No One Stays the Same: An Oral History of Sandwich

Through lineup changes, conflicts, and the imposing shadow of one of OPM’s most legendary acts, Sandwich has emerged one of rock’s biggest names

by Jason Caballa, photo by Joseph Pascual

Through lineup changes, label conflicts, and the imposing shadow of one of OPM’s most legendary acts, Sandwich has emerged, against all odds, one of rock’s biggest names. On the eve of their 15th anniversary, Jason Caballa finds that while they might not be the same band that exploded on radio in 1998, the years have only proven that Sandwich will play on

My brother tried to stop the first-ever Sandwich gig.

It was February 1998. Then-Eraserheads drummer Raimund Marasigan was giving a talk to student musicians in Ateneo de Manila about the ins and outs of playing gigs. 

Behind him, a band of relative unknowns (save for Teeth’s drummer) was setting up. Upon finishing, he says, “Ito pala ’yung bagong banda ko, Sandwich.” And on cue, the band unleashes waves of guitar noise and manic, call-and-response vocal lines.

Soon, a teacher appears at the door of the hall, imploring for the ruckus to stop. It turned out to be my older brother.

I tried to convince him to let the band finish, while motioning for the musicians to keep it down, to no avail. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and all the students present then, including myself, witnessed local music history in the making.

Years later, guitarist Diego Castillo laughs at the memory with lines that my brother may have said that afternoon; “‘Stop playing your music!’” he recalls, “‘You will not amount to anything!’” But Sandwich did amount to something, as he, Marasigan, bassist Myrene Academia, drummer Mike Dizon, and guitarist Mong Alcaraz have become one of the biggest bands in the country, if not one of its absolute best live acts. 

They’ve released six full-length albums that range from interesting to brilliant, and with songs like “Butterfly Carnival,” “2-Trick Pony,” “Sugod,” “Procrastinator,” “Betamax,” and many others, proving to be quite the hit-making machine, at par with Marasigan’s other, arguably more legendary outfit.

This February, Sandwich mark 15 years since that chaotic, impromptu first performance with the release of their seventh album Fat, Salt, and Flame, which promises to be one of their strongest yet. 

In the midst of tracking the new record, the band’s current members recount how they’ve evolved into what they are now—a confident, capable, and hardworking rock band that, by all accounts, is still excited by the prospect of making music. 

Original singer Marc Abaya (who now fronts Kjwan), and filmmakers Quark Henares and Marie Jamora, who directed some of the band’s music videos, also share their own chapters of the band’s story.

1997–1998. Raimund Marasigan, as everyone knows, was the drummer for the Eraserheads. Myrene Academia was music director and announcer for NU107, and hosted the seminal indie rock program Not Radio with Diego Castillo, who worked at BMG Records at the time. Mike Dizon played drums for Teeth. Marc Abaya was a college freshman in Ateneo, and was the frontman for Shirley Beans.

Mike Dizon (drummer): Pababa ’yung eksena. I was looking for a day job.

Diego Castillo (guitarist): I worked in BMG, and one of the bands that we were working with was the Eraserheads, so I knew Raimund. Napapanood niya kami nina Myrene at Mike sa Aga Muhlach Experience. And one day, Raimund said, “Buo tayo ng banda,” tapos kasama sina Mike at Myrene. Sabi ko, “Perfect! Magaling mga ’yon!(Laughs)

Raimund Marasigan (singer/multi-instrumentalist): I was in Planet Garapata, and I played keyboards with the Skavengers and drums with Color It Red. I was always in bands. Kutob ko pag natisod ako, may banda ako, eh. And I just thought that the rhythm section of The Aga Muhlach Experience was pretty tight.

[The name Sandwich] came from several things—’yung album packaging ng Whale (a short-lived Swedish band that had a minor alt-rock hit in the 90s called “Hobo Humpin’ Slobo Babe”) and Weezer. Nakita ko ’yung logo ng Whale (which was enclosed in brackets), tapos naisip ko,Mas maganda kung ‘S’ ito.” Pinapakailaman namin ni Diego ’yung mga free band merchandise sa BMG. Sabi ko, “If we had a band, let’s call it Sandwich. Ilagay natin ’yung CD sa tinapay, sa sandwich bag, sa loob ng lunchbox, tapos ibigay natin sa DJ.” Before we even formed the band, we wanted to market it right.

