Reese Lansangan: A Trailblazer in the International Indie Music Scene

Follow every single thing that sparks your interest and see where it leads you. It’s okay to love many things. It’s okay to fall out of love, too. It’s okay to change. Just keep being brave, keep doing what you love.

By Lifestyle Guide

September 15 2019

With numerous gigs under her belt, Reese Lansangan has brought her music to international shores having performed in Japan, Singapore, New Zealand and the USA. She opened for Paramore and Oh Wonder’s Ultralife Tour in Manila & has shared the stage with artists such as The Temper Trap, LANY, Purity Ring & Explosions in the Sky.

Beyond her musical talents and representative of her creative prowess, Reese has received honours for her notable work in the fields of art, design, fashion, writing, and music. Her body of creative work is heavily influenced by childhood, science, Asian iconography, and pop culture, branded with a hint of humour. In both her art and music, she is keen on dissecting and shedding light to everyday phenomena that are commonly overlooked.

With her work, she hopes to convey aspects of our humanity by depicting observations, commentaries, collective experiences and fleeting feelings that are almost never talked about. STYLEGUIDE speaks to Reese about her upcoming concert in Singapore and finds out more about what drives this creative powerhouse forward:

Okay, so let’s start off! How excited are you to be performing in Singapore?

SO excited. I love Singapore because it’s such a small dynamic, exciting place. It’s obvious how much SG values art and culture, and I love visiting my usual haunts there (Bras Basah, Basheer Books, Cat Socrates, Little Drom Store, and of course BookActually). Singapore was also my first international music festival type of gig so it’s absolutely incredible to be back again with a solo show. I just really hope people turn up to watch!

How did you get started and what is the inspiration behind your music?

As a kid, nursery rhymes and biblical songs for children would be on repeat the entire day - and I knew every word to every song by heart. I was bought countless cassette tapes, from Disney soundtracks to contemporary bands I didn't even know about until my Dad introduced me to them. He gave me my very first cassette tape - Spice World by Spice Girls and No Strings Attached by N'sync. I think I first developed my love for music because I listened to so much of it every day.

My father's side was the musical one - everybody sang and had an instrument. My own dad used to play the guitar and the trumpet, and for family reunions, we would always have a father-daughter acoustic number which I would be painfully shy about. When my Dad passed away (when I was 9), I decided to pick up his guitar and tried learning how to play it on my own with the song hits he left behind.

The cliche but very real answer is that I find inspiration everywhere. There would be moments when I’m just walking and I suddenly get a phrase into my head that I think would make for a good song title. Since I also read a lot of books, I get lots of ideas from there, too. My EP title (Of Sound Mind & Memory) came from a book I was reading called The Westing Game. Lastly, and this might sound really selfish, but I find inspiration within myself. I’m very attuned to the things that are happening to me. When it’s a particularly difficult situation and I’m in the thick of it, I can’t immediately write about it yet. But when I do get to finish a song, only then do I get to fully understand myself and get my own peace and closure.

Tell us more about the book you co-authored ‘In Case You Come Back’, how do you strike a balance between your writing and your music?

To be honest, I don’t think of myself as a poet at all. I just got lucky that I had “writing Twitter haikus” as a creative outlet back then, which is how I got to write In Case You Come Back with my co-author, Marla Miniano. That first book was more short-form poetry, and the sequel to it (The Maps That Contain Us) is a mix of both poem and prose/flash fiction.

I find it much easier to write a song than a poem or a story because I’m more comfortable with the rules and structures of that. I am able to judge myself better when I’ve written a good song, as opposed to poetry. More often than not, I really don’t know what I’m doing when it comes to that aspect haha! Because of that, I really don’t write creatively, outside of songwriting or personal journaling as much. But I do love to read very much, and everything I do is a reflection of my love of words.

You’re an author, musician, graphic designer, visual artist, and fashion designer, how do you balance all these talents so well?

Being an independent musician has been a means for me to do everything that I love. I get to exercise my art and design skills through designing my own merch, making my promo materials, doodling on my Instagram photos, designing and executing my music videos, even editing my Youtube content. Every gig is a chance for me to channel my “fashion designer” side (I’ve long abandoned that career path though) so dressing up for events is a good exercise.

There’s really no lack of things to do in my profession. I’m lucky that I have all these avenues to be creative, all the while accomplishing my main dream as a musician. It’s really great to feel like I can independently design, write, produce, etc. on my own if I need to - while also knowing I have an amazing pool of talented friends I can always ask for help too.

Credit: Karen dela Fuente

What’s been your biggest challenge as a musician so far?

