Me and my Philippines: RJ Pineda, keyboardist

The Brat Pack's RJ Pineda on his favorite live music venues, what's on his playlist, and almost ripping his pants at Malasimbo

RJ in his element. Photo by Ice Javellana

My top three spots in the Philippines are...Bulalo Central of the world: Tagaytay! It’s your go-to out of town at any time of the day. Nice views and pig outs all around for only two hours from the metro. El Nido, Palawan, particularly the Pangulasian Island. Quiet, flawless, hypnotic. You just stand on white sand in awe of the clear blue sea blanket, the green little islets and sand bars that surround it and unforgiving beauty of the mountain ranges. Now that I’ve been to Puerto Galera, I think it’s now my favorite! Haha! Great white sand beach, people with bright smiles, magnificent hills, and just an awesome annual music and arts festival. Man, it’s obligatory. No excuses!

I’ve been to Bohol, Cebu, Bacolod, Aklan, Palawan and more. I love the Philippines, so many wonders it could offer. But I would say thank you to this recent trip to Puerto Galera, for my most memorable one. I wonder why? Haha!

RJ dancing like a madman at the 2016 Malasimbo festival. Photo by Ice Javellana

Can I just say, I almost ripped my pants when I was dancing on stage at Malasimbo! That was one of the most fun sets I’ve ever played with my band. I have been fantasizing to perform there since the first one. The smiles that we wore on stage were such understatements! The crowd was unbelievable, so much love and good vibes from beautiful people with no judgement. Just sheer style. I want to give them all hugs. Can we do three more sets please? Haha!

The line-up was fantastic as well! The hills, the trees, the intricately designed decor, the food, that huge grass amphitheater. There’s nothing you don’t love. There is something to be said about getting your system to be in-sync with nature with the help of music and art.  This festival has fruitfully achieved its purpose. Thank you Malasimbo 2016! Wish you guys more success in the next years to come!

Losing it on stage. Photo by Ice Javellana

Our most memorable performanceI think it could be our festival performance in Lugano, Switzerland. The whole festival space was bursting! The loudest and most responsive audience we’ve ever had. It was also my first time to Europe. Breathtaking springs, lagoons and mountain ranges. Went to a German speaking town and had a workshop there. One humbling trip I can never forget! 

What I pack when I travel…I’m typically a polo with pants kind of guy. I bring a nice pair of pants, two shorts, polo shirts, watch and some accessories, a nice looking notebook for ideas. Travelling the world has taught me to pack light and simple. I’ll bring a laptop and a midi keyboard so that when I get inspired, I hope to make Grammy-winning music with it.

A typical day for me is, half-day doing off-stage duties like typing stuff for my dad, errands, etc., and the other half of the day song writing, then a gig at night. You will typically catch me with my phone, recording some melodies in my head. I’m dead crazy about it. Even if I was talking to Obama, I would have to cut our chat to record a riff. Haha!

In my spare time, I watch live acts, theater plays, listen to records, read biographies, research new trends in music and fashion. I also studied culinary arts, so I’d like to share food ideas with my friends. Recently, I invested in a piggery, I hope it could be a leap this year.

I hang out at any place where there is music. But if not, I take a stroll at Ayala Triangle, if I’m in need to be surrounded by tree shade. Nice restaurants there too! I also like Bonifacio Global City at night. You will see me mostly at the jogging parks there. The view of the skyscrapers keeps me inspired with life goals. I don’t know how. It’s magic I guess. 

If you’re looking for the freshest indie acts around, Route 196, Saguijo, and Checkpoint Bar are great places to go to! For a posh ambience with great music, Strumm’s Jupiter and 12 Monkeys Music Hall at Century City Mall in Makati. For a blues bar, you go to Roadhouse Manila Bay. Be sure to also keep your radar on Stages Sessions, a live music event held in different venues at random times in the month. They have a nice production of live unplugged artists and spoken word performances there. Food for the soul.

My top three songs at the moment: Keep Marchin’ by Raphael Saadiq for my shower music, Do It by Tuxedo for my night vibe and Drones by Muse as my caffeine.

My favorite local artists — there are many to explain! In my childhood, I listened to The Dawn, Wolfgang and Razorback. Recent artists would be Tom Story, June Marieezy and Miles Experience. For blues, I like the Ian Lofamia Band

Brat Pack started out as an acoustic jazz lounge trio with little to no amount of jazz education. We played in restaurants, parties, jazz festivals. When everybody was about to get busy with their own lives, we received an invitation to join the Philippine Blues Competition which impacted our lives completely- took us to a competition in the US, performances in Europe, and Macau. And now, we aim to make you and your friends dance even more in the Philippines.

We are now working on new originals for an EP (Extended Play). We are also organizing a band tour in San Francisco happening in November! Please support us!

Outside Brat Pack, I’m finishing a soul album with Jay Ortega and Ely Buendia while working on my synth rock project. Many big things to look forward to this year!

RJ Pineda is the keyboardist of blues band The Brat Pack. The band made history as the first Asian band to reach the finals of the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee, considered the most prestigious blues competition in the world.  The band plays regularly at Strumm's in Jupiter, Makati. Listen to the band on SoundCloud.

Interview by Amanda Lago

Published March 2016