On the Spot: Johnoy Danao

Manila’s "Dave Matthews" on fame, the woes of a struggling artist, the best gig he’s played, and more.

(SPOT.ph) Looking utterly laidback in a white shirt, jeans, and Chucks, Johnoy Danao walks into the room and greets us with his signature baritone voice. Something’s missing here, we think. Later on, we figure it’s his guitar. This is Danao at his most vulnerable-stripped of his beloved instrument, something he once described as a part of his voice.

From headlining the indie band Bridge back in early 2000, Danao embarked on his own in 2005 and performed in acoustic gigs here and there. One night, he jammed with former Rivermaya guitarist Kakoy Legaspi and a local acoustic duo was born-Johnoy & Kakoy. Danao’s smooth vocals combined with Legaspi’s guitar solos regaled the public with fresh takes on hits by the Dave Matthews Band, Coldplay, The Police, and The Beatles. Recently, an acoustic cover Danao did of the Rihanna-Eminem collab "Love The Way You Lie" earned rave reviews.

Danao hasn’t stopped covering songs since, and has even gone on to record his solo album, Dapithapon, which was launched last year. With both original tracks and kick-ass covers posted on YouTube, it was only a matter of time until he was discovered. Soon, Danao was the main act in Mo Twister’s Good Times Acoustic podcast where he owned one song after another. Today, he’s more than just our version of Dave Matthews or Jack Johnson. Danao has established his signature sound-smooth and steady.


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In this one-on-one interview, the 34-year-old performer spills his thoughts on going solo, what his music is all about, why being a musician is a blue-collar job, and more.


When and how did you get into music? Which artists did you listen to when you were young?


Actually it goes back, bata pa talaga, [to when I was] like 6 [or] 7 years old. I used to sing at school programs. But then nung college, my sister came home from school. Sem-break yun. She went to UP and she brought this tape. I took it and popped it in the cassette player. By the way, it was Eraserheads-their first album, UltraElectroMagneticPop. Doon nagsimula ’yung drive ko to form a band or to be a musician. I listened to "Pare Ko," "Toyang," lahat-lahat ng songs nagustuhan ko.

And then nung college pumasok ako sa isang dorm. Nakatira ako sa Narra Residence Hall. Doon ako nagbuo ng first band. We were called Bridge then. We released two independent albums. The [first] one was called Piece of Paradise, the second one is Love from Lust.


Would you say that the band Eraserheads is your music icon?

Yes, for me personally, because they opened up something inside me I never thought I’d do. I know na marunong akong kumanta kasi lagi akong ini-invite sa mga school programs, pero hindi ko siya inisip na maging profession and ’yung kung ano ako ngayon. Definitely Eraserheads would be the number one influence.



What's your favorite song of all time?

"Pare Ko."


How do you feel about being compared to Dave Matthews of the Dave Matthews Band?

I don't mind it. Siyempre I play their songs so ’pag naririnig siguro nila na medyo magkatunog ’yung boses. Wala naman siyang effect sa ’kin. I love their songs so there's nothing to fuss about.


How it all started


The good and bad in being an artist, plus a sample of his single "Dapithapon"


Tell us about your most memorable gig. What’s the craziest thing a fan ever did for you?

I always  get that question but ’yung memorable gig siguro para sa akin would be my first gig, the very first gig ever as a member of Bridge. Maybe 10 people were there [at] Inka Café. Closed na siya ngayon. [It was a] small coffee shop [and] book store sa V. Luna Extension. That was the most memorable kasi siyempre sobrang kaba ko. Crazy thing a fan did? I don't know. Not so much. Hindi pa naman kasi ako ’yung talagang alam mo ’yun na meron nang magiging ganoon ka-fan talaga. I haven't experienced [having] crazy fans. They just come to my gig and listen to me.



Any memorable or touching story about a fan?

Well one would be this fan of Good Times Acoustic, this podcast I'm doing with Mo Twister. Hindi naman siya nanood, but sabi niya sa akin noong nagkasakit daw siya, nasa hospital lang siya, ako lang daw ’yung pinapakinggan niya every day. And it made him feel better just by listening to my music. And it's nice. I don't know him pero that's what music does. It connects you to people.


Describe the most grueling moment you’ve had as a struggling musician.

Well, the struggle would be kung gusto mo pang ituloy after all, after years of disappointments. Kasi siyempre meron kang goal sa sarili mo, but ’pag banda ka kailangan pare-pareho kayo ng goals. Kung hindi pare-pareho ng goals ’yung members ng banda, medyo mahirap siyang i-drive.

’Yun ’yung struggle na: "Wow, kaya ko pa ba ’to? Maybe I should move on." Dito sa Pilipinas kasi, for a musician, success would be being on TV, being on magazines and everything. Pero after nine years of playing, I realized na hindi ’yun ’yung para sa ’kin. So I just continued doing what I'm doing so nandito tayo ngayon.



The most fulfulling moment so far?

The most fulfulling moment so far would be producing my first solo album actually. It describes who I am musically. Kumbaga nakilala ko na ’yung sarili ko na ito ako as a musician. Hindi ko kailangan magpanggap na, "Ah, I should sound like this," or whatever. I just grabbed my guitar and wrote songs and I sang. Me and my guitar that's it. Of course, I'm open to collaborations with other artists. That would be exciting. Pero ’yung moment na nakilala mo na, "Ah, eto pala talaga ako, I play my acoustic guitar and I sing songs." Minsan mahirap makilala ’yung sarili mo eh. And then that's it, ’yung Dapithapon album would be proof of that.



"Dapithapon" by Johnoy Danao


What’s it like being a walking record store?

