by Tony Maghirang for BillboardPH
Even by Pinoy indie standards, six-piece The Ransom Collective cut their own striking figure in sound and pose. Where loud and furious is the norm, the Collective composed of chief vocalist/guitarist Kian Ransom, violinist Muriel Gonzales, bassist Leah Halili, percussionist Jermaine Choa Peck, drummer Redd Claudio, and keyboardist Lily Gonzales create music that’s restrained yet lively, spacious but rocks like the best of them. Mumford and Sons appear to be the easy reference point though to these ears; bits and pieces of Bruce Springsteen, ‘70s Labuyo, and Bamboo’s last singer-songwriter album also resonate in The Collective’s recently released debut Traces.
In an exchange of email, the band wrote back, “Going into the recording process, we wanted to experiment with extra violin layers and orchestral drum arrangements. Our music has a cinematic feel to it already, and we thought it would sound nice to emphasize those parts.”
That sense of sprawl kicks in right on “Open Road” which opens “Traces on an optimistic note,” the kind that should be playing on OPM radio this summer. Led by a melodic violin line and sealed by a driving piano and drum stomp, it’s a perfect intro to the album, brimming as the music does with the gleeful lyricism of “We’ve got the open road nothing but blue skies.”
Curiously, the vocals aren’t jumping with the joy of freedom. Rather, the singer sounds merely cool, almost guarded and as the song moves on, he turns reflective with these lines: “Oh, take all the time you’ could ever need/I’ll wait in the space where you first left me.”
Second track “Settled” sprints to the promise of “a brand new start” but things don’t seem to turn out right and the last two lines of the song go: “And in the end my excuses had run dry/’Cause in my head I was afraid to even try.”
The tug of yin and yang colors the lyrics, but the music grabs you by the lapel just the same not mainly due to inventiveness but because it triggers memories of the hooks and tunefulness of well-produced songs.
“Something Better” echoes fleetingly Neil Young’s “Cowgirl in the Sand.” The title track is a bouncy sprite that blooms into a waltzing Matilda. “Doubt” is as much Coldplay as Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
The 11-track Traces compiles the band’s music-making trajectory over the past four years whose main highlight was an EP released three years ago. The music though doesn’t sound dated thanks to the seamless flow from one track to the next.
Is this old school or new school indie, then? For my money, triumphant music doesn’t need any label. The Ransom Collective simply delivered a strong contender for the best release of 2017.
BillboardPH exchanged emails with the band after the release of their debut album.
When did you get started and how has it been so far?
We formed around August of 2013 to learn and play Kian’s songs for an indie website that wanted to film him performing his songs live. One practice, we saw that there was a competition to play at Wanderland, so we decided to send an audition tape of Something Better. We qualified for the finals and finished Fools in time for the competition in January 2014. We released our self-entitled and self-produced EP later that year. Since then, we’ve always considered ourselves lucky for the many opportunities that continue to come our way and end up opening more doors for us.
Why did it take some years to go from EP to a full album? Which are the newer songs?
Before we became a full band, Kian had a few songs already written as a solo artist. Once we became a full band and after our EP was released, we took some of those songs and rearranged them for a full band. After that, we wrote some newer songs as a full band which include “Tides,” “ Traces,” “Open Road,” and “Doubt.”
Is there any overarching theme that binds the album or is it just a statement of where the band is coming from, musically that is?
Lyrically, there are a few themes along the lines of internal conflict like growth, discovery, and hope. Musically, we tried to emphasize these themes by creating drama through dynamics within the arrangements and instrumentation. We wanted there to be moments of tension and release, as well as big hopeful anthemic resolutions. We’ve definitely grown a lot as musicians as we’ve constantly tried to push ourselves to get better.
Love the lyrical flow that fits hand and glove with the music. How long does it take to create the music? The lyrics? Who’s your ultimate inspiration?
Some of these songs really had to simmer for a while. Most of the songs took weeks or even months to fully develop. They usually start with a musical idea like a simple guitar part and vocal melody. From there we add rhythm arrangements and the other layers. The lyrics often take the longest. It takes time to really get to know a song and what it’s about. Usually by starting with the music, the music evokes some kind of emotion or reaction that in turn leads to and inspires the lyrics.
There’s a sense that you’re going after a lush cinematic sound previously heard locally in Bamboo’s last singer songwriter solo album. It’s more filling than the usual pop-rock stuff. Has this always been part of the band’s agenda?
Going into the recording process, we wanted to experiment with extra violin layers and orchestral drum arrangements. Our music has a cinematic feel to it already, and we thought it would sound nice to emphasize those parts. Since these songs represent a story and journey, the cinematic feel lends itself well to the overall feel and narratives of the songs.
Is there a sense of unease about the present or is it nostalgia that the band wants to put on the current Pinoy pop/rock musical table?
Throughout the album, one major theme is internal struggle or conflict. Many of the songs have introspective moments where we ask ourselves the ‘what ifs’ of life. In that sense, there is definitely some unease and tension about what is and what could have been.
Is the indie scene still alive and well in the face of some claims that performance venues are getting fewer? The landscape is constantly changing, but it’s definitely alive and well. The number of venues may not be increasing, but the number of fans in the indie community definitely is. We’re seeing bigger and bigger indie shows or festivals with continual record breaking turnouts. Brands are starting to partner with more and more up-and-coming indie artists and it definitely seems like there is a new wave or fandom, exposure, and respect of the local music scene. With that, is it still a hospitable time to be a musician? Are you all full-time musicians?
It’s quite difficult, and we’ve had a lot of “right place at the right time” moments that not every band is lucky to come across. We’ve worked very very hard as many bands have, but the industry is still very tricky to navigate. It helps that our music is very light and brand-friendly. Being able to partner with brands for projects has helped us in areas where we might have needed a label. Then again, although the opportunities are growing, it’s still a very unpredictable industry.
What the lessons have you learned being indie musicians all these years? How do you stoke the passion to make music each time out?
It’s hard to pick a specific lesson because the whole experience has been such a learning process. Beyond learning about music and the industry as a whole, we’ve learned a lot about ourselves and what we are capable of. We respect the craft so much more now that we’ve experienced how much work goes into it.
There are times we get sick of practicing or don’t feel like fighting our way through EDSA to get to a gig, but at the end of the day, it’s impossible to not be inspired by our friends and fans. Their stories have really resonated with us, and seeing their reactions, or hearing them sing with us while we play live is really a powerful thing. It’s not something we would ever get used to or be bored of.