Southeast Asian rap-rock supergroup Project E.A.R. have returned with the new single ‘Dark Times’ – one of the last songs ever recorded by member Jamir Garcia, the Slapshock frontman whose death last November left the Filipino music world in mourning.
Out today (January 22), ‘Dark Times’ is a purposeful departure from Project E.A.R.’s more party-oriented material. Garcia wrote its lyrics hoping to uplift listeners who were struggling amid the tumultuous events of 2020, his bandmates Moots (of Malaysian band Pop Shuvit) and Dandee (of Thailand’s Bangkok Invaders) told NME.
‘Dark Times’, which is a collaboration with lauded American producer Butch Vig (who produced Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’, among other acclaimed rock albums), stemmed from a sketch that James Dewees (formerly of My Chemical Romance and The Get Up Kids) sent the band. It serves as a preview of a five-track EP from Project E.A.R. out next month, proceeds of which will be channelled into a trust fund for Garcia’s children and partner.
The EP will include other songs Project E.A.R. wrote with Garcia, and also a tribute song to him called ‘Fade To Black,’ Moots and Dandee told NME. The closing track on the EP, it will feature some of the collective’s early members and collaborators, as well as some of Garcia’s Slapshock bandmates and other musicians in the Philippines’ metal scene who were close to him.
Project E.A.R. was co-founded by Moots, Dandee and Garcia, and has over the years invited many other Southeast Asian artists into the fold. In 2008, the supergroup made their official debut on the MTV Asia Awards stage with a lineup that included members of Thaitanium, Indonesia’s Saint Loco and Singapore’s Ahli Fiqir. In 2013, Project E.A.R. released the album ‘REvolution’, which featured contributions from Joe Flizzow, Angels & Airwaves’ Dave Kennedy and more.
Moots and Dandee talked to NME about their plans to release Garcia’s final songs for Project E.A.R., what they miss about him, and the future of the group after Jamir Garcia. Stream ‘Dark Times’ and read the conversation with Moots and Dandee below.
‘Dark Times’ must be an emotional release for you both. So I want to start by asking you how you’re feeling.
Moots: Emotionally, I think I can speak for myself and the rest of the boys: it’s always been ups and downs, right? You have your good days, your bad days, and there’s never really getting over losing someone special and close to us all – you just try your best to move on move forward. But the loss, the pain is still there. There’s no such thing as getting over it and we will always have our off days.
When Jamir passed, I think a lot of us were unsure of what we wanted to do and at that point in time, we didn’t want to release anything. But after talking to family, we all realised that the one thing Jamir loved was his music, and it would be a shame if we didn’t release it, because we will want his legacy to live on. That’s why we also decided that this whole release is going to go back to the family – we don’t want to make any money out of it. Whatever comes out of this, it’s going to go to help put a little trust fund together for his three kids and partner.
You shared on social media a snippet of a Zoom call Project E.A.R. had with Butch Vig, where Jamir said that ‘Dark Times’ was not a party song, and that it was “the right time” to address serious topics. Did you know what was on his mind when he was writing the lyrics?
Moots: In all honesty, we were always in touch with Jamir. I spoke to him at least once a week on WhatsApp, or gave him a call every morning because he wakes up early in the morning when his daughter wakes up, same time as me, and I always call him when I’m in the car. And because we were working on ‘Dark Times’, and we wanted to finish off the album.
Just to give you a little bit of context, we recorded an album in 2017 together with James Dewees and Ray Toro from My Chemical Romance. The plan was to release the full album, which was called ‘Conflicts And Resolutions’, in March 2020 and then go on tour for six months. That didn’t happen because of the pandemic. And then because of it we thought: “Do these songs make sense for us to release given what’s happening now?” Then we realised that that’s when Jamir was talking about reworking [an earlier song] ‘Stars’ and ‘Dark Times’.
If you ask me, I think sometimes with mental health and depression, it can be a very deep rabbit hole that you can fall into where things can escalate very fast. I would like to say that at that point in time when he wrote the song, he was fine, because we were speaking every day. I knew he was busy with artwork and stuff.
To answer your question, I think his mindset when he wrote ‘Dark Times’ was really about the message that he wanted to put out there for everybody who was in a bad place during lockdowns, all across the world. Because you must remember, this was probably written in around August or September when everyone was just coming out of their own strict lockdowns, and were waiting for the vaccine. So we wanted to put a song of positivity. Like, during these dark times, let us be your guiding light, and get you out of the dark.
