Inside the Recording Studio With Ben&Ben and Indonesian Star Pamungkas

Ben&Ben and Pamungkas collaborate on a song for the first time ever.
IMAGE SONY MUSIC

There were heavy rains and flooded avenues the day two Southeast Asian superstars met for the first time in a studio somewhere in Pasig City. Pop bands Ben&Ben representing the Philippines and Pamungkas from Indonesia came together for a dream collaboration: recording the English translation of Ben&Ben’s song “Panindigan Kita” called “Stand By You.”

Stepping inside the studio is a treat, providing a sneak peek into two musical minds converging, and two different gears of music colliding and seamlessly connecting. 

I’ve always thought the nine members of the Filipino folk-pop band to be the nicest human beings on the planet. Unfortunately, that day, three of the members–Jam Villanueva, Poch Barretto and Andrew Da Pano–called in sick. Despite this and their backbreaking schedule of recording sessions and live shows, Ben&Ben have proven themselves to be a unit capable of constant improvement, both in a musical and collective sense. 

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On the day of their first-ever collaboration happening face to face and in real life, as I find myself in the dressing room preparing to interview each member. Bassist Agnes Reoma compliments the stitched flower design that was on my flannel, to which I reply, “Sa ukay lang ‘to. Twenty pesos lang.” Violinist Keifer Cabugao chimes in that his blazer was also bought in a thrift store.

The band mentions what Pamungkas said about touring in the US.

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“He’s getting used to it,” Miguel Benjamin says, referring to the Indonesian singer and record producer. “It’s pretty tiring raw.”

The rest of the band are themselves preparing for the heavy amount of jetlag coming as they get set to perform in different time zones across the U.S., as well as for their upcoming send-off concert happening at the CCP Open Grounds on Saturday, September 3. 

Sulit talaga, bawat araw.” Pat Lasaten says. “How often do you get to tour in a different country right?”

Besides the upcoming U.S. tour, the band shares what it was like to interact with Pamungkas and his band for the first time. It was a connection that clicked right away by the time both artists set foot inside SoundCheck studios. Being in the same room as Pamungkas could have been intimidating, but for Ben&Ben, it proved to be a fruitful and intuitive experience. 

“It's a lot of firsts,” Miguel Benjamin says. “Marami rin new insights, kasi for us Filipinos we have a certain understanding of English but it’s not necessarily (the same experience) when you travel across the world. Let's say sa US, iba yung grasp nila sa English. 

“It's refreshing to understand and see how he (Pamungkas) writes,” he adds. “It's like we’re exchanging songs.” 

Reoma also brings up the new layers of technical talent they discovered during the jamming earlier before the interview. 

“You could tell as a folk-pop band, yun yung core natin,” Reoma says. “Pero sila may jazz din, so ang cool din makita yung choices of chords. Gets mo na jazz yung roots.” 

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Cabugao, meanwhile, is fascinated by the fact that two musicians working together is not only a shared experience but also a rediscovering of the musical side of yourself and the communal aspect of creating. 

“It’s like having new playmates eh,” the violinist says. “It’s like learning those dynamics as you go along playing to the bands. Parang winging siya, but it's more like, ‘kikilalanin kita.” Parang listening to those dynamics talaga e. It’s like you’re creating these two worlds coming together. 'That space,' 'what happened there;' it's like making friends, basically.” 

Miguel Benjamin interjects in the conversation, saying that working with Pamungkas is like working with a new friend as well as relearning what you knew about music before. 

Sa ‘min, internally, we love when you’re experiencing things for the first time,” Miguel says. “When you’re out of your comfort zone, that’s where you learn the most–like right now.” 

The band also discusses how and where they discovered Pamungkas during the early days of the lockdown. 

Na-discover namin dahil kay Paolo,” percussionist Toni Muñoz chimes in, referring, of course, to Miguel’s twin brother. ”Pin-lay niya ‘To The Bone.’ Yun lang, umaga hanggang hapon, gabi,” they laugh. 

“Puro ‘To The Bone,’ ‘To The Bone,’ ‘To The Bone.’ Tapos parang, ‘Ano ba yang kanta na yan?” Miguel says, “Ayun na-discover namin yung live performances nila. ‘Solipsism’ ata yun, tapos ayun nakita namin yung band na parang ‘Uy, dami nila oh!’’ 

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Shortly after thanking them for the interview, I head over to the other side of the room where Pamungkas is hanging out with his touring band relaxing on the couches of the dressing room.The 29-year-old artist, whose full name is Rizki Rahmahadian Pamungkas, himself was leaning over, seemingly warmed up for every interview and rehearsal that day. He says he’s never heard of any other Filipino band besides Ben&Ben. The day before heading to SoundCheck Studios, the singer-songwriter performed a few songs to promote his latest album “Birdy” at the Wish107.5 bus.

“Obviously I'm very thankful that I'm given the chance to do this with the biggest band in the Philippines currently,” he says. “They’re very humble and also, apart from having great hair, they also have great music. It's also nice knowing the music scene here in the Philippines.” 

Pamungkas also talks about touring and how it’s a way to highlight artists from different countries. 

“The intention is to use a sort of knocking-on-your-door type of thing,” he says. “Because of data on Spotify and YouTube and all that stuff, there are a number of listeners out there and we thought it would be nice if we could just meet in person and let it snowball from there. The expectation is all about a very warm hello and that’s it. As long as we know each other, I’m sure things would happen in the future.”

The Indonesian singer-songwriter says that, despite the language barriers, he’s observed carefully the similarities in songwriting between Filipino and Indonesian pop songwriters.

“Well, I suppose there are similarities in the language,” he says. “Because I think Tagalog has a similar level of depth in the language. And also in the music scene back in Indonesia, there’s also a lot of depth and meaning. It's beautiful, like one word that captures a lot of things. In terms of musical or sound, I think Indonesia’s music has a lot more distortion, but in the Philippines, it's pretty much the same perspective.” 

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Pamungkas is also nice enough to provide a couple of his own local music recommendations for Filipinos to check out. When he asks what type of music I’m into, he expresses joy when I mention Girl Gang.

“Actually I’m a fan of Girl Gang, they’re from Yogyakarta,” he says. “If you like Girl Gang, you might like Barasuara or Reality Club. But like Girl Gang they have a youthful sound like ‘chk-chk-chk’, a youthful funk type of rock. Elephant Kind as well.” 

Later Pamungkas shares his own insights and process of collaboration since working with a big band such as Ben&Ben.

“I believe that every artist has their own value,” he says. I’d say Ben&Ben’s value is ‘black’ and the other artist would be blue, red or yellow. In collaboration, I think it's about finding the balance between two colors, especially for a band like Ben&Ben, they have like what? Nine people? They sort of have different colors combined into one, and I think that collaboration is about being able to find your personality in the music, finding the balance in the music. That's why [music] could be rich and beautiful. Positively fighting each other to find the balance between each other.” 

Before we end the conversation, talk turns to everyone’s favorite Beatles album. Miguel Benjamin responded with Rubber Soul, while Muñoz mentions Revolver

Pamungkas likewise answers Rubber Soul and immediately asks me, “Why what’s yours?” I mention that it's “Revolver,” to which he replies that Revolver has the best album cover ever.

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It’s proof yet again that, no matter who or where, there’s always common ground with the Fab Four.

Check out Benn&Ben and Pamungkas’ collaborations below: 

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Elijah Timothy Pareño
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