The Juans on Blending Passion, Soul, And Purpose, One Song at a Time
At the start of the year, I found myself burned out of my wits at the thought of another year like this–a feeling shared by many at this time. Between a rock and a hard place, it feels like we're still just unmoving. And with everything going on, it's hard to imagine that the world still moves on-axis, and gravity is still holding our feet to the ground. That despite our shared 'stuck-in-limbo' feelings, things still keep on moving.
So, it gets you thinking: What do you do when everything feels stuck? How do you move forward when the world feels like it's on pause?
The obvious choice is escapism from the gloom and dread of life. But for a band like The Juans, they find catharsis even within the negative. They find purpose in accepting the sadness and grief through their craft and turning it into the inspiring. As told by lead vocalist and keyboardist Carl, "Sometimes, the best kind of comfort isn't telling people: 'You should do this, you should do that.' It's saying 'me too.'"
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As I watch them through my screen because, yes, I couldn't physically meet them, there's something about them that feels genuine, honest, and humble. It's hard to form sticky connections these days, but somehow, what makes The Juans so easy to connect with is their message of: We hear you. We acknowledge you. You're not alone.
Sticking to their Roots
The Juans—composed of Carl (lead vocals/keys), Japs (lead guitar/vocals), RJ (acoustic guitar/backing vocals), Chael (bass/backing vocals), and Josh (drums)—have gone through all sorts of shifts through the years from boy band to conventional band, during their formation in 2013. Or the recent years in rebranding themselves to the audience. But the major shift came in 2018 with a change in the lineup as former members, Jiad, Jason, and Daniel, graduated from the band. Enter: RJ, Chael, and Josh, their 'new' members.
Despite the major shifts, The Juans still remained "The Juans," and their message to inspire remained constant. "We were firm about The Juans 'cause we believe in the vision behind that name. Because when we picked The Juans, the purpose is precise, and it's clear: It's to inspire the ordinary Filipino. That's why sabi ko kay Japs, we will retain The Juans as long as may nakikinig satin, as long as there are lives that are changed and are touched. We're gonna keep that and even prove it," says Carl.
[We were firm about The Juans 'cause we believe in the vision behind that name. Because when we picked The Juans, the purpose is precise, and it's clear: It's to inspire the ordinary Filipino. That's why I told Japs, we will retain The Juans as long someone listens to us, as long as there are lives that are changed and are touched. We're gonna keep that and even prove it.]
And listening to that made me rethink my 'why' for my creativity. It's easy to get lost in the projects and deadlines when you're deep into your work. You forget why you're creating in the first place. You forget what made you continue for this long. So, reconnecting with those roots the way Carl and Japs did after the three members left is relatable to anyone who's ever taken a step back and looked at the bigger picture.
But, what came after previous members meant big shoes to fill, didn't it? Well, when speaking to RJ, Chael, and Josh, they mention more than that; they owe the foundation of the group to them. Sure, they had doubts over themselves, but they also appreciated what had been laid out. Josh says, “Naalala ko nung napagusapan naming tatlo na parang we’re stepping on their hard work, lalo nung pumasok kami. Marami silang inambag na sacrifices at efforts para sa group na ‘to, and I can say what we’re experiencing right now; part yung effort nila.”
[I remember in a talk between the three of us, it felt like we're stepping on their hard work, especially when we got in. They made a lot of sacrifices and efforts for this group, and I can say what we're experiencing right now; their effort is part of that.]
Often, we hear members of a band leaving because of a bad situation. Maybe, creative differences? Or maybe, in-fighting? Either way, it's usually an awkward situation to mention old members. But The Juans have nothing but praise and support. They move forward but remember their roots. Meeting them, they're pretty funny and easy to get along with. They pull a lot of jokes, and nothing about them seems intimidating. In fact, I'm sure anyone would feel less out-of-place within this group compared to others. But there's also a level of maturity in times of seriousness.
RJ echoed sentiments of the band as a family. So, while they were new members, they weren’t new people to Carl and Japs. Together, the boys actually grew up playing worship songs as volunteers for church and from there, they were pulled aside to join the band. They were friends first before bandmates and workmates. “Parang kami magkakapatid. At super generous ni Japs and Kuya Carl na hindi nila kami pinepressure, hindi kami linalagyan ng pressure in a sense of 'o dapat ganto, dapat ganyan' na parang dapat may certain 'kang gayahin. They accepted us for who we are,” says RJ. [We're like siblings. And Japs and Kuya Carl are super generous that they don't pressure us, they don't give us the pressure in the sense of 'you do this, you do that,' like there was a certain thing we needed to emulate. They accepted us for who we are.]
Meanwhile, Chael shares owing it to the fans, Juanistas: “Naalala ko ‘to lagi nating pinaguusapan nila Joshua na sobrang grateful kami sa Juanistas din. Kasi ‘di namin na-feel na hindi kami part ng family, ‘di namin na-feel na bagong members kami. Mas dahil sakanila na-confirm na, ‘Ah, may place kami dito’ at yan yung patuloy namin ipaglalaban.” [I remember I always talked about this with Joshua and company that we're super grateful for the Juanistas too. Because we didn't feel that we weren't part of the family, we didn't feel like we're new members. It was because of them we confirmed that 'Ah, we have a place here' and we'll continue to fight for it.]
