In the rock documentary “Beyond The Lighted Stage,” Gene Simmons of KISS succinctly describes the uniqueness of the Canadian prog-rock trio that is the film’s subject. “What kind of band is Rush? It’s Rush.” The legendary trio is in a class of their own.
As far as singer/songwriter/guitarists go, Bullet Dumas too is something else entirely.
With his distinct piercing voice delivering rhythmically and lyrically inventive melodies propelled by a Richie Havens-like attack on his open-tuned guitar, Dumas does not fit the “Acoustic folk” mellow MO. His long hair and intense gaze seem intimidating until he starts bantering with ease and self-deprecating humour with a baritone speaking voice; his day job as a mathematics teacher undoubtedly trained him for tough crowds. Math came before the music. “In fifth grade back in Leyte, I remember studying really hard in the owner-type school service jeep. I nailed the exam afterwards.” Then came sports: basketball, football, and Frisbee (he’s part of the National Team).
ON Music, math, or sports: “My attitude is i want to try everything”
Surprisingly, he owes more to ‘The Lion King’ than to the equally propulsive guitar of, say, Kaki King. His interests in music, sports, and math reveal a restless inquisitive mind. “We used to memorize Disney tunes as kids in Leyte and my mother loves Broadway musicals. Kung anu-ano pinapatugtog sa bahay (All sorts of music was played in our house). Radio. And (Polish jazz-pop singer) Basia,” he reveals with a smile. “My attitude is I want to try everything. Tanggap lang ako ng tanggap (I absorb everything). If I go through a classical phase, I’ll focus on that. Then jazz and so on. Yung math, mahirap siya; pag mahirap ang isang bagay, gusto ko siyang maatim (Math is hard; if something is difficult, I want to achieve it). My attitude is to at least try to do what interests me.”
Of his songwriting process, he says, “I usually start with chanting melodies and music. Then I’ll start looking lyrics and phrases that will fit the melody. The results sound freer, like a jam. I record everything; I’ll listen to it wherever I go (grins)—parang ang narcissistic ng dating (that sounds narcissistic)—and I edit out the gibberish words. Some phrases do change accents; kaya siya mas free (it sounds more free).” Is this also the math mind moulding the music? He ponders, “People say, diyan pumapasok ang math mo (that’s where your math comes in). But… I don’t know. I do find it easy dealing with odd meters and finding the downbeat somewhere in there… that’s math.”
Audiences point to “Tugtog” and “Ninuno” as definitive Dumas ditties; Bullet says a new song called “Usisa” can best describe his approach. “I’ve played it live but I requested the audience not to upload any videos of it to not spoil anything for others who haven’t heard it. It’s about (Jose Rizal’s infamous tragic character) Sisa… nabuhos ko talaga ang sarili ko doon (I poured everything into it). I was drained. Kailangan ko mag-baliw-baliwan dun sa kanta (I had to pretend to be insane for that song).” He laughs, “Pakinggan nyo na lang next time (Listen to it when I play it again).”
Is he self-aware of his uniqueness as an artist? “Medyo ‘di ko sinasadya (It wasn’t really intentional),” he says while fiddling randomly with his phone case. “It goes back to wanting to try everything… maybe all at once. (Red Hot Chili Peppers’) ‘Scar Tissue.’ I was trying to play Flea’s and John Frusciante’s parts at the same time. I know other people can play that of course, but as much as possible, ipapasok ko lahat ng trip ko gawin (I inject everything I like into what I’m doing). Eventually, nag-iba ang hulma ng music na ginagawa ko (The music I’m making found its own shape). But it happened unconsciously.” Bullet is managed by Stages, which mainly deals with mainstream acts, but he says it’s a mutually beneficial relationship. “I’m like their experimental foray into the indie scene. They understand that I’m not exactly ‘commercial.’ We’re learning from each other.”
Across him lies a pair of his mountain bikes. One has a bamboo frame that almost looks like human bones; the other is normal… with a dangling scrotum-shaped warning light. That Dumas rides both reveals differing sides of his personality: one breaks with traditional design while the other embraces it.
What kind of troubadour is Bullet Dumas? It’s Bullet Dumas.
For more info and updates on Bullet (plus his humor) visit www.facebook.com/bulletpiece.