Photos by Gian Nicdao
Open Spotify’s OPM Rising playlist and you’ll come across a mix of familiar and unfamiliar names. As outdated as the term OPM is, one listen to the playlist will give you a general (albeit algorithm-generated) idea of wnhat Filipinos consider original Pinoy music, with featured artista-musicians (Careless Music’s roster makes an appearance alongside Iñigo Pascual, Gabbi Garcia, and Julie Anne San Jose) and emerging artists (Keiko Necessario, Earl of Manila, Tala).
The cover of the playlist is a dude you might recognize from a Julie Anne San Jose music video, or from one of Claudia Barretto’s Instagram stories. The dude is Fern Tan (stylized as Fern.), an 18-year-old who’s been making the rounds in the scene as a singer-slash-songwriter-slash-producer. Since getting signed early this year, he’s been busy collaborating and making friends with industry insiders, including the likes of Buwan Buwan Collective’s similarobjects (Jorge Wieneke), Zild Benitez, and Ben&Ben.
As a freshman in college (studying Entrepreneurship, because he “needs a back-up plan”), Fern strikes us as the type of guy eager to learn. Many of his remarks on the local music industry are quite raw, and maybe even a bit off to the more seasoned musicians in the scene, so it’s important to note that he’s only just starting out.
We sat down with Fern to talk about his start in music production, how he emailed No Rome for advice, his upcoming EP, and how he plans to win a Grammy one day.
Hi Fern! So can you tell us how you got into music?
When I was starting with my band, it was around the same time IV of Spades started. This was 2016. We planned to record — we joined the Yellow Room, we were supposed to sign with them. They had Jensen & the Flips. Things didn’t work out with the band because of different priorities. I wanted to record, they wanted to just perform. So we split up, I did my own thing. I posted this EP on SoundCloud and one of Claudia Barretto’s friends heard it, and she invited me to their school’s prom. That’s where I met Claudia and that’s where everything started happening.
When did you start learning about music production?
Last year, under Jorge Wieneke (similarobjects). I really wanted to learn how, so I sent emails to a bunch of people: crwn, similarobjects, and No Rome. No Rome replied, but he was too far. He was in QC. Now he’s in London.
Oh, that’s cool! What did you put in the emails you sent?
I was saying like, “I really respect you as a musician, I hope you can teach me how to do music production because I really wanna learn.” Jorge taught me everything — he’s the reason why I make my own music, that I’m able to do it.
You describe your music as ‘cool pop’. What does that mean?
I don’t know. I don’t like being called a pop musician kasi so I just made up that term ’cause it sounds cooler. I feel like a lot of people look down on pop music. Everyone thinks it’s so easy. But what I do with pop music is I create it by myself. I don’t have other producers helping me. I write, I produce, and I sing my own songs. For me it’s something different. I don’t wanna be compared to the pop musicians of the Philippines. I wanna be in my own league.
You’ve collaborated with a lot of artists like Claudia, Julie Anne San Jose — what’s the experience been like and do you approach the production process differently when you’re producing for other people?
With Claudia and Julia, really different things for the both of them. With Claudia — see, I don’t usually make what I define as pop. The kind of international pop, the ones you hear from Selena Gomez, etc. With Julie, it was more of, she could really sing. Julie can really really sing. I learned a lot about using harmonies in songs from Julie. With Claudia it was more of the vibe, and with Julie it was more of musicality.
I read that you’re inspired by a lot of movies when writing your songs. Can you tell us about the films you watched for fern.?
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind gave me so much inspiration. Her, Newness. I don’t know why, but Good Will Hunting also inspired me. All these movies that make you emotional. Eternal Sunshine was I feel the most influential. Lie 2 Me — that song came after watching that movie.
What’s it like hanging out with all these people who are already in the industry?
I just learn from them. Especially Zild. I haven’t even had a conversation about music with him. It’s just that it’s nice to see that these people are still human in a way. And Bret Jackson — he’s taught me a lot. He came over to my house and we had conversations. When I went to James [Reid’s] house, we talked there as well. They’re the ones who guide me and tell me what not to do, the things that I should look out for.
What else do you want to learn moving forward?
Musically, I feel like I’m already surrounded by the right people. Everyone is just so nice. There’s no competition. I’m just surrounded by all these musicians who help me grow. I had a bad performance at Myx one time and I think it was Pao [Guico, from Ben&Ben] who told my manager all this advice to tell me. I thought that was sweet. One thing I really wanna learn is the emotional thing. I’m a really introverted person and a lot of the problems that my parents or my managers tell me is that I should be more active in social media, that I should talk to fans some more. Usually when I gig, I just go there and leave because I’m really introverted. It’s something i wanna learn, just being able to express myself through conversation.
What can we expect from your upcoming EP?
It’s gonna be so fucking good. One of the songs is with Kiana Valenciano. The other songs — if there’s one thing about me, it’s that I’m really driven. I know I’m gonna win a Grammy one day before I die. I really feel like this will be something that will skyrocket everything. I’m thinking of putting a song in Tagalog written by my dad. My dad’s been a musician for so long but he never really got the chance to share his music. So I wanna put that song on my EP but have my own twist on it. Super exciting stuff.
Listen to Fern on Spotify. For updates, visit his Facebook page.