Armi Millare on her departure from UDD: “It was the thing I loved most”

“I wouldn’t call it so much a burnout; it felt more like a heartbreak,” the singer tells NME in an exit interview the day her split from the band became public

Singer Armi Millare has left Filipino band UDD.

Separate announcements from the group and Millare came, a minute apart, on Boxing Day (December 26). In their statement, guitarist Carlos Tañada, bassist Paul Yap and drummer Ean Mayor thanked their erstwhile singer for “sharing her talent and artistry” in a 17-year run that yielded four records and “thousands of gigs” in Manila and the region.

Millare, on the other hand, revealed that her departure – primarily from UDD’s label Terno Recordings, and consequently, the band – happened as early as June. She said that despite her preference to keep matters private, she felt she owed the announcement to listeners “whose patronage and love gave [her] the experience of a lifetime”.

Advertisement

The remaining members of UDD – previously known as Up Dharma Down until they rebranded and released an eponymous record in 2017 – also added that they will “continue to make music” under the aforementioned label, helmed by Toti Dalmacion, which picked them up a year after they formed and subsequently housed all their releases, from 2006’s ‘Fragmented’ onwards.

Best known for soulful, atmospheric, beat-laced tunes like ‘Oo’, ‘Indak,’ and signature number ‘Tadhana,’ UDD are equally revered for their lush and layered production work, which perhaps peaked in latter releases like ‘Capacities’ (2012) and ‘UDD’ (2019). Yesterday, the band released a music video for ‘Tambalan’ off their self-titled record, which they called “a little gift” before they “move on to new beginnings”.

The group’s last release had been ‘Paagi’, which served as the theme song for Netflix’s show Trese in June, while Millare was most recently heard on the D’Sound track ‘Run for Cover’, which dropped last month.

Millare sat down with NME to put some portions of her statement in context, but also to celebrate the life and times of what, she suggested, was her one true love.

Your statement made note that your departure was, essentially, from Terno – but that “as consequence of this”, UDD had to go, too. Why?

Advertisement

“I was very young when I signed with the label; I was barely in my twenties and just wanted a record out. As I got older, I started to become more concerned about many things artists are not privy to. But my loyalty was always with UDD. That’s how I’ve always seen it, and how I continue to see it. We’re only as good as the people in our neighbourhood, to some extent. But if anyone ever said anything about the band, I’d be the first person to defend it. Because that was my castle – that’s where I lived and ate. I knew what it took to get to where we got. It was a lot of work.”

So, is this you taking stock of things? Like a reset?

“Yes. It’s really the pandemic that changed my perspective on what matters: things like quality of life, overall satisfaction, moral standards – like how much integrity matters to some of us, and how little time we actually have left.”

“Today I was thinking about the aphorism ‘Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life’. And I loved every bit of what we did together, but we were doing it way too much”

But what was the draw to you, in the beginning?

“The default reputation of independent labels was that, basically, they’re the good guys who didn’t meddle with creative freedom, didn’t take advantage of the artists in a business sense. Creative freedom was the most important thing to me.

“If anything, I was only ever worried about being told to change and not be myself, which was what other record labels wanted in exchange for us to get signed: play the guitar because every girl-fronted band did it at the time; make more eye contact and have rapport with the audience; dress more feminine; act like a rockstar – I don’t know, all sorts of things I could never be. And that’s how I got sold on the idea that it was a safe place for me and my band to be in.”

You allude to “preserving principles” in your statement. What do you think changed, from when you first started out?

“Today I was thinking about the aphorism ‘Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life’. And I loved every bit of what we did together, but we were doing it way too much. I felt very responsible for everybody even when I was unwell. And many times I was unwell.”

Is this a reference to playing a lot of shows?

“Yes. It somehow took its toll on me. Being front of the stage was no easy feat, and initially, one would think that this was a result of success, but I had no one to turn to, to tell me I wasn’t doing right by me. I didn’t know any better until I just felt my body literally giving up.”

The group alluded to your embarking on a solo career. Was this the crux of your departure?

“We’re talking about 17 years, so there’s a lot to unpack and grieve for, and I haven’t gotten to the bottom of things just yet. I’m just happy to be free to make my own decisions. To find relentless support is important for any artist. I hope everyone gets this from their own circle.

“I wish I could declare my retirement from singing, but I like music still. I can’t say I love it as much as I did; there are so many consequences attached to being in the music business, and I am in the process of picking what works for me and my well-being.”

It doesn’t take a fan to acknowledge how UDD, apart from churning memorable songs, was a cultural touchstone. You had some pretty massive hits, sure, but what I feel most strongly about is that you were testaments to the Filipino imagination, not just the Filipino talent. What did UDD mean to you?

“I never saw UDD as a job. It was the thing I loved most; I would consider it the biggest part of me until I find something that I could love the same way. Maybe I’ll never love anything the same way again, but I would like to be proven wrong. I wouldn’t call it so much a burnout; it felt more like a heartbreak.”

“Music was always the easiest part of the group, and I could already sense it suffering if we kept on”

Your word choice in an earlier conversation we had was pretty distinct; you used “divorce” offhandedly, like it was the only word that applies to this situation. Not a mere severing, not just you quitting – like it’s an office job – but a divorce.

“I think it’s a real relationship. It’s a marriage – or it was – and we didn’t survive that marriage. But we got to preserve the most sacred thing, which was the music, and that is something the people will always have. [It’s also] the way it’s designed to be: the music outliving the musician.

“Music was always the easiest part of the group, and I could already sense it suffering if we kept on. I felt isolated, and at the same time, I understood why I was. I thought the decision to walk away was the best thing I could’ve done. We’ve had many good years, and I gave everything I could. I’m sure the boys did, too.”

Advertisement
Advertisement