“And in that very moment,
away behind in some far corner of the city, a cock crowed.
Shrill and clear he crowed reckoning nothing of wizardry or war,
welcoming only the morning that in the sky
far above the shadows of death
was coming with the dawn.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
The Glory That Was The Dawn
I was not a big fan of The Dawn in the 80s. Largely due to the influence of my father and my friends at that time, I was more inclined to listen to music created by the tried and tested folk rock musicians of the 70s like Asin and CSNY and the compelling hooks of the Apo and America. In my book back then, these were the singer-songwriters who mattered as they have paid their dues by way of hit singles you can learn on the guitar and well-received albums you won’t tire of listening to or so I thought. But my younger brother had the makings of a bona fide Dawn fanboy. In fact, it was my brother who introduced me to The Dawn on the strength of its music at that time not being considered mainstream. My brother’s zest for what was new and cutting edge musicwise matched and, at times, exceeded my passion for what is now called classic rock. I can still vividly remember the cassette copies of I Stand With You (i.e., The Dawn’s sophomore outing) and Beyond the Bend (i.e., their third) which he would play over and over on our old reliable Panasonic stereo cassette player even as he would convince me no end to check out their music. The characterization of The Dawn as being cutting edge is validated by Eric Caruncho in his Poets, Punks and Poseurs – A Reportage on Pinoy Rock where he refers to the Dawn in the 80s as “new music” innovators…(that) made the breakthrough.” (pp 41, 265)
Those of us who grew up in the 80s, would remember that the Dawn, initially comprised by the late Teddy Diaz (vocals and guitar), JB Leonor (drums), Caloy Balcells (bass) and Jett Pangan (lead vocals) practically defined the local rock music scene in the 80s. Founded by Diaz, Leonor and Clay Luna (who was actually the original bassist of the band before Balcells replaced him a year after the band was formed) in 1985, The Dawn drew inspiration for its name from a book entitled The Dawning of the Holy Spirit which was handed by a group of nuns who were friends with Teddy Diaz, a devout Catholic who went to mass regularly and imbibed clean living. Perhaps that might partly explain their almost surreal rise to fame in a little over less than 3 years. Their story was every start-up rock band’s dream of making it big as they successfully graduated from bars and bistros to concert halls and stadiums within a short period of time. Pure, unadulterated talent and songs that connected with the Pinoy youth of the 80s might be another logical explanation.
Thanks to over a dozen Pinoy rock hits that they cranked out from 11 studio albums, their place in the history of Pinoy Rock is indubitable even if they may no longer pack halls and stadiums “tulad ng dati,” as one of their more recent songs would put it. Among the most notable from their self-titled album The Dawn (OctoArts Records, 1986) were “Enveloped Ideas”and “Dreams.” Off their sophomore album I Stand With You (OctoArts Records, 1988) there was “Magtanim ay Di Biro,” “Love Will Set Us Free,” “Let Me Dance,” and “I Stand With You,” the single. Beyond the Bend (OctoArts Records, 1989) produced “Salamat,” “Beyond the Bend,” the single and “Little Paradise.” Their fourth outing Heart’s Thunder (OctoArts Records, 1990) spawned “Alam Ko, Alam Nyo” and “Run Away.” Iisang Bangka (OctoArts Records, 1991) which was their first greatest hits album immortalized the 1991 hit of the same title. 1992’s Abot Kamay gave rise to “Babaeng Mahiwaga” and “Abot Kamay,” the single. Puno’t Dulo (OctoArts Records, 1994) launched “Salimpusa” and “Talaga Naman.” To top it all, no less than the San Miguel Corporation headlined them in its Ultra Storm rock concerts all over the country in the 80s. The pinnacle of their popularity back then may be said to have culminated with “Salamat” (1989) and “Iisang Bangka” (1991) taking center stage in regular San Miguel Beer commercials that were played both on radio and television. In a word, their presence and their music from the mid80s to the early 90s was inescapable. They had made their mark.
