ARTS & CULTURE
Words by Billy Caluag| Photography by Tarish Zamora
Back in 2014, King Puentespina was just a college student. The idea of CRWN was tucked away in his bedroom, where he experimented with different sounds and samples. Eventually, King, under the moniker of CRWN, released "New Yorker"—a jazzy, messy beat, fast and slow at the same time; bound together by the principle of experimentation. It was the reflection of a musician, fresh into his 20s with a whole new sound to explore. As more music was released on CRWN’s SoundCloud page, thousands of listeners caught on. CRWN's music was a revelation; what they needed at the time.
Having first discovered CRWN at the height of my freaky and geeky teenage years, it felt serendipitous to have found a local artist who proved that mixing two weird things could create something great. Artists like B.P. Valenzuela, Curtismith, and Jess Connelley soon joined in CRWN’s experiment. His collaborations with Jess Connelley, "Wait" and "Under Blankets," took over radio stations and became the headliners of house parties and bar crawls. The experiments worked.
Today at 28 years old, an established figure in the local music scene and now the co-founder of Pool Records, King's new intention is to give back. Setting up shop in San Juan, La Union, CRWN's identity as an artist continues to evolve.
King: I hope you don't mind the noise. *gestures to the members of She's Only Sixteen in the background*
Billy: Not at all! Thank you so much for doing this and, dude, it's an honor. I've been listening to you since I was maybe 15 years old and now I'm 22 years old. I hope that doesn't make you feel old, if anything, I guess timeless. I still listen and appreciate a lot of your older tracks.
King: Not at all! I’m pretty okay with [the idea] of age.
Billy: So, when did you first move to La Union?
King: We moved right after my residency [at Emerging Islands], around March, and we stayed here. We rented a place out for a year and then we just settled here. The band invested in a studio.
Billy: That's sick. I think that's how I first heard of you—through your band. You also produced the track "LDR" with Curtismith, right? With Curtismith. And then "Under Blankets", which led to the How I Love EP... a huge part of your career has been collaborations.
King: It was a natural thing because we started out as friends and we all just wanted to play around with music production. It was friends teaching each other how to make shit.
Billy: I read that your new label Pool Records wants to take care of the artist in the complete sense. like looking out for their mental health, career growth, and the network they keep. What is something new artists tend to overlook?
King: I think it's more of where they want to turn their identity. As an artist it's hard to separate yourself as an artist and yourself. We want artists to have a whole story and a well-rounded identity. A clear vision of what life is as an artist; a lot of people don't see that starting out, which is why it's good to guide them through it.
Billy: I'm not sure if this is directed to King, the drummer of She’s Only Sixteen, or CRWN, but how long did it take you to find your identity in this creative space you operate in?
King: It's always evolving. You can do a lot of things or you can keep finding new things to do. I think I just kept doing what I could.
Billy: I remember you called CRWN a bedroom experiment [at one point]?
King: It's so far from that. *chuckles* It’s evolved, transformed... Now it's more of making art rather than just playing around in the bedroom... I think. There's more meaning and intention than making something up... it's not about the technique or how dope it sounds.
Billy: Let's compare "Under Blankets" to something like "Sleeping Garden" from Orchid. How are they different in that sense of intention and art?
King: Wow, that's pretty far... I think "Under Blankets" was Jess and I trying to experiment on what we could sound like. That was an intro to what we could do... at least for me. "Sleeping Garden" was really more intentional like I was... I was trying to tell a story. The tracks in Orchid were deeper in terms of how I was creating it. It took a lot of pre-prod and research.
Billy: I could kind of hear that, as a listener, the beat tapes are a very introspective experience. I am tapping my foot but I'm thinking about my day and what I'm going to do tomorrow.
King: That was the goal, dude!
Billy: [It sounds like] you’ve taken a lot of steps [to] grow into something bigger. The first CRWN track I heard was "LDR", so how did that partnership with Curtismith grow into Museo?
King: Dude, I think I made "LDR" in like 40 minutes—
Billy: No way...
King: For real, for real. *chuckles* I think Mito just wanted a beat and tutututu tatatata and yeah. Versus Museo wherein we sat down and talked about all the different sounds and the story of it.
Billy: That's insane... I'm still wrapping my head around it. It's a very small and insignificant demographic but I went to an international school and for us kids... "LDR" and "Under Blankets" kinda pulled us back into the country. To us, it was our way into the local scene.
