The Chefs of Dream Kitchen
In late 1996 to 2000, my band Half Life Half Death was dead. Rhythm-guitarist Pet de Jesus had finally migrated to Paris, France, to pursue his study of the French language and work as an interpreter at the same time; now a successful lawyer, lead-guitarist Rain Paggao was then in self-exile conditioning himself for the bar exams; bassist Ramil Aznar was busy preparing for his and my sister Lovelle's wedding; drummer Bimbo Ballesteros was adjusting to his newfound job; and I had just been promoted to a supervisory position at my job.
Never got to be whole again
Despite the professional circumstance which was keeping each of us busy, the eagerness to perform again onstage never left my heart. More painstaking to remember was the sad fact that Half Life Half Death parted ways in late 1996 in a not-so-friendly term, in the midst of the promotional activities for our one-and-only album, Pymyth Prahn (1995, Viva Records). Just like how many other successful bands disintegrated, we drifted apart from one another because of petty arguments, musical differences, change of priorities, irreconcilable schedules, and all other heaps of disappointments that mountained into resentments. These dark paragraphs in the biography of Half Life Half Death merit a separate blog article of its own. Anyway...
' good thing is, we were able to reconcile our differences and let bygones be bygones; for, in 2000, I (vocalist), Rain (guitarist), Ramil (bassist), Bimbo (drummer), and former Half Life members Edmund Villafuerte (keyboardist) and Ambet Taylo (violinist) reformed the band.
Reunited Half Life Half Death (Ambet, Rain, Bimbo, I, Ramil) in 2000, playing a gig at Mayric's
We got to perform again at various clubs that included Mayric's, Culture Club, and Ritual de lo Habitual (Mandaluyong City); but this reformation didn't last long either, mainly because we could no longer afford to juggle the band with our top priorities. Rain, Ramil, Edmund, and Ambet already have families and children of their own. My taxing job as an editor of scholastic publications could no longer warrant me the same free time I used to enjoy. The highschool boys who started a New Wave band a dozen years ago had grown up and become men after all.
Half Life Half Death (Rain, Ramil, I, Bimbo, Edmund) headlining a concert party, "A Night like This," on November 29, 2001, at Culture Club in Libis, Quezon City
"The Pan Within" (The Waterboys), "Tanya" (Camper van Beethoven), and "A Night like This" (The Cure) are the songs that will best remind me of this particular period of Half Life Half Death's activity. They were always included on our playlist.
DOWNLOAD Half Life Half Death's live rendition of The Cure's "A Night like This," which we included on our playlist for an eponymous concert party we headlined in November 2001 at Culture Club in Libis, Quezon City, Philippines.
The chefs of Dream Kitchen
After about a year without any band activity, sometime in early 1997, my itch to perform again was eventually relieved when my friends Aldrin Cardona (vocalist/guitarist), Gilbert "Bebet" Tiongson (drummer), Gremar Bernil (guitarist), and Vincent "Bong" Torres (bass)—collectively known as Dream Kitchen—invited me to join them as lead vocalist. The chemistry was natural, for we were friends to begin with (Half Life Half Death and Dream Kitchen used to play at the same gigs) and, above all, we shared the same genre preference—New Wave. After only a couple of practice sessions, mastering a playlist of about a dozen and a half songs, Dream Kitchen had a new vocalist. I also got to play keyboards at a few occasions.
Dream Kitchen's playlist during those times included "Girls and Boys" (Blur), "The Ghost in You" (Counting Crows cover of The Psychedelic Furs song) "But Not Tonight" (Depeche Mode), "True Fools Fall" (Died Pretty), "Bring On the Dancing Horses" and "Don't Let It Get You Down" (Echo & the Bunnymen), "Only for You" (The Essence), "Say Something" (James), "Pure" (The Lightning Seeds), "Leave Me Alone" (New Order), "Waterfall" (Riverside), "Blushing Girl, Nervous Smile" (The Wallflowers UK), "The Worst Year of My Life" and "Immaculate" (The Wild Swans), "Sumigaw, Umawit Ka" (Identity Crisis), and "Do They Know It's Christmas?" (Band-aid). Deliberately no The Cure songs, for The Cure was very much associated with Half Life Half Death and I didn't want this to cast a shadow on the blossoming identity of Dream Kitchen.
After several fairly well–attended gigs at Mayric's—mostly during the early days of the club's monthly "Back to the Edge" New Wave parties—and several major concerts with other Filipino Alternative Rock bands like Moonstar 88, True Faith, and Wolfgang, we decided to concentrate on our original materials. Some of these compositions included "Dreamhouse," "For Her Brilliance," "Gilbert's Dream," "Long Been Walking on My Hands," "My Chocolate Mousse," "The Neverending Why," "Noodle Society," "Silver Spoon on My Mouth," "Vanilla Float," and "Buhay-Karnabal."
During this era, the bands with which Dream Kitchen used to perform included Advent Call, Alamid, Dead Pop Stars, Jett Pangan Group, Poetic Sparks, Raincrowd, Sophiya's Labyrinth, and Sugar Hiccup.
half baked delicacies
I could sense that Dream Kitchen was fading away, chiefly because everyone was getting busier and busier with his professional work; add to that, all except I already have families of their own; especially busy was Aldrin, whose job as a newspaper editor usually had him covering sport events outside the country. So, before Dream Kitchen had inevitably disintegrated, I was able to convince the guys to enter a recording studio to "preserve" whatever delicacies we had concocted.
In the midpart of 1999, armed with five arranged and well-practiced songs ("For Her Brilliance," "Vanilla Float," "The Neverending Why," "Silver Spoon on My Mouth," and "Buhay-Karnabal"), we finally entered Purple Studios in Sampaloc, Manila, Metro Manila, and recorded the songs in, unfortunately, four tracks. The lack of budget was the major reason that prevented us from availing the services of a modest 24-track recording studio. Anyway, the prospect of creating a well-produced album at this brittle stage was already out of the question; the agenda was, record whatever songs we could finish for posterity and for whatever purpose these might serve in the future. In retrospect, this endeavor is now serving its purpose; for without those demoes, I would be certainly having a hard time re-arranging and re-recording those songs now for a possible new album.
DOWNLOAD those Dream Kitchen demo songs, which I have now compiled to become a mini-album, entitled half baked delicacies. As the title suggests, the songs were hastily recorded; and this was due to our lack of time and money in 1999. Nevertheless, I think that the lyrics and melodies of the songs had very well captured my emotions during the time when I wrote them. As usual, my lyricism revolved around my two favorite themes: friendship and the bittersweetness of life.
The chefs finally took off their toques
As I predicted, Aldrin had to bow out of the band several weeks after the "Purple" recording session. Jon Santos, then-guitarist of another band named Gypsy Grind, replaced him. Bong, on the other hand, began to devote his time to his other band and eventually handed to Gremar the position he had soon vacated. The gigs continued; but despite the new and revitalized lineup, we felt that the time to close down the kitchen had finally come.
In December 1999, the chefs finally took off their toques and left the kitchen. (Strangely and unfortunately, I was unable to salvage any photograph of the band.) After the band, I focused my energy on my professional daytime job, Gremar formed a professional band, Bebet joined 6Cyclemind, and Jon became the drummer of Poetic Sparks.
Poetic Sparks: After his stint with Dream Kitchen as guitarist, Jon Santos (standing, farthest left) has since joined this band as a drummer. Poetic Sparks is another New Wave–influenced Filipino band.
As I already mentioned above, Half Life Half Death got to reform in 2000, a few months after the demise of Dream Kitchen; but the reformation was again shortlived. It's good to realize that because each of us had/has a professional daytime job, the blow of a band breakup was never hard to take. Besides, we always remain in contact with each other.
The Last of The Halves
Around 2002, Aldrin and Bebet were sending me feelers about getting together again. Coincidentally, Rain, Ramil, and I had also been contemplating to reactivate Half Life Half Death. What else could we naturally think of but to join forces. So...
The last batch of Half Life Half Death on their last gig, in August 2003 at Mayric's, with Alamid
In the same year, the last batch of Half Life Half Death emerged: Aldrin on rhythm guitars, Rain on lead guitars, Ramil on bass, Bebet on drums, and I, vocalist as usual. This time, we speeded our phase and began concentrating and working on original materials. Our main goal was to release an album. We began spreading the news that Half Life Half Death would be soon releasing its long-overdue second album. We were even invited for a few interviews for music publications which included Pulp magazine (courtesy of Giselle Roque, who conducted the interview and wrote the article). However...
In May 2003, my application to work in Canada as my maternal grandfather's caregiver had finally been approved. Three months after, I left the country—happy for the new world that awaited me, yet so sad for I'd be leaving not only my family, friends, and the band but more so the life that I'd enjoyed for more than thirty years...the old world that had been so good to me.
I asked my bandmates to finish what we started, but they unanimously told me that Half Life Half Death could not exist without me.
In the following year, 2004, Bebet, Aldrin, Rain, and Ramil took in a female vocalist and adopted a new name; thus born SuperKat and the Pussyboys. However, having a female vocalist seemed to have not clicked for, after only a few gigs, the guys reverted to being a quartet using the new moniker Rubik's Cubes (later The Cubes). As usual, Rain's busy life as a lawyer got in the way. He soon quit the band, consequently crumbling the cubes for good.
The ninth anniversary of "Back to the Edge" New Wave parties at Mayric's: The Cubes, with Dead Pop Stars' vocalist, Pogz, and Sophiya's Labyrinth's vocalist, Ruth, jamming with them
Postscript: Dream Kitchen is back! (although, without the eLf)
A few months ago, Aldrin relayed to me the news that they decided to reactivate Dream Kitchen as a four-piece—he (guitarist), Bong (bass), Bebet (drums), and former Half Life Half Death bassist Ramil (vocalist and guitarist). They are currently playing gigs at various clubs in the Philippines, usually sharing the bill with other Alternative Rock / New Wave outfits such as Caffeine, Camote Chunks, Dead Pop Stars, The Late Isabel, Mang Temi's Canteen, Names Are for Tombstones, Sleepyheads, and Sheila & the Insects. Rain could not join them anymore for he is now a full-pledged member of Dead Pop Stars as guitarist.
Recently, Dream Kitchen re-arranged "16 Hours," a previously unreleased Half Life Half Death song, and recorded it for the compilation album entitled 8 Track, which also includes Mobster Manila ("Happy to Take You"), Sleepyheads ("Excitement Calls"), Sheila & the Insects ("Lemerson"), Food, Shelter & Clothing ("Okay"), Camote Chunks ("Miniskirt"), Mang Temi's Canteen ("Do You Know?"), and Names Are for Tombstones ("Watari Machine").
LISTEN to "16 Hours" and another Dream Kitchen song, "Bike Ride."
As of this writing, Bong had unfortunately quit the band because he with his other band had to go to China to work as professional musicians. Coincidentally, former chef Gremar (whose current band plays regular spots in China) was in the country, so he filled in Bong's position once again. However, since that Gremar and his own band will be back in China in January, Dream Kitchen is now looking for a new bass player.
Rain (with the red guitar) is now the guitarist of Dead Pop Stars, the Filipino band regarded as the Philippines' answer to The Smiths. And that's just fitting, for Rain has always been a a deadringer of The Smiths' guitarist Johnny Marr.
Gremar (the long-haired guy, farthest right) and his current band, Jam Trax, will be back in China in January.
I? The eLf is back to making music. He has just met a new friend, a traveling jester/multi-instrumentalist who goes by the name of Emong Payaso; and they are currently recording interesting stuff; but this now calls for another blog story.