Striking Balance In Imperfection With Paradise Rising
Striking Balance In Imperfection with PARADISE RISING’s Leila Alcasid, Massiah, Fern., Jason Dhakal and Kiana V
Words and terms of the month may include: unhinged, distracted, lost, powerless, tired, hopeful, keep going and power through. The last few days and weeks and months have dragged on and blurred into one another and are only distinguished by news, numbers and deadlines. How apt that Balance—originally planned as an answer to retrograde and ghost month—is Wonder’s theme for August. After all, couldn’t we all do with a little bit more stability nowadays?
But as we drudge through and find efficiencies in the new landscape of our everydays, there are some moments of clarity, understanding and—thankfully—relief. They come in the form of chancing upon a favorite movie on TV or finally perfecting the day’s dinner recipe. And sometimes, it comes in the form of music you could swear was written just for you.
When PARADISE RISING first released semilucent, which features the talents of Leila Alcasid, Massiah, Fern., Jason Dhakal and Kiana V, the announcement that came with the music was a line that said: “from our heart to your ears.” Maybe a little dramatic and perhaps a little cliché, but as the young musicians talk more about how they strike Balance amidst imperfection, it simply becomes the truth.
A lot has happened since Leila last sat down with Wonder to talk about the release of Better Weather, her five-track EP. Prolonged quarantine has upended life as we all know it, but it’s allowed her to make peace with feeling the spectrum of emotions that comes with self-isolation and, ultimately, not having the luxury to have as many distractions as before.
In her latest single Clouds, she embraces her struggles with mental health, a topic she doesn’t shy away from (see No Rain). She shares, “I’m talking about, you know, not being okay and feeling like I just need the people around me to be patient with me, and I think that’s something that everyone’s going through at varying levels.”
Her single still relates to her solo EP, which is completely unintentional; she’s simply still in that phase of her life, mentally. She adds, “Everyone is feeling a degree of anxiety and stress, and that’s a way they can relate to it. And even if [Clouds] is personal, it’s something that is speaking to everyone going through some sort of, I guess, mental struggle in this ‘wonderful’ pandemic.”
Working with 88rising has always been a fantasy for Leila. And with the birth of PARADISE RISING, she hopes that Filipino music, as vulnerable and poignant as it is, can be celebrated on a wider scale. She comments, “I feel like a lot of Filipino music really comes from the soul. We love songs about love, we love songs about our feelings, even if it’s heartbreaking, and I think that’s a really beautiful thing. We bare ourselves in a very unique way, especially in the diversity of genres that we see, even in the [PARADISE RISING] EP itself. Each song is very different from each other so it’s reflective of the Filipino music scene as a whole.”
For anybody wrestling with their mental health in quarantine, she concludes, “You just have to make sure that you’re doing everything that you need to do and be patient with yourself if you’re not quite there yet—but also don’t be complacent.”
A little self-care sure doesn’t hurt.
As everyone else struggled to get used to the lockdown life, so did Massiah. He had plans for the rest of the year that involved more than staying home and hosting solo dance parties in the sanctity of his room. And while he tells us that dance parties, Quaker Oats (chocolate-flavored, with some almond milk and Frosties) and saying things “extremely out of context” are the three things he needs to make his life feel like his life, there was still a lot to get used to.
When the quarantine announcement was made on that fateful day in March, Massiah sat down and listed down what he could and couldn’t do. He found solace in the thought that his friends and family were well, that he could still call them up and talk to them when he needed and wanted to. So what was he left with? “I was scared,” he admits, “but the best thing I [could] do is just improve on what I can do. Improve upon my artistry, practice more, be more proactive.”
He reminisces with us about how On God first came into play: A few days in Dumaguete with producers and other musicians from his record label, Careless Music, just spitting out beats and lyrics with anything and everything they had in them. “The inspiration was the relationship I had with the girl I was dating at the time,” he tells us, before explaining that he went back to the same music for weeks to refine and develop and make sense of his initial verses.
But a lot has changed since those careless (pun intended) days. There are no more nights of closeness, no more heightened intimacy, no freedom to just be—because we can’t. There are no more luxuries such as these; luxuries we might’ve taken for granted and now miss most.
So we ask Massiah how he’s feeling about our collective situation, a line to summarize how the last months have been. To answer, he shares a new lyric for something unreleased: “Pieces you left behind don’t want you.” And while the new track is still under wraps, he shares the meaning behind it, telling us that “maybe you think it’s important to hold onto [the past], but it’s not like they’re trying to hold onto you.”
Is he talking about an old friend, a decision he regrets or love that he’s lost? Maybe we’ll never know the answer and maybe it’s better if we don’t. But one thing is for sure, it’s this: we move forward, up and on—because it’s at least one luxury we can still afford.
Editing MV Isip
Now what of perfection? Is it something necessary to reach satisfaction or success or happiness? Massiah reasons out, it’s subjective. And as long as he’s able to convey the message through his songs, then there’s nothing wrong with sporting a few scars and scratches, maybe even a little blemish or two.
