Sitting relaxed behind a small dinner table at the hotel is acclaimed YouTube singer-songwriter and guitarist Gabe Bondoc. The Filipino-American artist had just landed straight after finishing the Australia leg of his Twelve album tour. With the help of Marco Selorio of MAS Presents, Bondoc is about to perform two sold-out concerts on the 3rd and 4th of March. After guesting at The Wish Bus, he wraps up his long and tiring day with a Jollibee feast, and lends BillboardPH the remaining minutes of his first day in Manila for an exclusive sit-down interview.
The man behind “Gentlemen Don’t” is true to the songs he writes: holding doors open, assisting with huge bags, and offering his seat – these are just few of many things he can’t seem to “turn off.” “I think it’s a dad thing,” he justifies humbly.
Bondoc embodies his own lyric “simple man, simple plans, good work, take care of my fam.” The family man in him shows itself as he describes the pink color on his wife’s “very first ‘beauty blender'” which he himself had bought for her. And just like any other proud father, Bondoc’s face instantly lights up upon the mention of his nineteen month-old daughter, Savannah.
Despite having two Filipinos for biological parents, Gabe grew up never once setting foot on Manila ground. In an exchange with BillboardPH, Gabe Bondoc takes a literal and cognitive journey, allowing himself to revisit and discover his roots.
Is this the last leg of your tour?
Yes, this is the last leg of our tour. Hawaii, and then Australia, and then Philippines.
And this is your first time in the Philippines, why did it take so long for you to come here?
I wanted to come to the Philippines under the right conditions. My parents haven’t gone back in 30 years with working and everything. They haven’t had an opportunity to. It took a while for me to get comfortable enough to come by myself. […] We were just like ‘Ok let’s do it!’ and so here we are.
This is the perfect excuse to come here – to perform! And you’ll be making your first impression as a live performer here on March 3. Do you have anything new prepared that your fans on YouTube don’t see as a live performer?
What they’re going to experience on the 3rd and 4th is an extension of what they see on YouTube. On YouTube, what I try to do is make the video as concise as possible so that they get everything they want to see and not too much of what they don’t. In the concert, they have no choice but to sit there and listen to me. So I’m going to talk about the songs before I play them. […] Just so they can see that they’re not just listening to a song but they’re learning about the whole, the heart of the song and everything that surrounds it.
That’ll allow them to see a different side of you as a musician.
I hope so, yeah. I hope so at least!
Your album “Twelve,” – I read that you have a new album.
I do, I do!
Is that what you’re here for also?
That’s kinda half of the inspiration for the tour – because we put out a new album. That album is sort of a combination of a couple of things. I took the first half and I said ‘I’d like to do something very different.’ And so I departed from a lot of the acoustic stuff. But then I also wanted to add some of the stuff I’ve been doing for years. You’ll hear the first half sounds different. […] It ends with “Gentlemen Don’t,” which is a song that I think my fans will know. On the way there, it plays through other stuff like “You’re It,” and “Jacob’s Blues,” and songs that have been around for a long time. A good combination of ‘where I am going’ but also ‘where I’ve been.’
A lot of us consider you a pioneer among musicians who post their videos on YouTube, who’ve built their career on YouTube. You see a lot of people doing that now, does it feel like you’re one of the first?
I was posting when YouTube started but it always was just for fun. I didn’t think of it as pioneering or anything like that. But looking back, maybe it was in a way? And if it paved a way for other musicians to do be able to do the same thing, then it was worth it. I grew up very introverted. It was just me writing songs in a room by myself. Posting on YouTube was a way I could reach out in such a way that was low-risk almost. I think it opened up my heart to see that people were listening and all that time I thought I was alone writing these songs, it’s like I never was alone cause the fans are relating to the ideas.
Being a musician, having music as your career – was that something you had in mind before you were posting videos? Or was it the feedback you got from YouTube that propelled you to pursue that?
Yeah, I think it was that. I didn’t have any plans to be a musician. I wanted to be a scientist growing up. I saw myself in a white lab coat working the 9 to 5. As time went on, I came into guitar almost by accident. In middle school, I was placed in an elective and it was beginner guitar. And I started singing because my mom suggested go to choir. From there I just combined the two. John Mayer came on the scene in like 2002 and I was like ‘that’s what I wanna do.’ I was like ‘I wanna write songs.” YouTube picked up and started doing a bunch of things. From there that’s when I went ‘I could probably do this,” after getting a few gigs. I went to university for two years – I studied classical voice. But after two years, I was already playing and I was making a living doing what I was doing. ‘So I said I’m gonna do this.’
It kind of all just fell into place for you.
Yeah! It really did.
The music industry now, the landscape – it’s very much on the internet now, like social media. So in a way you were ahead of a lot of musicians. Do you have an easier time adjusting to that whole shift?
I think so! It’s an interesting thing, you’re right people don’t really buy as much. It’s a lot more streaming. Even though I was at the beginning of the shift, it’s still shifting. And maybe being there has given me the ability to shape shift and roll with it? But it’s still a challenge. Obviously you don’t wanna stay in one place. But I do love where that was, and so I’ve spoken to so many people already about what direction I wanna take my YouTube channel. What’s the next level of things? That’s the constant challenge it’s keeping everything new and fresh.
In a way you predicted the whole shift to streaming!
