Cover Story

Changing (In Manila): Lola Amour On Becoming The Beating Hearts of the Indie Scene

Fresh off their debut album, Lola Amour reflects on the eleven-year journey it took to get them here –– while also looking forward to planning their next move on the global stage.

There’s truth in the saying that the independent music scene is often where the most colorful stories of an artist’s ascent to fame take place. 

Several indie musicians find themselves hustling night after night, performing at multiple venues across town just for a meager fee. It’s a journey defined by determination and passion, where each show is a chance to carve out a place in a crowded and competitive landscape. Yet despite the grueling schedule and modest earnings, these artists continue to shoot their shot ––  driven by the hope that one day their music will resonate widely and earn them a loyal following.

In the case of Filipino funk-pop band Lola Amour, it seems that all those struggles were worth it –– given that they’ve become one of the country’s most prolific (and successful) indie bands. With a series of chart-topping hits and the smashing release of their eponymous debut album, the band has got everything going for them at the moment, living what some may assume is the “rockstar lifestyle.”  

But as I sat together with Pio Dumayas (lead vocalist), Zoe Gonzales (lead guitar), Angelo Mesina (lead trumpet), David Yuhico (keyboards), Jeff Abueg (saxophone and clarinet), Raffy Perez (drums), Manu Dumayas (bass), Tim Cruz (trumpet), and their manager Mika Ordoñez, the energy felt the opposite of what you’d expect. It was probably as relaxed as it could be –– merely as if you were chilling with an established barkada that welcomed you right into their fold with open arms. 

“First off, we really are friends before [being] band members first,” David says about their dynamic. “It’s easy for all of us to be here and share a piece of ourselves because we’ve come to trust each other that much over time.” 

Started From The Bottom Now We’re Here

Since their formation back in 2013, the band has taken this “hobby gone wild” throughout quite the journey. In their words, not all of it was easy nor was it fulfilling at first, but as long as the band had fun making music together, the whole lot of them continued their pursuit of their passions.

The remaining founding members, Pio, Zoe, and Angelo, have stuck through the worst of it –– yet they still fondly remember some of the challenges they faced in their early days as a band.

“From the start of the grind, we would go to four shows in just one Friday night. Grabe talaga yun, kasi 6PM yung start, then we’d go home at around 4 AM pa,” says Angelo. “We were just performing the same songs over and over again, which were just the same five songs that we had [at the time]. Only to earn less than Php 5,000.”

At that point, Pio mentions how neither of them expected Lola Amour to last this long – or even get this far into their careers. “We’ve always been telling people in our interviews that [this] is really like a hobby. All we wanted to do was to just share our music with other people, and we were happy performing for a small crowd,” he states. “We even had a hard time trying to get into shows or bar gigs back then, so usually it was just people inviting us to a school event, bazaar, or anywhere that they needed entertainment.”

Reflecting on their struggles, he further adds; “Honestly, we would actually lose a whole lot of money gigging back then,” which stands as a statement that rings true for several indie artists trying to make it into the scene. “Pero ngayon, it’s kind of overwhelming to think about how far we’ve come after all this time –– because the journey isn’t just a musical journey [for us], but lots of personal growth and change has happened for us as well.”

Lola Amour as the cover stars of the Billboard Philippines Indie and Alternative Issue

Lola Amour Photographed by Magic Liwanag.

An Evolving Sound For A Changing Lineup

Change seems to be a reoccurring theme for Lola Amour –– not merely with how much the band likes to diversify their sound, but also because of their changing roster of members throughout the years. 

Just recently, their original bassist, Raymond King, made his departure from the group last April due to personal reasons. And while his former bandmates do miss his presence within their dynamic, they took it as a chance to learn more about everything he contributed –– including both the major and little things that he did for the band. 

“There’s always a period where it’s difficult when a band member leaves. Because, syempre, every band member has a role, not just musically but also with how the band operates, diba?”, Pio says. “When Raymond left, he was [the one] doing a lot of the financial stuff or taxes. Which, you know, is one of the most boring jobs within us as a band.”

