Cover Story

Rare Like Shooting Stars: Teeth On Falling Apart To Come Together

After their third successful reunion tour in the country since going on hiatus in 2001, ‘90s rock icons Teeth look back and ahead

It’s the evening of May 15, 2014 at Metrotent in Pasig City, and Teeth are about to play the last song of their reunion concert.

They had just played 20 of their most-loved songs, from fan favorites like “Darating” (Coming) and “Bum Squad” to sing-along inducers like “Tampo” (Huff) and “Prinsesa” (Princess), and of course, the immortal “Laklak” (Excessive Drinking), which had most of the hundreds-strong crowd pogoing in the venue. The mostly thirty- and forty-something audience had waited for over a decade to see the band live again, and at this point, there was one more song that Teeth hadn’t performed yet, and it’s arguably their best one: “Shooting Star.”

Unbeknownst to the audience, the band almost didn’t play it.

“Kukuha lang sana ako ng fresh pair of sticks” (I was just reaching for a fresh pair of sticks), recounts drummer Mike Dizon nine years later. “Pag-abot ko sa likod, nag-cramp ‘yung kamay ko. Sobrang tagal mag-subside ng pain.” (When I reached backwards, my hand cramped. The pain took a while to subside.) This left guitarist Jerome Velasco to improvise onstage while Dizon waited for a medic, his bandmates oblivious to their drummer’s ordeal. “Hindi nila alam na masakit ‘yung kamay ko. Ayaw mag-bend.” (They didn’t know that my hand was in pain. It wouldn’t bend.) In desperation, Dizon asked Sandwich bandmate Raymund Marasigan to play the song in his place. “Sinabi niya sa akin, ‘Hindi pwede! Dapat ikaw pumalo niyan.’” (He told me, ‘You have to be the one to play the finale.’) Finally, a medic showed up and sprayed his hand with a cooling muscle relaxant, and with a bit of stretching, Dizon and the rest of Teeth were able to finish the show properly. “Pinilit ko na kahit medyo masakit” (I forced it even if it hurt a little), he continues.

Teeth

Teeth photographed by Mav Paular.

The recently reconvened band look back at that show with mostly fond memories, from the one or two months they spent rehearsing at J&R Music Studios in Parañaque City, to their satisfaction with the amps and drums they used at the show. “‘Yung gamit, ‘yung venue, lahat OK eh” (The venue, the gear, everything was OK), says bassist Pedz Narvaja. “Pero d’un sa (months) leading to that, kabado kaming lahat. Nag-practice kaming madalas para talagang maganda siya. OK naman ‘yung actual concert. Masaya kaming lahat.” (But during the months leading to the show, we were all nervous. We practiced a lot to make sure we were good. The actual concert was OK. We were happy.)

“Masaya ‘yung night na ‘yun for me” (For me, that was a great night), adds singer Glenn Jacinto. It was his first show with Teeth since departing for the US in 2001. “Daming sumuportang mga famous musicians din; maraming salamat sa kanila.” (A lot of famous musicians came out to support us; many thanks to them.)

Falling Apart

Given the success of that reunion show, and the fact that a number of their songs have been revived countless times as recorded covers and in karaoke, it’s hard to believe that there was a time that Teeth wasn’t popular. After their third and best record, I Was A Teenage Tree, was released in 1999, singer Jacinto graduated with a degree in Mass Communications, and found himself at a crossroads. “[I asked myself,] tamang full time job na ba, or full time musician pa rin ako?” (Should I get a full time job, or stay a full time musician?) he recalls. “Pero noong time na ‘yun, nag-slow down na ‘yung shows, and every month puro Mayrics (a now-defunct Manila bar) na lang ‘yung gig. Syempre, ayoko naman maging struggling musician.” (But at the time, our shows slowed down, and we only played at Mayrics every month. Naturally, I didn’t want to be a struggling musician.)

“Noong lumabas ‘yung [I Was A Teenage Tree], nu metal na ‘yung uso” (When I Was A Teenage Tree came out, nu metal was the trend), concurs Dizon. “Wala nang clamor for our kind of rock, kaya nabawasan na rin ‘yung gigs namin during that time.” (There was no more clamor for our kind of rock, so our gigs decreased.) During this period, despite playing in other bands like Sandwich and Daydream Cycle, the other members of Teeth worked day jobs to help make ends meet, with Dizon holding an A&R position in a local record label, while Velasco became a studio engineer.

Teeth

Teeth photographed by Mav Paular.

As such, Jacinto made the decision to fly to Los Angeles and start a new career in film production. Depending on whose version of the story is accurate, the singer spoke to his bandmates in a bar in Quezon City after a gig and informed them of his plans. “Sabi ko, ‘Guys, pupunta ako ng States. Kung ‘di ako bumalik, walang personalan o walang hard feelings. Pag nag-work na ako doon, ibig sabihin doon na ako, pag nakahanap ako ng job.’” (I told them, “Guys, I’m leaving for the States. Don’t take it personally if I don’t come back. No hard feelings. If I find work there, that means I’m staying there.”)

