Eyedress Made An Album About Love And Survival In Manila

The Filipino artist reflects on his new record Manila Ice, living under a fiercely right-wing regime, and being a new father.

March 30, 2017
Eyedress Made An Album About Love And Survival In Manila Eyedress   Photo by Patrick L. Jamora

It’s 1:30 a.m. when Eyedress answers my call on Skype. It’s dimly lit in his Manila home from what I can see on my computer; he’s bleary eyed, slightly stoned, and speaking in a hushed so not to wake anyone up, especially his baby girl. Negotiating time differences between the Philippines and other parts of the world seems like something he’s accustomed to.

Last time The FADER caught up with Eyedress, a.k.a. Idris Vicuña, he had just released the video for his wonderfully minimalist single “Sofia Coppola,” which made it onto his second album, due out this May. Titled Manila Ice, it’s the follow-up to his heavy-hitting debut Shapeshifter, which came out in 2015. This time around he emphasizes warm bass and synths as opposed to the hellish, brain-numbing sounds on his debut album. The overall effect remains just as hypnotic and spellbinding, and just as melodic. Recorded entirely at his parents' house, he plays lead and rhythm guitar, bass, synths, samplers, and drums alongside singing and rapping.

Manila Ice is an extensive body of work — almost 17 songs, each teeming with feeling. Throughout, he spins whimsical daydreams and nightmares; mellifluous compositions about living in fear, ecstasy, insecurity, romance, and depression. On songs like “Manila Ice” and “Separation Anxiety,” he makes passing references to drugs and corruption — activities that are currently under severe governmental crackdown in the Philippines — over sunny, relaxed beats. With his soft synths, melodic guitars, and melancholic lyrics paired with gentle vocals, Vicuña's visions on the album are hazy, but also a method of healing. After the intense year he’s had, which he details in below, he solemnly tells me his music is only possible as a result of his closest relationships.

In the video for "High St. Drive By," which is premiering on The FADER below, Vicuña recruits his buddies — vocalist Jess, rapper Akio, and keyboardist Lustbass — for an adventure in experimentation. He captures them in surrealist landscapes through a fisheye lens in a song about being lonely, lost, and guilty, while having feelings for someone who deserves better than their current relationship.

In the interview below, Vicuña shares his journey with his album, his experience as a young person in Manila under a fiercely ring-wing regime, and being a new father.

Tell me about the "High St. Drive By" video.

What you see in the video are these giant paintings in [Manila's] Selfie Museum, where people usually go and take photos and stuff. Some of it was filmed in my bathroom upstairs, and my friend brought all these lasers and a smoke machine, and tripped it out so it looked like we were having a party in there. We had no plan, but we've done that before, gone in and tried to make something on the day itself.

If you watch Filipino TV, the MTV of the Philippines has the lyrics at the bottom, karaoke style — that's really big here. We kind of copied that just to make it look like you were watching it on TV here, but you would never see us on TV because we're not on some showbiz shit. But that came in when we were editing the video already. I just thought that was a genius idea, it was the director's idea. He's super into logo-flips, and he wanted to flip the whole show. That's the biggest troll move he could do, because we don't really have anything to do with our industry here, they don't find us marketable or whatever.

How did you get to know your collaborators on the song?

A few months ago, I got kicked out of my house because I was being an asshole, basically. I had to move in with my best friend. The collaborators came about when I was staying with her. What I was trying to do with this album was bring all these Filipino people on board. I was open to it, because I was at such a low point in my life — I got kicked out, and me and my girlfriend had a baby. It was crazy, I was just trying to keep it together. I was getting therapy at the time. That whole period kinda shaped where the album was gonna go.

When I was staying with my friend, we were blazing, and she was like "Why don't you work with Jess?" Jess is also Filipino, but she's half Australian. Out here she's really famous, she's on the Big Brother of the Philippines. My friend Akio, who raps at the end, he's this half-black, half-Filipino kid, and I've known him through skating. I used to film with him and my friends. Now Akio just raps. He left the Philippines right when the war on drugs thing started happening really heavily. His father passed away, so it was a heavy time. He came over while I was living with my friend. That's what "High St. Drive By" is about.