Marie Jamora (filmmaker and music video director): In high school, I met the Eraserheads and wrote an article about them. And then I did (the Eraserheads’ zine) Pillbox. When I was in college, Raimund and I were phone buddies. He said that he wanted to form a new band, and he was looking for bandmates. And he mentioned Marc, because there was a battle of the bands in Ateneo, Shirley Beans played, and Raimund was the judge. So Raimund knew Marc from that, and vice versa. They just needed to meet, and they did on my birthday.

Marc Abaya (lead singer/guitarist, 1998-2005): I met Raimund at one of Marie’s birthday parties. People were free to jam. Raimund took the drums; I played guitar. We jammed “Sabotage” for about 10 minutes.

Raimund: He was into the Beastie Boys, so I thought, “Ayus, OK na ito.”

Marc: Soon after, Sandwich took me in and we were writing songs at Mike’s place.

Marie: During the first few band practices, I needed to be there because they didn’t know how to talk to Marc. So Raimund would tell me something, and I’d have to tell Marc. And Marc used to sing like that guy from the Black Crowes, so Diego and Raimund told me, “You have to tell Marc to stop singing like that.” So I had to figure out a way to tell Marc stuff like that. And Marc was really shy, so I had to be the one to entertain him if he felt left out.

Marc: I was young, nervous, angst-y, and excited. I was sure I would get along with Raimund and Mike since it was clear that Teeth was a grunge band. Myrene was always sweet. I wasn’t sure about Diego because he was very opinionated.

Marie: I remember when they jammed “Butterfly Carnival.” Raimund said, “We need a title for it,” so he asks Marc for a word. Marc: “I like ‘butterfly’.” And Raimund goes, “We need one more word.” Myrene: “Carnival.”

And then I remember Diego started playing this riff on the little Marshall amp, and he calls it “Cheese Factor Set To 9.” I didn’t get the joke for the longest time, until I watched This Is Spinal Tap.

Diego: We came up with songs right away, kasi takot ako pumunta doon (without ideas or riffs). Si Raimund ’yan eh; kailangan may baon.

Quark Henares (filmmaker and music video director): I was there, at the first Sandwich gig ever. It was held on the top floor of Gonzaga Hall (in Ateneo), and I remember the mic was “grounded”, so whenever Marc sang he’d get electrocuted.

Marc: We played two gigs on the same day. The first one was in Ateneo, where we were scolded because there was a class taking an exam nearby. Then we played at the UP Fair. That was intense. I think people were curious because Raimund was in the Eraserheads and Mike was from Teeth. It was insane! People were moshing and all of us were going crazy on stage; I never felt anything like it. 

Raimund: None of the clubs wanted to book indie bands, so Jing Garcia, who used to manage the Pin-Up Girls, approached us and said, “Gawa tayo ng production, para may matugtugan tayo.” Linggo lang ’yung available day sa Mayrics, so we called it “Sunday Grabe Sunday.”

Marie: It was always fun when they did the rapping and the singing. I never saw Raimund perform like that before, because I only saw him with the Heads. And it was so nice and different. The Sunday Grabe Sundays were always fun.

1998–2002.   Sandwich gets signed to BMG Records, and the band’s debut album, Grip Stand Throw, is released in 1999. “Butterfly Carnival” becomes a radio hit. The second album, 4-Track Mind, is released in 2001. Marie Jamora directs their first official video for “Food For The Soul.”

Marc: Raimund set the process and made it so much fun; it was like a game where no one could do anything wrong. Looking back, I wish I did some things differently, but I think the mistakes are what make Grip Stand Throw a charming first album.

Diego: I don’t think anybody had heard anything like it up until that point—at least locally.

Quark: I did their first video (for “Butterfly Carnival”), ever. It was also my first video ever. It entailed Marc and Raimund being beaten up by baseball bats, their dead bodies being disposed as they sang the song. I have good memories about that vid, though I haven’t seen it in years and will probably cringe at the sight of it now.

Diego: We were on our way home from a gig, tapos narinig namin sa radyo na #5 na ‘yung “Butterfly Carnival.”

Mike: Huminto kami. “Uy, #5 tayo sa NU!”

Marie: I remember a time in school when everyone was singing it because it was always on the radio. Nakakakilig talaga. It wasn’t my band but it felt like it was my band, because I saw them grow. And I never doubted that they were going to get big; the songs were good.

Diego: For the second album, we all had four-track recorders.