Yes, in context, people can read it differently because of what happened. But I feel that he wrote that song at that point in time more as a positive message for people than anything else. The thing about songs is everyone interprets it differently, right? For us, no, that was not him crying out for help, that was not him saying anything. It was really him putting [out] a strong message for the people.
When we were talking about ‘Dark Times’ with Butch, and even amongst ourselves, his exact words to Dandee and me with the writing were, “It’s time for you to be vulnerable. It’s time to show your emotions. Don’t talk about partying.” Because we’ve always [staged these] big band shows, right? It’s always an experience coming to watch us perform. But this time he was like, “You don’t know when we’re going to perform next. So let’s show the vulnerable side. It’s good to show emotion.”
Dandee: When I [first] heard the song, and we talked about what we were gonna write about, I was like, “Okay, let’s do this, let’s make a song for hope for all these people at home.” So I didn’t take it as something really personal from Jamir – like, whether he feels a certain way or not in a good state of mind. We didn’t think like that. His genius was always writing for the people by [expressing] that pain or the feeling that people can relate to at the end of the day.
Could you share a story about Jamir that you think of fondly, or one that you think captures him as a person?
Moots: There’s a lot that we can’t share [laughs] but the one thing that Dandee and I will always remember is that Jamir is world-famous. Like, we have these “Jamir, Jamir” moments anywhere we go. We’ll be in Macau or New York or –
Dandee: You have to explain the “Jamir, Jamir” moments. [laughs]
Moots: So, we’ll just be sitting down in the restaurant eating. And then we just hear these whispers: “Jamir, Jamir, Jamir”. Then next thing you know there’ll be like five people around us taking selfies and pictures. So Dandee and I always used to laugh because wherever we are in the world, Jamir gets away with anything. “Jamir, oh Jamir!” and you’ll get into clubs and you’ll be getting tables. We’ll be in a 7-Eleven trying to buy gum and people be like, “Is that Jamir?”
“Jamir’s exact words to Dandee and me with the writing were, ‘It’s time for you to be vulnerable. It’s time to show your emotions. Don’t talk about partying’”
So the one thing we love about Jamir is that people love him and he loves people – he’s a people person. And I think he’s always put his love of people first, and his friendship with each and every one of us. This was something that I also realised in his passing: all our friends, even those that I haven’t even spoken to in months or years, just reaching out and realising that they were also very affected by it. And that’s when I realised that actually Jamir had either helped them out or reached out to them – like when they were going through a tough time, or when they were getting married. He was the first to say, “Welcome to fatherhood.” He always reached out to everyone.
I’m gonna miss these “Jamir, Jamir” moments when we travel the world together, because that was probably the most hilarious thing for Dandee and I to ever experience with Jamir. And he’s the most tattooed person, on people. I don’t think there’s anyone else in the world that has their face on people’s body as much as Jamir. I think that the number of people that have his face tattooed on their body is ridiculous. I think Joe Flizzow was the one who said that Jamir was probably the most tattooed artists that we ever known.
Project E.A.R. is a collective that expands and changes, but Jamir was also always such a big part of it. So what is the future of Project E.A.R. after this EP that you’re going to release?
Moots: It’s going to be difficult to move on writing new music without him. But what we will do is put this EP out. And once things are better around the world, whether it’s this year or next year, we hope that we can actually go out and perform, put his music out there and just do a bunch of tribute shows on his behalf. But I don’t think E.A.R is going to go away. Even for us, E.A.R. is meant to be an outlet for us as friends to put new music out. E.A.R. will still live on for his legacy as well, because I think he would have wanted that to happen. We’ve always accepted new people and work with new people. Whether that’s another Filipino artist, I don’t know.
“Jamir’s genius was always writing for the people by [expressing] that pain or the feeling that people can relate to”
I think when times are a little bit better, maybe we will look at releasing another single or EP. But we’re definitely not going to close the chapter on E.A.R. That wouldn’t do the collective justice because it was always meant to be more than just the three of us. It’s meant to be an idea, an ideology, a network.
Dandee: Yeah, Jamir was a core member: me, Moots and Jamir. But like Moots said, it’s definitely not the end as we’re gonna let it live on. In the future, I’m not sure how it’s gonna look like, but the plan for now is releasing all the songs that we have in the best way or with the best visuals, with the best we can. I think this EP will be the best release that E.A.R. has so far because of the collaboration with Butch Vig.
Moots: And we still have a lot of unreleased material as well. It’s not just this, we still have a lot of stuff that we wrote with Jamir that we just never finished up. So there’s a lot of stuff we can still put out.