What you’ll realize about The Juans is this is a tightly-knit group with an authenticity that hasn’t gone lost despite all this time, a band that puts their faith at the forefront. Asking them how they found music gives mention to each other, those before them, and those with them now. The strings that bind them together—literally, in music or figuratively, in the bonds they’ve made—are what give them a reason to push on, even in their sixth year.
Purpose is Key The most common trait associated with The Juans is hugot—A quality they proudly wear as a badge. And at one point, they’ve talked about in a podcast episode with Moira Dela Torre for Kwento Juan. We’ve heard a lot of these kinds of hugot-filled tracks through the years, such as Atin Ang Mundo, Nasayang Lang, Balisong, Istorya, Lumalapit, and Hindi Tayo Pwede. And recent tracks in Dulo that found hope in the end, or Pangalawang Bitaw that found freedom in letting go.
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But hugot is more than just about simply talking about pain and heartache. It’s getting people to 'feel'. It’s the ability to convey to your audience the human behind the craft and in a manner that feels real. “One of our main objectives is to connect to people to know that what they're going through is not foreign. Like, they’re not the only one that experiences that. ‘Ba’t kailangan lagi nananakit?’ The reality is a lot of people are hurting,” shares Carl. [One of our main objectives is to connect to people to know that what they're going through is not foreign. Like, they’re not the only one that experiences that. ‘Why does it always have to be painful?’ The reality is a lot of people are hurting.]
And it’s true. We may not go through the same journey through life. We may have unique experiences akin to ourselves, but you connect with people through vulnerability. We’ve all loved and lost before. We’ve all had our insecurities and pains. But, how do we flip the coin? Carl continues: “As we write hugot songs, we’re also very deliberate in writing songs about hope and inspiration. Songs that say darating din ang umaga. Songs that say hangga’t may nakikinig sa panalangin natin, hindi mawawala ang pagasa natin. So, these songs are a balance to the hugot. Because, that’s hope! From hugot to healing, that's what we’re about.” [As we write hugot songs, we’re also very deliberate in also writing songs about hope and inspiration. Songs that say the morning will come again. Songs that say as long as someone is listening to our prayer, we don’t lose out on hope. So, these songs are a balance to the hugot. Because that’s hope! From hugot to healing, that’s what we’re about.]
And you can see this especially, with their new release in Anghel. Because as they heal, the members themselves heal too. Chael says it best: “Sa part din natin as songwriters, as artists, relieving yung feeling na meron taong nakakarelate dun sa song. Kasi, somehow, naeencourage rin kami na we’re on the right track sa mga ginagawa namin. Kasi minsan, nakakakita kami ng comments like, ‘Ano ba yan! Puro nalang nananakit!’ Pero meron din kaming comments na nakikita na, ‘Sobrang sakit ng kanta nila pero somehow, after ‘kong naiiyak lahat, gumaan na pakiramdam ko.’ Diyan kami nakukuha ng relief na parang, okay, nakaka-connect kami sa kahit isang tao.” [In our part as songwriters, as artists, the feeling is relieving knowing there is someone that relates to the song. Because, somehow, we get encouraged too that we’re on the right track with what we’re doing. Because sometimes, we see comments like, ‘What is that! It’s always painful!’ But we also see comments like, ‘Their song hurt me a lot but somehow, after I cried everything out, I feel lighter.’ That’s where we get relief like, okay, we get to connect with at least one person.]
With sensitivity and passion at the forefront, it’s easy to see why they ended up creating a podcast. The Juans have always had songs that aim to strike a chord. Still, the podcast allowed them open atmospheres, story-sharing, and reflections that Juanistas would even discuss amongst each other in forums and Twitter spaces. And there’s even a lot more The Juans have done: several series, short films, vlogs, docus, fun videos, and so on. Many of which came out in the pandemic, all in the effort to stay connected with Juanistas. I mean, check their social media, where they have all sorts of interactions with the fans.
For The Juans, it always goes back to the music, the people, and the purpose behind it all. As told by Carl: “People are hurting, but they can also be hopeful. You can be in pain but also live in purpose. And that’s what we’re about. Of course, we don’t always say it directly. But hopefully, when people hear our music, and they want to pay more attention, they want to listen a bit more, they want to lean more into what we’re about, they hear this message.”
Cover Story by Marielle Filoteo
Interview by Nikki Viola
Produced by Philip Vargas
Photography and Creative Direction by Rxandy Capinpin
Art Direction and Video Editing by Joe Andy
Styling by Mila Renaldi
Grooming by Thazzia Falek
Hair by Mycke Arcano
Videography by Pogz Francisco
Featuring Fashion from Strong Village and Kandama Collective
Special Thanks to Victor Baguilat, Russell Villafuerte, Myke Francis, and Viva Artist Agency