Not long ago, Filipino folk music evolved into something lively and colorful — both visually and sonically. Gone was the modest, everyman look of its performers, or even its audience; in its place were vibrant patterned shirts and well-groomed hair adorned with floral headbands. The music was also more spirited and celebratory — more suited for open-air festivals than dingy, enclosed clubs — and performed by groups with more musicians than usual, employing strings, percussions, and vocal harmonies.

Of course, iterations of this style of folk music can still be heard today, from the likes of Ben&Ben, Any Name’s Okay, Munimuni, and others. It’s a sound that’s undoubtedly influenced by Western indie folk acts like Mumford and Sons, Fleet Foxes, and Of Monsters And Men — and one of its earliest local advocates was The Ransom Collective.

This six-piece band — composed of Kian Ransom (lead vocals and guitar), Leah Halili (bass), Jermaine Choa Peck (percussion), sisters Muriel (violin) and Lily Gonzales (keys), and Redd Claudio (drums) — released their first single “Fools” before the advent of Spotify. “Initially, we didn’t really give much thought to whether or not the local scene was ready for our take on folk pop or not,” shares Ransom. “But when we released ‘Fools’ on SoundCloud and it started going viral, we knew there was an audience out there that appreciated a homegrown take on the genre.”

“We were just having fun and reflecting what we were interested in listening to at that time; we didn’t really think [about] whether locals were ready for it or not,” adds Lily.

The Ransom Collective was formed in 2013 by main songwriter Ransom, who connected with his bandmates through mutual friends. “It actually felt quite magical to form a band and make the music we did, particularly the harmonies and how the instruments all came together, because we mostly all just met and some of us were really new to performing live,” the keyboardist continues. Their big break came when they won the Wanderland Festival’s first Wanderband competition in 2014, giving them the opportunity to play to a large crowd and open for international headliners The Drums, Last Dinosaurs, and The Paper Kites, among others.

Later that year, the band released a self-titled EP, followed by their first full-length record Traces in 2018, alongside an number of equally well-received singles. They’ve also performed abroad multiple times, including several festivals in India and Indonesia, as well as the 2018 edition of Singapore’s prestigious Laneway Festival. While other local acts have adapted their modern folk sound and big band format later on, The Ransom Collective formed a kinship with their then-emerging indie peers like Autotelic, Tom’s Story, Oh, Flamingo! and others, despite not sounding anything like them. “[We] definitely miss those days when we would all come together almost every weekend,” says Choa Peck. “Even if we weren’t playing, it was nice to just hang out and check on each other, or even hype each other up. It really felt like a solid community.”

“If anything, we were inspired [by] and looked up to other ‘non-pop’ indie artists such as UDD, Ang Bandang Shirley, or Cheats, to name a few,” clarifies Ransom. “Maybe we were just one of the first indie folk bands to catch some momentum, but it’s been amazing seeing other non-traditional pop bands like Ben&Ben, Munimuni, or syd hartha expanding the diversity of OPM.”

Ransom Collective

Ransom Collective photographed by Renzo Navarro.

However, as with their peers, the pandemic put a stop to live shows; in The Ransom Collective’s case, several members have migrated to pursue educational opportunities, careers, and new lives. While gigs have since returned post-lockdown, the band find themselves separated by thousands of miles from each other, yet continuing to exist as a group.

“We’ve now been together for ten years, so things have changed for us at different points in our lives,” explains Muriel. “Some [of us] had inklings for further studies or experiences abroad that just led [us] to different places. We’ve faced these things along the way as we grew as adults, but we really still care about being together and seeing how we can support each other as a band.”

“We continue on that journey but have gained more experience, traveled the world, met more people, [and] listened and exposed ourselves to new music,” adds Choa Peck. “I think this has made us more open to the music we can make as a band. I like to think of this as our exploration stage, and just finding what fits for us as a band.”

Over the past few years, Halili and both Gonzales sisters have put out their own music as solo artists, but The Ransom Collective are still very much a recording entity, having released the singles “I Don’t Care” and “3 AM” in 2019 and 2022 respectively. The band also reunited to play shows in both 2022 and 2023, with each one drawing fans to dance and sing along to their much-loved anthems. “It’s been a bit tricky to work at a distance with each other,” admits Muriel, “but we really care about making music, reconnecting with our fans, and performing together.”

Indeed, the end of the road is nowhere in sight for The Ransom Collective, and they promise more music to come, be it individually or as a group. “Our beginnings came with many pleasant surprises, our growth a mix of luck and collective drive,” reflects Muriel. “From then to now we’ve kind of gone with the flow with whatever came our way, and what each of us aspired for ourselves as a band and as individuals.”

Ransom Collective

Ransom Collective photographed by Renzo Navarro.

A version of this story appeared on Billboard Philippines’ Acoustic and Folk Issue, dated February 15.

Ben&Ben Billboard Philippines Folk/Acoustic Issue

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