Syempre, di na namin kinakalimutan yung mga umaalis, like, I think that’s what’s unique about Lola Amour is that the way we build our communities allows for everyone who’s been with us –– past and present –– to be recognized. We just try to give them all the spotlight that we can give them,” states Pio.

With that platform, the band encourages each member to make their own unique mark in their roles –– bringing pieces of themselves into the result of their music. When asked as to what has inspired them to do so, David emphasizes that the value of trust lies at the heart of their ethos as a group. “I think that the trust within the band is just at an all-time high, Like, especially when Raymond left, Manu, Pio’s brother, had to step into his role to fill in Raymond’s shoes,” he says.

“We all told him, we trust you. It doesn’t matter how long it will take to reach that level. Because we know from the start na no one can touch Raymond, di ba? So, we told Manu, sige lang, just make it your own. You’re not expected to fill anyone’s shoes here, because you’re making your own mark,” he adds. 

Creative Camaraderie

Like any band, each of Lola Amour’s members has their own methodology when it comes to making music. Their specialties add a unique flair to their dynamic as a group, given that they do what they can to alleviate one another’s weaknesses, while also maximizing their individual strengths by bringing whatever they can to the table.

When it comes to creating music in the studio, Lola Amour embraces a chaotic yet organic approach. Pio explains, “It’s like when we’re just in rehearsal, each of us is doing our own thing, and then all of our influences just kinda crash together.” This often results in a mix of ideas along with some trial-and-error efforts, some of which might not always work. As David candidly puts it, “Most of the time it’s crap, but there are times when something good comes out of it. Maybe around 2% of the time,” he jokes. 

The band openly tells me about this unreleased song of theirs, titled “Intrusive Thoughts”, which fully exemplifies this process. While the rest of the group playfully argued whether or not the song sounded good, Jeff recalls how they all tried to do what they wanted on the track, resulting in a blend of ideas that initially sounded chaotic but eventually clicked.

Lola Amour for Billboard Philippines

Lola Amour Photographed by Magic Liwanag, May 2024 at the Billboard Philippines Studio in Pasig.

He likens that process to an example, pointing out a clarinet solo in “This Ain’t Love” from their debut album that was born out of a spontaneous decision when he happened to have his clarinet on hand. “With a lot of the songs that we’ve made, a lot of the artistic creativity you find in them was usually done on the spot. [It’s a] very spur of the moment type of thing, including some of the solo parts that people end up loving the most,” he mentions. 

This ethos of experimentation and creative freedom was crucial in the creation of their hit “Raining in Manila.” The song’s memorable horn solo in the bridge was a last-minute addition, conceived and executed in the studio. Pio remembers how that happened in real-time, quoting what Raymond said during the recording process which was “Whenever you hear something cool, even if it’s a mistake, remember that –– because you have to do that again.” 

The Making Of A Future Classic

With “Raining In Manila” becoming recognized as “the country’s unofficial national anthem”, it provided them with all the momentum they needed to finalize their eponymous debut album after all this time.

“Our album took so many years because there were a lot of things that derailed our plans,” Pio mentions. “We initially began writing the album in 2019,  but halfway through recording, nagka-pandemic. And then after that, may dalawang members na umalis.”

But as they continued to work on it, they still dabbled with certain roadblocks along the way –– even doubting some of their artistic choices on the record. “When we first sequenced the album, we wondered ba’t ang daming genres at sounds –– it was something we were initially worried about because we didn’t want the album to sound like a random mixtape,” Pio states.

“It was almost like a Frankenstein of sorts, wherein most if not all these songs that don’t sound alike,” adds David. “But then we realized na ever since naman ganoon kami. Like all our songs –– they sound different from each other because we never really stuck to one sound.”

Taking into account a fan perspective, Pio talks about how they realized that certain aspects of the record could become more fulfilling for their listeners. “As a fan, you’d watch the band explore all these different horizons –– so we realized that it was very fitting for a self-titled album to be exactly like how we actually are.” 