“Sobrang casual na sinabi ni Glenn na, ‘O guys, graduate na ako ha, punta na ako sa States’” (Glenn was very casual about telling us that he ‘graduated’ and was going to the US), says Dizon, who believes that the conversation happened instead at what was to be Teeth’s final gig, the Pulp Freakshow held on December 8, 2001 at The Fort in Taguig. “We saw it coming; konti na ‘yung gigs noon (we hardly had any gigs).”

Tugtugan Na

To scratch the itch to keep making music, Jacinto eventually started a solo career in LA, hooking up with fellow Fil-Am musicians to record his own compositions and perform them live, along with some Teeth classics. Back home, the remaining members of Teeth played in their own respective bands (Velasco and second bassist Dok Sergio joined ex-Eraserheads frontman Ely Buendia in The Mongols, and later, Pupil). Their bands would also cover several Teeth tunes on occasion, but everyone felt that nothing could compare to playing those songs with the original crew.

The spark for a possible reunion was lit by the return of Narvaja, who migrated to the US shortly after their second album, 1997’s Time Machine, was released. “Nagkataon na umuwi rin ako (It so happened that I came home) from the States,” he narrates. “I came back [permanently] in 2012.” With their original bass player back in the fold, Sergio moved to second guitar and vocals, and the band started playing small club shows sporadically, at times with Sugarfree’s Ebe Dancel singing.

Teeth

Teeth photographed by Mav Paular.

Then Jacinto told his bandmates that he was coming home for a vacation in 2014. With everyone now in the country even if only temporarily, there was now an opportunity for Teeth to do a proper reunion show. “After ‘yung 12 years na absent si Glenn, talagang time na para mag-reunite” (After 12 years of Glenn’s absence, it was really time to reunite), narrates Dizon. “We’ve been itching to play with each other. There were times na naja-jam namin ‘yung mga kanta namin (we were able to jam Teeth songs) with different people, pero iba ‘yung feeling pag ‘yung mismong banda (it’s different with my actual bandmates). So d’un nagsimula ‘yung idea na ‘yun, and then naisip na gawing big show (So that’s when the idea of doing a big reunion show started).”

That big show happened on May 15, and despite it initially being billed as a one-night-only affair, Teeth played a few more gigs (with shorter sets, of course) to capitalize on Jacinto’s presence and make up for lost time.

“Tanggap ko ‘yung legacy act kami, ‘90s act kami. Pero natutunan namin to embrace it at gawin siyang advantage.”

Four years later, Teeth announced another reunion tour in 2018, with a series of dates booked in venues like The ‘70s Bistro, SaGuijo, 19 East, and more. Each show featured a different set of opening acts and was well attended by friends and fans. They also took time to record a scorching new single, “Baga at Usok” (Burning Coal and Smoke) released in 2019. The track evokes Teeth’s classic grunge-y sound, with loud-quiet-loud dynamics, distorted guitar chords, and a sticky groove, honed by improved recording tech and the band members’ years of playing experience, together and apart.

Jacinto returned to the Philippines in 2023, and again Teeth scheduled a series of shows in most of the same venues as five years prior, with the addition of newer stops like Social House in Makati and Eastside in Marikina. For the band, the four-to-five-year breaks are necessary to create anticipation and make each tour more special. “Pag ginawa mo namang every year, parang hindi as special as pag rare ‘yung mga times na mag-gig” (If we did it every year, it won’t be as special as if it were rare), explains the singer. “Siguro ‘yun din ‘yung reason ‘yung mga bar shows ay successful naman, maraming nanonood.” (Perhaps that’s why the bar shows were successful and well-attended.)

Teeth

Teeth photographed by Mav Paular.

“Parang ito ‘yung isa sa warmest receptions sa pag-uwi ni Glenn” (This year we got one of the warmest receptions to Glenn’s return), adds Dizon “‘Tsaka kung may na-notice kami d’un sa mga nag-attend, may new faces kasi may bata, eh — misnan may kasamang anak na sobrang fan (who told us), ‘Uy, ako nag-introduce sa inyo (to my parents),’ may kwentong ganoon. (We realized,) ‘Wow, may new generation of listeners tayo, ah.’” (We also noticed new faces in attendance, because there were kids — one time a kid told us that he introduced Teeth to his parents. We realized that we had a new generation of listeners.)

“Iba-iba ‘yung (experience) ng lahat na tinugtugan naming bar” (Every bar yielded a different experience), adds the drummer. “May bar na hindi naman todo puno pero sobrang saya. Meron ding puno, so syempre mas masaya. Lahat masasaya. Ramdam namin ‘yung excitement ng tao. Nagbenta kami ng merch; halos hanggang mag-close ‘yung venue, nagsa-sign kami ng jerseys. Iba ‘yung interaction.” (There were bar shows that weren’t too packed but really fun. There were really packed shows, so those were more fun. All of them were fun. We felt the excitement of the audience. We sold merch and signed jerseys until the venues closed. The interaction was on another level.)

