Words by Stan Sy

On an otherwise mundane Monday afternoon on August 7, there seems to be a commotion over at the corner by the toys section of Rustan’s Makati. It’s been recently converted into a bakery, but on this day, a crew is setting up what looks to be a mini-stage. Right next to them, there are tables where slices of rainbow cake are being shared by people. Off to the far side, there’s a familiar face—one you may have seen on a popular noontime show just hours prior—warmly inviting people to come see the show that’s about to start.

It’s Karylle.

“Hi, would you like to watch the show?” the singer-host asks with a smile. She motions towards the setup just a few feet away, where her husband, Yael Yuzon, prepares to perform with his band, Sponge Cola, by amiably chatting up some fans in attendance while simultaneously capturing it on Facebook Live.

Ilang gig bang napuntahan mo last July?” he asks a fan.

(How many gigs did you get to catch last July?)

She tells him that she hasn’t been to a Sponge Cola gig in about two months because she recently got into a relationship. It’s a familiar story for Yuzon, one he’s become accustomed to hearing after having interacted with the band’s fans this closely throughout their career.

Just moments earlier, Yuzon baked a rainbow cake alongside several fans at the Bunny Baker, where he and his band, Sponge Cola, are about to take the stage. It’s a very odd scene, something you definitely won’t expect to see at a mall, much less on a Monday afternoon of all times.

And just like that, the energy picks up as Sponge Cola begins performing their latest single, “Bahaghari.” It’s an intimate setup, with only six tables and about twenty people seated facing the band. Everyone else who wanted to catch the performance ended up watching from the outside, not that it made too much of a difference. Nobody was too far from the band, and everybody who was within the Bunny Baker’s vicinity wasn’t going to miss out on this secret gig. By the time the band bust out “Jeepney,” a request from virtually everyone in attendance, the show had turned into a sing-along session between Sponge Cola and their audience.

Four songs, no mics, no drums, no promotion. It was just a special acoustic performance for a loyal set of fans, who’ve been following Sponge Cola over the years—all of that on top of a baking workshop where everyone got to enjoy the rainbow cake they all worked on together.

“Huh? Are you crazy?”

That’s the expected reaction you’d get when you think of putting together the idea of a baking workshop with a secret gig at a bakery in a department store. But that’s exactly the reaction Karylle was going for when she pitched it to Sponge Cola while they were brainstorming for a way to promote their latest single, “Bahaghari.”

“When they say that if your idea is so normal, then it doesn’t really get that reaction,” shares Karylle. “It’s maybe not worth pitching, di ba? But if it’s like, ‘Huh? Are you crazy?’ That’s the kind of reaction you’re supposed to get daw.” She attributes it the philosophy to the TED talks she’s become fond of watching before going to bed. At its heart, the concept of combining baking and music isn’t exactly farfetched.

Karylle shares that musicians today find it more and more difficult to get their new material out there. So instead of just promoting a new song with a hard sell approach, she thought of putting the sense of sound together with the sense of taste. What does your music sound like? That’s a question that popped into her head. And because the song is entitled “Bahaghari,” it became easy for her to connect that with baking a cake.

“Rainbow cakes have been around for a while,” she tells Billboard Philippines. “It was also in my music video for “Sunny Days,” so sakto din. It was always in my head. During my birthday, I had a rainbow cake, as well. It’s one of those trends na hindi pa nawawala, thankfully. It’s fun pala to know that you can make it easily.”

(It was also in my music video for “Sunny Days,” so it fit well. It was always in my head. During my birthday, I had a rainbow cake, as well. It’s one of those trends thankfully haven’t died down. I didn’t realize how fun it was to know that you can make it easily.)

This quirky approach towards trying new things is something Karylle shares with her husband and his band. “We’re very different compared to other bands,” asserts Yael Yuzon. “This [activity] is just a celebration of that. Do I bake? No. Have I baked? Yes, but I can’t say that I bake [regularly]. But maybe we should do that because it might be fun. I might fail at the baking part, but that’s how we operate. We’re so random.”

But in this day and age, when innovation and being unique are proven steps to set a brand apart, maybe something this random could be a good strategic move for a band like Sponge Cola. Their manager, Saul Ulanday, thinks there is a place for events like this in the music industry. “It’s one of the things that musicians need to do outside of music just to keep things a little more interesting,” he says. “Not only for their fans, but for possible future fans.”