I didn't even know what the album was gonna be until it was really done. Those guys came through for me, and Jess helped me a lot. I never thought these people would come through for me at such a time, when my life was going really bad. The friend that I'm living with, her boyfriend is this guy that plays the keys on the song. He goes by Lustbass. He's really jazzy, and the keys he played are really sick. Basically the song happened when we were super blazed, in our house, and he started playing the keys and I was just recording, like, "Oh, I like those two chords." I played bass over it, did a little bit more synth, and that was it. We made the whole instrumental in like an hour or two. That's how that happened.

“On this album, I feel like this is where I’m putting my real pain.”

You mentioned not having support within the entertainment business in the Philippines. What's it like to be a creative person right now in Manila, given what's going on politically — has it changed over the years?

I think now it's definitely easier — you have the internet, you can literally post whatever you make and if people catch on, they catch on. I think the internet is the biggest help to being a creative in Manila.

But out here, being a creative is really hard. It's not hard in the sense that it's a struggle for us, it's just hard for us to get people to appreciate what we make, and, a lot of the time, people will criticize us, "Oh, you're a foreigner, why are you making music here?" [Eyedress spent some years living in America as a child.] They're super petty like that. They'll give us shit for the littlest things. The older guys will be hating on what we're doing, try to put us down, because we're not sucking up to them or anything. Everything is political, even music.

It's important to talk about what's going on. I'm not very political on the internet, but I'm political — like, have you seen the album cover?

Eyedress Made An Album About Love And Survival In Manila

I was just about to ask you about that — I noticed specifically, the person in the background with the basketball head, and the pig stand-in for the cop. What were you getting at?

That was me trying to be low-key political. If you're super political out here, you'll create enemies, and death threats will come. That's why you gotta be ready for that if you're going to voice out against who's in power. I'm not scared — I know a lot of people in power, too — but I'm not trying to offend them. I'm just trying to show that this is the world we live in. It's always traffic everyday, we all go through the same traffic. Everyone is pissed at the same things. Our president has this war on drugs, and he's super controversial right now.

Who it's affecting is the poor. When I say poor, I don't mean people who can barely eat, I mean people who don't even have clothes, they don't even have a house. People are butt-ass naked on the street. For me, that's what upsets me. Can't we build a new home everyday? It's really complicated, the political situation. But I feel like they're just greedy. The wealth isn't being distributed properly. I care about politics, but I don't want to think too deep about it because it makes me depressed.

There's really great wealth disparity in the States as well. But when I go back to India, the magnitude to which the unbelievably rich and the unbelievably poor live in proximity to each other is really startling, and it doesn't really exist anywhere else besides the global south.

Yeah, it's really insane. We still make music, eat these fancy meals, but it's just sad because I'm not necessarily in the position where I can literally do something. Like, I can talk about it, but I don't even feel like anyone listens to me. I don't have a massive following, hopefully one day. But hopefully I can be political and not die.

I noticed in the later half of the album, starting with "Feel Like Giving Up," that it has a really complex sound that's really layered. Your distorted voice on top of that just brings it all together. From that point on, it gets a lot more complex, and doesn't feel as optimistic as it sounded in the beginning. Could you speak to that a little bit?

I'm generally positive in person, but on this album, I feel like I just went through mad negative situations. It wasn't on purpose. I was making a fake-DJ set when making the tracklist. I make rap music too and I have an alter-ego where I'm just a super dick and I don't care. But on this album, I feel like this is where I'm putting my real pain. I'm really just trying to keep it positive, though it was a heavy experience.

I feel like the music has super positive vibes, like it's upbeat. It's just really hot out here too, and everyone is angry, and it takes two hours to get to a place that takes twenty minutes without traffic. The traffic here is unlivable, it's unhealthy. No one even follows the rules when they drive. I could go biking and risk dying everyday, but it's super polluted. Props to my friends who do it — they're like daredevils.

What's your favorite song on the album, what song are you most proud of?

I like "Separation Anxiety," I feel like that's what my vibe is. Always kinda angry, but really sweet most of the time. I get really stressed out and take it out really immaturely sometimes. The other new one is "Used To Be Good Friends." I've never made a song about friends, because I used to make music about love. That shit got old, some little kiddie idea I had. It felt like tough love, when I was trying to be more loving after all the shit I had to go through.

