If She’s Only Sixteen’s new album Whatever That Was ever met their self-titled EP from 2012 along the street, they probably wouldn’t be friends. Roberto Seña (vocals and guitars), King Puentespina (drums), Andrew Panopio (guitars), and Anjo Silvoza (bass) have been at this long enough for their five-year-old EP to warrant insults and eye rolls, but that didn’t stop the band from opening their 14-song set in Black Market with their breakout hit Dying to Meet You.
Hours before they took the stage, we caught up with the band over dinner at Aida’s Chicken in Makati Cinema Square, what would be your typical inasal joint save for the provocative modern art displayed on its walls — perhaps an apt setting for an interview with the band whose name holds the risk of sounding more peculiar as they get older. Rather than being reminded of 16-year-old girls though, Anjo finds that their name allows him to remember how long they’ve been together as a band. Though they did try to change it some years back, none of the new options stuck, and “She’s Only Sixteen” has and will remain their trademark as a unit.
Riding the success of their self-titled EP in 2012, the band earned international festival stints but lost momentum despite their constant presence in the local gig scene. After cutting ties with a major label that handled them for a few years, this is the only time they’re legally allowed to put out music for themselves, now supported by independent label Party Bear Records. Those five years held an expansive palette of storytelling, allowing the band to let go of older songs in favor of new ones.
“We just grew into something else,” Andrew says. “And we grew out of the old stuff,” King adds.
That growth is signified in the creative process. Andrew says “Dati yung sound ng songs namin would depend on how we jam it out, but then I think we’ve learned how to sing through our own instruments. We know how to nitpick our sound more instead of, like, a straightforward jamming.” Anjo elaborates: “We’ve become more strict with each other, compared to before na ‘go with the flow.’” While band practice back in high school meant leisurely hanging out, it eventually involved a set schedule and even called for the members’ presence regardless if they were recording — a feat of years-long friendship and synergy.
In terms of songwriting, Seña believes he wasn’t focused on the pop element of their songs and instead “wrote a lot of the songs without thinking if it would be digestible or not,” as is the case with tracks Coke Head and Sheep. The new songs no longer hold traces of lovey-dovey feelings but instead often sees Seña (or at least, his persona) talking to himself. “It’s a mid-twenties-I-hate-everything-and-I-wanna-die type of feeling,” he says to a table of conceding millennials.
More than anything, Seña is itching to move forward, having gotten over the album and already anticipating the release of something new sooner than we might think, as if to make up for lost time spent agonizing over putting the album out. “There was a lot of drinking involved,” he repeats throughout the interview. “A lot of it was a compromise to just get it done, so I think that interrupted the process,” he says. While it can’t be said with confidence that Whatever That Was is exactly the album that they wanted, it’s tangible proof of what they owe themselves and their fans, and something they’re proud of regardless.
But this is how you know it’s magic: when the band starts playing the intro for the last song of their set — also the last track in their album — but the house lights aren’t back on yet, members of the packed crowd gradually take out their phones and light up the place themselves, as if to say, it’s been a long wait, but it was worth it.