King: That's funny... I don't think we knew how big "LDR" or "Under Blankets" would get which is weird because we were just having fun. We were literally exercising what we could do at that time.
Billy: Did everyone have that same expectation?
King: Yeah. We were just doing shit.
Billy: You mentioned Mito and yourself would sit things out and tunnel vision your way into finishing an intention. How long did Tommy Gun or Orchid take you?
King: *laughs* Too long. A year or half a year. It's easier working with other people; you get ideas quicker.
King: Andrew say hi!
Andrew: Hi, Billy!
King: He's a big fan.
Andrew: Thanks Billy! I love your orange shirt.
Billy: At what point in your music career did you think... "Now is the time to give back"?
King: I think slowly I've been getting there. As you [work] with other artists, you grow. I feel like I grew so much after Museo because I’ve never worked on an album by myself. It's always just EPs and beat tapes and I'm still working on my album—my CRWN album—and that's been taking forever... 3 years or 4 years. I end up scrapping most of the songs I make, which is pretty sad. So the fact that I was able to finish Museo is crazy. It's definitely giving back to other artists and making them shine—which I think is the job of the music producer talaga.
Billy: In that role, how important is having that prior relationship with the artist? I get the sense that you have emotional investments in your artists.
King: Oh, super important. I always make sure before I start a project with another artist that I know their story and what they wanna say before I start making the music. A good example would be Labyrinth with August Wahh—before we'd start a session I'd make sure we had an intention, right, and that we talked first. That's how I approach a lot of my projects. It's always: build a relationship, and then work.
Billy: You’ve said before that you wanted CRWN to create a figure in the landscape of local music with all the experimentation you intended on doing—that was in 2015. Today you have your label and you just finished an album with Curtismith! What do you think CRWN has contributed to the local music scene?
King: I don't know... I think more artists deserve to be heard and listened to. I think... hmm, it's a good question—I'm stumped! I think innovating sounds in general that people don't really get to hear in the mainstream. You always ask them to step up also; listeners have to learn how to listen as well. So you're sort of teaching the audience or the local scene that “oh you can get away with this sound or this story or whatever.” I always think of stepping it up in every
Billy: I can't remember who said this, it's a saying... they said that "the last movie you made should be your favorite movie" do you follow that mindset?
King: *nods* Mmhmm! For sure, for sure.
Billy: I think Seña mentioned in an article that he was sick of Whatever That Was...?
King: *laughs* Yeah.
Billy: We've seen musicians retire certain aspects of themselves or of their music... top of my head as an emo kid at heart—
King: Hell yeah!
Billy: *laughs* —what I can think of is My Chemical Romance and how they stopped playing "The Black Parade" because they felt like it was holding them back and they wanted to move on to make a different sound. Are there aspects of yourself as an artist or aspects of your music that you've retired?
King: I agree with Seña... it's funny because Seña and I listened to Whatever That Was [in the studio] testing out the sound and I cringed a lot. Comparing Whatever That Was to the EP we did... the EP sounded so much better to me. I don't know if it’s because it took us so long to make Whatever It Was that we just wanted it out already.
Billy: What about CRWN music?
King: Definitely Orchid and below. Fuck that! Fuck all of that!
King: Jess and I were talking about "Under Blankets" and how we hate it so much... and How I Love and "LDR". Like, Mito and I just shat on that *laughs* because it's always [the case that] you want to evolve as an artist and for sure we don't give those songs credit enough because we were the ones who made them. We had to listen to them a thousand times, so I feel like we're just so over it.
(King: *gestures to Andrew in the back* Do you like Whatever That Was?
Andrew: *stops and thinks*
King: Parts of it?
Andrew: Yeah, yeah, I'm attached to it but I hear too many mistakes.
Billy: Are we going to see a remastered version?
King: I hope so, but we don't have the files anymore. It's lost in someone's hard drive... but The Other Side was fucking... I love The Other Side!
Billy: What's the thought process when an artist decides to branch out and try a different sound like [you guys did with that album]?
King: I think at least for musicians it's what they currently listen to. That affects a lot of the decisions made in making a song or an album or a specific project happen. Like we were definitely not listening to Arctic Monkeys *chuckles* anymore or all the comparisons made to us before. Ang layo ng pinakangingan namin basically.
Billy: I never really saw or heard the Arctic Monkeys [comparison]... I love Arctic Monkeys but—
King: THANK YOU. *laughs*
Billy: But I thought more about The Strokes or something like that—
King: We still listen to The Strokes. I still love The Strokes. But I think it's evolving and it's always going to evolve.
