james reid manila grey

Drinks Up To The Making Of Backhouse Ballin’ With Manila Grey And James Reid

A look into the story behind James Reid and Manila Grey’s latest collaboration.

A glimpse into what happens when Manila Grey and Careless collide.

It’s just one of those things, stuck in the quiet haze and delight of a low-key party, Careless showing the boys a really good time in the midst of their Silver Skies tour. The collaboration has always been there at the back of their minds, never truly coming to fruition. That is until Manila Grey plays the track at one of these careless misadventures. Hook, line, and sinker—Backhouse Ballin’ is born.

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From Manila to Vancouver

Like a coast-to-coast love letter, Manila Grey pays tribute to the two colliding worlds of their roots and childhood with this collaboration. The Filipino-Canadian duo composed of friends Neeko and Soliven, so used to changing the game for Filipino creatives alike, recently teamed up with James Reid to deliver this party anthem. A little bit of cash and glam, with a whole lot of swag, Backhouse Ballin’ boasts fun times with friends, and the bridge between East and West. Even their name—Manila Grey, so simple yet eloquent—tells the story of their journey: from the capital Manila, to the grey skies of Vancouver, Canada.

“It’s the balance of the two worlds that mean a lot to us—where we were born and where we were raised,” says Neeko over Zoom, all in black as he provides a little taste into their origin story. “Manila is obviously Manila. Grey is Vancouver. It’s where we create; it’s where we become one.” He sits next to Soliven who interjects, “If y’all don’t know, it rains a lot out here. There’s always an overcast to it, and there’s a specific vibe. We call it ‘the grey.’” In general, they get plenty of inspirations for their music from the stories of those around them: the immigrant stories. Vancouver, as Soliven calls it “basically made-up of immigrants,” provides a canvas in which they can relate to for their artistry.

And James, with his fair share of balancing acts, even opens up about his own wanderings and musings of his own experiences. Being born and living outside of the Philippines for fifteen years before coming back homeleaves him with a little bit of disconnect. “It’s weird. It’s like, where exactly do I belong in all of this? When I’m there, I’m too Asian; when I’m here I’m too foreign. It’s always been this weird thing,” he says, trying to put into words exactly how he feels. “But what’s great about this song is that everyone feels included. North side, south side, west side, east side—everyone’s included in this through music. Everyone feels like they’re part of it.”

The collaboration, a seamless process, is therefore practically a perfect match. At heart, they’re all Filipinos trying to take the Philippines into the international stage; it’s all about the experiences that they shared together.

“For me, the song was really just at the backhouse with the crew, with the fam. We got the drinks, good music, and chill vibes. That was really just the inspiration for the song,” James recalls with a smile. “Like when Manila Grey came here with their whole crew and met with the Careless team. That experience was basically what we were trying to capture in the music. A perfect combination of where East meets West; Vancouver meets Manila.”

Producer Azel North first pitched the beat to Manila Grey, and James came to mind because of his musical ingenuity, with the “groovy music” and “sleek basslines,” as Soliven describes. There’s a lot of technical jargon throughout the interview—because they’re artists with a lot to say about their craft. “How we want this record to sound, what we want people to feel when they listen to this record—we really took that into consideration. We also took into consideration James’ vibe when it came to the production side too. Azel really took care of certain notes and certain sound design that came into the record,” explains Neeko diligently.

This mix of innovative music-making from Manila Grey and James Reid is what’s drawing listeners in.

Even scrolling through YouTube comments of the 600,000 plus viewed music video, one is not far off from remarks of “coming here for Manila Grey and discovering James Reid” and vice versa. Which is just as well because it is something that Manila Grey are constantly striving for.

“Something we always wanted to do is to shed light on talented Filipino artists all across the world, and we want to just keep growing that,” Neeko comments. Soliven adds, “And it was something that upon discovering James’ music and as he kept evolving, that we were like—I don’t see why this isn’t on the radio here. It’s international sounding; it’s pushing the culture.”

And while there might not be exact parallels into any of their journeys, there are aspects of each other that they can relate to. Manila Grey in particular has taken to Careless’ vision and progress, and the many ways the two groups elevate the music industry. They even learn from the other from time to time, gassing each other up at everyopportunity to showcase that mutual respect.

For Neeko, it’s James’ drive to constantly work; “He’s not only working on his own personal stuff [but] everything on Careless, too. And we know how much hard work that takes to even put something out at that caliber and at that quality”. And for Soliven, it’s all about the self-discovery and questions of purpose. As for James, it’s the concepts and the ideas, from the anime themes to just getting a peek into the world Manila Grey live in.

As the Zoom call ends and they separate into their own little projects—Manila Grey with the release of their album No Saints on Knight Street, and James basking in the success of Soda and sly and playful hints to a dream collab with Bruno Mars—there’s not a doubt in any of their minds that they will infinitely fall back together again when the time is right.

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