Staying true to your values is hard when you see different paths to success that are available to you but require you to lose a part of your freedom and control. Sometimes, the necessity of money and allure of influence can really make you reconsider your pace, your direction, and your decisions. Social media can make it hard for us to determine what we really want, seeing so many possibilities laid out for us. Envy and anger come into play, and sometimes we think we want something just because someone else we know has it at hand. Having a solid support system of your family and friends can help you keep a good head on your shoulders.

What are the stereotypes that surround a female musician and how do you break away from them?

In the local music scene, it’s often argued that there isn't enough female representation, and it may appear so on the onset. However, I’m positive there are a lot of us here: some are shining big and bright, but some may be making ends meet in obscure bars, or toiling away in their bedrooms, or staying within the confines of a shower cubicle. Not everyone may get the spotlight shed upon them, but I know that we are many.

I feel a great responsibility in being one of many women in the local music scene, which is why I try to act with grace and lead with light. When younger, impressionable people look to the scene for inspiration or hope, I sincerely wish that they see good things. That they are encouraged to live fully and motivated to be better people. I want to be a testament to what’s possible when you follow your heart and back it up with hard work and kindness. I do hope that I can help make dreams seem a possible reality to most.

What has been your biggest success so far?

Music-wise: I’ve performed in a lot of interesting places and events. I’ve done small gigs in Japan, New Zealand, and the States. I’ve performed in front of the president of the Philippines, beside a Youtube star I adore, and in front of people between five and 15,000. But my most unforgettable performance to date was when I opened for the band Paramore for their Tour Four here in Manila.

What happened after was an insane rollercoaster of emotions. I got to meet lead singer Hayley Williams and had a chat with her about our music. She even gave me a shoutout in the middle of their set and complimented my performance on stage. Even though the nerves and pressure felt very real to me, I didn't want that to take over and eat me alive. And everything that could go right went right that night. It was such a beautiful moment for me and my team.

In high school, Hayley has always been the poster girl of what it’s like to own being female in the music industry. I would listen to their songs day in and out, never imagining that I’d be able to have this special chance of meeting her.

But truth be told, the thing I’m most proud of about my entire career is putting out my own music and experiencing how people react to it. Whenever I write music and work on an album, my heart, soul, and entire being are all involved in it.

I live the process; I breathe it.

Each and every day, I get a simple message or tweet from a person who expresses how much my music has "changed" their lives, or has either inspired them or given them courage. I find it incredible how my personal truth resonates with so many other different people in this world. I am continuously amazed by the transformative power of music, and I myself experience that as a listener of other artists as well.

If you could choose one musician to collaborate with, who would it be and why?

I have way too many favorite female musicians but I’ve always been consistent in saying that Imogen Heap is one big inspiration. She is a mad scientist that walks among us. More than her songwriting, it's her creativity and her desire to really connect her music to her listeners that's so powerful and awe-inspiring. It's how she fully embraces technology and marries that to tradition that makes her music uniquely her own.

She also involves her audience in her own music creation (for example, she crowdsourced hundreds of words, lyrics, images, and sound clips from social media to create her record). I love that she is so attuned with herself and the many people that support her, and I know there are so many things I could learn from her.

I actually watched her in concert this year and spent some hours in a creative workshop with her - so I got to pick her brain a little. It was truly an unforgettable moment.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Follow every single thing that sparks your interest and see where it leads you. It’s okay to love many things. It’s okay to fall out of love, too. It’s okay to change. Just keep being brave, keep doing what you love.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I’m sure in 10 years I’ll be doing the exact same thing I’m doing now - but with much more peace and contentment, and maybe a really kickass home library with a ladder. In 10 years I still hope to be surrounded by the people I love. Still pursuing music and art. Still keeping life simple, beautiful, and meaningful.

Who are the people in your life you’d like to thank?

My late dad, who gave me this gift of music in the first place. He passed away when I was nine years old, but he was the one who encouraged me to sing and perform. He used to play the guitar and trumpet, then he'd play music in the house all day. My love for this craft came from him.

My Mom, who cultivated that love by believing in my talent and supporting each and every song and performance. She also enrolled us in music classes in high school, so in a lot of ways she’s not only my loving mother but my first “investor”.

My sister Denice, who gets to hear all my new songs first, and gets to comment something nice as a default (haha)!

My managers Jmi and Jason, for all the things we’ve been through + for the heart and hard work they dedicate to Team Reese.

Reese Kids, (my street team and group of supporters) for being with me every step of the way, even if I fall behind.

To everyone who has listened to a song I made or appreciated something I’ve created. Thank you for making this craft of mine more meaningful and life-giving.

Featured photo credit to Andrew Subiela