The Dawn On Their 40-Year Legacy And What Lies Ahead: “As a unit, I think we’ve done quite a bit, and we’re proud to be still going at it.”
Forty years into their career, these Pinoy Rock legends are proud to still be around, and learning to adapt to the digital age and an evolving industry
Growing up, my dad exposed me to a lot of new-wave music.
Our car rides to school were accompanied by a plethora of ‘80s playlists that featured artists like Tears For Fears, Duran Duran, and Talking Heads — yet it was the addition of The Dawn that marked my first introduction to the world of OPM.
In a lot of ways, hearing more about the band from his stories surprised me. Whether it was the disbelief in realizing that “Enveloped Ideas” was from a Filipino act or even the shock of hearing the story behind the profound loss of the late (and great) Teddy Diaz, I found myself even more fascinated with the group and their roots with local music history.
All these years later, “I Stand With You,” “Tulad Ng Dati” (Like Before), and their self-titled record have become staples in my Spotify library. Heck, even the vinyl reissue of the latter had become a constant spin on my turntable at home. So upon meeting the band in person, you could imagine just how nervous I was in my mind to be meeting with a bunch of Filipino rock legends.
Yet as I sat right in front of Jett Pangan, JB “Junboy” Leonor, Francis “Kiko” Reyes, Rommel “Sancho” Sanchez, and Bim Yance, the air felt much lighter than I thought it would be. Without any sense of pretentiousness, these legends were just like any regular group of friends hanging out with one another.
“Look, you’re talking to a bunch of [cool] titos (uncles) over here,” jokes Pangan, to which the rest of his bandmates respond with a chorus of chuckles.
Reflections On A 40-Year Legacy
Like any barkada (tight-knit group of friends) coming together, the members of The Dawn reminisce about their journey — including some introspection on the legacy they’ve managed to establish over the years.
“If you’re asking me, none of us had any targets or even imagined that the band would reach this far,” says Leonor.
To this, Pangan agrees, stating; “When started [the band] with Teddy Diaz, we were going through things yearly. After we’ve conquered the years, we even questioned ourselves, ‘Are we good for another year?’ Yet almost 40 years later, we’re still here.”
“…As life goes on, we’re happy to pass the torch on to whoever’s willing to learn from us as well.”
Since 1987, the band has released a total of twelve full-length studio albums and has been awarded a whole lot of accolades since their debut on the scene. It’s not an easy feat to stay in demand after all these years — given that their booked and busy schedule of live performances lined up for the rest of the year (at the time of writing) stands as a testament to how their music still resonates with all sorts of people. “Our manager (James Duran) is exhausting us at this point,” jokes Reyes. “But truly, it’s a blessing to last this long, to keep performing, and to have people coming to our shows after all this time.”
“In many ways, we’re thankful to our audience and our fans, both new and old, for supporting our music,” states Pangan. “But modesty aside, I think we also have to thank ourselves for holding on to a dream after all this time, as baduy as it may sound. But it’s true.”
Evolving Their Sound –– While Keeping To Their Roots
Over the four decades that The Dawn have been active, an interesting note of evolution and change within the group has been the changing lineup of members it has had at varying points in time, alongside growth in terms of their sound.
“Each of us here has entered the band in different timelines,” mentions Pangan. “Everyone says that there’s a signature Dawn sound, but internally, we discuss amongst ourselves that whoever the members [of the band] are currently, that’s the current sound of The Dawn.”
Reyes makes a point by saying, “You know though, some people say that there’s a distinctive sound to the band, which I believe is rooted in Jett’s voice and Junboy’s drumming. Because nobody sounds like these guys, right?”
To this, Sanchez agrees — going as far as to state that the sonic DNA of The Dawn is something that has stayed strong over the years. ”It’s quite evident, especially in the first two albums, thanks to Juneboy and Teddy Diaz.”
He further reflects on those latter aspects, talking about how he finds inspiration in the late lead guitarist. “Teddy Diaz is my biggest local guitar hero. I try not to sound like him. But, you know at the back of my mind, it’s still like, ‘What would Teddy do?’ And that’s it.”
Like any other band, The Dawn never shied away from evolving their sound — even partaking in certain trends at some point in their career. But as well as audiences received it, they still felt as if something was missing, if not inauthentic, to what their artistry was as musicians.
We tried to brand ourselves [as something we were not], but then I realized that wasn’t who we are,” says Pangan. “You have to face the challenge that people can’t pigeonhole us, nor can they ask us exactly what sound we are making, because we kind of tread all waters.”
“If you’ve been in a band this long, you can ask any band if they’ve been swayed to adapt their style to what was trending. Yet you realize, at the end of the day, what ultimately matters most is making a good song, and keeping an open mind,” he states.
Titos In The Modern Era of Technology and Social Media
Even with their numerous years of experience, all the members of The Dawn are aware that in some ways, they’re aged in comparison to the popular (and much younger) musical acts of today. And right here in front of me, they’re talking about how the current state of the industry requires a need to get used to technology — including the world of social media.
