Better to include his songs to your next solo bedroom party
As OPM icon Gary Valenciano said, “Healing can happen anytime when it comes to music.” While it doesn’t physically cure anything—or maybe there just isn’t enough scientific evidence to prove otherwise—many find comfort in its melodies and composition, especially in the past year. Its therapeutic powers can be felt not only by listening to it, but also in the process of its creation.
Among those who benefited from that is Paolo Melendez, a young singer and songwriter from Davao. Throughout the pandemic, he has dedicated his time writing lyrics and playing with his piano to craft songs presenting his take on pop music. But apart from producing art, creating music has been a way for him to keep his anxieties at bay.
“When you’re alone with your thoughts, things can get a little too much. When you put things on paper, you get a sense of release,” he says. “I see that also in my music now. Before, my approach was to be a little vague. Now, I’m sharing more specific details about myself.”
In a conversation with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, Davao’s rising pop music artist shares his pandemic story, how Bisaya culture influenced his songs, and how he wants his pop music to sound.
What inspired you to pursue a career in music?
I consider myself a late bloomer. With my upbringing, which is working class, arts is encouraged in our household. But it is not really considered as a career path. Growing up, the focus is on being good in school so you’ll get a good job. That way, you’ll have the money to pursue your interests.
Music has always been a hobby of mine. My first released song, “Skin,” was just a passion project because it was [during COVID time] and I had nothing to do. Since we are all working from home, I had the time to really work on my music.
When “Skin” started playing on Magic 89.1 radio station here in Davao, it was part of this weekly segment for newly discovered local artists. Then I started getting feedback from friends and friends of friends, then from strangers—that was when I realized that it was snowballing into something.
It didn’t stop there. From the weekly thing, it became part of the station’s summer lineup. It became part of the daily rotation. So, I was just very much surprised to know that I was constantly on the airwaves. This thing that I usually do alone in my bedroom, I don’t have a team or what, could be a thing that’s enjoyed by a lot of people.
How old are you and how long have you been doing music?
I just turned 24. I’ve been doing music since my early teenage years. It is encouraged in the family. There is no summer that I didn’t have voice or piano lessons. I have an extensive background on theater, too. I think it is also reflected in my later releases. Before it was more piano and vocal only. Now, there is more character and I do enjoy playing a pop character. We all love an alter ego. We have Lady Gaga who is Stefani in real life, something like that.
Do you have singers or musicians you look up to and do they influence the way you create your music?
Both of my parents grew up in the ’80s. So a very big influence on my work is ’80s music. You can differentiate musicians now from before. Besides being their own songwriters, singers then were also powerhouse vocalists. Now, the current trend in pop music is a very lazy style of singing like Billie Eilish. I like Billie, her approach to pop has a whisper effect. One of my major influences is U2. These days, it is rare to see a male lead with a powerful voice in mainstream music. Another is Spandau Ballet. There are several times that my voice was likened to Tony Hadley’s.
In my past theatrical works, I was always categorized as a baritone. In mainstream pop now, most of the male voices are very high. My approach really when I write a song depends on where my voice is comfortable. Maybe that is something I can offer. I have low notes and occasional high notes.
How would you describe your music aesthetic? What do you mean when you say that your music is for ‘the lonely, the lovers, and the bedroom dancers’?
I wrote that because it best describes my taste in music, especially nowadays we enjoy music privately. Who hasn’t enjoyed a solo bedroom party? You play your favorite music on speakers in your room. So, I think that’s where the bedroom dancers come in.
With my song “Don’t Leave it On Your Lips,” if you read the lyrics, it is a sad song but it is very danceable, very ’80s. I think, to best describe my music now, it would be modern disco pop. I didn’t want to make a pop song that is only catchy. I enjoy it when it is catchy and has underlying emotions.
Apart from doing music, do you have other things or jobs you are doing?
I work for a pharmaceutical company. I’m part of their virtual engagement team. So we engage with medical professionals virtually. It is a daily job. I’m very involved with digital promotion and marketing.
On your Youtube channel, there’s the music video for ‘You’ll Never Know.’ Can you tell us something about it?
Another COVID experiment—out of boredom. “You’ll Never Know” is a song I wrote for a songwriting competition. I submitted it to Himig Handog and to the Mindanao Pop Festival (MinPop). It made into the top 30 in MinPop but it didn’t make it into the finals. I felt like it would be a waste for people not to hear it. So I released it as a follow-up single to “Skin.”
As for the video. It was just me and my sister. I did that just to say goodbye to that era of mine. That’s also the last piano song I released. After that, I focused more on retro pop sound.
What is the best reaction you’ve received from people?
With my song “Come Alive,” its lyrics are very visual and the sound is very moody. People said that they could see it in a movie, [that] it has an indie movie vibe. That’s one of the things that I want to achieve with my music. When you listen to it, it immerses you and puts you in a different place, it takes you somewhere else.
Does your culture there in Davao affect or contribute to your craft?
The Bisaya people, I believe, are very emotional. We are in touch with our emotions. It is in the way we talk. If you ever heard a Bisaya person speak, it is very in-your-face. You really know when they’re happy or sad or angry. Even though I chose English as the language for my songwriting, because I also wanted my works to be universal, the Bisaya attitude is there.
Also, people’s taste in music here is very diverse. There are a lot of theater groups here. When you meet a lot of the youth here, it is really surprising that they are not the type of people who are dictated by what’s in the top 40 hits. They have their own preference. There is always a niche and a place for you and your music.
Who are you dream collaborators?
I’m drawn to songwriters. I grew up loving Christmas music, and we have a lot of great local Christmas songs. I would love to work with Ryan Cayabyab and also Lea Salonga. As a theater kid, it would be a dream. I starred in a local production of “Miss Saigon,” that’s why I have a sweet spot for Lea.
How was the journey so far as an independent artist? Do you have some advice to give to young Filipinos aspiring to be music artists?
Mine took a long time. It wasn’t overnight that I immediately found my sound and what I wanted to write about. You really had to put in the work. Learn your craft, study your voice, and at least study one instrument so your lyrics will have support. Keep reading. You learn a lot of words through reading and the way sentences are formed in such a way they don’t come very literal. I think the most beautiful songs are those that aren’t literal, the ones that have figures of speech and have deeper meaning to be understood by the listeners. Also, individuality. It is good to have your influences but people can really see if you’re being someone else.
Do you think it is important for artists to continue creating art during the pandemic?
Yes. I completely agree that people should find the time, if they have the time. Also, the artistic process can’t be forced. I know, sometimes we feel bad about ourselves because we are not that productive. But we shouldn’t really feel pressured. When inspiration comes, it comes. When you are in a good mental state, you feel inspired and healthy, then go and pursue it.
Listen more to Paolo’s music on Spotify.