Myrene: Kaya 4-Track Mind.

Raimund: Marc already had a four-track recorder, so Diego and I each bought our own. We just exchanged four-track cassettes.

Marc: I am most proud of 4-Track Mind. It was the most personal album for me.

Myrene: I guess we got tighter on the second album. And we listened to a lot of new things, so we wanted to try out new things also.

2003 – 2005.  BMG Records inexplicably drops Sandwich. They decide to go indie for their third record, Thanks To The Moon’s Gravitational Pull, and employ the services of Soupstar Management, headed by Darwin Hernandez. They eventually sign with EMI Philippines (now PolyEast) after “2-Trick Pony” becomes a hit. But Marc Abaya leaves the band to focus on his stint as a VJ for MTV Philippines, as well as his new band, Kjwan.

Mike: Nalungkot kami n’ung na-drop kami. Nakakakaba, eh. Pero napag-usapan namin, “Kaya natin ’yan.” Sabi ni Raimund may alam siyang murang studio. ’Yun na ’yung masayang part, n’ung nakahanap na kami ng paraan.

Myrene: We were saddened at first because we really liked the songs [for the third album]. So sabi namin, Bakit ngayon pa?” But when we decided to go indie, we got excited. Because Diego and Mike worked for record companies, they knew the suppliers. And then we met Darwin (Hernandez), who was willing to help. We just had to tell him what we needed done.

Mike: [At one rehearsal] natira si Marc, si Diego, at ako. “O game, jam!” (sings riff to “2-Trick Pony”) Si Marc naman, “OK ’yan pare! Gawin mo ’yan!Tawa kami nang tawa. “Itong part na ito, magwi-wild ’yung mga tao dito!” Planado ’yung arrangement.

Myrene: Nagulat ako kasi kahit saan pinatugtog eh. I heard it everywhere. It crossed over.

Diego: Minsan sinundo ako ni Darwin, tapos nasiraan kami. So nag-tricycle kami papunta sa mga radio stations, may dala kaming doughnuts ’tsaka ’yung CD singles. And it worked; kahit papaano pinatugtog nila.

Myrene: We got a distribution deal for the third album with EMI. They were interested to sign us for the fourth, pero di pa sila sigurado. We made demos for “Sugod,” “Walang Kadaladala,” and “Sunburn.” N’ung binigay namin sa EMI, ’di pa rin sila sigurado. But during the second meeting, nagso-sorry na si [EMI Philippines head] Chris Sy. “I didn’t see it,” sabi niya. Naging excited na rin siyang ilabas.

Raimund: Marc got busy during the promotions of the third album.

Diego: Nag-VJ na siya [for MTV], eh.

Myrene: And ’yung Kjwan, barkada niya talaga. Something had to give, kasi hindi na talaga kaya ng sked niya.

Marc: I left the band because I was restless. I had just graduated and wanted to do everything. MTV hired me as a VJ. I formed Kjwan. I was freaking out. I started feeling guilty for missing a lot of Sandwich gigs, since they could perform without me. But I was ashamed nevertheless for not being there most of the time.

Marie: When it was going down, I didn’t know what was happening, because I was at film school [in New York]. I knew he was doing MTV. I remember him saying he wanted to leave and me telling him it was a bad idea. But I understood; he wanted to do his own thing. And he wanted to be happy. I guess Kjwan was more of his genre of music.

Marc: My only regret is that I wish I said goodbye better.

2005–2012.  Chicosci guitarist Mong Alcaraz, who shared an apartment with Diego, officially joins the band. Their first album with the new lineup, Five On The Floor, is released in 2006. “Sugod” becomes a major hit, and Sandwich becomes huge from that point onwards, gigging nationwide as part of the Tanduay First Five tour for three consecutive years. Two more albums, 2008’s <S> Marks The Spot and 2011’s Contra Tiempo, are released. After graduating from the Tanduay tour, the band gets booked for shows in New York, Los Angeles, Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong, among others.

Diego: Sumasama lang si Mong sa mga gigs. And he would jam.

Mong Alcaraz (guitarist, 2005-present): Madalas na nila akong kinukuhang session (guitarist) n’un. I was a fan. They had good tunes.

Mong: “Sugod” was pivotal in a lot of ways.

Myrene: That song really crossed us over to the mainstream.