“Parang na-reintroduce kami ulit, ganoon ‘yung dating” (It felt like we were reintroduced to the local scene), says Narvaja. “Tapos nandoon pa rin ‘yung mga tito’t tita.” (And the older folks were still around.)

(Minsan Lang) Darating

In addition to playing a string of reunion shows in 2023, Teeth also returned to the studio to record two more songs, to be released in early 2024. Dizon gave Billboard Philippines a preview of both tracks — midtempo, odd-time bangers that Soundgarden fans would love, but still undeniably Teeth. With three post-reunion songs already in the bag, the band plan to record at least two more when Jacinto flies back to Manila next year, to complete a five-song EP.

Later on, the members of Teeth share stories about the creation of their three now-classic albums: how Velasco was told by producer Robert Javier to use a keyboard amp for their 1995 self-titled debut, how they entered the hallowed Tracks Studios for the first time to record Time Machine (and ordered a lot of food for the sessions), and working with Rivermaya’s Rico Blanco, who produced I Was A Teenage Tree. “Ibang-iba katrabaho si Rico; iba rin siya mag-isip, eh” (Working with Rico was different; he had his own approach), shares Dizon.

Teeth

Teeth photographed by Mav Paular.

All three records were written and released well within the ’90s, and have birthed a number of memorable tunes — “Laklak,” “Prinsesa,” “Time Machine,” and “Shooting Star,” among others. Hearing these songs and more live has given fans enough reason to keep attending Teeth’s reunion tours thus far, and while the band has accepted that they’re now a legacy act to some extent, they’re reluctant to be pigeonholed in the context of the decade of their heyday.

“Part na rin ‘yung nostalgia sa mga shows” (Nostalgia is part of the shows), says Jacinto. “Binabayaran nila ‘yung nostalgia, eh. Well ‘90s kami, pero I feel na pwede naman kami sumabay sa mga ibang genres at sa mainstream music nowadays. Ina-avoid din namin paminsan ‘yung mga ‘90s-themed shows para lang hindi kami ma-categorize as only ‘90s.” (People pay for nostalgia. We’re from the ‘90s, but I feel we can mix it up with other genres and mainstream music nowadays. We also sometimes avoid ‘90s-themed shows so we don’t get categorized as being only from the ‘90s.)

“Parang nagsawa na rin mga kids sa ‘80s” (Somehow the kids are sick of the ‘80s), adds Velasco. “Ngayon ‘90s na ‘yung hinahanap nila; may resurgence na naman ‘yung mga grunge, noise, shoegaze, or wall of sound — parang ‘yon ‘yung hinahanap nila ulit, eh. Paikot-ikot lang ‘yan.” (Nowadays there’s a resurgence of ‘90s sounds like grunge, noise, shoegaze, or wall of sound. It’s a cycle, really.)

Teeth

Teeth photographed by Mav Paular.

“Tanggap ko ‘yung legacy act kami, ‘90s act kami” (I’ve accepted that we’re a ‘90s legacy act), admits Dizon. “Pero natutunan namin to embrace it at gawin siyang advantage” (But we’ve learned to embrace it and use it to our advantage), noting that it still makes a strong case for Teeth to get booked for gigs, provided Jacinto’s in town. But the band ensures that they choose a mix of current and older acts to open for them at their own shows, not only to cater to nostalgia but also to reflect their enthusiasm for those carrying the torch today.

Besides, Teeth have just rediscovered the power of some of their older material during this last tour. “Dahil club shows, ramdam namin ‘yung intimacy, ‘yung init, ‘yung reception ng crowd, at may mga songs na nag-stand out, na ngayon lang namin nalaman after all these years” (Because we’ve been playing a lot of club shows, we feel the intimacy and excitement of the crowd more, and there are songs that stand out after all these years), Dizon recounts one such show where they opened with the poignant “Darating,” the closest thing Teeth have to a lighter-raising ballad. “Hindi kasi siya big hit n’ung lumabas ‘yun, eh. Nagulat kami na every show, well-received siya.” (It wasn’t even a big hit when it was released, but it’s surprisingly well-received at every show.)

“Perfect para sa reunion ‘yung ‘Darating,’ eh” (“Darating” was perfect for the reunion), concludes Narvaja. “Minsan lang.” (It only happens sometimes.)


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.

Read the Stories

The National Bards: Parokya Ni Edgar On Wrecking Havoc And Having Fun

Moonstar88 And The Path Towards Longevity

Six Degrees of Separation from Sandwich

Chicosci Talk Friendship, Celebrating Milestones, And Growing Up