Words by Stan Sy
Moira Dela Torre has been reigning atop the Billboard Philippines Top 20 for the last five weeks, finally ending the back-and-forth between Inigo Pascual and KZ Tandingan—the only two artists who have been at #1 through the chart’s short history so far. Her hit single, “Malaya,” ruled at #1 for three straight weeks (October 30, November 6, November 13), despite having been released last year as part of the original soundtrack of the movie Camp Sawi.
Last week, her other single, “Titibo-tibo,” supplanted “Malaya” for the top spot, and it’s currently at #1 for the second straight week. The track composed by Libertine Amistoso also emerged as the grand winner at the Himig Handog 2017 Grand Finals last Sunday (November 26).
Since her stint on The Voice of the Philippines, Moira Dela Torre has made a name for herself through her earnest lyrics and catchy melodies. Having written music since she was 13, Moira turned to songwriting as a way of dealing with her battle with anorexia—a result of her having been bullied during those years. Not knowing that she had anorexia, or that it was a mental condition to begin with, she needed an outlet and wrote her first song, “After Your Heart”—a God-oriented song that talked about understanding one’s purpose and calling in life, instead of just going with the flow.
Last week, Billboard Philippines had the chance to chat with Moira about her outlook towards songwriting, her thoughts on the local music industry today, and her experience working with John Prats on the music video for “Malaya.”
Congratulations on being on top of the Billboard PH Top 20 for the last five weeks! What is it about your songs that has made them resonate with listeners and audiences?
Thank you! I honestly didn’t expect this, especially [since] “Malaya”’s been out for more than a year already and “Titibo-tibo” for only a few months. So grateful!
I don’t know what it is about my songs because [after] I write them, I don’t exactly know how my listeners feel. But one of my friends tried to describe how my songs made her feel and she said she felt as if she was standing in front of a mirror, real time, with honesty. And it reminded me of when I first discovered I might have a lot of empathy. I found my mom crying when I was a kid and I felt all her pain, and she didn’t need to say anything.
Ever since, it would come natural to me to feel the pain of the people around me—whether they tell me about it or not, whether I know them or not. I guess when I write, I write from real experiences and I try to be as honest as I can. And while some can relate to my songs, some “mirror” my empathy and feel the pain even when they’ve never been through the same situations before. Whenever people connect, lives connect. Hearts connect. And that’s such a beautiful thing—something we can achieve through music. And I’ll forever treasure the privilege of being able to connect with people I’ve never even met before. I think it’s more of that connection that resonates.
Who taught you how to write songs? Do you go to anyone to teach you specific techniques?
I’ve been writing my prayers on my journals since I was seven years old. I guess that’s what made it easy for me to start writing songs. I come from a family of singers, but I can only name myself and my first cousin [and Los Angeles-based singer] Nieman to be songwriters. I go to him if I need anything proofread. He’s my favorite songwriter.
You’ve written and performed songs in both English and Tagalog, but which language do you find it easier to write and sing in?
I started writing in English, so I guess that’s the easier route. But ever since I started writing Tagalog songs, I’ve found it more fulfilling.
What’s a typical day like for you now that you write and record songs for a living?
A typical day would be, getting up, running my morning rituals (which include tea, quiet time, and feeding my puppies!) and heading to wherever work’s going to be.
What are you up to when you’re not making music?
Spending time with my family, running errands, and having me time: writing. reading.
Since your cover of Moonstar 88’s “Torete” was the theme song to Love You to the Stars and Back, it helped boost your profile even more earlier this year. What’s your take on local artists doing a lot of covers instead of just producing and recording original material?
The success of that rendition came as a shock to me considering the song’s already a classic hit. I am forever grateful for the chance to be linked to that song. I know a lot of artists that are strongly against artists doing covers because they encourage original music, but for me, it really depends on what situation they’re in.
There’s a perfect balance between releasing your own material and celebrating material that’s already been released. For example, there’s a factor that not all artists are songwriters. I know of a few artists who felt pressured to write and when they did, they weren’t confident with what they released at all. When I heard the songs, they were premature and didn’t really feel like a song yet. And mind you, those statements came from them. There were just deadlines to be met, etc.