Diego: ’Wag na tayo magkunwari; pag walang “Sugod,” wala eh. Maganda pa rin ’yung tingin ko sa [previous material], pero baka hindi kami nag-quit ng day jobs namin [if not for “Sugod”].

Myrene: Baka hindi kami nakapag-tour with Tanduay First Five for three years.

Mike: Maganda ’yung timing ng “Sugod” because it was the first official release with Raimund as our singer. Parang hindi na haha-napin ’yung dating lineup kasi maganda agad ’yung pasok ng bago. Suwerte rin ’yung “Betamax.”

Myrene: ’Yung “Sugod” kasi, Juan De La Cruz ’yung subject n’un, when we all went to their reunion concert. ’Yung “Betamax,” gan’un din; it’s a nod to our heroes.

Raimund: The Dawn had this song called “Mga Kuya.” So I thought, kailangan may tribute din kami sa mga heroes namin. During interviews, all these indie bands namedrop these cool foreign bands. Naisip ko, bakit walang nag-namecheck ng mga local?

Myrene: Iba rin ’yung mundo mo when you have to play for five to ten thousand people in the province on the weekend. So ibang iba ’yung dating ng show mo. Kailangan mong i-areglo around that. Sobra kaming nag-enjoy sa tour na ’yon.

Marie: I remember pitching for (the “Sugod” video), and I hated pitching. I was in Baguio and I went bowling with my family. That video was supposed to have bowling scenes in it, but they never made the cut. When we were shooting the performance shots, they looked so good, so they were joking, “Kahit wala nang bowling, maganda na ito, eh.” And I said, “No, we’re going bowling.” But when we edited it, I realized that we didn’t need the bowling shots. When it did well, I was so happy. After that, Universal Records called me and said, “Hey, Gary V. wants you to do a video for him because he saw ‘Sugod.’” That got me a lot of work.

Mike: N’ung “Sugod” pa lang, iniisip ko na, “Shet, nasa top kami ngayon.” Hindi ka p’wedeng nand’un lang, eh; eventually bababa ka ulit. Alam kong mangyayari ’yun. Pero hindi nakakalungkot kasi galing kami d’un. Just work your way up again. Alam mong kaya mo kasi confident ka sa mga kasama mo.

Raimund: I really like Contra Tiempo because we wanted to try something songwriting-wise—which was to write all-Filipino songs—and we achieved it. ’Di naman kami nagkulang sa shows. In fact, in the duration of Contra Tiempo, we had some international shows. It wasn’t a radio hit, but strangely enough, it brought us to New York, Malaysia, LA . . . 

Mong: Throughout the years, we met a lot of promoters along the way, so we built a network. And we’ve done our fair share of gigs na kami ’yung nag-pundar. Tapos nagkataon, lahat sila, may event in 2011 or 2012, and booked us.

2012–present.  Fresh off a triumphant gig and the Hong Kong festival Clockenflap (where they shared a bill with international headliners like Primal Scream, Alt-J, !!!, De La Soul, and Azealia Banks), Sandwich are recording their seventh album, set for an early 2013 release, in time for the band’s 15th anniversary. New songs like “Mayday,” “Back For More,” and “Pray For Today” are received well at their shows.

Marie: I think they’re getting great with age; they’re getting cooler and more confident. The addition of Mong is good; his dynamic with Diego is really balanced. And I like that Diego shines more as of late; he sings more. Myrene, from day one until now, she’s the same cool poste, but she levels up while staying the same. When I watch them live, I’m never bored. If I can watch them, I’ll watch them, because I love watching them.  

Quark: I can’t believe it’s been 15 years since they played at Gonzaga Hall. I remember the Itchyworms being there, and the members of Ciudad. We were literally all children.

Raimund: Pinangarap ko ito n’ung ’97. Sabi ko, darating ang panahon na hindi na namimili ng uso ’yung audience. I mean, pag hindi ikaw ’yung gusto nila, OK lang ‘yun; may lugar na para sa lahat. Dumating ito na wala kaming kailangan patunayan. Now, 15 years later, hindi na sila nalalabuan sa kahit anong gawin namin kasi sanay na sila.

Diego: Pinakinggan ko ’yung buong catalogue namin recently, at sobra akong natuwa sa ginawa namin. Looking back, ang ganda; wala akong masabi. Sinabi sa akin ni Myrene dati, “Every album is a document of the time we were all in.” And it’s so true . . . wala akong song na ikinahihiya. I’m very proud.