aside those heels as I loved shoes a lot. Slowly I replaced them with plain black kicks and sneakers. I’m down to one thing though, I think -and that’s the red lipstick plus my coloured nails but the rest I leave up to the music and time spent doing other things.
KB: (Gulp) Right-e-o. Well, thank you very much for taking the time. It’s certainly been enlightening on my part.
-end of interview-
Editor's note: It appears our friend’s capacities were indeed tested by the articulate Armi Millare. Serves him right for thinking he could provide fashion tips (what a tosser!). At any rate, just an advisory for those who may still not have gotten their pass to see the band perform songs from the third album:
Terno Recordings will be launching Capacities on the 28th of November at One Esplanade, Mall of Asia Complex. Tickets are going for a steal at Php 300.00 single entry and Php 500.00 – single entry with regular CD. For more info on this and how to score limited 12-inch vinyl, contact Terno Recordings at

1 comment:

  1. In my defence let me explain that the suggestion was made based on a resemblance I had found with Miki Berenyi of Lush whose lyrics were all about avoiding gender stereotypes particularly in regards to women. It was the red lipstick that did it, I think.