I feel this all the time when my songs aren’t done yet. In instances like this or when the person isn’t really a songwriter (yet), it would be good to do covers. Whereas, if the reasons of the artist for not releasing original music is fear and “because my label said so” then I think they should fight for their songs! But needless to say, whether songwriters or not, I personally don’t find anything wrong with releasing covers. I honestly think it’s an avenue to appreciate the heart and soul of other people. Whenever I hear artists sing my song, I feel so honored, not just as a writer, but as a person.
What’s the story behind “Malaya”? Did you write it about a specific person? And if so, does this person know that this song is about them?
“Malaya” is about a lot of things and a lot of people. And although what triggered it was a person, I penned the rest with so many other things in mind. In the end, from setting another person free, it became about setting myself free: from depression, from things I can’t control, from people I can’t please, and people I can’t have. “Malaya” became a song about setting myself free in the hope that I can find happiness again. (P.S. Yes, they know.)
How was it like working with John Prats on the music video of “Malaya?”
Kuya Pratty is such a great director! I’ve worked with quite a few directors already but only with Kuya Pratty did I experience a completely stress-free environment… and we ended on time! And, it was his first time directing! It didn’t feel like work at all.
He knew exactly what he wanted and he got them. Everyone on set saw how much he enjoyed and loved his job and it was contagious. In the end, you could see everyone beaming: from the lighting crew, to the stylist, to the waiters, and the actors, everyone showed extra passion on set. He’s amazing and I’m so happy I got to work with him.
Malaya Music Video🍂 Full link on my bio || Trivia: these tears were real! I'm no actress but everytime I remember my Lola, they'd fall in an instant… And one thing i realized was that it's hard to be this vulnerable in places or people we don't feel safe with. And it makes perfect sense to me now why this video is such a success.. because I was w family. Kuya @iamjohnprats didn't just bring out the best in us on set, but he created a safe place for everyone. He laid out an atmosphere built on family. Everyone enjoyed on set, everyone felt as if they were home. That's what @brightbulbproductions is— a safe haven where creativity and love can freely overflow.♥️ Thank you, kuya @iamjohnprats, kuya @samuelmilby, ate @iamangelicap, ate @isabeloliprats and the rest of the Bright Bulb family for believing in me and my song enough to let it be your first "light bulb idea" 🤗 Thank you for bringing my Malaya to life. I am forever grateful. I love you!!!!
You’ve been quite open with your struggles with anorexia and psoriasis. What made you want to use your platform to talk openly dealing with these conditions?
It was coming to the realization that I wasn’t the only one. I wasn’t the only one hurting and hiding. I wasn’t the only one insecure and fearful. I wasn’t the only one who felt alone. I guess when you realize there are more people who go through what you go through and who feel rather voiceless, you’ll feel the need to let them know they don’t have to go through it alone. And there’s comfort and courage when you know you have someone like you to go through life with, to face fears with, to be brave with.
To be honest, I don’t feel as brave as I want to be yet. I didn’t feel that when I first started talking about it. But I’ve learned that I didn’t have to feel brave to be brave. And I want people to know and embrace that truth. The sooner they do, the more life they get to enjoy out of hiding.
How involved are you on your social media engagement towards your fans? Do you have a team coming up with events like your Twitter parties? Or is this a solo effort on your part?
I manage all my accounts on all platforms. I plan some of them, and some are planned by my fans. My very first fans now head the Moisters accounts and I communicate with them regularly. They help me engage with the rest of the fans, and even go the extra mile to gather them so I could meet all of them per city. Say, for example, the meet-up in Cebu [last October], I expected 15 fans, but 100 of them came out to meet me. That was all Chin, Ane, and Anne getting everyone together through social media. It’s hard to see them as fans now that they’ve become such good friends to me. They’ve done so much for me, and I don’t understand why! So grateful.
What’s a random anecdote about your singles that most people reading this wouldn’t know?
Many times when I was younger, I would keypad-click the File app on my Motorola flip-phone and tried to avoid the songs on the radio because everyone else was listening to them, and because I wanted to be different. Little did I know, the songs I had tried to avoid were the very songs that would put me on the map years after! Humbled and honored. Grateful and blessed.
FEATURED IMAGE: via Moira Dela Torre on Facebook