Artistic reality

This December, the Menagerie gives you a one-on-one exclusive interview with the frontman, vocalist, and keyboardist, of the band: Never the Strangers. Twenty-one year old Anthony “Ace” Libre shares his thoughts on his concept of art, and his decision to dive into the music business.

TLS: How did Never the Strangers start?

Ace: We have been playing since 2006. Back in high school, we were known as Leonecast, and we had a different line-up. We had a four man line-up, and I used to be the guitarist. One summer, Leonecast was formed when my band mates and I were at a workshop as part of a school organization; it was a sing-dance kind of organization. It was a hobby back then. We played covers for any event that was offered to us. Leonecast lasted until 2011; we decided to change our name to Never the Strangers (NTS).

TLS: Who are the members of your band?

Ace: I am the keyboardist and lead vocalist of the band. We have Jose Gabriel “PJ” La Vina on drums, John Paul “JP” Del Mundo on guitar and Francis Bertholet Victa on Bass. JP and Victa are new additions, so PJ and I are the only former band members of Leonecast.

TLS: Why Never the Strangers?

Ace: First, I just thought of the words while having lunch, and I thought it sounded cool. The name had no meaning behind it. I then told the band about the name, and they liked it. A few days later, PJ and Victa told me about the meaning they built on the name: Besides love and a smile [being] universally recognizable to humankind, music (and art in general) is something that people can understand, identify with and connect to one another with. Say for instance, you are seated in a bus, beside a person you have neither seen nor talked to before – a stranger, in other words. Then, a song that you both know plays on the radio. The person beside you discreetly (or not so discreetly) hums or sings along to it. At that moment, you realize that you [two] are connected. Whether it be a novelty song or an obscure indie track, as long as you both know it, you [two] are linked by that thread of knowledge. In that sense, you are no longer strangers to each another.

TLS: What is are you currently majoring in? Are any of you taking music-related courses?

Ace: I am taking up Communications Technology Management at AdMU. The whole band is from Ateneo. Victa is taking up Management Engineering, and JP’s studying Management Information Systems. PJ’s in AB Psychology.

TLS: How would you describe your sound and your musical influences?

Ace: Leonecast used to only do covers, and we had a saxophonist [before]. We used to cover bands like Muse, Snow Patrol and Coldplay. We now make original songs, but we still follow the same bands as before. We have a 70’s and 80’s influence like The Cars and Flock of Seagulls. We would like to think of ourselves as a new wave.

We have a very laid back sound. We do not want to stress the listener. Our songs are rather mellow and maybe dramatic, but we have some numbers in the album, which are sort of loud and heavy.

TLS: Speaking of album, how did NTS score a deal with Warner Music?

Ace: Rico Blanco was looking for new acts because he has this vision of re-electrifying the band scene with a younger generation of bands since the scene today is saturated with old guys. Rico was searching through MySpace; he liked our first single, Alive. He put in a good word for us to Warner, and they picked us up.

TLS: Has the band won any awards? Did you join any high school’s Battle of the Bands?

Ace: Battle of the Bands ended with Leonecast. We never really joined any battles after high school because we never really won. We were not the type to win battles because we were not like the heavy bands. Judges usually look at individual skills. We decided to lay-off battles, and dedicated our gigs to debuts because those type of audiences like our laid-back sound.

TLS: Do you know if you are going to stick with the band as a career?

Ace: I am taking my music career seriously, but I do not know about the other band members. I do not want to expect anything, but I think that music is my calling, and I am looking at doing other things in music like advertisements and song writing for other artists.

TLS: Who writes NTS’ songs?

Ace: For the first album, initially the plan was that all of us would write songs once a week to practice our skills, but that was inconvenient because we had school. I had the most experience with song writing so I made many of the songs.

TLS: In general, what inspires you? Where do you get your inspiration?

Ace: The first thing that inspires me is music research. That really broadened my music vocabulary. As a musician, you should have a continuous interest and curiosity for new things. I have spent endless hours on the Internet looking for 80’s bands and new music. I research mainstream pop songs to make our songs more appealing to our audience. Since we had deadlines, it was difficult to depend on just my experiences and on my mood. There were other things I had to do for school as well. If I only depended on my experiences or feelings, I would not regularly churn out songs.

The process of writing songs would go like this: I would think of an idea with words and instrumentation; record the demo at home with my versatile keyboard; tell the band what vibe and feel I want for the song; and then we would go to the studio and jam.

TLS: What do you think makes a great artist?

Ace: I just saw a French film titled Babette’s Feast where the lead character says, “An artist is never poor.” It struck me because it is not really about the money or the commercial success you get. It is about doing your best and making people happy in the process.

TLS: For someone so young, what advice can you give to other people your age who might want to become an artist like you?

Ace: There was this lady I met when I was having my driver’s license renewed. It turns out that she was a show singer in the 70’s. She told me, “Wag na wag mong iisipin na di mo kaya yan… Just keep doing what you love to do. It will really take you places.” Just keep pushing.

TLS: What qualities do you think artists really need to succeed, especially today?

Ace: Our studio engineer said that everything is done easily today because of technology. A mistake could easily be cleared by pressing the delete button. Back then, mistakes had to be fixed by cutting recording tapes that cost money. What artists need nowadays is discipline and focus. Facebook and Twitter are huge distractions.

Another disadvantage would be too much reliance on technology. Some artists sound great when they are on record, but sound really bad when performing live. You also need a constant hunger for inspiration, to acknowledge that you have your own experiences and your own thoughts, originality, and pride in your own work.

TLS: What do you think are the mistakes young people are making today in harnessing their talents?

Ace: Being shy, looking up to your idols and saying you can never be like him or her – I think that is already a mistake. You should aim high, set high expectations and have confidence in yourself. Being lazy is another mistake. You are never going to be a good guitarist if you do not  practice. Being distracted from your craft is wrong, too.

TLS: On a more general perspective now, how would you define art?

Ace: Art is created by humans for human beings. When you create art, that is how you express your being human because you express your feelings, your thoughts and your ideas. Art connects people; it is humanizing.

TLS: Do you think that art is underrated in the Philippine society today?

Ace: It is something I really think and talk about with my fellow artists. In this country, considering that we are a third world country, the focus is on math, science and business because people want a stable future; they want to earn. As a result, very few prioritize art. I think that people treat art as something for leisure. We should keep it alive.


Never the Strangers’ self-titled debut album will be officially released on the first quarter of 2012 as Warner will host a press conference for them. They will then tour the country, with their next gig on December 8 in SM City Cebu. To know more about Ace Libre, Never the Strangers, and their upcoming album, visit their facebook page:

Noelle Santiago

By Noelle Santiago

22 replies on “Artistic reality”

Leave a Reply