Careless Music Manila’s Bret Jackson is Proving That Filipino Music is World-Class
Originally published on STATUS Magazine, December 2018
After getting catapulted into the spotlight at 19 years old, Careless Music Manila’s BRET JACKSON is crossing over to break the mainstream mould he was brought up in.
Bret Jackson is no longer the fresh-faced teenager you first saw on Pinoy Big Brother (PBB) in 2010. In this day and age, he’s known under the musical alias KINGwAw with local record label Careless Music Manila, set up by fellow PBB housemate and friend James Reid and Viva Entertainment founder Vic Del Rosario. “We were joking about Careless for a while, and it was just an inside joke. James then made Palm Dreams in 2017, and we put it through all the legal to start the record label. Careless just got bigger and bigger to what it is now,” he recalls of their inception. As they continue to shine a light on music originally brewing in the underground, Careless Music Manila’s dedication to elevating this platform remains unmatched. “For our newer artists like Massiah, Astrokidd, and Sofia, we always try to do the best we can for them. We give them everything that they need whenever they ask for something, like studio time.” He continues, “I know other labels do that for their artists but for us, if they’re in the studio for eight hours, we’re there with them.”
Bret is no stranger to challenges, but the now-27-year old always had a penchant for music. Creating music as a young teenager, his college band was almost signed to a Cebu-based label, but life had other plans. “I had some family issues after PBB and when I turned 19, I was pretty much on my own. I moved out and started working for myself and that’s when I started showbiz,” he says. Having a family that listened to a broad range of music gave him the ears to comprehend music from different ends of the spectrum. “When I was in the States, my dad listened to ‘90s music like grunge and rock. My mom listened to ‘80s stuff, and my grandma was into classical and jazz. I lived in the projects for a while too, so all I listened to was hip-hop. I grew up around everything so it was just an appreciation for music.”
Growing up in the golden era of Typecast, Chicosci, Urbandub, Up Dharma Down, and even going back to the Eraserheads and Hotdog during Bret’s time in Dumaguete helped shape Careless Music Manila’s goal: to erase the line between OPM and international music. “I listened to so much OPM and was confused as to why it wasn’t bigger than it was. There were so many artists that had world-class sound. I always had discussions with my dad like, ‘Why isn’t this band playing all over the world?! They’re better than half the sh*t that comes out of there anyway!’” he reminisces. “There are so many good f*cking artists in the underground and they’re gonna listen to them. I just want people in the Philippines to love the Philippines’ music. Listen to what you want if you love international music, but also love our stuff and support it and the culture for more opportunities.”
“… the whole point of making this music is so that people who don’t normally listen to [hip-hop and R&B] will start listening to it.”
Crossing over from the mainstream showbiz path he’s known for the last eight years, Bret’s determined to showcase a side not many people in the Filipino showbiz industry are willing to do. “When it comes to Careless, we wanted to show all the stuff that we personally like and make things that we like. We made the music and we’re like, ‘Okay, is this gonna be great?’ because you’re gonna get a bunch of artists that are known for ‘love teams’,” he reveals, taking careful note of their hesitancy. “When that happened, the mainstream was kind of shocked like, ‘Oh, there are these artistas saying bad words!’ or whatever. In the underground, some of them kind of accept it and some don’t. But for me, the whole point of making this music is so that people who don’t normally listen to [hip-hop and R&B] will start listening to it. When they listen to that, they’ll think, ‘Okay well I like this, and I want to hear more,’ so they’ll search the Philippines for more.”
Are there any specific albums from your childhood that stuck with with you?
Wala eh [none really], because music was so hard to come by at those times. There was no Spotify or anything, all I did was listen to the radio. I would listen for five hours just to listen to this one song. I had the very first Eminem album and I bought it for 10 bucks, but I traded it for a Gameboy game or some sh*t [laughs]. It was so dumb; [I did it] just so I could have it.
How did you and James begin your musical collaboration?
Actually, James owns Careless Music on paper. I met James at PBB when I was in there and he didn’t sing or anything. The first time I heard him sing, I forced him to do it. We were making music on his laptop one day, and we made the worst songs ever [laughs]. I asked him, “What should we call this? What should we call ourselves?” and he said, “I don’t know, what about We Are Whatever?” so that was the first name of one of our first projects together. It was so bad [laughs]. That’s where I got the ‘wAw’ from. It’s kind of like an homage to how me and James started.