There was a bunch of us who were posting on YouTube. It’s funny ‘cause you say predict but we were just having fun. And I think that’s the best way to do something. I think everything that we did was very organic. We learned how to build our fan base without actually getting into people faces and be like ‘listen to me.’ It was a bunch of us friends who were posting on YouTube and ‘if you like it come listen, if you don’t thank you for listening, thank you for checking it out.’ It was just really cool how just having fun and doing what we loved kind of sparked a small revolution as far as where the music scene went.
So it wasn’t born out of strategy. It was passion. It was just love for what you do and having fun.
‘It wasn’t born out of strategy.’ That’s a really good way to put it! Yeah, it wasn’t like we all sat down and masterminded this thing. We just loved music so much and we loved performing. And we wanted to perform to as many people as we could. The Internet was the new way to do that. You couldn’t have done that 10 or 15 years prior. You know you’d have to be in a bar or in a place where people might not even be listening. Now people can watch you for you as opposed to stumbling. It was like you could go there and watch a specific artist.
Your fans get inspired by you to post covers. What was it that inspired your first YouTube video. What motivated you to post something on YouTube?
I kind of wanted to see what would happen if I did. Casue before I posted videos I was sort of gigging and so I had a really little small fan base. I guess that idea was that they’re all spread out. And the only way that I could see them is if I went to this gig, these people would come, but if I went to this gig, these people would come. But if I posted on YouTube, then they could all watch it at once. And I think that was the big thing with YouTube is it gathered all the fans into one place as opposed to having them go to separate places at different times and different locations. You put one video in one place and everybody can see it all at once.
That’s the amazing thing about the Internet now.
You can even track the demographic of your audience. What age, and what country they’re from. Does that influence the countries you choose for your tour?
Definitely. We look at the countries, the cities, even all the way to the genders and stuff. It shows everything. So it gives you a really good way to strategize where you go, and what you do, and how you do it. And that’s why we were just like ‘ok, maybe it’s time for Manila.’ After the United States, the very next one is the Philippines. Within the Philippines, there’s Manila, and then there’s Makati. I think Cebu was one of them too? Which I’d love to visit cause I hear it’s absolutely beautiful. But that’s how we chose it. We were like ‘ok then, we’ll do it here because this it what it looks like,’ and true enough, it sold out.
It sold out in four hours?
The first one was I think 12 hours? And then Marco goes, ‘so it’s sold out.’ I was like ‘What?’ It was hard to believe that it did. And he was like ‘You wanna do another one?’ As a leap of faith he was like ‘I think we can do it’ and I’m glad that he had that foresight because when we did it sold out in even less time, it was like four, 3 or 4 hours.
That one was fast.
Yeah I was shocked. I thought it was gonna take longer to sell out the second one. And now they’re like ‘Third show! Fourth show!’ I think to this day they’re like ‘can you please have another one.’ I think what we wanna do is space it out a little bit.
So that you could come back again,
Absolutely! Maybe that’s the reason.
With your family this time!
Yes! Once my wife gives birth to our little one, our second little one. We’ll see after a while. We love to travel. My wife, she’s like ‘because you can work anywhere, how ‘bout we sell everything and live everywhere.’ I was like ‘that’s terrifying but it’s also at the same time, it’s kind of a cool idea.’ That’s what YouTube has done for us, it’s that I can work from anywhere. I can afford an opportunity for my family that not everybody gets. We don’t have to do a 9 to 5 so we’re not tethered to any one place. We can go anywhere, we can do anything.
That’s a very desirable lifestyle.
Yeah, it’s still risky and everything just because you’re constantly moving but I think the benefits as far as what Savannah and Maverick would learn, that would be something not everybody can get.
Savannah and Maverick right?
Savannah and Maverick. Savannah is nineteen months, my little girl. And Maverick is due May 12th.
That’s exciting! I see you’re very open on your social media accounts about being a father. It says “Guitarist / Singer-songwriter / Dad.” Your experiences from being a father, how do those affect the way you write music? Do you think it’s matured also in some way?
I think it has in a lot of ways. I haven’t yet written a specific song where I said ‘This song is for Savannah, or this song is for Maverick,’ but some of the songs I’ve written have a different heart about them.
For example, my song ‘Sea Foam,’ off my album Twelve, I was writing that when my wife was pregnant. I remember when Savannah was born I would sing it to her, and she would be falling asleep in my arms when I was trying to work out the melodies. One of the things about having a kid is it makes you really examine your heart, cause you want to be the best person you can for her right? I think examining my heart has also kind of spread out into other parts of my life where I examine the heart of my songs as well. I lead worship back home. I’m also thinking of writing worship music and things that people can sing and have a moment with God. I think that’s what having kids has done for me, it’s made me really focus on where my heart is and that kind of expanded into all other walks of life for me.
Gabe Bondoc gives his final shoutout to his fans and ticket holders for the shows.
“I’m super excited to see you guys on March 3rd and 4th, so honored those shows sold out. I’m just really looking forward to sharing with you guys all the music that I’ve written over the years and all the stories I have to tell. I hope you guys enjoy. Please laugh at my jokes. [laughs] I’m super excited you guys! I’m blessed to be in the Philippines with you. Thank you BillboardPH for coming through, Bea for this amazing interview. I’m excited.”
Watch the Billboard Exclusive with Gabe Bondoc below: