Up for ransom
At 5:30 in the afternoon, Jerms is the first to arrive. Upon entering, she asks the waitress to prepare a special dessert—today is Lily’s birthday, and she loves chocolate. Mu, Redd, Kian and Leah follow shortly after and the five are soon lost in conversation, as if they haven’t seen in each other in days. Suddenly, Lily arrives; the waitress brings out a chocolate crepe, illuminated by novelty beer mug-shaped candles, and they all sing “Happy Birthday.”
This group of six may look like any regular barkada, but they are actually indie folk band The Ransom Collective. With Jerms Choa Peck on percussion, Lily Gonzales on keyboard, Mu Gonzales on violin, Redd Claudio on drums, Kian Ransom on lead vocals and guitar, and Leah Halili on bass guitar, the group fuses together smooth vocal harmonies, foot-tapping country beats, acoustic guitar riffs and the classic rhythm of the violin.
The band is best known for winning Karpos Multimedia’s first ever Wanderband competition, allowing them to perform at the Wanderland Music & Arts Festival. But they’re also slowly pushing the local music industry to accept more eclectic styles of music, such as those made popular by international artists like The Lumineers, Arcade Fire, and Mumford & Sons. Their sound is out to surprise—and surprise, they do.
Although they all had mutual friends, a chance encounter in the University of the Philippines-Diliman campus, where the band is based, is what brought them together. “[Kian (Ransom) and I] were walking in FA (College of Fine Arts, Bartlett Hall), and I was like, ‘I know these sisters, one plays violin and the other plays keyboard,’” Peck recalls. “And then, Lily just suddenly pops out and I was like, ‘That’s her!’”
This is how Peck and the Gonzales sisters ended up practicing with Ransom, who had just returned from Los Angeles, and Hunny Lee, the band’s first drummer, that weekend. Halili, Peck’s course mate, was invited too. “At first, we were just doing a one-time thing,” shares Ransom. “But it worked out really well. We were all having so much fun making music that we eventually became a permanent thing.”[blockquote author="Kian Ransom, Local vocalist, The Ransom Collective" pull="pullright"]At first, we were just doing a one-time thing, but it worked out really well. We were all having so much fun making music that we eventually became a permanent thing.[/blockquote]
The band was eponymously named after its lead singer before renaming itself as The Ransom Collective, which aptly embodied the shift from Ransom being a solo act to becoming part of a group effort. The lineup was modified too, when Lee returned to South Korea to fulfill his military service duties. After holding auditions, he was replaced by Claudio, a friend of Halili’s brother.
Each member plays a different role in the band, both formally and informally. “Mu’s the mom,” Halili quips. Ransom, the songwriter of the group, is quick to point out that everyone brings something unique to the table. Their infectious first single, “Fools,” is particularly memorable as it was the first song that the band truly collaborated on.
For now, the band is self-managed by choice, dividing tasks such as social media, logistics and finance among themselves. Rain Hizola, a member of the Artist Management Department of the Ateneo Musicians’ Pool (AMP), observes that while having a professional manager brings more opportunities, it has a downside too. “[You might be] forced to ‘sell out,’ like playing in events just because of the money and not because you genuinely want to,” he observes.
This arrangement also gives the band space to figure things out at its own pace. “Right now, we’re growing as a band and it’s easier that whatever we do, it’s all within and amongst us,” Mu Gonzales explains.
From Alabang Town Center to Tiendesitas, The Ransom Collective has played all over the Metro since its inception. In fact, many Ateneans first encountered them at the Loyola Film Circle’s annual Under the Stars (UTS) film screening and variety show in February 2014.
Former UTS Project Head Paola Betita (BS CTM ‘14) vividly recalls just how unexpected their audition was. “It was actually funny because when they entered, they had all these weird instruments and they super looked hipster. When they started playing, it was steady, and then when Kian started singing, I super gasped! It was really embarrassing,” she laughs.
The UTS audience reacted similarly, even clamoring for an encore. “They’re a very crowd-friendly band,” observes She’s Only Sixteen guitarist Andrew Panopio. “Their sound is unique because of their taste and proper use of groove. [It’s] very dynamic and gets the people moving.”
To this day, it is still one of Ransom’s favorite gigs. “That was the first time that we really got to play for the type of crowd that we think would like our music. And seeing what people were saying afterwards on Twitter and Facebook, and kind of seeing it buzz around Ateneo a little bit, it was really cool.”
In contrast, while Wanderland may be the band’s biggest event to date, it was surprisingly their least enjoyable. Due to a delayed sound check the day before and a faulty sound system, their 30-minute set was reduced to a mere 15 minutes.
Other bands had technical difficulties too, much to everyone’s chagrin. “[The bands] would come onstage, everyone would cheer, and then you’d see that they’re frustrated because something wasn’t working. They’d walk off stage and have to wait, and the guys who were trying to fix [the sound system] would come back out again,” Ransom complains.
Their first post-Wanderland show and so-called “redemption gig” was at the bar Route 196; Halili says they felt the need to prove themselves after their flawed performance. Still, the nightmarish experience was not without its highlights: Aside from changing the course of their careers for the better, how many bands can claim to have played beer pong with The Royal Concept and hung out with The Paper Kites?
The Local Natives, Of Monsters and Men, and Fleet Foxes—these are just some of the indie darlings that influence The Ransom Collective. While their music is similar, Panopio believes they still need to solidify their sound. “Some things may still feel derived with them, but maybe it’s only because we don’t know too much of the rest of their repertoire.”
While the band is flattered by comparisons to such acts, it seems they are tired of being told that they do not sound Filipino. Mu Gonzales feels that perhaps some people just aren’t exposed to many Filipino bands, so they’re “not accustomed to the sound.” Ransom follows this up with his own theory: Because his accent is distinctly American, listeners make the mistake of assuming that the band is foreign.
Even the term Original Pilipino Music (OPM) is problematic. According to Niki Colet, an Atenean solo artist and AMP member, “people tend to look at a few very famous artists in the Filipino music industry and just generalize that that is what all local Filipino artists sound like, rather than looking at the diverse array of other also very talented Filipino bands and musicians who may not be as popular as the ones who ‘define’ OPM.”
It looks like The Ransom Collective will be redefining the genre, especially since it will be launching its first extended play later this year. Their dream of going on an international tour may well be a very real possibility in the long run; the band recently placed second in the Young Guns online contest hosted by Deezer, the international web-based streaming service, and now has fans in places like Brazil and Egypt. “It’s not like we’re huge in any of those countries but it’s [kind of] cool to know that there’s a couple dozen people in Colombia who listen to us,” Ransom adds.
Someday, The Ransom Collective will be a force to be reckoned with; their penchant for disproving misconceptions and playing by their own rules all but ensures this. For now, however, they are content with the way things are going. As Claudio says, “[We want] to polish the sets, hopefully make more songs, play more gigs and just see what comes our way. Hopefully it gets big, but if not, at least we’re happy with what we’re doing.”
Updated: Aug. 24, 2014, 9:45 PM