Clearly, Vin Dancel of the band Peryodiko was not exaggerating when he noted in 2013 that, “Every decade there would be bands that’d break open the floodgates for Pinoy music and Pinoy musicians. Juan Dela Cruz in the 70s, the Eraserheads in the 90s…The Dawn did it in the 80s” (“The Dawn: And the Band Played On” by Kristine Fonacier, Rogue Magazine Jan-Feb 2013 issue)
And The Old Became New
Given their impressive body of work and their assured niche in the history of Pinoy Rock, The Dawn could have gotten away with holding greatest hits concerts till kingdom come. But playing it safe is apparently not what this band is at its core. And so it was that with the dawning of a new century, the band unleashed an album of all-new material with Harapin (Warner Music Philippines, 2004). It was, by all indications, what OPM enthusiasts would happily call an album “na walang tapon.” “Tulad ng Dati,” the lead track was the most memorable rivaling even the best Dawn track from their glory days in the 80s both in the melody and lyrics department. Not surprisingly, it opens and closes the album albeit as a remix version in the latter with a little help from Raimund Marasigan’s Squid 9. Following closely is “Traffic,” a bouncy post-breakup song the words and music of which are guaranteed to make the 6-hour gates of hell traffic of Manila tolerable for at least 5 minutes. “Laging Narito” matches the steadfast pledge of loyalty and fidelity implicit in its lyrics with a melody line that gradually builds into a soaring chorus. “Change is Breaking Us Apart,” “Behind the Sun,” “Breathe You In,” “Push Forward” and “Harapin ang Liwanag” all sound like vintage albeit contemporized Dawn at the top of their game in the early noughties.
And then there was Tulad ng Dati (2006), the movie and the studio album of the same title. At the time that the movie was helmed by Mike Sandejas who also wrote and produced it, Atsushi Matsuura had been replaced by Francis Reyes on guitars. Ehead Buddy Zabala had taken on the bass duties of Mon Legaspi. Only JB Leonor and Jett Pangan remained of the original lineup. Tulad ng Dati, the movie was part fiction, part band bio and part tribute to Teddy Diaz. The film “starts in 2006. It revolves around the character of Jett Pangan who is nearing his 40s. He has lost his passion for music and life and entertains thoughts of retiring from the band. On a fateful night, Jett is assaulted by a burglar and goes into a coma. He wakes up with no memory of his life after 1988. He remembers that he is 19 years old and is at the peak of his career with The Dawn. Not satisfied with how things turned out with his life, he tries to change everything back to the way it used to be. The path he takes while finding his place in this strange new world proves itself to be a tough, emotional and sometimes hilarious journey – accompanied by the celebrated music of The Dawn, both past and present.” (culled from the DVD notes of Unitel Films’ Tulad ng Dati) The movie ends on a hopeful and optimistic note even as it succeeds in making you appreciate the musical legacy and the prospective future contributions from this iconic Pinoy rock band. Interestingly, it boasts of cameo roles by the late Karl Roy, Ehead guitarist and Sandwich frontman Raimund Marasigan and Imago. It would go on to win the 2006 Cinemalaya award for Best Picture, Best Sound and Best Editing and the 2007 Gawad Urian for Best Sound.
The two-disc studio album of the same title showcased “rock-till-you-drop” and therefore, edgier revisitations of 18 Dawn classics occasioned by the quartet comprised by Pangan, Zabala, Reyes and Leonor. It also boasted 6 music videos including an 80s throwback recording of Teddy’s guitar solo and the official trailer of Tulad ng Dati. Capping the second disc are two moving acoustic renditions of “Abot Kamay” and “Salamat.” Overall, the album was not just “tulad ng dati.” It was several notches better than “tulad ng dati” – a “little paradise of dreams and enveloped ideas,” if you will, reworked and reengineered for the new century.
Perhaps spurred by the renewed interest in their musical legacy via Tulad ng Dati, the band pushed the envelope further by attempting yet another reworking and reengineering not only of their signature songs but also of covers that have long been associated with them. The Later Half of Day (MCA Music Philippines, 2008) presents itself as an engaging retrospective featuring 7 of their greatest hits along with their covers of songs by some of their most important musical influences led by U2, The Police, Simple Minds, The Cure, Modern English and Todd Rundgren. What set it apart from your usual rock anthology is the surprise jazzed-up flavor and unplugged treatment accorded to the songs featured in the album. Their acoustic and hitherto, untried and untested rendering of “Iisang Bangka” unraveled musical layers that were not there when it was first unveiled in 1991. The reimagined versions of their most well-loved concert staples such as “Enveloped Ideas,” “Love Will Set Us Free,” “Run Away,” “Dreams,” “Little Paradise,” and “Beyond the Bend” took these songs to places and spaces long-time fans did not know existed. Sung and played as they’ve never been heard before, these versions uncovered facets and aspects of these Dawn classics that may have been lost from their overplay. And just like that, the old became new.
Chasing The Dawn
A year before the band turns 3-decades old (that is, if you count from 1985 when they started as a trio and if you include their almost 5-year hiatus when they disbanded in 1995 and formally regrouped via Prodigal Sun in 2000) and almost 5 years after their 2009 largely experimental studio album Sound the Alarm (albeit “Hatak,” “Lumulubog,” and “Tuloy-Tuloy” can hold their own vis a vis’ the best tracks of Harapin) the Dawn – whose literal meaning in Filipino is “bukang liwayway” – continues to be true to its name by chasing the dawn of yet another beginning.