Lola Amour is really the record that we’ve wanted to put out after all these years.”

“We wanted them to go on this journey with us to explore genres that we haven’t tapped into, which is why we were happy that people were loving these parts. Because they weren’t just new sounds but also new themes that showcased a level of maturity that’s new to our repertoire,” he adds. 

Yet still, despite the success of it all –– there is still so much that has changed with regards to their process, from songwriting to actually promoting the song. Pio continues, “Until now, we’re still trying to get the hang of promoting the whole album.” “Dati yung style namin is when we have a new single, we road test it first for months at a time. We play it in our gigs, we see the reception, and then we feel it out live.”

It’s a stark contrast to what they do now, as he explains; “We have to write the studio versions first, and then turn them into live versions. It’s the exact opposite really, but it’s also a great thing because with an album, you can explore ideas that wouldn’t necessarily be a great single.”

David mentions, “With the different themes too, it’s not necessarily earworms all the time. But we’re really proud of what we made sa album. Everyone loves “Raining in Manila”, right? But with this album, it really got to prove na we’re more than just hitmakers.”

Lola Amour is really the record that we’ve wanted to put out after all these years.” 

Global Ambitions

Following the success and recent release of their self-titled album, Lola Amour finds themselves embracing a new challenge –– one that allows them to set their sights on finding their place in the international music scene. 

Now with two massive chart-toppers recognized internationally, it was inevitable that Lola Amour was going to transcend beyond their local roots as a fan-favorite indie band to ambitiously eye opportunities that go beyond the Philippines.

“This year, we’re focusing on trying to get into international festivals and then maybe do some networking in some conferences,” Pio reveals, showcasing a drive to expand the group’s reach. With the band laying the groundwork for a still-secret international collaboration, they tease what lies ahead for this endeavor. 

“We want to see how far we can go, yet we also wonder – is that going to be fun? You know, hitting it in the international circuit,” ponders David, balancing their global ambitions with their everyday realities. Yet ultimately, the goal isn’t just to see how far they can go, but to also gauge how much they’ll enjoy this next chapter of their career.

Still, the likelihood of establishing their footing on the global stage is not a far-off reality –– given how their manager, Mika, emphasizes what she’s observed about the band’s growing fanbase abroad. “Ever since ‘Fallen’ got big, parang dumami na yung listeners from other countries, mostly from Indonesia and Japan,” she shares. 

With a mission to strengthen their presence in these markets, she mentions how she tries to promote them as much as she can in these markets, even stating “Whenever I go to these countries, I always try to park [the songs] there since I can see how much their locals enjoy the music when they hear it.” “I believe that’s the first step in moving further for the goals of the band,” Mika mentions, reflecting on their joint aspirations,

Whether or not they succeed in their efforts to shoot for the stars, the entire band wouldn’t mind what happens next –– preferring to take things “step by step” as Pio says. Because at the end of the day, they’ve made the realization that they’re more than grateful for the dedicated fanbase that has supported them since their Route 196 days. 

“Even before the pandemic, medyo nagkaroon na kami ng supportive na fanbase sa indie scene, so swerte parin kami to have them after all this time, whether pumupunta sila sa mga mall shows namin, or even yung album concert sa Circuit Makati,” Pio notes –– expressing confidence that their core fans will stay loyal regardless of the group’s mainstream success.

Looking Forward (And Back)

As the group begins to reflect on both the present and future of their career, their jesting nature turns into something a bit more serious. Contemplating their path forward, they emphasize the importance of still staying true to the indie community that has supported them from the very beginning of their journey as Lola Amour.

“I want them [the band] to always have their indie roots. Kasi that’s where the core fans are, and these are the fans who wouldn’t leave you,” Mika mentions. “At the end of the day, we wouldn’t be here shooting a cover for Billboard if it weren’t for them.”

