For young musician Toots, staying in his comfort zone was not on the agenda when it came time to work on his new era of music.
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There comes a point in one’s life where change is needed. While there is nothing inherently wrong with staying in your comfort zone, people do not grow by doing the same thing over and over again. There will be that time when you need to switch things up for that character growth. This is something musicians know all too well with reaching that point in their lives where their music needs switching up.
And that is the crossroads young Filipino musician Roberto Orosa, also known by his nickname and stage name Toots, found himself in. The indie artist reached a point where he felt the need to sonically diversify himself. And with this change came the expected failure, but also a new understanding that’s opening his doors to an exciting new chapter in his young career.
Toots can trace his love for music to his brother. “Back when I was maybe ten years old, my brother bought an acoustic guitar,” Toots tells NYLON Manila. While his brother dropped the guitar, Toots picked up the hobby, which eventually led him down the path he is now. As Toots got older, his love for music grew which soon manifested in the form of helping start a band, Kremesoda, alongside his friends in high school.
“As a musician, I always want to create with purpose and intention,” he shares regarding putting that truthfulness in his tracks. “At my core, I am a pop artist. I enjoy writing catchy hooks and emotional lyrics. Singer-songwriter-type stuff. But whatever I write always has to come from a place of reflection and earnestness.”
Just like with most artists, Toots has a way of channeling his artistic skills. And for him, it starts with a doodle. “Clips, guitar riffs, and voice notes I record on my phone. From there, I build on a doodle and turn it into a verse or a hook. I also have a bank of one-line lyrics that I revisit sometimes and see if any lyrics go well with the melody. I then focus on a particular theme or mood I want to write about and create the rest of the parts with other instruments in mind.”
From high school and well into college, Toots, and Kremesoda, were making a name for themselves in the college band scene. They got booked for several gigs, started to build a fanbase, and even signed with a major record label, which led to their first EP, Out of Range, in 2018.
FALLING DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE
Life had different plans for Toots in 2020 with the confluence of the pandemic and his graduating from college. He embarked on a solo career with the release of Boyhood. A few singles and two years later, we are now here with Toots under the realization that he had a lot of baggage to unload.
“When you’ve spent a huge chunk of your pandemic years in your room, there’s a lot of time to ruminate and reflect. I guess what really pushed me was the desire to translate these thoughts about growing up into songs, but within a new sonic palette.”
For most of his career, Toots more or less had a style he followed. That style though needed a makeover as this new era for Toots needed something more. That road to getting there wasn’t easy, but when he did, he commenced a whole new chapter of his artistic journey, one that is seen in his latest single, Fall. Taking inspiration from the 2020 TV series Normal People, the indie pop tune is Toots’ way of exploring what it might feel like to walk away from it all.
“Fall is like my thesis on the pitfalls of fame. A lot of us want to be successful, but it often comes with a price: attention, criticism, and having a perpetual audience. Fall was sort of a reflection on success as a double-edged sword, and how it must feel to be in the shoes of an extremely famous person.” He adds, “[T]he song is told from the perspective of an unreliable narrator, coasting through his feelings, dealing with psychosis, confused as to what is real and what isn’t.”
This dark turn of events can also be seen in its accompanying music video directed by Miko Reyes. In particular, the visual of the creepy bunny mask, which was created by Big Bold Brave awards 2021 nominee Yanna Parpan, serves as a key standout as the embodiment of the specter of negativity. “Other than thinking it just looks super cool, I wanted someone or something to be a physical manifestation of that internal struggle,” explains Toots.
“I wanted to show in the music video how one might be guided by it, run away from it, or come to terms with it. The monster design was also heavily inspired by the Babadook, Donnie Darko, Japanese Breakfast’s music video Road Head and a bunch of other stuff. “
MORE THAN SAFE
There were a lot of strong emotions that went behind not just in his new song, but also in his new era. Becoming stale and being put in a box was the last thing Toots wanted for himself. “I have a constant desire to push boundaries and grow as an artist. Ever since I decided to start my solo project, I’ve made it a point to always try something new, sonically and thematically. To find the balance between my comfort zone—the usual formula of songwriting that I’ve grown used to—and artistic growth.”
