Reese Lansangan: “The best way to affect people is to be authentic to myself first”

Six years after her breakout debut ‘Arigato, Internet’ (and some experimental releases in between), the Filipino indie artist returns with new album ‘Time Well Spent’

In March, Reese Lansangan sent her fans on an adventure. The Filipino singer-songwriter had unveiled the first taste of her highly anticipated sophomore album – except that it was locked behind a password-protected website. It took NME a good half hour of fiddling with a string of phrases, trying to crack the code – one that several diehards had already figured out, they gleefully crowed on social media.

After several more hints and tries, the site finally cracks open. “Thanks for spending time,” the landing page begins. Then a letter from Lansangan: “Dear friend, well this took a while didn’t it?” It’s both a note of sympathy and also a wry acknowledgement of the time it’s taken her to release a new album. It’s been six years since ‘Arigato Internet’: her largely acoustic, 11-track debut that brimmed with the humour and clever lyricism which fans have grown to know and love Lansangan for.

In the letter, she confesses to being plagued with “anxiety and self-doubt” while “creating something I loved that other people would resonate with.” She showed up to create on good days, and on bad days, allowed herself to stop, rest, and play. That latter cycle, the singer-songwriter stresses, was “time well spent” – which is also the title of her new album.

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By the time you read this, ‘Time Well Spent’ will be out in the world. Speaking with NME over Zoom ahead of the release, as the record gets mastered, the 30-year-old artist reiterates that the road to ‘Time Well Spent’ was not spent dawdling, but doing away with self-imposed pressures.

“I was rushing because of expectations I placed [on myself], even though no one was asking ‘Hey, where’s your second album?’ Because everyone’s too busy minding their own business,” she says. “Ultimately, I’m making music for myself but the byproduct of it is I’m making music for others. And I take that responsibility seriously.” She adds, “I feel that the best way to affect people is to be authentic to myself first.”

That sincerity manifests in Lansangan’s album rollout as Swiftian attention to detail, whether it’s leaving album sneak peeks in password-protected sites to deliberating on the title of the record itself. ‘Time Well Spent’ may not be as zippy as ‘Arigato, Internet’ or ‘Of Sound Mind And Memory’, but “it feels authentic to me,” she says. “A mantra or a reminder. It really reflects the journey that I had to go to, to be here.”

“The byproduct of making music for myself is making music for others. I take that responsibility seriously”

To paint a picture of Lansangan’s musical journey is to go back to 2013, two years prior to the release of ‘Arigato, Internet’. She’d made the cut at Elements Music Camp, that famed songwriting retreat helmed by legendary composer Ryan Cayabyab (other famous alums include Ben&Ben and Clara Benin). A guitar-wielding Lansangan auditioned with ‘A Song About Space’ – the same catchy tune that NASA picked up years later for its 2020 #LaunchAmerica campaign – and boot camp music vets were the first to gush over its ingenuity. It landed her in that year’s top 10 mentors’ choice list – a milestone for the Quezon City songwriter, who at the time, had only thought of music-making as a hobby.

“I guess it gave me validation that people I looked up to like Mr. C – people who are important songwriters – think that my stuff is worth something,” she says. “Prior to Elements, I really just wanted to burn a CD of original songs I recorded on GarageBand and give it out for free. After that, I was encouraged to put out an album.”

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Reese Lansangan album Time Well Spent interview 2021
Credit: Shaira Luna

Lansangan has kept busy in the years since that fateful boot camp and ‘Arigato, Internet’, putting out music that pushed creative exploration and play. You can hear as much in the 2018 single ‘Islands’, an uncharacteristically loungey track so sensual you can hear orgasmic cooing in the background (“Production really dresses up a song,” she says). Lansangan continues to write from experience and “grapples with singing something that isn’t 100 per cent true”.

That self-awareness drove the release of ‘Playing Pretend In The Interim’, last year’s five-track EP populated with fictional characters, including an encyclopaedia salesman. “I always write about myself,” she says, “I wanted to be free to weave reality and fiction together, and I want to keep revisiting that exercise.”

On ‘Time Well Spent,’ the route Lansangan takes is neither overtly experimental nor hyper-specific. Lead single, ‘What Is This Feeling?’, is an outpouring of bliss, no clever punchlines attached: “I can feel the change in me…/ I’ve never ever felt this free / I feel it inside / It’s pounding in my chest / It’s crawling out of every open wound on my flesh.” She wrote the song in 2018 at the end of a particularly tough period, embracing the “feeling of freedom when you’re over a dark stage”.

“I guess in a biblical sense, you know how they say I need to share the gospel? At the time it felt like that,” she says. “I was filled with so much joy and inspiration I just wanted to proclaim it. And it’s a reminder that you’ll get there too. Although if you’re in the dark and you’re hearing this you’ll be like, ‘ugh’,” she rolls her eyes and laughs. “But it’ll come, it’s a cycle.”

“The distance from where I started to where I am now feels wide but I’ve been filling the gaps throughout”

In stark contrast, second single ‘Orbiting’ peals with heartbreak, confronting the ghost of unrequited love lost. “I can tap into emotions that aren’t fresh,” Lansangan explains. “I was thinking about that person, then I went home and wrote on a piano. And it was the final act, my last offering. I wanted to write about it and be done.”

‘Orbiting’ is the song that’s taken Lansangan the longest to write, as she kept revising it, much like the other slow-cooked tracks on the album. “It can feel frustrating when you’re writing a song and you know it’s not finished. You have the urge to fix it right away, but you have to go through other stuff before you get the answer,” she says. “And then there are magic moments where it’s like, ‘Wow, here’s the missing piece’.”

It’s no coincidence that the two singles, released ahead of the record, are perfect polar opposites. “I gave you the max emotions on opposite ends of the spectrum and everything else in the album is in the middle,” she says. “They vary in moods and tones, but mostly embody growing into your own, new beginnings but also healing, going inward and taking time to come into yourself.”

Those moods include self-doubt, Lansangan acknowledges. “A lot of my personal insecurities were really reflected in this album because that was what I was really going through at the time.” But ‘Time Well Spent’ still has room for whimsy and play. “There’s still a good chunk of flip-your-hair, feel-good tracks. I have two that call back to ‘Arigato, Internet’ in terms of kulit [playfulness]. But it’s not coy, it just has attitude. I guess that’s a natural progression of the ‘quirky vibe’ I was comfortable with.”

On the precipice of her second album, Lansangan feels proud of her musical growth and how far she’s come. “I guess the distance from where I started to where I am now feels wide but I’ve been filling the gaps all throughout, so it doesn’t feel unnatural,” she says. “I’m more comfortable, I guess, saying things as is versus approaching things with humour and levity. I think that’s maybe reflected here.”

Reese Lansangan’s ‘Time Well Spent’ is out now

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