The Return of eLf ideas

ideas of an eLven being in Canada

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Metamorphosis of "Butterflies"

... .
Download an MP3 copy of "Butterflies" here.
Read more about Half Life Half Death here.

Photograph taken in April 1995 at the backyard of our former residence in Carmel Subdivision, Project 6, Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

Butterflies" is included in my band Half Life Half Death's one-and-only solo album, Pymyth Prahn (1995, VIVA Records / Neo label). This is the song most beloved not only by all of us members of the band but also by many people who have had the chance to listen to it either at any of our live performances in the past or on their cassette or CD players.

I don't know the exact reason many people were enthralled by "Butterflies"; perhaps because of the wonderful, violin-sounding guitar tracks that complemented the seemingly jaded vocal parts, the combination of which resulted in a melancholic mood of the song. So, how did "Butterflies" come about?

The year was 1993, Half Life Half Death was in a lackluster stage—primarily because each member was busy with his/her own professional work/job and also because the Philippine music scene during the period was dominated by Grunge-influenced bands.

Despite being represented by the presence of bands like The Cranberries ("Dreams," "Linger," "Ode to My Family"), The Cure ("Friday, I'm in Love," "High," "Letter to Elise"), New Order ("Regret"), Toad the Wet Sprocket ("All I Want"), New Wave music was silently lurking in the scene's shadows.

Half Life Half Death was less active during that period, save for a few small-venue and get-together gigs.

One early morning after breakfast, while on a sleepover at our rhythm guitarist Pet's house in Sucat, Parañaque, Metro Manila, I took my pen and journal to jot down a few phrases which suddenly popped up in my mind. Intending to compose a poem, I wrote the following verses:

The sky is cool
Cool as your eyes
Rainbow smiles

I believe that these lovely lines were inspired by my fondness for the book Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus (©1972), my copy of which I have been reading occasionally since discovering it in the late '80s.

Pet saw what I was writing; he got his acoustic guitar and strummed some chords.

Strum...strum...strum... Along the strums I began to hum as I went on adding some more lines to the poem...

There they soar high in the skies
The only hope for flowers now to bloom
You're the only reason for my existence
So fly, fly me high with all your love and persistence

"That would be the chorus," Pet said with an excited look in his eyes.

After several hours of singing, strumming, and cutting words and lines from the lyric to fit the measure, we finished a new song I initially called "Butterflies die in silence." I eventually dropped the "die in silence" because, at that time, I usually preferred one-word titles. Given the chance to travel back in that specific moment, I would revert the song's title to the original, which to me now has an introspectively darker and more melancholic effect.

April 21, 1991, Pet and I and the rest of Half Life Half Death; first ever gig at Club Dredd on Timog Avenue, Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

On the next band practice, Pet and I presented the song to the rest of the band. As always, Rain, our lead guitarist, brought home a cassette-recorded copy of what Pet and I were able to compose. After a few days, during the next jam—Rain amazed us all with the stellar guitar sounds that he was able to weave, to complement the sadness of the song. Ramil, on the other hand, made his presence felt by concocting a haunting bass intro, which eventually became the song's memorable backdrop. For his part, Bimbo succeeded in complementing Ramil's basslines by weaving a tom-tom-based drumbeats.

After we had finished arranging "Butterflies" and two more compositions, "Alimango" and "A Feast in Pastel Castle," we excitedly planned for the studio recording of the songs.

Rain, Bimbo, I, and Ramil: Half Life Half Death gig, in 1995, at Mayric's on España Avenue in Manila City, Metro Manila

We finally recorded the songs at Greenhills Sound Studio in San Juan, Metro Manila. I could very well remember the childlike smiles on our faces when we finally got to listen to the final mixed copy of the songs. "This is it!" I remember myself uttering to Pet.

We submitted copies of the songs to DWLA 105.1, a now-defunct FM radio station based in Metro Manila that supported local Alternative bands by playing their independently released recordings and interviewing them on-air.

LA 105 first played "Butterflies" in 1994. To our surprise, it got a fairly positive reaction from many listeners, amidst the domination of songs with Filipino lyrics during the decade.

In retrospect, "Butterflies" and "Alimango"—aside from our version of Sharon Cuneta / George Canseco's "High School (Life)," which perfectly defined our band's history—were really the songs that gave Half Life Half Death the chance to return into and soar again amidst the highly competitive Alternative-Music scene of the Nineties. We formed in 1987, but by the early '90s we were already jaded and hopeless of ever going on. So, the opportunity LA 105 gave our band in the '90s was really a turning point for all of us.

Half Life Half Death at yet another gig at Mayric's in 1995; with our former female vocalist Carol Pobre joining us to sing "High School (Life)"; Carol was 1st Runner-up in that year's Binibining Pilipinas beauty pageant.

Perhaps if not for the airplay of our songs on LA 105, we would have disbanded much earlier without having the chance to contribute at least an album to Philippine music history. Despite failing to achieve what many Philippine bands before and after us had achieved, I am still glad: My band Half Life Half Death left the scene but not without leaving a legacy of songs—obscure or popular these songs might be.

The Catalyst
The book I used as a springboard in writing "Butterflies," Hope for the Flowers is the tale of the caterpillars Stripe and Yellow, who yearn for something more from life than eating leafs and growing bigger. They get caught up in a 'caterpillar pillar,' a squirming mass of bodies, each determined to reach a top so far away it can't be seen. Finally disillusioned, they discover that the way for caterpillars to find their particular 'more'—who they really are—is to enweave themselves in cocoons eventually to emerge as beautiful butterflies.

I wrote "Butterflies" for a dear friend of mine, Quelle Gutierrez.


lyric: aLfie vera mella

music: mella, de Jesus, Paggao, Aznar, Ballesteros

The sky is blue

The sky is cool
Cool as your eyes
Rainbow smiles

The prairie's soft
Soft as your skin
Fuchsia dreams

There they soar high in the sky
The only hope for flowers now to bloom
You're the only reason for my existence
So fly, fly me high with all your love and persistence

siahl frettåb, o'lieh
Butterflies die in silence

Sweet caress touching dreams
Far away they may seem
Gentle strokes of your wings
Seven-eleven, heaven

There they soar high in the purple skies
The only hope for flowers now to bloom
You're the only reason for my existence
Fly high, butterfly, against all resistance

Now fly...

Blue is the sky
The sky is your eyes
Smiling rainbows
Blushing dreams
Touch me to sleep
Transcend me
Away from here

There they soar high in the sky like dreams
The only hope for dreamers now to fly away
You're the only reason for my very existence
Fly high, fly me high with all your love and persistence

Fly...with all your love and persistence
Fly...against all resistance

vocals / sound effects: aLfie vera mella
lead guitars / keyboards / backing vocals: Rainald "Rain" Paggao
rhythm guitars / backing vocals: Ruperto "Pet" de Jesus
bass / backing vocals: Ramil Aznar
drums / percussion: Robert "Bimbo" Ballesteros
female's voice: Caroline "Carol" Pobre
child's voice: Jade de Jesus (Pet's nephew)

from the album Pymyth Prahn, 1995, Viva Records / Neo label
Executive Producer: Jett Pangan
Record Producers: Half Life Half Death, Francis Reyes, and Jim Sarthou
Sound Engineer: Jim Sarthou
Recorded in late 1994 at JR Studios, Makati City, Metro Manila


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