Obscure phrases like “geeky rock” have been used to describe the band Ciudad. “Is it because we wear glasses, and we don’t look like typical rock stars, but we still play rock? If so, then I think it’s just a bad case of stereotyping and over-generalization,” retorts the band’s vocalist, Mikey Amistoso. He couldn’t have said it any better. What makes Ciudad unique is definitely not in the way they look, but in the unpredictable way they take their music on.
The band started out as a class project, but the boys eventually ended up making music past the walls of their old high school. There were originally four members—Mikey Amistoso took on vocals and bass, Jeff Cabal—who left the band for a few years—and Justin Sunico wielded the guitar and also took on vocals, while Mitch Singson pounded on the drums. Amistoso recalled at that time he was already composing songs and felt that a band was the perfect avenue to showcase original work. After such time that they had produced enough material, they began setting forth into pubs and playing their songs for a larger audience. In 2000, they released their debut full-length album, Hello! How Are You, Mico the Happy Bear? under BMG records. Two years later, the band came out once
again with a new album—this time, released under their own production.
“Ideas were overflowing and we didn’t want to be restricted by a major label’s release calendar,” Amistoso explained. The band had wanted to put out material they deemed had never been done before. He continued, “We decided to make our own schedule, and instead of booking a recording studio and shelling out money for that, we invested in our own recording equipment and decided to track the album in our own houses.” He concluded the story in thoughtful hindsight, “It’s the best decision we ever made.” The band has since self-produced a total of four albums.
Their list of musical influences consists of The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Lemonheads and Death Cab for Cutie, but the band Ciudad has long since grown out of the shadows of their influences and developed their own distinct sound.
The Ciudad sound comes close to being non-classifiable. Every album has a different overarching mood and style; every song has a different story to tell. They are able to do slightly punchy stuff, such as “Corina Turina”. They can do melodic light rock, as exemplified in “Give Me A Break”. “How You Do It” shows us their Beatles and Beach Boys influence. Some tracks are quirky and catchy. Some are perfect for long road trips, while some are the type of songs you listen to when you’re lying alone in your room at night, contemplating. It is perhaps this diversity in style and flexibility that makes Ciudad stand out.
Follow the Leader, their latest album, is a step in a different direction for the band. “It’s a complete departure from the things we did before,” said Amistoso. “We’re prominently a guitar band, but in this album there are more non-guitar instruments laid in than actual guitars.” Compared to their older tracks, Follow the Leader features songs that are lighter and evoke more subtle feelings.
One track from the album, “There’s A Lonely Road to Sunday Night” appeared in the soundtrack of the 2012 Cinemalaya cult hit Ang Nawawala. Amistoso shared that he had let Marie Jamora, the director and co-writer of the film, listen to the demo once when he hitched a ride with her. She and Ang Nawawala co-writer Ramon de Veyra felt that the song was shoe-fit for the mood of the film.“It’s about that gloomy feeling we all have when it’s Sunday and you know the weekend is going to be over and you’re dreading the work-week or school-week ahead,” Amistoso described the meaning of the song.
He happily divulged that Cabal is finally back in the band after his long-term stay in the U.S. “Things are going to shift around a bit,” he said, “and it’s going to be exciting!” Indeed, fans, too, are stoked about what these boys will come up with next. Judging by their nonstop outpour of ideas and ability to adapt to various styles, one really can’t tell.
Words by Racine Anne Castro
First published in Gadgets Magazine, August 2013