As KINGwAw, how would you describe your individual sound?
KINGwAw was created to stay away from any of the showbiz stuff related to my name. I wanted it to be purely about the music. The sound is still developing, but the first album I put out was into hip-hop and R&B with a lot of different kind of switch-ups. With the Careless Mixtape, I just did a bunch of collabs and worked on a lot of different songs with a lot of different artists. I put different things together like “Extra Rice” with Massiah and Mito (Curtismith) on it.
“OPM, to me, is world-class but I don’t think we can say it’s a genre. It’s just what we call the music from here, I guess. There’s so much OPM that comes out of the Philippines that it’s hard to say it’s just one certain genre.”
The label’s aim is to redefine OPM and erase the line that separates it with international music. As someone with a foot in both the entertainment and business side of the industry, what’s your stance of using the term “OPM” as a genre?
OPM, to me, is world-class but I don’t think we can say it’s a genre. It’s just what we call the music from here, I guess. There’s so much OPM that comes out of the Philippines that it’s hard to say it’s just one certain genre.
“Anything we wanna say in a song, we can say it. Any kind of song we wanna make, we can make it. When we wanna work with any artist, we can work with them. There’s no label to say ‘No, you can’t do this, you can’t do that.’…A label that’s run by artists is more artist-friendly.”
What would you say are the advantages in running and being part of an independent collective/label as compared to being part of a major record company?
First thing is full creative control. Anything we wanna say in a song, we can say it. Any kind of song we wanna make, we can make it. When we wanna work with any artist, we can work with them. There’s no label to say “No, you can’t do this, you can’t do that.” It’s good too, ‘cause it’s done by the artists. A label that’s run by artists is more artist-friendly.
The majority of the Careless Mixtape surrounds trap-sounding beats—a sound that commonly comes out from Western music. As the first group to push it into the local mainstream, what do you think of industry’s acceptance of the genre and its situation today?
I think that trap, hip-hop, R&B, and all that stuff has been in the underground for a long time, and the underground scene is huge in the Philippines. I used to go to shows back in 2012; I watched this group called LDP with Abra, Rjay Ty, and Alex Omiunu and they’re really big now. That sound’s been here for a long time but when we talk about the mainstream, people normally talk about whatever comes out of ABS-CBN and GMA. Mostly people just say, “Oh, that’s from an artista so it sucks for sure.” That’s the general idea of it. It’s not saying anything against the artists that come from that cause most of the artists just do what they’re told. “This is the music that you’re gonna sing. This is the song, you’ll record it even if you’re not a singer, it doesn’t matter.” That’s the formula and it sucks, but you know, it’s not their fault [laughs]. Most of them are just trying to feed their families.
The longer I’ve been in the industry and the more I’ve seen of it has changed my mind about a lot of different things. That’s what people think of the mainstream and it’s sad because there are a lot of talented artists that are in showbiz and they aren’t given the right push or the freedom to do what they want.
What is KINGwAw’s 2019 plans?
The next album I’m working on right now is called Paradise Blues. It’s about Manila and the feeling of being in the middle of the city but on the outside. We live in a paradise but it’s melancholic and sad, ‘cause Paradise Blues! [laughs] This new project is pretty weird ‘cause it’s gonna have a lot of grunge and samples of surf music on it, and it’s a little bit of rock, hip-hop, grunge, and R&B.
What about Careless Music Manila this 2019?
We have a lot of shows lined up for 2019 already, it’s crazy. We’re gonna hit up a bunch of the big festivals in the Philippines and we’re really bringing a show—we got a lighting director, our own sound engineer, we created special visuals for the show, and we’re trying to get a local act from every province we visit around the Philippines. There are a bunch of local acts that are on the rise and we’re gonna try to incorporate them into our show. We’re gonna do a few big shows with acts that wanna do the same thing but never get the chance. So we’re doing that, and then a lot of new music is coming out. I know all of our artists have so many new songs already, like right at this point we all have a bunch of new music but we’re all working ‘cause we want it to be perfect. All our artists are experimenting and we have music videos coming out. We’re also linking up with brands and I wanna say it, but I can’t say it yet!
Written by Sophie Caraan
Photographed by Ed Enclona
Makeup by Pamm Merrera
Styled by Carlos Bariuan and Leaxis Lehuman
Shot on location at The Ruins, Poblacion