Lansangan’s creative spirit extends far beyond music. Growing up, her parents provided her with markers and paint and other materials, which she used to draw and create art. It was an environment that nurtured her creativity so much that she thought art was something everybody was into. She also dabbled in fashion, having created a fashion line inspired by space suits after graduating from fashion school.
“I thought everybody just made something, everybody had art materials, paint, whatever,” she says. “I would DIY a lot of things because I was an only child until I was six when my sister came along. I would make my own accessories, my own jewelry. I just had that maker mentality.”
These days though, Lansangan expresses her art through music and chooses “musician” when asked which of her multi-hyphenated identities carries the most weight.
In 2015, she released her debut album called Arigato, Internet!, a collection of thoughtful, whimsical observations of life beyond love. The album gathered songs she had been performing in front of audiences for years and marked the formal arrival of a strong, confident and unique voice in OPM. Songs like “Grammar Nazi,” (a gentle admonition for people who are gramatically challenged), “Exploration No. 5” (a paean to curiosity and genuine wonder about the world around us), and “On Wednesdays We Wear Pink” (probably the best fan letter ever written about the movie Mean Girls) displayed Lansangan’s writing abilities—at turns wide-eyed and self-assured but never lacking in humor and smarts.
“I like talking about things that are unconventional or aren’t really talked about through music by other artists,” she says. “Like ‘Grammar Nazi’ is a song that’s different. It’s weird and surreal thing to have a song like that on the radio. ‘A Song about Space’ is about science and curiosity and all these innocent questions that you have about the world around you and the world beyond.”
“I like zeroing on those interesting things, and I feel like humor is a way for me to address those weird topics because they go together,” she adds. “You don’t have to take yourself too seriously but you’re also imparting a message. I like that wordplay and experimentation.”
Lansangan followed up Arigato, Internet! two years later with a four-song EP that showed off even more of her gift of stringing words together and setting all of it to music. Of Sound Mind and Memory, she says, tells of a person’s journey through life in four stages: “’Aristophanes’ is like the beginning; ‘Machines and Men’ is like your life and death plotted out; ‘For The Fickle’ is your heartbreak; and ‘Wildwood’ is (finding) your contentment.”
“When I write songs, I don’t think, ‘Pasok ba to sa tunog ko?’ If you concern yourself with having a theme sonically, it will be impossible."
These days, Lansangan admits it’s not as easy to write the songs with the same type of carefree spirit and whimsy like “Grammar Nazi.” It’s not so much the pressures brought about by having many more fans and listeners, but more of the pressure she puts on herself.
“It’s just an overall sense of crippling fear,” she says. “You expect a lot from yourself now: you sit down and decide to write a song, you have to have a song. But that’s not the case. Especially when I was just doing this for fun. I would have written two songs in a year and happy na ko dun. But now, you’re a musician, you have to write for you to keep going. Iba na yung boxes na tini-tick mo, there are more things you expect of yourself, not really for other people.”
In January, Lansangan released “Islands,” a slightly more upbeat track borne out of a collaboration with an electronic music producer friend. It’s a slight departure from the sound she is known for, but the artist says it wasn’t a conscious decision to veer away from the familiar.
“When I write songs, I don’t think, ‘Pasok ba to sa tunog ko?’ I just really come up with stuff,” she says. “I still have a lot of folk stuff, those that sound like Of Sound Mind and Memory. I have some that are ‘Grammar Nazi’ type, very playful. And then I have super dramatic pianos. And then I have ‘Islands.’ If you concern yourself with having a theme sonically, it will be impossible. I’m just banking on the fact that I wrote all of them. And hopefully they all sound like me. So yun lang yung commonality nila.”
A girl named Clara
Music was always going to be in Benin’s life whether she liked it or not. Thankfully, it was something she picked up and fully embraced. Otherwise, she doesn’t know what she’d be doing now.
“I remember my parents had a hard time with me because I didn’t really know what to do,” she says. “Music was just a hobby growing up. Every summer they would enroll me in all of these workshops so I could figure out what I really wanted to do. But in high school, I started really taking music seriously. And I started to write.”
"Music has always been there," Benin says. "Like I can’t imagine myself doing anything else, so might as well do that and study the business of it."
The daughter of Side A’s Joey Benin says her father forced her to take piano lessons as a kid. She didn’t hate it, but she gravitated more towards the guitar and, at 12 years old, she eventually requested for one, which her dad gave her. Undoubtedly, her father’s influence cannot be overstated. Side A fans would know that the band even has a song about her called “Clara’s Eyes.”
“I was there when they were recording that,” she says. “They even recorded my voice, in the beginning (of the song). I think I was four or five years old. I didn’t really think it was a big deal at the time, my dad singing about me.”