Alessandra de Rossi on her musical debut, ‘Adrift’: “I wasn’t giving myself enough credit”

The actress talks finding a safe harbour in her ambient album, which has been reissued nine years after release

In 2012, Filipino actress Alessandra de Rossi made her musical debut with the independently released album ‘Adrift’. But perhaps “release” is a misnomer, as the album was more like a tree that fell with no one around to hear it. There was no big launch party, little press, no promo tours. It didn’t even make money, because she gave it away as a free .zip download and SoundCloud stream.

Nearly 10 years on, de Rossi is fine with her quiet musical debut. She was “no singer” anyway, she says now, and didn’t want to be part of “that bandwagon” of Filipino thespians who begin splashy music careers (“‘Oh, another one – and it’s the weird one, too!’”). She just needed a creative outlet that didn’t involve being a much-despised heel, as her acting jobs at the time often entailed.

After several years of alternating being tacky troublemaker (Legacy), vamp with a mischievous streak (Sinner Or Saint), and Medusa-like comic-book villain (Darna), de Rossi simply wanted to take all manner of masks off. “I was so tired of slapping and kidnapping and killing everyone on TV, of being angry 24/7 – three times a week during shoots – because my roles called for me to act like a psycho all the time,” she bemoans in retrospect, adding, “It wasn’t who I am.”

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And ‘Adrift’ was. Still very much is, which is why on February 19 – nine years after its initial unveiling – she reoffered it to the world as a remastered album via Lilystars Records.

For the four to five years spanning its creation, ‘Adrift’ served as a totem of self-rediscovery for de Rossi. And though she is still cagey about being called a musician – “You can’t just plop a strawberry into pork stew and fancy yourself a chef, right?” – her decision to now give her first musical baby its proper due is perhaps hint of some change of heart.

De Rossi has re-released the album under the moniker “ADR”: a bid for both anonymity and reinvention. Self-effacement still characterises most of her sit-down with NME, but she does allow herself the generosity of hindsight. After all, in the years since, she’s had other recordings and songwriting bylines, including official soundtrack inclusions in films like 12 (‘Twelve’) and Sid & Aya: Not A Love Story (‘Heartbeats’).

De Rossi now feels like she’s “one step closer” to being a ‘legitimate’ musician, if only because she’s now done more songwriting. “And, hey, people actually listened, right?” she says, exclaiming, “Congratulations to me!”

Alessandra de Rossi actress music album Adrift
Credit: Press

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Close to a decade on, ‘Adrift’ remains a top-notch turn at ambient, electro-pop and chill-wave, owing in part to hours of spinning Café del Mar and Hôtel Costes records, but also a desire to self-soothe.

Though de Rossi didn’t necessarily get consumed by the characters she played – including an inspired turn as chief villain Valentina opposite Angel Locsin’s titular heroine in Darna – the rigors of onscreen mischief nevertheless took a toll on her body and psyche. Acid reflux, palpitations, and voice loss filled her days.

“It does stay with me physically. My body would feel really heavy from all the rage of the previous day. It’s like constantly going through a bad breakup, or a 24-hour brawl,” she says. To add to that, de Rossi felt she was projecting unnecessary negativity onto people. Random strangers would joke, “OK, back off, I’m still fuming at what [your character] did,” and she’d carry it like a brick to sleep.

When a child in her household started mimicking razor-tongued “TV Alex” instead of “Real Alex”, she knew something had to give. “That’s when I wanted to dissociate from that, at least in my head – [and decided to] bring out what was inside and put it on paper,” she recalls.

“I was so tired of slapping and kidnapping and killing everyone on TV, of being angry 24/7”

It was then that she started messing around with music, figuring out GarageBand and MIDI controllers with friends TJ Montalbo and Veronica Deposoy. Armed with several journal pages’ worth of lyrics, she would give her hasty scrawls melodic form. And when she started amassing several songs, she tapped arranger Dennis Catli to smoothen out the edges. But it was when de Rossimet producer-engineer Pat Tirano (from famed studio WombWorks) that these hazy forms finally found proper bodies.

The decision to go indie came on the heels of an ill-fated meeting with a major record label. The bigwigs were, naturally, interested in the name and the face, but balked at the soul-baring material. “They said no one would listen to [the album], unless I put in three dance tracks that are radio-friendly – and catchy enough to sing at a mall show. Just the thought of it killed me,” de Rossi confesses.

‘Adrift’ is a thing of understated beauty, and more damningly, incongruent with the loud and demonstrative nature of Filipino “mall” pop. Advance single ‘Make It Better’ – put out last October to tease the reissue – perhaps best encapsulates what the record is: thoughtful, suggestive and mantra-like, with singing that’s largely unfettered by affectation.

The pulse does quicken on occasion, such as on the bobbing ‘Disconcerting Ride’, and things do edge off New Age-y territory, as in the sinister overtones of ‘Trigger Happy’. But at every possible turn, ‘Adrift’ unfolds more as stream-of-consciousness prayer than dance-floor fodder, and it’s probably for the best that de Rossi didn’t entertain corrupting that prayer to strike a lucrative deal.

“They were right when they said that it would work as film score, maybe,” she remembers of her label meetings. “[And that] it wasn’t something you’d listen to in the background when you’re talking to friends, not even when you’re having some alone time.” Rejection does sting, the actress says, but she believes in informed insight.

“I absolutely understood it when they said these songs won’t make it big – like, billboard big,” she adds, reasoning that going indie was also her way of avoiding doing things against her will only to recoup costs. “I didn’t like that feeling, especially since these songs are very, very personal,” she says, claiming that she circumvented vulnerable subjects (pining for lost love, or the uncertainty of a new one) through cryptic lyricism.

“You can’t just plop a strawberry into pork stew and fancy yourself a chef, right?”

‘Adrift’ was remastered by Sonic State’s Chrisanthony Vinzons, who managed to sonically refresh the record. But the album inevitably shows its age in some respects. “I think it’s a cute record,” de Rossi says. “I mean, it’s embarrassing to an extent because I was only 22 or 23 [when I started writing it], and the words in it sound like they were written by someone who’s 22 or 23.”

De Rossi, who turns 37 this year, is candid about the emotional obtuseness of the entire enterprise, but also marvels at how she was able to pull all of it off. “I wasn’t giving myself enough credit, and I was giving other people too much credit,” she says.

But sometimes de Rossi forgets and stresses that she’s no musician – even though she has begun work on potential new ADR material, penning at least two songs in lockdown. De Rossi also jokes about being open to more soundtrack work, especially for more financially strapped projects where marquee names in music are out of the question.

In retrospect, vital to de Rossi’s discovery of new artistic strengths is ‘Adrift’, which she previously held close like a talisman, but is now offering to everyone palms-up.

“Like a mother, I’m no longer that protective of this baby, who’s at least 10 years old now. You can say anything about it and it won’t affect me.”

‘Adrift’ is out now on Lilystar Records

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