A lot has happened since Bullet Dumas gathered widespread acclaim during his stint at the first-ever Elements National Camp in 2010. After getting the nods of music veterans Ryan Cayabyab, Joey Ayala and Francis Reyes to name a few, the 28-year-old folkie instantly became a fixture in the underground gig scene, wowing various audiences with his prolific display of skill and songwriting swag. “Before Elements Camp, I had about four gigs in a year, ” shares Bullet. “But that didn’t stop me from chasing my dreams, I knew it wasn’t my time yet.”
Fast forward to 2014, Bullet now occupies a special space in the local folk rock canon. Down the same alley took by every folk greats in the history of Filipino music—from Jesse Santiago to Gary Granada—he stands alone on the stage beneath the haze of a noisy urban crowd, makes use of his guitar as a rhythmic accent rather than an instrument, and sings songs that could move a crowd to total silence. It’s the usual scenario in a gig that features Bullet as a performer, only that he makes the quirks sound closer to home rather than something foreign. A few days ago, we cornered the man-of-the-hour to discuss in details his upcoming debut EP, his plans of releasing a new music video and collaborating with The Eraserheads/Sugarfree producer Robin Rivera.
1. At the first-ever Elements National Music Camp in 2010, you emerged as one of the standout campers who got the attention of mentors Joey Ayala, Ryan Cayabyab and Francis Reyes, to name a few. 4 years after, an EP produced by Robin Rivera and supported by Raymund Marasigan and Buddy Zabala will finally be out in the market for music fans to hear. How has this turn of events changed you as a person?
Well I feel a little bit accomplished but still very far from over. I waited a long time for everything to fit into place.
I’ve been really, really patient. Patience and hard work really pays off well. I never rushed things. Before Elements Camp, I had about four gigs in a year. Haha! But that didn’t stop me from chasing my dreams, I knew it wasn’t my time yet. Post-camp, I got a spot at Conspiracy Garden Cafe along Visayas Ave, QC thanks to my sister, Apryll and her friend, Tina Balajadia, who was part of the Conspiracy. I had the second Monday of the month and had to squeeze that in my sched coz the next morning, I’m teaching Math again to 13-year-olds. And I loved teaching as well. I had my close friends and family to support me every time, though. I had big and small gigs. With or without audience, I performed the same way. I considered each gig a practice for my next one; even performing 3-4 hours straight. A practice wherein I can’t just screw up.
2. For a song that defies music structure and conventional pop tropes, “Pssst!” is slowly turning into an alt radio fixture, even making it to Jam 88.3’s top 10 countdown. Do you have plans of pushing the promotion any further? Perhaps a music video to get it out in the younger ABC crowd of MYX and MTV?
Yep, a music video would be nice. I have live performance videos of “Pssst!” on Youtube but nothing is more appealing than a really well-though-of music vid. Everything is being planned carefully so we’ll see what happens.
3. What is your new single “Pssst!” all about? Anything you’d like to share from the song’s early conception to the songwriting process?
We call someone with “Pssst!” sometimes as a term of endearment. It’s part of Pinoy culture; although if used in a certain way, may sound disrespectful. But “Pssst!” is about wooing that special someone, calling her attention. My song titles are chosen when my songs are almost done. They should have appeal and mystery like every title should. Later on, I literally included singing “Pssst!” coz it sounds like cymbals. If I can’t add details to my guitar playing, I find other ways.
“Pssst!” was fun to write. It evolves every time I play it. It started from an instrumental and a few gibberish words I kept singing along with, recorded this and listened to it everywhere I go. Then real words would form little by little turning the gibberish lyrics to phrases which make sense. It was tedious but I like this songwriting process coz it brings out different ideas on how a particular sound appeals to you.
4. We’re also excited about your upcoming EP. Not primarily because of the awesome people behind it, but the actual music that we’ve gushed hearing live. Can you share with us some juicy details about it?
Well this is a live recording! I’m not a perfect performer so it was very difficult for me to make a flawless performance in the studio. But somehow I managed, thanks to the awesome people in that studio. The end result, as sir Robin puts it, has no downsampling, no autotune, no enhancements. Just like hearing me play live in front of you. And we released two versions: CD quality and high-res. The high res version has the entire EP in a single file with the songs arranged in a particular order (which is very important in any form of compilation). So it’s like a tape in high resolution. CD quality is just the normal recording.
5. You guys tapped Robin Rivera to produce the album. He’s produced some of the best albums in the last 2-3 decades: from the Eraserheads to Sugarfree. How were you able to get Mr. Rivera on board?
It was a Yolanda gig at Kalayaan Residence Hall in UP. Sir Robin and colleagues wanted the cross-registrants from UP Tacloban to feel at home and welcomed by putting up a little intimate gig at the Kalai lobby. Vin Dancel suggested me to him. He and Raimund Marasigan also played. A few weeks later, Sir Robin, his wife Helen, and his sister Elena, generously gave up their Christmas bonus and sponsored my recording at Shinji’s Sound Creation.
Until now, it hasn’t really sunk in yet that I was produced by THE Robin Rivera, himself. I’ve been a very, very, very lucky guy.
6. “Ninuno” is also a crowd favorite. Will we be hearing studio version of the track in your new EP?
Yep, “Ninuno” is part of it. “Ninuno” has taken me places. “Ninuno” has to be in the EP!
7. What are your fondest memories of performing live?
The unusual circumstances: people singing along to your songs, foreigners appreciating the song even if they don’t understand the lyrics, a standing ovation from 300+ students, your music heroes telling you that they enjoyed your set, security guards asking for a photo with you, people dancing to your songs, a kid telling you she liked your performance.
But the best thing is being able to silence a noisy crowd. And listening to the applause afterwards.
Photos and videos courtesy of Bullet Dumas and Isi Laureano.