Fern. is, undoubtedly, the leader (and only member) of the soft boy collective, he admits, from the diverse pool of musicians in the country. The birth of PARADISE RISING’s Kaori comes from his love for a free-spirited protagonist from one of his favorite anime shows—Your Lie In April, if we had to guess.
At the beginning of quarantine, he had to delay upcoming projects out of sensitivity to the situation. He shares, “There were a lot of things I didn’t release. I was supposed to release an EP, but I postponed it because I just think it’s not the best time to do things like that. But an opportunity came and, as an artist, I wanted to elevate my platform even more.”
He finds strength in self-sufficiency with a lot of doing-it-yourself at home, which allowed him to say yes to a project as monumental as an EP with PARADISE RISING. “I’m blessed enough to have the resources in my house [at] my disposal. I think I possess the skills naman, I usually do everything by myself, and I’m very grateful [I get to do it]. Visuals, mixing and mastering [of the track] was all 88rising,” he says.
He admits that it takes him a while to finish tracks because he’s a self-confessed perfectionist but he’s learned to let some things go. On creating something without fear of flaws, he adds, “Sometimes, the more you work on it, the farther it becomes from the original idea. I try to make it perfect, sometimes, but it has to be tamed.”
With everything happening in our midst, he believes this season, albeit a very difficult one, is a “wake-up call” for systems here and beyond to be reformed. He’s using his platform wisely to “help the world be a better place” even if it’s just through his music.
Just a little over a year ago, Jason Dhakal graced our July 2019 cover, where we talked about his generation, all they had to offer and what they wanted for the world. Even then, we saw what Jason could do, and now his talent and skill are reaching an entirely different horizon.
He’s a guy of a few words. In fact, he says one of the things he’s best at is isolating himself. He clarifies this almost as quickly as he says it, explains that it doesn’t mean he’s in a bad mental space; his version of self-care just means taking time for himself. “I just really use this time to focus on myself and what I can be and what I can do better,” he says when we ask how he achieves balance in his life. “Especially now…Being in my own bubble and not worrying about anything else.”
You can tell from the moment you sit down with Jason that, in his 19 years of life, he’s seen struggle. We don’t talk about his childhood, his journey thus far or any of the injustices he’s seen along the way, but it’s clear that everything he says comes from a place of experience and that, despite it all, he means no harm and he’s grateful for how far music has taken him.
He talks about how surreal it’s been, about how music has been the driving force that continues to push him and how he believes this is how he will eventually be a catalyst of change. “I will always just make music,” he swears to us. “And from that, use the experience that I get into making the world a better place.”
That said, the most refreshing thing to come from our interview was in those last few minutes when we ask if he believes in a little thing called perfection. Without missing a beat, says, “Perfection is fake.”
Kiana, for the last few months, has been away from home as her quick trip to LA turned into a full-length stay due to lockdowns across the world. But while her comforts have taken new shape, she’s found balance in music, having a church life and hanging on to any semblance of family (whether related through blood or not). And the time she’s had on her hands has been spent, of course, working on music—and, due to remote shoots from miles away, finding interest in set design, production design, and even hair and makeup.
Needless to say, it’s been a busy time for Kiana. But as our conversation goes on, she shares the secret to getting things done is a slight shift in perspective. “If I focus more on the reason why I’m doing the task [rather] than focusing on the task itself, then it kind of makes it easier,” she says.”It makes it more worthwhile as well.”
But even Kiana isn’t immune to feeling overwhelmed—which, she tells us, is really just part of the process; there is, after all, merit in acknowledging how we’re feeling. “It’s very important to recognize when you’re overwhelmed, because then you’re able to take care of yourself and maybe, if you’re able to, pull yourself out of the situation,” she says. “Give yourself some time to breathe and then go back into it.”
When it comes to her music, vulnerability has been the biggest lesson she learned as she worked on Safe Place, her track on the PARADISE RISING EP. “It’s not always easy to talk about that kind of a topic, where you question what you could have done better or you think about all those what if’s—especially if you’ve moved past it already.” Difficult or not, the rewards have been well worth it.
We ask how she tackled being so personal in a time when society demands noise. “I didn’t know how to approach promoting new music or self-promoting when there are way more important things happening in the world,” she admits. “[That is,] until I started running away to music. It was when things would get really crazy and you just put your earphones on and you take ten minutes to breathe—that’s when I thought, ‘Is this something that I’m able to do for others with my music?’ Hopefully I do.”
For now, we’re going to try and change the words and phrases that will define the next months for us. We’re going to ask different questions. And when everything seems just a little too topsy-turvy, hopefully we know who to go back to, what to go back to and why we keep going back to them.
Because as everything continues to unfold in directions we could never predict, the most important thing might just be finding that one thing to focus on, that balance or that drive. From there, we move forward.
Curious about what Leila Alcasid, Massiah, Fern., Jason Dhakal and Kiana V have been listening to during lockdown? Listen to their handpicked playlists below: