Clementine Comes Clean
The Philippine Star – October 7, 2008
By Kap Maceda Aguila
One Saturday morning, a lean man with a knapsack and curly, unruly hair pushes open the glass door of the coffee shop at SM Megamall. He orders coffee at the counter, and plops down on the couch opposite me.
It’s a little hard to believe that he was once half of the creative soul of the late lamented Orange & Lemons — both hailed and blamed for the monster hit (and subsequent infectious dance tune) Pinoy Ako that became the theme song for the Filipino adaptation of Big Brother.
But what should have been the inevitable boost to premier status became the wedge that drove the boys apart.
Shortly after releasing its third album (and second on Universal Records), Moonlane Gardens, in September 2007, Orange & Lemons went the way of countless bands before it. The band imploded with acrimony of the Eraserheads. Co-songwriter and vocalist Mcoy Fundales began to do the unthinkable — publicly assail his band’s own album — pushing the band off a precipitous cliff towards oblivion. Mcoy had declared that Moonlane Gardens was a product of a “bored mind” — swiftly putting down his former cohort Clem Castro who had written most of Moonlane Gardens (and almost all Orange & Lemons songs, truth to tell).
“You’ve got a lot of explaining to do,” I say to him, who nowadays sports his full first name, Clementine, as a way of moving on from those days.
I last saw him in person following a triumphant Orange & Lemons gig at Hard Rock Café in Makati where after the band’s triumphant set the members were escorted from the stage by burly hawi boys. “Not my idea,” he says, in between sips of coffee. Oh, but how things changed really fast. From playing to half-filled bars and tables of inebriated, raucous yuppies, Clem, Mcoy and Del Mundo brothers JM and Ace steadily built up a fan base on the strength of their indie
release and determined gigging, went to a major label, minted two albums, did some lucrative endorsements, and then Eraserhead-ed. That’s the short of it, of course.
But I point out the obvious — that Clem’s ex-bandmates have re-formed a new band (Kenyo), while he has been left out. It’s easy to conclude that he was kicked out of the band. Clem must, truly, appear as the antagonist in the Orange & Lemons tale.
“Yes, sinipa ako,” Clem declares flatly. “A week before the press launch of Moonlane Gardens, I got a call from the road manager telling me that I had been removed from the band. ..Inaalis ka na,’ he had said.” And if his bandmates had their druthers, they would have retained the band name. This Clem vehemently fought against, that’s why neither of the parties soldiered on with the Orange & Lemons monicker.
Mcoy insisted in an interview for another newspaper that Pinoy Ako was the beginning of the end. “As much as it made us a household name, our troubles began after the song hit it big,” he said, and that the “other guy” (obviously referring to Clem) “wanted to take full charge regarding the musical direction of the group and what not and it got to a point that it was not fun working with him anymore.”
Clem says he feels Orange & Lemons’ wheels came off because of ego and insecurity. “There are things that he (Mcoy) wanted to do that he knew I would object,” he maintains.
It is said that the best bands are dictatorships and not democracies. Clem doesn’t hide the fact that he was the main creative force behind Orange & Lemons — which made it a Nirvana, not the Beatles.
“I made the creative decisions and finalized them. Ako nag-a-arrange, ako lahat,” Clementine reveals. But it wasn’t, he hastens to add, a conscious decision. “I was open to ideas, but they weren’t giving me anything. So I just thought that we were on the same page. It was like basketball where everybody has a role. Mcoy was the frontman, and I understood and accepted my own role.”
The real major sticking point, according to Clem, was the direction the band was headed. Once the Orange & Lemons train went commercial and mainstream, the money obviously started to pour in. But they were musically straying away from the DIY spirit — the indie heritage that landed them their first album and a stable slot with Toti Dalmacion’s Terno records in the first place.
For Clem, Moonlane Gardens was a determined return to form rather than a proving ground; a chance for Orange & Lemons to extend its wings to a public that already embraced it. That also afforded Clem the latitude to become choosy with other side projects such as endorsements. “I wanted to save the band. I wanted to save the image,” he defends.
But Mcoy and the Del Mundo brothers wanted to go the other way, and their former band leader now became expendable. So that was that.
Clem underwent much heartache from the dissolution of his band for it was, first and foremost, a friendship as well. But after purging the traumatic events from his heart and mind, Castro knew he wanted to go back to what he loved to do — make and play music.
Truth to tell, Clem looks more relaxed these days. The excitement and happiness is back in his eyes. He says there are no regrets — only the resolve not to repeat the errors of the past. “I just think about Orange & Lemons as practice, an eye opener, a learning experience. I learned to be more mature about the music business and to be more responsible. I made some mistakes in the past; siguro di ko na uulitin yon.
“Personally, Orange & Lemons ended before we reached what we wanted to. It was a very short career. I felt we were just starting to let our music be known. I’m not selling myself short. Our ultimate goal was to reach out to other countries. We were almost there, especially with Moonlane Gardens. We could have made it outside the country,” he shrugs.
Clem now approaches things more, well, professionally. “When I started with the new band, I started working on the business side. Nalaman ko lahat ng mali ko. Right now, I have legal counsel, I have a publishing consultant.”
So burned and spurned but hopeful and happy, Clem has formed his own label, Lilystars Records, which houses his brilliant new band, The Camerawalls. There are so many things he wants to accomplish both as label manager and front man. “I hope to distribute material of really good indie bands here in the country.”
When Moonlane Gardens won the NU107 Rock Awards Album of the Year honors notwithstanding the disbandment, it was sweet vindication for Clem. “It was such a joy because I bared a decade of my work in that album. It was really very special!” he exclaims.
In the meantime, the rest of the Orange & Lemons exiles in Kenyo did the unthinkable — release a debut album of covers that ran diametrical to everything that Orange & Lemons stood for, a compendium of pop tracks dripping with cheese.
Perhaps that’s yet another source of vindication for Castro, whose own band (with bassist Law Santiago and drummer Ian Sarabia) nailed down (count ..em) 11 nominations for NU107’s 2008 Rock Awards.
Indeed, Clem/Clementine smiles more these days, sings more relaxed and looks more excited. Wonderful things have happened to him in the past; more wonderful things are certainly ahead. Clem believes he is a better, wiser person to appreciate and enjoy whatever good fortune comes his way.
Orange & Lemons is dead, long live The Camerawalls.