"Manila Ice" reminds of my dad. Something a dad would wanna air guitar to. The lyrics came later; I don't write lyrics, I'm more on the melody. Actually, my label made me change the lyrics on "Manila Ice." I went super dumb on the first vocal take, talking about killing people, and my label told me that commercially, people won't vibe to this. But I was playing the villain, those are the words that came. I was trying to portray a Filipino villain, like our president himself. It's a very Filipino thing — dudes who love boxing, action movies, guns — they're crazy about that shit out here. Corruption is heavy out here. But I changed the lyrics to reflect on what's really going on: “bribing cops with money.”

“Before the baby came, I was in denial about being a parent. I was all about being completely selfish. As soon as she came out, I was like, ‘Holy crap. My life isn’t about me anymore.’”

What's a typical day in your life been like recently?

I gotta wake up really early whenever the baby slaps me in the face. She'll bitch-slap me at 5 a.m., and it's like, "Oh, you're so cute! I can't get mad at you." She's funny though. It's teamwork with me and my baby mama, we wake up and try to take turns. I run a lot of errands, I mostly see the grocery store. I do family stuff. I've been trying to clean up, because before I was not about this life. Even before the baby came, I was in denial about being a parent. I was all about being completely selfish. As soon as she came out, I was like, "Holy crap. My life isn't about me anymore." Everyday's just more about her. Even this music thing is like, I'm trying to do the best I can for her.

My family believes in me, and it's good to have that. My parents have their own life, but my girlfriend is very supportive. She sings on "Pentagram Land." Me and her have a unique relationship — she just turned 40, and I'm only 27. All her life, she's wanted to make music, and the first day we met, we recorded. My life now is just about family. I now know how important taking care of the people in your family is. I just have to focus, I can't even get into fights. Not like that's a bad thing, but I've had to let go of a lot of things. The reason I got kicked out was because I was acting out a lot in front of my baby. So I got it together, I try not to get mad. I had to swallow my pride and do the best I can.

It sounds like you are doing your best.

I'm trying.

“That’s what important — having love for everybody — because there are far worse things going on right now than what color we are, and who we like.”

I wanna talk about something you tweeted recently. You said, "Race and sexuality have nothing to do with what's wrong with the world. What's wrong with the world is how we view people who are different." Can you elaborate a little bit on what that means?

When I moved here, people would look at me different. The level of judgment out here is like, people judge you on your last name, what school you come from. All of that started to come out because all of my life I just felt this frustration. I didn't know it was a race thing when I was a kid; I didn't see it that way until I was working and being around people that do business. For me, it's just that mentality of pointing out differences and putting you down that's what's fucking everything up right now. It drives me crazy. There's really heavy classism out here. My friends played a really super-popping gig this weekend, and posted videos. People left comments on these videos that my friends were "squatters," like informal settlers, because their show was super popping. What does that even mean? These guys are from a really tough part of town, and out here, the people saying these things are from good schools, and it's really disappointing. You're gonna graduate, earn more than these people will ever — how are you gonna say all this about them, as if you're any different? Your skin might be lighter because they're in the sun all the time and you're indoors?

The world is growing into something — who cares anymore? It's the fact that people that are trying to come out at everybody for their differences and trying to start shit, that's what that tweet was about. The frustration of this. You got Donald Trumps, fascists everywhere. I just feel the inequality. But I'm starting to see a new world as well, where people are opening their hearts to anyone. There's a lot more people like that now, like my brother and his group of friends that are way younger than me. Those guys are more sensitive. I have a lot of gay friends too, and there's that macho vibe with guys that don't understand their sexuality. You don't have to feel ashamed — I've done some stuff like that, and I don't feel bad. I just felt bad because I thought my dad would kill me. When I got over that, I was like "Well, even my girlfriend doesn't care." I was very open about that in the beginning. She didn't make me feel like I was any less, or not tough. It's like that movie Moonlight. It's an important movie for many generations, that's a milestone for sexuality. That's what important — having love for everybody — because there are far worse things going on right now than what color we are, and who we like.

Lex Records will release Manila Ice on May 12. Pre-order it now.


Eyedress Made An Album About Love And Survival In Manila