Cover Story

Moonstar88 And The Path Towards Longevity

This pop-rock institution has survived lineup changes, outlived trends, and outshined younger acts on the strength of memorable hits and innovative ways to release music.


Moonstar88 photographed by Roxanne Nebres

It’s a travesty to talk about the alternative rock boom of the ‘90s and early 2000s in canonical length without mentioning Moonstar88, one of the pack’s underrated figures; and undoubtedly, a band that deserves to be celebrated in the same sentence as their more commercially successful, male-fronted peers.

Their work has become synonymous with proto-hugot realness: bright and shiny on the surface, but emotionally defenseless in its messaging. Songs like “Torete” (“Head Over Heels”), “Sa Langit” (“In Heaven”), and “Sulat” (“Letter”) set the standard for the introspective pop-rock template that the likes of Yeng Constantino and her contemporaries have been mining successfully throughout their respective careers. What works so well for the band, though, which is somehow amiss in the other acts that followed suit, is their insistence on capturing the sheer messiness of the lyrics with powerful, larger-than-life chords — never backing down in a heartbeat and letting it all out like a good ugly cry.


Moonstar88 photographed by Roxanne Nebres

And then there’s their breakout hit “Migraine,” ruling the summer of 2008 while emboldening a new chapter in the alt-rock outfit’s career during that time. Just when fans and observers were quick to dismiss that Moonstar88 had already peaked when Acel Bisa left the band, here comes then-new vocalist Maysh Baay, delivering heartbreak woes with flair and pomposity, making it all the more painful with a voice that evokes a summertime breeze in the middle of a continuous rain. With lead guitarist Herbert Hernandez at the helm, writing one of the finest unrequited love songs of its time, and Baay driving the story forward with her distinct brand of calm, the band proved that they still have more tricks in the bag to survive several episodes of drought.

Maychelle Baay (of Moonstar88)

Maychelle Baay (of Moonstar88) photographed by Roxanne Nebres

Nearly 25 years into their career, Moonstar88 has cemented their status in the local pop-rock firmament as one of its few remaining greats and continues to outlive trends with their own brand of innovation — be it releasing a record inspired by sci-fi themes and modern dating futurism or redefining the music fan experience with album packaging that could rival even the savviest of K-Pop superstars. 

“Motivation needs to coexist with commitment and discipline, and I see that with my bandmates.”

Their new album, Lourdes 2088, expands this narrative with this conceptual premise: a dystopian future in the year 2088 where advancements in medical science are available, particularly in lessening the impact of heartbreaks or emotional breakdowns. The music explores the brooding side of modern technology while navigating cautionary tales of the romantic downtrodden with relatability and, to an extent, dark humor.

Released earlier this year, the meta-infused record was also made available in vinyl and marketed as the “first Mixed Reality album.” Translating the physical and sensory aspects of the music into a virtual minefield, Lourdes 2088 provided a multi-platform experience for the fans of the band with the inclusion of a trading card set designed by Nelz Yumul and a web 3.0 integration that enables access to exclusive perks and contents.

Herbert Hernandez (of Moonstar88)

Herbert Hernandez (of Moonstar88) photographed by Roxanne Nebres

As Hernandez sums it up, “Moonstar88 has always been at the forefront of various art disciplines and innovation when it comes to releasing music.  Naniniwala kami na ang music ngayon, hindi na lang confined sa audio. (We believe that music today isn’t just confined to audio.) Malaking part ang visual (Visual plays a big part), and now, technological developments. We maximized the tools and resources that we have, to come up with game-changing releases. Our second album, Press To Play, comes with an interactive CD; our fourth release, This Year, is a ‘pop-up’ album by all means. Ngayon naman (For this one), we collaborated with Nelz Yumul from Weewilldoodle and the Metama team, an innovation company under GIGIL.”

While producing hits is no longer a priority for the band, their longevity needs to be studied. When asked about their secret to sticking together for more than two decades, Baay smiles and gives a comforting answer. “Music pa rin pinakauna (Music still comes first),” she explains. “Through time, friendships and our fans matter just as much. Plus, we have a good management team that makes up for our shortcomings. It’s not easy because, as we grow together and older, some parts of us grow apart too, but our common values of humility toward the music industry and gratitude toward our fans keep us going. Of course, we are all tight as a unit; for the three of us, this is the longest relationship we’ve had. Then we had Buddy, who kept our aspirations to improve alive.”

Bon Sundiang (of Moonstar88)

Bon Sundiang (of Moonstar88) photographed by Roxanne Nebres

With Buddy Zabala of the Eraserheads joining the current lineup in 2016, Moonstar88 stepped up its sound with a more refined musical direction. The production is deceptively simple but more intricately layered. Yet, at the cost of changing music influences and perspectives, Moonstar88 remains faithful to their melodic, guitar-driven pop sound: swoon-worthy and inescapable in equal measure, consistently matching the appeal of their earlier releases. This time, they’re no longer afraid to make decisions that don’t necessarily pander to the prevailing movement or dominant school of thought. Their work speaks for itself.

“Our common values of humility toward the music industry and gratitude toward our fans keep us going.”

And their sense of ambition, as far as infusing elements of mixed art and technology are concerned, grew tenfold — thanks to their combined experiences in their respective fields of profession. Hernandez is one of the founding partners of GIGIL, an award-winning creative agency known for its unconventional approaches to advertising and digital marketing. Baay, who finished her Masters in Business Administration with Merit Honors from Bradford University School of Management just recently, teaches in school and juggles corporate life. Bon Sundiang, the group’s current drummer and occasional vocalist, is a marketing executive. And then there’s bassist Buddy Zabala, who not only enters the picture with his legendary status as one of the members of the Eraserheads, but is also more popularly known as a respectable producer for his own bands (he co-produced Lourdes 2088 with Raymund Marasigan) and countless others. Together, they treat every aspect of music-making as a world-building opportunity, where elaborate concepts serve as the foundation for unique stories to unfold, and where they get to throw their different hats around while meshing it with their music-focused discipline.

Buddy Zabala (of Moonstar88)

Buddy Zabala (of Moonstar88) photographed by Roxanne Nebres

Baay adds, “Not to undermine how hard we worked when we were younger, I’m proud of how we were able to combine our skillset and come up with something that still works 20 years after. For me personally, motivation needs to coexist with commitment and discipline, and like I said, I see that with my bandmates. I get inspired by them. Nakakahiyang maging tamad, or late, or maarte (It’s embarrassing to be lazy, or late, or finicky). Sa simula lang talaga mahirap pagsabayin kasi (It’s difficult to keep up with everything at the start because) you respect each discipline; you give it time and exponential effort. Then you gain experience. It gets easier.”

This cover story is part of Billboard Philippines’ Pinoy Rock series, where we define the sound the Filipino rock scene through 10 of the most influential bands in the country. Read more of the series below.

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