Few independent bands can draw in a crowd like Ang Bandang Shirley. There’s an everyman quality to their music that’s at once instantly relatable and emotionally complex — fostering a playful sense of community among the strangers and friends gathered at whichever bar or gig venue Shirley happens to be playing at. This playfulness is reflected in the titles of their songs and three albums: Themesongs, Tama Na ang Drama, and most recently, Favorite, which was released on March 25.
But perhaps one reason why Ang Bandang Shirley finds itself playing to larger and larger crowds every night is that they are their own little community in themselves, the sense of openness and camaraderie a part of their DNA. Shirley neophytes will notice that the band’s photos always have around six or seven people in them — already a big number compared to other indie acts. But what they might not notice is that one of those people in those photos doesn’t exactly perform alongside the rest. The member in question is Kathy Gener, Shirley’s band manager, who has been embraced by her bandmates and the band’s fans as a genuine, full-time member of the group — a part of the family, if you will.
We spoke with Kathy about what the view of the crowd is like from her unique point of view, the roles she plays in relation to the band, and what she thinks of the hype since the launch of Favorite.
It’s pretty uncommon to see a band manager who’s recognized as a real, full-time member of the band they manage. How would you describe your role in Ang Bandang Shirley?
My bandmates once joked on a live radio interview about what I do in the band, and they said: “Everything else.” It’s actually very apt. (laughs) Everything that is not related to playing a musical instrument — I take care of it, it’s my responsibility. They’ve always treated what I do in the band as normal, though, so it was never unusual for us. I’m the nanay more than an ate because I always nag them with schedules and deadlines and, sometimes, even what to wear. (laughs) And I’m bossy. I’m sorry, bandmates!
You’ve contributed vocals and lyrics to some of the band’s songs. How involved do you get with the creative process as a whole?
I really don’t know how to play any musical instruments but I do know what sounds good. So in terms of the creative process, I’m hands-on, in that I’m particular about what kind of feel I want the songs to have, and I can give them song pegs.
What goes through your head at a Shirley gig? Are you still busy with managerial work, or do you get to relax and enjoy the gig as a fan/friend?
For small bar gigs, after I’ve coordinated everything, I do get to relax and watch them. But it’s different for big events; that’s when I’m in manager mode. I really try my best to do everything, other than playing an instrument, so the band members won’t think of anything else at the event other than performing well. I’ve always said this, though: a perk of being their manager is I get to watch them perform up close all the time, because I am a fan of my bandmates, first and foremost. I never get tired of listening to my favourite Ang Bandang Shirley songs.
How has managing Shirley affected the rest of your work as a gig producer, music video director, or even entrepreneur with Wallflowerparty?
Managing Shirley has exposed me to doing various things that made me more experienced and, in a way, has affected my other work. It’s made me a better event producer because I am able to see firsthand how things work by being at a lot of other events — learning and knowing what to do and what not to do. It also has exposed me to different kinds of people. I’ve gotten to meet other artists, such as writers, painters and filmmakers, which has helped and inspired me tremendously in making those music videos for Ang Bandang Shirley, and in creating other things, like what I do as an entrepreneur with Wallflowerparty. Basically, managing Ang Bandang Shirley has made me a more proactive and creative person.
What’s the local music industry like from the point of view of someone who works as a manager, and as part of a record label?
Because I manage an indie band and co-own an indie label, Wide Eyed Records Manila, it’s the same, somehow — the DIY approach in everything and the continuous need to educate myself on how the music industry works in the present. The only difference is that being a band manager entails more internal responsibility within the band.
The Internet has leveled the playing field in terms of putting out your music to the public. You can do basically everything on your own now as a musician, even if you’re not signed to a major record label. It’s easier but also harder because of its accessibility. So many kinds of music are released, and you need to work harder and be more creative with your material and with how you will market it, because a lot of you are vying for the market’s short attention span.
There was a lot of hype and celebration building up to the Favorite album launch. But what’s the atmosphere like within the band after the hype has died down? Has the hype died down yet?
The past few months leading up to the album release were very exhausting—still reeling!—but the success of the launch has inspired us to do more. We can’t be tired.
We don’t think about the “hype” so there’s no actual pressure on our part to continue it. We have a planned strategy on the release, and so far we’re on schedule. So people can expect more surprises from the band with regards to the new album.
What does Shirley have planned for the future?
Hopefully to have more gigs outside Metro Manila, and a vinyl pressing of Favorite before the year ends.
What’s the most fulfilling experience you’ve had with Ang Bandang Shirley?
Being able to pull off our album launch in an open field area, at the Blue Bay Walk garden, with a music festival-type staging and set-up and vibe—even though it was just us, Outerhope, and Musical O performing—and having around five thousand people in attendance, with fans lining up as early as 3PM under the heat of the sun for the merch and CDs. I’m so happy to be able to present the band in that way because my ultra-talented bandmates deserve it.