The English-language rework of Ben&Ben’s Filipino single, released in May, is the first of a two-part collaboration. Ben&Ben have reworked Pamungkas’ beautifully understated ‘I Got To Get You’, though that collaboration will be released at a later date.
The collaborations come amid maddening prep work in their respective camps – Ben&Ben for their first North American tour later this year and Pamungkas for his ongoing regional jaunt in support of ‘Birdy’ – with the two acts squeezing in the pair of in-studio collabs before they co-headlined the show Gimme Shelter in Manila on August 6.
The project follows the self-styled “multiverse” that was Ben&Ben’s 2021 release ‘Pebble House, Vol. 1: Kuwaderno,’ which saw the nine-piece outfit joining hands with Zild, Chito Miranda and KZ Tandingan among others.
As for Pamungkas – whose fourth record is a back-to-basics collection brimming with bedroom-style productions and vulnerable lyricism – his largely solo operation doesn’t take away from his desire to stay faithful to the “value and essence” of the material assigned to him, he told NME.
NME got a chance to sit down with the pair at SoundCheck Studio in Pasig City, Philippines, where they shot videos and and tracked the recordings a day before they played Gimme Shelter.
Watch the live-in-studio performance of ‘Stand By You’, performed by Pamungkas and Ben&Ben below.
How did this all come together?
Pamungkas: “We were planning a Southeast Asian tour for my fourth album ‘Birdy,’ and the first show was going to be in the Philippines. We contacted the people here, and they said the biggest band in the [country] wanted to do a collaboration. I listened to their stuff, and I thought we shared some similarities in our music; they play a bit of folk here and there, and so do I. We just communicated through music instantly.”
Miguel Benjamin Guico (Ben&Ben): “It was the first time we collaborated with someone from another country, and in person, too. We did a couple over the pandemic, but they were over Zoom. But now’s different. We’re really enjoying it, and we find a lot in common, like the things we listen to. We like the same Beatles albums, like ‘Rubber Soul’.”
What were the dynamics like when you were rearranging each other’s material?
Pamungkas: “I listened to Ben&Ben’s song for almost two weeks without picking up any instrument. It was originally in Filipino, and Miguel and Paolo sent me translated lyrics. I found the original rather rich lyrically, so I did a few adjustments [to the translation] and sent it back to them. I think, as a result of listening to the song over and over again – because it’s buried in my subconscious – it made me want to just sit down and try my best to deliver the message.”
Miguel: “He added his own take on what the song meant to him. He asked a Filipino friend living in Bali not so much what the words meant but about their depth. His friend said ‘paninindigan’ – in the realm of the different ways one can say ‘I love you’ – is quite rich. It was a nice collab, even lyrically. Also, when we heard Pam’s demo, it was a vibe! It was different, but we really enjoyed it!”
Did any of you make drastic changes to the other’s tune?
Pamungkas: “I added a bit of distortion here and there. It’s a great song in itself. Hopefully, I didn’t take away from its value and essence.”
Miguel: “It’s the same for ‘I Got to Get You,’ which we reimagined our way. The extra challenge for today, though, is we’re three members short, because they’re sick; now we have to imagine how we would do it with just six out of nine present.”
What tendencies of yours were you forced to set aside?
Pat Lasaten (Ben&Ben): “With Poch [Barretto], I’m used to this give-and-take dynamic we have. When he’d do rhythmic parts, I’d be playing in trickles. But without him today, I have to be on full rhythm detail. I have to compensate and adjust. Templates can get tiring, so I see this as an opportunity to do something I don’t usually do – and I’m having fun.”
Agnes Reoma (Ben&Ben): “Also, with Pamungkas’ band involved, I can sense how – even though they have their own templates, their own chemistry – they’re doing the same.”
Pamungkas, were you intimidated by any of this? Ben&Ben’s such a fully-formed band with a sure-footed character.
Pamungkas: “Thankfully, the song is five minutes long, so I get to do a lot of parts. The form is also filled with stories, from intro to verse to chorus. Between us, there’s a percussion player, a couple of keyboardists, electric and acoustic guitars – and I thought all of it would pan beautifully in the mix.”
Was there any pressure to have everyone in the two bands represented in the performance?
Pamungkas: “Nah, no. The more, the merrier, you know?”
Miguel: “I think our natural instinct as musicians is more to give away – and I think they’re the same way! The instinct is to find your space rather than own the space. All of us have that awareness, and that’s important.”
Pamungkas: “I’m just happy and grateful to get to collaborate with the biggest band in the Philippines. I[‘ve] come from a long way, and not everybody gets this chance.”
Weren’t you concerned, while you were working on Pamungkas’ song, that it’s like being left the keys to somebody else’s house, like, “Man, I wish I don’t break anything here”?
Miguel: “That’s exactly how it felt.” [laughs]
Pat: “We were house-sitters.”
Agnes: “And we traded him our keys, too!”
Miguel: “And we rearranged his furniture!”
Pat: “But when he got back, he was, like, ‘Hey, I like this!’ And we’d be the same!”
Pamungkas, I know it’s such a short window to be judging Ben&Ben by, but is there anything you learned about them that’s worth noting?
Pamungkas: “Apart from having great, silky hair, I think they’re pretty funny and humble people. Culturally, I don’t think we’re that much different. Even in our languages – [Filipino] and Bahasa [Indonesia] – like, for example, we share the same words for ‘me’, ‘you’, and ‘booze’.” [laughs]
Ben&Ben’s and Pamungkas’ ‘Stand By You’ is out now