Billy: I feel like if I talk to you again in a couple of years you might say “Oh, I hate The Other Side.”
King: I feel like we're gonna start hating it after a few months, after the new songs are coming out.
Billy: You said it's getting sick of the past and trying something new and that's always a risk, right? There's never a guarantee that it's going to do well... but now as a label owner or a leader in your own right, how do you support that?
King: I always believe in being in the present, being in the moment. Whatever feels like the most organic or natural thing while we're making songs or making art or whatever. You're trying to capture that specific moment and I think it shouldn't matter what everyone else thinks because you're the one making it.
Billy: Is staying in the present something you want to [impart] on your artists, those with Pool Records?
King: I think humans in general are most powerful in the present. We learned that people are anxious about the future or get a lot of anxiety about things that haven't happened yet and I think the way you control that is by being in the present and making your choices and your decisions—decision-making is supposed to be about now; it's not supposed to be about something that hasn't happened yet. The parallel universes or multiverses or whatever and like all of those branches are super intimidating so yes, own the present.
Billy: How do you stay in the present?
King: Just being grateful for this timeline. I've reflected on that here in La Union a lot of times. I was just happy to wake up, realizing that I'm still here. I'm in La Union. I'm not where I was last year and that really makes you powerful already—mentally.
Billy: Gratitude is a source of power.
King: Yeah! For sure, for sure.
Billy: It still kinda hurts to know Jess Connelley hates How I Love but I'm learning a lot, so that's cool.
King: *laughs* We don't hate it! It’s just that we could do so much better. If I could apply what we know now, it's that sort of mentality.
Billy: How would you describe how CRWN has progressed or developed over the years?
King: Like I’ve said, I have philosophies now that I can apply... whereas when I was starting I was playing around with software. Before I was learning the tools. Now it's me that's coming out. More than like “What kind of drums should I use?” or “What kind of synth should I use?” It's more about [how I want to] approach it.
Billy: What I [really] appreciate about your music is how it is so innately introspective. I think that speaks of you as an artist in terms of that intention you mentioned.
King: Thank you. Mhmm, I'm glad that you saw or heard that—that was the plan.
Billy: Let's talk about the present, what's Pool Records up to now?
King: We're currently working on a rapper we're working with here—his name is Rowdy Prosper. We met him through Emerging Islands. The gist of his story was basically he got arrested here. His whole story revolved around what he was dealing with inside prison and like... getting out of prison. Telling his story is our main focus now. I found a few candidates for the next Pool artists but because our team is so small, we want to focus on growing that artist first.
Billy: By the way, why 'Pool'?
King: Because I love Frank Ocean, self control! *sings* Poolside convooo... It was supposed to be “Poolside” but there was already Poolside Radio or whatever so we scrapped the “Side'' and made it “Pool.” I feel like I love water so much and it can mean a lot of things.
Billy: You mentioned in another article—
King: This is such a well-researched interview. I have to compliment you—
Billy: Oh, thank you!
King: I haven't had an interview like this in a while... This is super nice.
Billy: Oh my god. *nervous laughter* It's an honor. I know you're very much committed to the present, but a great deal of my previous years were cool because of your music and you.
King: I'm glad you haven't asked me what my influences are. *laughs* Thank you!
Billy: I have time if you want me to.
King: Not at all, you’re doing great.
Billy: Going back, [I read that] TWICE made 2020 better for you. I recently wrote an article about P-Pop and how it's heightening the wave of local music... I gotta ask, are we going to see P-Pop at Pool Records?
King: I really want to make a pop group... that's such a big dream. It doesn't have to be purely Filipino but ahhh, that sounds so fun! Or something like a Destiny's Child.
Billy: That would be awesome. So for CRWN, for King, and for Pool what can we expect in 2022?
King: Hopefully more projects, hopefully my album—please lord, it's been on my shelf for too long.
Billy: I don't think as listeners we hold musicians to the same standards as movie stars in that they can be directors or producers; but some musicians become producers and record label owners. As someone who is guiding young artists and as an artist yourself, what is the ideal mobility, or path, for an artist?
King: I think to absorb as much as you can and experiment as much as you can. I don't want to speak for all the artists but I think for creative people, or people who just like making things from scratch, there are no rules—it's all just a mirage with what you can do. You can do anything.
Billy: It's a blank canvas.
King: And it should always be a blank canvas. Something you can just erase right away, and start on another one.