“Look, we were all resistant to social media at the start. Because, you know, it’s typical of our generation, right? Yeah. We didn’t know that before, and we didn’t need it before,” shares Pangan. “And then you realize, it’s become the thing now.”
Sanchez adds, “It’s part of the landscape now, so we have to get on it. We have to learn how to use it.” Playfully, Yance laughs at that thought, and says, “So imagine all of us getting used to it, and having to post daily!” — eliciting some laughs and eye rolls from his bandmates.
Even aside from social media platforms, the group mentioned how the state of technology as a whole was vastly different than what it is now. “Of course, there was no internet [then]. Things were almost exactly like Sandwich’s song ‘Betamax,’ which pretty much sums up what the ‘80s were like for us,” Leonor shares with a grin.
“We were already so impressed with using a four-track cassette in the making of the Heart’s Thunder album in the early ‘90s,” mentions Reyes. “But as amused as we were with that, technology has vastly changed since then,” he continued –– to which the rest of the members wholeheartedly agreed. “Today, everyone can have their own setup [in making music]. Back then we had to wait and borrow the sequencer, yet now anyone can download it from their phone, which makes things a tenfold times easier.”
Still, Pangan admits that such innovations in technology do bring about some limitations in the creative sense. “Sadly, some people take the artistic process for granted given that now there’s a limitless amount of tape. Everything is digital now. Sometimes you become complacent, because you know there’s endless storage which means there’s no loss.” Adding to his sentiments, he mentions “It’s not like when you record on tape, because that makes it a physical loss — which forces you to hone in on what part you’re doing.”
Witnessing Industry Changes As The Years Have Gone By
Despite their status as rock legends, the members of The Dawn take note of how much the industry has changed in their eyes — both for better and for worse.
Telling the story of Dave Mustaine’s envy of Metallica’s success (he was fired from the band in 1983 and formed Megadeth), Pangan elaborates how in some ways, he relates to what Mustaine felt. “There have been so many trends that have come and gone above you, and then all of a sudden there’s another wave that’s coming at you. Sometimes, it disillusions you, making you fail to realize what you’ve managed to accomplish as an artist,” he shares.
But even if he feels that way at times, Pangan prefers to look at the brighter side of things by recognizing how far along he and the rest of the band have come.
“As a unit, I think we’ve done quite a bit, and we’re proud to be still going at it.”
He adds to the thought, mentioning, “We’re more than willing to welcome what we have learned from one generation to the next, no matter how many of them we’ve gone through. We’re still here, and that’s no small feat, so we should just let things happen, right?”
Reyes even states, “It’s best to welcome all these new things coming [from other artists] because you can pick up new things from them. Even these new bands that come out, they get to do things that are unheard of, making us think like, ‘Wow, man, that’s possible?’ So you learn and you have fun with them. And as life goes on, we’re happy to pass the torch on to whoever’s willing to learn from us as well.”
Looking At What Lies Ahead
As they set their minds on what’s next for them, the members of The Dawn look forth with uncertainty at what lies ahead. Yet for them, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all; rather, it’s for the best. “Honestly, our only priority [at the moment] is to keep making music, and to keep playing well,” says Reyes.
Sanchez echoes these objectives, offering a more concrete definition by mentioning, “We might have a new album and new music in store next year, as we have a lot of song ideas. Maybe there will be an album, or maybe there won’t. But definitely, we have no plans of slowing down just yet.”
Pangan states, “Right now, we’re holding onto something that could be gone in a flash. But with this group of guys I’m stuck with, all it takes is four or five guys in the room to agree on what to do musically, and then we’re able to take it from there.”
“Of course, we butt heads [at times], but we work hard. As bandmates, we meet all the time to practice and discuss what’s next for us, even if we don’t have any expectations of what’s up ahead,” he adds.
Thus far, they conclude their thoughts with a note of gratitude for everything they’ve experienced so far in the last 40 years. “It’s been a long journey, but it’s also been one hell of a ride,” Pangan wryly smiles.
As the interview with The Dawn concluded, the realization hit me: in a way, my journey had come full circle. More than just a digital or even analog experience that I had with the group, it became something even more tangible for me to bear.
What began as a conversation between a Gen Z writer and five cool titos transcended into a surprising impartation of wisdom from one generation to another — together with insightful storytelling of anecdotes that made me grow to appreciate the band even beyond their musical contributions. Because in that room, they weren’t just rock legends; they were a group of chill guys who were laughing and sharing stories like any regular bunch of friends.
And so, as I arrived back home, the needle dropped on the first runout of grooves on the vinyl of The Dawn’s self-titled album. As the first few notes of “Enveloped Ideas” played out, my dad peered into my room and asked, “Since when did you have The Dawn’s vinyl record signed?”
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.