“The next time Reese holds a collage-making workshop,” Rainy told me, “let me know. I want to join.” So, a little over five months ago, we stocked up on old magazines at Book Sale, bought a shiny new pair of scissors, and went to the workshop. Well, only she took part. I was just there hovering around, doing some pre-blogging (that would be our month-long series on OPM classics) and playing with some questions in my head.
By then we’ve been writing about her for a year and a half. Rainy’s been interested in her art, and paid particular interest when she found herself watching what would be Reese’s first festival performance. Several blog entries later – including a time when a music blog would write about an art event, her exhibit launch – I wondered whether she had any plans of working on an album of her stuff. Not that she doesn’t have any material out for sale – she had by then, I think, just released a second EP as one half of Reese & Vica – but I was keen on getting an album of her solo work.
As the workshop wrapped up, I asked her – by now I no longer feel as awkward talking to her – if she had any plans to release an album. Turns out, yes, she has, and she’s looking to finish the whole thing by the end of the year.
“Can I tweet that out?” I asked.
“Yes, please,” she answered. “Para ma-pressure rin ako na tapusin!”
So I did.
Sunday night, that album was launched. Arigato, Internet! – the name obviously implying a thank you to the connections that led to where she is right now, or in her words, the “great equalizer” – dropped to a crowd of around 300 people at Green Sun in Makati. In the five months between the collage workshop and the album launch, she went head-on, rerecording most of the songs she’s been performing in gigs for the past few years, as well as writing a couple of new ones. Judging from her tweets it seemed that everything was going down the wire; I think they were still polishing a few songs just weeks before the launch. And then there was the launch itself, which would have art booths before performances from her friends.
But before that, there was the private listening party, dubbed Creeper Club. Reese mentioned that to me last June; she wanted to recreate Taylor Swift’s pre-launch listening parties leading to the release of 1989: an intimate affair for selected fans (and a bunch of others) where she had the chance to talk about the production process. Rainy and I were invited to that a week ago, and there I saw a Reese clearly relieved that she’s close to the finish line. The speakers at A Space may not have given justice to the little details she was showing off – the sound effects thrown in at the new version of “Creeper”, for instance – but it was clear to me that she poured everything she had on the making of the record, and that she was very proud of it.
She was nervous at the launch, though. Of course. Her set started off with that kind of jitters that you don’t really notice unless you look really closely. Or maybe it’s because I haven’t really seen her gigs, save for that five-song set at the Gathering Season launch. Or maybe it’s because the acts preceding her served as aids to the climax, so to speak. CRWN and Gentle Universe went in with two different approaches to chill – the former, a little more towards chillwave; the latter, a little more towards whimsical toy instruments – that encouraged a lie-in. Jensen and the Flips followed with a set that proved their prowess live, adding another dimension to tracks from their excellent Honeymoon record; it’s all polished and seamless, yet it’s raw enough to allow space to breathe. Tom’s Story – a band Reese raved about at Creeper Club – promptly raised energy levels with a short yet playful set, so irresistible that a first-timer like me can’t help but go “woo!” with the crowd that have seen the band many times.
It’s also one of the few times that Reese has played with a full band. On board for this set is Arigato, Internet!‘s core: Autotelic‘s Josh Villena on guitars, Fools and Foes’ Gabba Santiago on drums, April Hernandez (aka TheSunManager) on bass and a lot of other bits, Kai Honasan on keys, and for “Slick”, Jensen and the Flips’ Carlo Maraingan on the bongos. All that nervous energy shifted towards Reese’s tendency to be chatty and warm (although the familiar anecdotes might have been lost in the crowd of 300), towards that twinkle she had as she performed her songs live, for the first time as part of an album – something that people are buying at the merch booth her sister and cousins are manning at the back of the room – and then, towards a giddiness closer to what I saw during the pre-launch. Soon things felt so loose she was able to squeeze in three more songs on her set list, including a cover of Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek”.
Here it is: the finish line, sort of.
One of her favorites from the album – and one of mine and Rainy’s – is the album closer, “St. Petersburg”. She calls it a concept piece, starting from a riff that couldn’t find words, and was pushed to completion as deadlines loomed. While most of Arigato, Internet! has the vibe of a live recording, that track sounds better when heard in person. It sinks in. I remember one of the girls behind me trying to fight tears. “It’s so beautiful,” she told her companion, her voice almost breaking.
A lot has happened in those five months. Yes, we’re just a little blog with no clout, but having (accidentally?) covered Reese for the past two years, I’ll admit, I was quite excited to get my hands on the record. Not that it’s a no-brainer, but at this point, I just had to. Perhaps it’s a bit of a hipster claim – we weren’t first to her by any means, but can we say we were there before all these gigs and all the radio airplay and all the other things that came with it? Maybe not, but that’s arguably not relevant, right? But she was swarmed with fans before and after her set, asking for selfies and for autographs on the CDs they bought, and I thought, well, there goes the art – the music will get her way up there now. I could be wrong (and I have been many times) but this might be true now.
“Wala na, sikat ka na,” I quipped to Reese when Rainy and I got the chance to talk to her, just before we left the venue.
“Hindi ‘yan,” she said, a hint of shyness creeping back in. “May utang pa ako sa’yo!”
The next thing we know, Rappler was streaming our faces live. [NB]
[Additional photography by Rainy Martini.]