On ‘Huminga’, Zild Benitez reintroduces himself: “Now all I have is storytelling and my own memories”

Zild’s solo debut was a deliberately synthetic reaction to his band IV Of Spades. His second album ‘Huminga’ is more him, he says – a document of a growing songwriter

Zild is aware: putting out consecutive records not quite a half-year apart would inevitably lead to invocations of Taylor Swift’s sister albums ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore’. “I know, I know – but couldn’t you have said Bowie?” he jokingly pleads, perhaps referencing the Starman’s frenzied Berlin era.

Both TayTay and Mr. Jones produced open-sounding masterworks while in closed-off confines. But to the erstwhile IV Of Spades bassist, the exercise has more to do with immediacy: the mad dash to get things done while he still has love for the project. Otherwise, he says, “When something’s done, it’s done – and I’ll tire of it almost right away.”

As a result of this mad dash, the world will have ‘Huminga’, released this Thursday as the follow-up to his well-received 2020 debut ‘Homework Machine’. A few singles in, listeners are finding more differences than similarities – and they’re not off the mark.

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There was, for one, a complete shift in workflow: whereas much of ‘Homework’ was hinged on 8-bit-inspired electronic prefabs, on ‘Huminga’ Zild renews acoustic vows. The former is a bedroom producer’s project that evoked, well, the producer’s bedroom, while for the latter Zild “really wanted to make something that conjured the outdoors. I think I was reacting to [the previous record] in a way, because it sounded so ‘small room’”.

Claustrophobia is, of course, the last thing anybody wants to nurse at a time like this, and Zild is no different. But while his 2020 record transported fans to an imagined, cartoony elsewhere, it also simultaneously took an inward, cerebral trajectory.

‘Huminga’ is its inevitable reversal, the vehicle through which he falls back to earth. And in its three advance singles – ‘Kyusi’, ‘Apat’, ‘Bungantulog’ – he clearly hits the ground running. It is essentially fiction giving way to biography, and cold sentiment making room for wrought sentimentality.

“This time around, I feel like I touched on experiences I haven’t tapped for material before: specific stories like experiencing love for the first time, growing apart from your friends, isolation,” the 23-year-old musician shares.

This more grounded new material, naturally, begs for earthier musicality: steel and nylon acoustics, twelve-string janglers, moptop-era Hofners, Hal Blaine-worthy drumming, tasteful slide work. These are the sounds Zild heard in the music of his youth, and also the music of his forebears: John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, Cynthia Alexander’s ‘Insomnia’ (whose slide player, the legendary axeman Noel Mendez, he enlisted for ‘Huminga’), Neil Young’s ‘Heart Of Gold’.

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Zild Benitez new album Huminga interview IV Of Spades
Credit: Shaira Luna

In short, after a spell of furious experimentation, Zild circled back to where he first cut his teeth, and had the time of his life.

“I overdid the 8-bit thing for ‘Homework Machine’,” he says now. “I think I was too afraid of using organic instruments because I knew it would just be compared to IVOS,” alluding to his band’s reputation as virtuoso instrumentalists, which is both a gift and a thorn.

“When I was in IVOS, there were individual skills to account for, and they’d pop up – consciously or unconsciously – in certain songs,” he adds. “Now all I have is storytelling and [my own] memories.”

The quartet-turned-trio may be on an indefinite break, but Zild is not without collaborators these days. In his corner are top-calibre musicians like Mendez, drummer Chuck Menor, and pedal steel player Sam Norris. Tim Marquez (aka Timothy Run) – drummer for One Click Straight and Zild’s one-time partner-in-crime in synthpop outfit Manila Magic – served as his chief co-producer and co-conspirator on ‘Huminga’.

“Most of the time, he just knows where I want to go musically,” Zild says of Marquez. “When I feel like I need help on any one song, it’s him I first think of.”

Another beacon for Zild was Rico Blanco – semi-retired Filipino music icon and top dog of Balcony Entertainment – who took an immediate liking to IVOS early on, and who would eventually collaborate with them both in-studio (‘Nagbabalik’) and onstage (for a massive show at the Metrotent in Pasig City).

When Blanco first caught wind of ‘Homework Machine’, he knew to shepherd Zild through what, essentially, was a journey similar to his: that of a sideman forced to take centrestage and, eventually, forge his own path. As much as the former Rivermaya mastermind was a creative behemoth, however, Zild appreciated his guidance in other matters: “For ‘Huminga’, Rico really helped me out with logistics and finances, so there’s less pressure for me regarding those things, and I’m able to concentrate on creating.”

“When something’s done, it’s done – and I’ll tire of it almost right away”

And when it comes to creating stories-set-to-music, Zild has grown. “It used to be an insecurity, opening up about personal experiences. I felt it was lame and uninteresting as material, to be honest. But I realised that the more personal something is, the more universal it gets, too,” he says, honing in on examples: young love amid the crackling of Sunken Garden grass in ‘Kyusi’, or deep friendship put to the test by somebody’s smelly feet in ‘Apat’. That, he admits, is about the IVOS boys, but also about “seizing the moment instead of thinking about tomorrow”.

There is, certainly, more openness in 2021 Zild, and also, a recommitment to the latent antihero within. In the heart-on-sleeve tales of ‘Huminga’, he wishes not so much to be taken seriously but to be heard, and more importantly, heard out. Is this desire symptomatic of Zild’s generation: the one routinely portrayed as entitled, ironic, and morose?

“We’re just really showy emotionally,” he explains, adding, “Our meme-based culture ushered in the death of the mysterious and inaccessible rock star: that loner in the basement you can’t talk, like, sneakers with.”

“I touched on experiences I haven’t tapped for material before: specific stories like experiencing love for the first time”

On ‘Huminga’, that transparency is paired with easy-listening instrumentation – the thumb-picked Macca-style bass playing in ‘Paalam, Mahal’; the dreamy nylon-string acoustics in ‘Hari’; the lilting lap steel in ‘A Love Song’ – that is familiar by intent and design. But Zild’s singing is another thing altogether. In ‘Huminga’, he lets the seams show, allowing vulnerability to bubble on the surface and confessions to breathe.

As a young pop prodigy, Zild became adept at curating an image – a skill he’s slowly re-evaluating.

“Image is dead,” he says. “It’s OK to make serious music even though you’re, like, goofy online – and vice versa.” While fans may be used to IVOS-style flash or ‘Homework’-era theatre, they might need to start acclimating to the Zild of ‘Huminga’, which presents a homier, more unadulterated iteration of the musician.

“I feel like ‘Huminga’ is more me. ‘Homework Machine’ was really more of a novelty for me, but ‘Huminga’ is more about me and my songs,” he stresses.

For Zild, this newly reclaimed sense of self also means chasing pursuits outside writing, performing, and recording music. A break, he says, is in order. “I’m planning to learn pottery, finalise my turntable setup, get back to reading – maybe bleach or shave my hair,” he says.

Anything, he insists, that will force him to take it slow.

“This year, I plan to listen more and say less.”

‘Huminga’ is out April 8

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