In terms of impact, Jeff mentions how the group will always aim to redefine the definition of OPM and to break the confines imposed on what audiences believe Filipino music should sound like. “The fact that our album is an anthology of genres, I want that to become a symbol that can inspire other artists and audiences to realize that this is what OPM can and still be –– inspiring other listeners to broaden their horizons.”

“We aren’t just this as OPM ––because OPM can and will always change. And truthfully, we’re just happy to be a part of the people who are changing OPM.”

Pio adds to that thought, emphasizing the importance of opening the audience’s taste to other styles of music by stating; “I think that’s one of the things necessary for OPM to be recognized as an international industry.” 

“For us to reach places like Indonesia, Singapore, or elsewhere with our music in that magnitude, it’s one of our goals. But it’s also one of the ways that we think we can contribute to the scene so that we can show both the audiences and artists that will come after us that we aren’t stuck as an industry. We aren’t just this as OPM ––because OPM can and will always change. And truthfully, we’re just happy to be a part of the people who are changing OPM,” he says.

For Raffy, change is not merely inevitable, but welcome for both the band and the scene. “People wouldn’t have love for the arts if music stays the same, because art always changes,” he mentions. “So as long as we keep moving forward as a band and not stick to a formula wherein it’s like, ‘oh, this is our comfort zone’, that’s where we’d lose ourselves then.”

No matter what follows after, Angelo finds contentment in pushing the needle forward for other artists in the industry. “For me, I think it’s a legacy we’re trying to leave behind. We drew a lot of inspiration from other local artists, seeing how they were able to show their artistry and musicality, so I hope that we can inspire others to do the same –– no matter what genre they choose to make.”

What Lies Ahead

Ultimately, there is indeed truth in acknowledging just how colorful of a narrative Lola Amour’s journey on the scene has been. In eleven years, they’ve managed to accomplish a whole lot –– weaving a narrative that’s rich with passion, resilience, and an unwavering belief in their art. From their humble beginnings playing bar gigs to headlining their own concert, the band’s evolution is nothing short of inspirational.

As Pio eloquently put it, “In the end, we’re just grateful that we made it somewhere, you know? Parang dati puro bar gigs lang kami, yet here we are now, we’re worthy of a magazine cover, di ba?”

“When we looked at the photos of ourselves, we were like, wow, nandito na tayo. Parang we look so different from before, even the expressions on our faces. Parang napakafulfilling na we’re here, and it made us realize we hope to be able to do more, not just for us –– but for the Filipino indie scene,” he tells me.

With their journey, Lola Amour hopes that their story will inspire a new generation of indie artists to believe in their potential and pursue their dreams relentlessly. As time will tell, their success is not just personal to them ––  but it stands as a beacon for others navigating the vibrant, albeit challenging, landscape of independent music.

A version of this story appeared in Billboard Philippines’ Indie and Alternative Issue, dated June 15, 2024.

Lola Amour as the cover stars of the Billboard Philippines Indie and Alternative Issue

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Photographed by Magic Liwanag. Creative and Fashion Direction by Daryl Chang. Art Direction by Nicole Almero. Styling by Daryl Chang, assisted by Kurt Abonal and Maria Paz Gamus. Hair & Makeup by Cee studios by Aira Castor. Production Design by Justine Arcega-Bumanlag. Shoot Coordination by Mikaela Cruz.

From top to bottom: On Angelo, David, Tim, Raffy, Jeff, Zoe, Manu, Pio, all GAP button-down shirts and trousers. On TIM: JAIME OLINAN jacket coat and trousers. On RAFFY: RIMA SARMIENTO striped utility jacket and trousers, On ANGELO: VANDRO CASIWAN ATELIER button-down shirt and trousers. On JEFF: VANDRO CASIWAN ATELIER v-neck sweater and shorts and ZARA button-down shirt. On DAVID: PULL&BEAR knitted sweater. On PIO: RIMA SARMIENTO belted jacket and trousers. On ZOE: UNO ALMOGELA belted jacket and trousers. UNIQLO button-down shirt. On MANU: MARCK LOSARIA button-down shirt and trousers.