Wittingly or unwittingly, they appear to be doing the chasing by implicitly invoking the so-called rule of three. Consider, this 2014, not only is it releasing a new single entitled “Habulan” (and eventually, invoking their muse to kick start a new album hopefully), it is also introducing a new guitar player in the person of Sancho in the wake of Kenneth Ilagan’s departure for the U.S. in 2009 and notwithstanding the already formidable support provided by Kit Mendoza on guitar and Lenie Llapitan (formerly of Identity Crisis) on keyboards. The band is also apparently rebooting its live performance with a concert aptly titled Landmarks happening at the Music Museum on August 8, 2014.
Through a series of happy coincidences this writer recently caught up with them to pose a mixture of questions that would no doubt interest both the Dawnlister (as its fans are called) and the casual observer of Pinoy rock. Our thanks to Lisa Nakpil.
You have a new single entitled “Habulan” which made its debut at Myx accompanied by a well-thought out BTS YouTube post. Jett Pangan says it’s essentially about chasing one’s dreams, the attendant difficulties and the challenge to go for it just the same. Who composed it and what was the context of the song?
JETT: Buddy composed and arranged the music while I (Jett) came up with the vocal melody and originally wrote the lyrics in English. Then one day, we thought the song can reach out better if the lyrics were in Tagalog so we called in Peryodiko’s Vin Dancel. Vin has worked with the band in one way or another prior so we didn’t doubt that his creative input would prove valuable. He basically captured the essence of the English lyrics without doing a totally literal translation.
As for the idea behind the words, I just had this image of a race or more specifically, a person trying to keep up with someone. It ended up reflecting the basic human condition of always chasing after someone or something as if there’s never enough time.
It’s been 5 years since Sound the Alarm, do you have a new album that will come out in the heels of “Habulan”? Is Landmarks the title of the album?
JETT: As far as releasing new material is concerned, we’re taking it one song at a time. We may end the year sitting on three or five songs or an entire album. What’s important to us now is that every song we put out there should leave a mark.
“Landmarks” is the title of the Aug. 8 concert at the Music Museum. The Dawn has been around for almost three decades, so it has existed alongside quite a few milestones not just in our history, but of the nation as well.
Were you in any way consulted by Polyeast with the vinyl release of The Dawn Greatest?
JETT: Not really. We were just told about it, so my wife and I went to a music store and bought one 🙂
What was your reaction when you learned about this vinyl reissue?
JETT: It’s nothing new to me, since the Dawn’s first three releases came out on vinyl and cassettes. I guess it’s a novelty nowadays, though.
Have you listened to the vinyl reissue? What are your impressions re: its sonic quality and album art?
JETT: I haven’t opened our copy yet because I don’t have a turntable.
The Dawn is turning 30 years old by 2015, any plans of releasing an updated best of or even better, an anthology box set to celebrate your upcoming milestone? What about a coffee table book a’la U2 by U2 or The Rolling Stones: 50?
JETT: All of that would be nice and we’ll surely work towards making them happen (if we’re still a band by then).
The only Dawn albums we still see in record stores these days are mostly The Story of The Dawn (Polyeast, 2001), Sound the Alarm (Sony Music, 2009) and a couple of copies of The Later Half of Day (MCA Music Philippines, 2008). How come there are no longer copies of Tulad ng Dati OST? Or The Dawn Live which only appeared on high grade cassettes? Does the band have any long-term plans to make available their entire album catalog for fans to complete?
JETT: Dude, we can only wish we had power over these record labels to command them to keep stocks of our albums in stores but sadly that’s not the case. I do believe you can still buy directly at their head offices.
There is a continuing demand among OPM enthusiasts for The Dawn vinyl albums and CDs. Tulad ng Dati OST currently sells for Php 3,000 if sealed and Php 1,500 if near mint. Prodigal Sun sells for Php 8,000. Your early vinyl albums command a Php 2,000 and up price tag. How aware is the band about this? What do you think of all this?
JETT: Being a semi-collector of stuff myself, I think it’s all good if you have the money for it. Whether it’s overpriced is not for me to say. If they want a cheaper deal, they can always watch us live 🙂
Of the 11 studio albums, 3 compilaton albums and 1 live album you’ve released so far, which is your personal favorite? Why? (addressed to individual members of the band)
JETT: I’ll tell you what I like the least: the first album. I was like, 17 or 18 at the time, I sounded like a whiny kid with a cold. Plus we didn’t know anything about recording, so the songs basically came out sounding like they were recorded in a tin can. Teddy Diaz sounded great, though.