Finding this artistic growth led to months of trial and error. “Learning synths, the intricacies of production, and not limiting myself to just the bass-guitar-drum set-up, the learning curve is steep.” But a big factor that Toots had going for him was that he was open to failure. He allowed himself to suck and with that learn from his mistakes. As he points out, “I have a long way to go, but I’m just trying to have fun with it.”
All this was in service of a realization that Toots was a young adult, and he needed more agency in his life. “I’m growing old, and I have to face things on my own if I want to make things happen for myself.”
As Toots continue to find that new sound for himself, it’s all building up towards his next big project, his debut EP that he’s hard at work on. While it’s still early days for the album, he already has a vision for how it may turn out. “I’m exploring heavier sounds inspired by late 90s to early 00s indie alternative music, emo and some aspects of new wave, then I try to give the music some personality. Just fun, angsty, and nostalgic guitar tunes.”
Needless to say, this whole experience has been more than euphoric for Toots. “It felt liberating [working on the music]. I was in control of my sound, and my writing, and I discovered a lot about myself and the artist I want to be. It felt like a months-long reflection.”
While the love for Kremesoda will always be there, time away from the band and self-reflection has made Toots realize the way he makes music now is what suits him more. “I feel like back then, I was making music well within my comfort zone. Using words for the sake of it. Which was great at the time, but I try to be more intentional now. With my solo EP, the music is a bit more expansive in terms of approach and genre, and that’s because I’m more well-equipped with music knowledge. I’m learning more about production and listening to a lot more music as I go along.”
LIFE AS AN INDIE MUSICIAN
It’s important to note that all this is happening while Toots is an independent musician. He isn’t signed to a label nor does he have major backers financing his work. The creatives world in the Philippines is a space that still gets misunderstood and often lacks support from institutions. It’s a frustration that Toots is more than aware of as he bluntly shared the situation of an indie Filipino musician.
“If you’re an indie Filipino musician and you want to turn what you do into a career that can provide for you financially…tough work is an understatement. Especially when the music you make is more niche than commercial, and you want to maintain your artistic integrity. To have the means to fund your music, market yourself, build connections—all of that is a privilege not everyone has. The creative field in general is such a neglected sector that I wish was more sustainable for everyone in it.”
But with darkness comes light, and for Toots, he loves the community that you can find among local creatives. “The best part about being an indie Filipino musician…it’s really the sense of community. The local scene feels big and small at the same time, but that’s because it’s tight-knit. And I love meeting new people and discovering new artists whenever I perform or attend gigs.” From his co-musicians at the studio to the people who bring his music videos to life, Toots often works with other young artists and creatives like him which showcases how at the heart of things, it’s young Filipino creatives who are bringing the energy as part of the new generation.
As for other young creatives hoping to turn their passions into something more, Toots keeps it real by saying that focusing too much on the numbers and business side of things can keep you down. But at the same time, you aren’t going to get your name out there without a little bit of hustle. “Your music is worth what you think it’s worth. But also, unless you’re already well-established, don’t just release a song and call it a day. If you want to turn your passions into a career, find interesting ways to promote your song, be discovered, and present yourself as a musician. Do that in ways you’ll enjoy.”
New music, new EP, new sound; Toots is not only embarking on one of the most important journeys of his artistic career so far but establishing himself as a potentially exciting new voice in the industry. He imbues his music with a sense of purpose that can sometimes escape some young artists. “I hope [my new music] brings me closer to my signature “sound” as an artist. The sound people will know me for. And when they hear it, they’ll be like, “Oh, that’s definitely a Toots song.”
And as Toots continues to home in on that sound, all he wants from potential listeners is to get something from his work, just with how he puts meaning into his. “I don’t mind what people think of me. I just hope the music means something to them. For the music to deliver a specific feeling. For them to enjoy it.”
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