“We’re not exactly a cookie-cutter band,” Yuzon maintains. “That term actually works because we’re at a bakeshop. I have long hair because of Game of Thrones. Not one member here [has] a tattoo. Nothing is generic about us. I guess that’s why we usually fly solo because we get along with people, but it’s not like we’re “Hey, bro!” We’re just very different, a very distinct set, even individually. We have band members who read books, and on a Friday night, that’s the activity.”

For Yuzon, baking a cake and then performing a quick set in front of several fans is as close as it gets to achieving several of his dreams as an artist—all of which are very, well, random.

“I still have a dream to, at one point, perform with a goat on stage just because I’ve never seen a band play with a goat before on stage,” he excitedly shares. “We were supposed to do that before but we were given a memo that we’re not allowed to bring animals into the Music Museum.” If you thought that idea was bizarre, then you’d just be scratching the surface.

The baking part of the event is Yael’s way of fulfilling another dream performance, which Sponge Cola can’t exactly put together right now given logistical concerns. “I was supposed to cook at one point while playing a song,” Yuzon tells Billboard Philippines. “It’s my dream to use one of those [headset] microphones—I call them a Janet Jackson microphone—iyung naka-attach. I can dance like Janet Jackson, but I won’t be dancing; I’ll be cooking while playing a song.”

(It’s my dream to use one of those [headset] microphones—I call them a Janet Jackson microphone—those mics that are attached to you. I can dance like Janet Jackson, but I won’t be dancing; I’ll be cooking while playing a song.)

Being this odd, this adventurous, comes with a sense of willingness to experiment. And that’s something Sponge Cola hasn’t been short on over the years. According to Yuzon, the band has never been afraid to try and experiment and put in elements that other people wouldn’t be so open with. It’s also not like this is the first time Sponge Cola has broken the mold of what a mainstream band normally does.

Ulanday mentions that Yuzon once did a fan blowout activity, where two fans planned his entire day for him. While that event was something they did in partnership with a telecommunications company, Ulanday believes that it shows how Sponge Cola is very flexible, proving that “[they’re] open to doing anything.” Drummer Ted Mark Cruz enjoys it, saying, “We like doing new things to challenge ourselves.”

Ultimately, an event like this isn’t just about telling the world that Sponge Cola is an odd group of people who are willing to do whatever quirky thing comes to mind. It’s an act of love toward their fans. In many ways, it’s as much about the fans as it is about the band themselves. After the gig, the band gamely took pictures with the fans in attendance, even having an extended chat with them like they were longtime friends, much like the fan Yuzon chatted up over Facebook Live just an hour ago.

Marami kasi sa kanila, they would go to our out-of-town gigs,” he tells Billboard Philippines. “They’d take the bus and watch us in Pangasinan, and then watch us in Tarlac. And sometimes, they would do the whole swing, like we would have weekends, let’s say [we’d be in], Baguio, then Pangasinan, then Tarlac. They would be in all three kasi isang swing lang naman iyun pababa.”

(A lot of them would go to our out-of-town gigs. They’d take the bus and watch us in Pangasinan, and then watch us in Tarlac. And sometimes, they would do the whole swing, like we would have weekends, let’s say [we’d be in], Baguio, then Pangasinan, then Tarlac. They would be in all three because it’s just one southbound swing from there.)

But on top of how devoted they are as fans, Sponge Cola appreciates them for how they stand up for the band online, especially at a time when internet trolls are so quick to attack anyone when given the chance. “I’ve seen how they are online and how they talk about us and how they defend us,” shares Yuzon. “‘Di ko naman ineencourage na if there’s a hater there, na awayin niyo or anything. Pero just the idea na language of love iyun eh. I may not agree with it because I think you should just let it go or make fun of it, pero sila, just by how they defend us, just wow. We don’t get a lot of haters so parang nag-aabang talaga sila.”

(I don’t encourage them to go after our haters and pick fights with them or anything. It’s just the idea that that’s their language of love. I may not agree with it because I think you should just let it go or make fun of it, but just how they defend us, wow. We don’t get a lot of haters so it’s like they’re really on the lookout for those guys.)

“It’s about finding new ways of expressing our gratitude for our fans,” explains lead guitarist Erwin “Armo” Armovitz. “A lot of these guys, they really go out of their way to catch our gigs sometimes, so thank you for being awesome and always game.”

It’s not the average relationship you’d see between a band and their fans. Then again, after they produced their own secret gig independently and collaborated with a bakery to do a baking workshop with their fans, it’s safe to say that Sponge Cola is simply living up to their brand of not being a cookie-cutter band.

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