BUDDY: My favorite is the newest release, “Habulan.” It’s a single we’d worked on the past few months. With all the revisions and tweaks we tried out on this song, we can’t wait to try out the new stuff we’ve learned on the next few songs. The latest work is usually my favorite.
JB: I like all the albums, all had their unique set of challenges to overcome.
SANCHO: I’ll defer to the other three since I have not been part of any album release yet.
If Spotify/ITunes/Deezer/Spinnr were to ask you to draw up the Ultimate The Dawn Playlist, what are the 10 tracks that would most likely make it to the list?
JETT: 1.“Susi” (first album), 2.“I Stand With You (second album), 3.“Habulan” (latest for 2014), 4.“I Saw You Coming” (Prodigal Sun), 5.“Standing By Your Heart (Prodigal Sun), 6.“Love Will Set Us Free” (2nd album), 7.“Abot Kamay” (re-recorded version, Tulad ng Dati), 8.“Tulad ng Dati” (Harapin album), 9.“Harapin ang Liwanag” (Harapin album) and 10.“Salimpusa” (Puno’t Dulo album)
SANCHO: 1.”Habulan,” 2. “Enveloped Ideas,” 3. “I Stand With You” 4. “I Saw You Coming In,” 5. “Standing By Your Heart,” 6. “Dreams, 7. “Love (Will Set Us Free), 8. “Salamat,” 9. “Iisang Bangka Tayo,” 10. “Beyond the Bend”
JB: Ok… when I make a playlist for friends, the songs I select are usually light and easy so as not to overwhelm or overpower the conversation. Here’s my list: 1.“Hatak,” 2.“Pedestal,” 3.“Little Paradise,” 4.“Abot Kamay,” 5.“Dreams,” 6.“Talaga Naman,” 7.“Runaway,” 8.“Laging Narito,” 9.“Traffic,” 10.“Change is Breaking Us Apart.”
(The next 10 would be) 1.“Kalayaan,” 2.“I Saw You Coming In,” 3.“Standing By Your Heart,” 4.“Can You Tell,” 5.“Take Me Back,” 6.“Glitter Baby,” 7.“This is The Time,” 8.“Hey Isabel,” 9.“Give Me the Night,” and 10.“Habulan” and the whole album of Later Half of Day.
(Note to the reader: The online download launch of “Habulan” is on August 11 for Spinnr and Aug 18 for Spotify, Deezer and the like.)
What is your fave Dawn song at this time, one you wouldn’t mind listening to or playing over and over again and why? (addressed to individual members of the band)
JETT: “Habulan” and “I Saw You Coming In”
BUDDY: “Habulan,” it’s a great soundtrack to your day.
JB: Years ago, I would always say “I Stand With You” but, I’ve now realized that my favorite song changes or shifts depending on the situation. Now, since we’re rehearsing for Music Museum, my favorites are “Habulan” and “I Saw You Coming In.”
There was a time that I really hated this song called “Magic Dragon¸” another one of The Dawn’s infamous lab experiments. I heard it a few months ago with a friend who had it on his phone. It’s actually pretty damn good!
Teddy Diaz’s favorite would definitely be “I Stand With You.”
SANCHO: “I Stand With You” and “Habulan”
How come you have no official band FB and IG accounts? Is this a conscious decision or it just so happened that it is not a priority at this time? The Dawn (Philippines) appears to be the FB site of serious The Dawn fans unlike say, The Oktaves, Pupil, Imago, Up Dharma Down, Sandwich or even The Juan Dela Cruz Band which all maintain official FB sites.
JETT: Yeah, it’s only recently that we’re making more “tutok” via our site administrators.
Locally, who/which are the top 3 musicians/bands who continue to influence your music as a band?
JETT: As a band? No one in particular but we do pick up cool things from this and that group/artist.
Internationally, who/which would these be?
JETT: Lately, we listen to stuff from The Killers, Imagine Dragons and bands with nice keyboard arrangements.
What keeps you guys going? What fires you up individually and as a collective?
JETT: Personally, it’s the fact that I do things outside of The Dawn (musical theatre, hosting, etc). It keeps things fresh for me. As a collective, it’s our pure and simple, meat and potatoes love for music and playing live.
JB: The adrenaline rush of a live performance.
SANCHO: I’m a big fan of music, specially guitar-driven songs.
After Music Museum, where can we expect you guys to play next?
JETT: We have gigs lined up which you can track on our, ehem, FB page 🙂 and Twitter, etc.