Alam niyo kasi napansin ko dito sa Philippines, when you're a musician parang nilalagay ka nila sa isang pedestal na icon ka or idol ka nila. Pero hindi nila alam na pagiging musician dito sa Philippines is a blue-collar job. Hindi siya madali. Kailangan mo ng tinatawag nilang "break."


Naisip ko ’yung walking record store as a way to connect with kung sino mang may gusto sa music ko . Diretso na, wala nang middle man kumbaga. Sino pa ba ’yung pwedeng magbenta sa sarili mo talaga kundi ikaw ’di ba?

Maraming nakakatawa kasi nagugulat sila na ako mismo ’yung nandoon na nami-meet nila. Akala nila they would text me and then I would send someone to give the album, pero hindi. Parang nakikita nilang ako ’yung nasa harap nila parang nagugulat sila. Parang malinaw na ’yung effort nila na to meet someone na kahit kunwari taga-Paranaque pa sila. Kasi ’yung album would just be available din sa akin eh. They would go to Quezon City just to buy my album.

It’s [the album] available now sa Fully Booked tsaka sa Moonleaf Tea Shop sa Maginhawa. But that's it. Wala pa siya masyado sa ibang record stores kasi para sa akin, it’s all the same, eh. If someone likes your music, and of course easy access would be para madali para sa mga gustong bumili, pero there are ways. Just text me and I'll bring your album.



Describe your music in one word.



Which song best describes your life right now?

Well, I guess Dapithapon-the song from the album. It's about moving on. You have to move on. Everything, if you failed on one thing, just go, just walk.


Is it also your favorite song off the album? Would you sing us a line or two?

Yes, that's my favorite song. It’s awkward every time-parang minsan ’yung kaibigan ko sinasabi niya sakin: "Try mo ngang kumanta na wala kang dalang gitara." Sabi ko sa kanya alam mo hindi ko yata-parang nahihirapan ako. Kasi ’yung gitara parang parte siya ng boses ko, pero sige for this, I'll do it.


Looking back at his days with Bridge


If you can work with any musician in the world, who would it be and why? What song would you perform?

That's a tough one. Ang dami ko kasing gusto. Iba-iba. Well, I have to go with Paul Simon. I’d like to sing maybe "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover." I love that song so much.



You used to be the vocalist of Bridge. What do you miss about being in a band?

’Yung lokohan before the gig. ’Yung after the gig naman, ’yung magkakainisan kayo kasi, "Ah, palpak yung nangyari." Then siyempre yung barkadahan ng isang grupo kasi ’yung pagbabanda hindi lang siya tugtugan, eh. Parang dapat maging magkaibigan kayo kasi ’yung tutugtugin niyo mahahalata ng tao pag ’yung, alam mo ’yun, hindi sila makaka-connect ’pag masyado siyang made up. One example would be Parokya ni Edgar. Alam mo ’yung para silang magkakapatid. Kapag tumutugtog sila, ang saya lang nila.


What cover song will you never get tired of singing? The cover song/s you will never ever sing and why?

For the first question, that would be "Crash Into Me." I've sung that song maybe a thousand times. Why? It's just so truthful. I mean it's sexy. Marami siyang sinasabi na hindi mo basta-basta masasabi nang straightforward. I don't know. Ano kaya ang hindi ko kakantahin ever? I'm not sure actually.



Johnoy Danao’s take on "Crash Into Me"


Any upcoming acts you think will make it big?

Local?  That would be Toi. ’Yun ang isa kong artist na parang nakikitang sana pwedeng magkaroon ng potential to make it big. The vocalist's voice is amazing.


Which local artists do you admire?

Gary Granada. He's just so prolific. He writes songs na nakakatawa pero totoo and he's a great singer din. Siguro hindi lang alam ng marami. Pero pagkapanood ko sa kanya sa UP before, ang galing niyang gumitara atsaka ang gaganda ng mga kanta niya, very Filipino.


To all aspiring and struggling musicans, Johnoy Danao has this to say


What advice can you give to aspiring musicians?

Well number one would be huwag kayong makahon sa idea na ang pagiging musician kailangan maging sikat. Kahit na hindi ka sikat, pwede mo pa ring ituloy. Kahit na hindi ka napapansin, pwede mo pa ring ituloy. Kasi malay mo one day, merong pumansin sa’yo and then ’yun na ’yung step mo ’di ba? Maging totoo lang sa sarili mo. Huwag magpanggap na maging ganito kang musician pero hindi ka naman talaga. Then siguro ’yung success, na dumating man o hindi, parang hindi siya ’yung primary goal. Parang ganoon.



If you weren’t making music, what would you be doing?

Ngayon ang hirap niyang sagutin kasi I can't imagine it. Pero probably I'd be an engineer kasi magaling ako sa math noon. Ngayon hindi na. (laughs)


What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?

I'm a basketball fan. Quite [a] big [fan]. I used to watch. I was a fan of Purefoods before, Alvin Patrimonio, and [an] NBA fan din. Mahilig ako sa sports.

Do you play sports?

Not so much. Mahilig lang ako manood. Dati I used to write sports news nung high school.


When you’re not performing, what do you like to do and where do you like to hang out in Manila ?

Well, I'm a Quezon City boy so usually around Quezon City lang rin. I go to UP, 70’s bistro, ’yung mga places rin na where I play actually. I like watching TV series. What else? Eating a lot.



The artist invites you to grab a copy of his album.


Gallery cover photo by Jean Natividad. Additional photos by Pong Ignacio and Aries Guinto, courtesy of Johnoy Danao.

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