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UNIQUE is Finding His Voice in His Mononym

Originally published on STATUS Magazine, September 2018.

Rising as one of the Philippines’ most engrossing musicians of the 21st century, UNIQUE is living up to his name.

Finding out what you want to do for the rest of your life is a daunting task, but there are some of us who have the passion and drive to just go for it. Take 18-year old singer-songwriter Unique Salonga—he began creating music at the turn of his teenage years, and although he’s always imagined himself going down this career path at a young age, he credits his parents as his main encouragers to take up this craft. “Sila talaga 'yung nagtulak sa 'kin papunta sa music. Na-eenjoy ko naman. Nalaman ko na lang din na heto na rin ang bubuhay sa 'kin simula nung madalas na kaming tumutugtog kahit saan. [They were really the ones who pushed me into music, and I’m enjoying it. I eventually found out that this is what will keep me alive when we started playing shows anywhere.]”

After bowing out from his previous band of four years, his next moves were met with much speculation. It wasn’t until June 2018, when a photo of UNIQUE with O/C Records head and Callalily frontman Kean Cipriano was posted, did he confirm his venture into a solo career. Lost fans who couldn’t choose between his past and future were stuck in a loop, with some even going as far as asking if he had made the right move. However, this great divide never stopped him from pursuing his newly found musical freedom—his 12-track debut album Grandma left jaws hanging thanks to its diverse range of genres from progressive rock to new wave, and compelling lyricism that revolved around capitalism, nationalism, and even coming of age. Noting inspiration from the likes of Tame Impala and Matt Corby, he spent three months in the studio before dropping the album unannounced in August of the same year. Words of praise coming from notable figures in the Philippine music industry such as Rico Blanco circulated on social media—much to UNIQUE’S own surprise—but he still hasn’t found the right way to label Grandma a success. “'Di ko siya ma-define kasi hindi siya naging successful na album para sa 'kin. [I can’t define success because it wasn’t a successful album for me.]”
In between the numerous sounds playing throughout Grandma, his mindset of staying grounded, and finding perfection in all his creations, UNIQUE describes the album in one word: “Basura. [Trash.]” As he continues to traverse deeper into his mononym, he sat down with us for a closer look into his present and an inkling of his future.

Did you have a musical vision for each track from the start, or did it all come together as you were writing?

Inisip ko lang nung panahong nasa proseso pa 'ko na dapat, bawat kanta, magkakaiba. [While I was going through the process, I just knew that every song had to be different.]

One of the most talked about tracks on the album is “OZONE”. The tragic fire occurred way before your time, but how did you come across the chilling story?

May nakapagkuwento kasi sa 'kin ng storya na 'yon tapos nag-stuck siya sa isip ko. Palagi ko siyang naaalala kaya sinulat ko siya tapos 'yun na. [Someone once told me that story and it’s been stuck in my head ever since. I kept on remembering it, so I wrote the song.]

You just released the music video for “Cha-Ching!”. How was your experience filming the video?

Masayang experience kasi malaya kong nailabas 'yung vision ko bilang artist at sobrang dami kong natutuhan pagdating sa directing. [It was a great experience because I was free to release my vision as an artist and I learnt so much about directing.]

Why did you choose the majority of your visual aesthetic to revolve around the simple yet stunning abstraction of black and white?

Siguro dahil wala pa 'kong panahon para problemahin 'yug kulay. [Maybe because I don’t have the time to worry about color.]

Do you see yourself changing this visual aesthetic for the next album, or will it remain the same all throughout?

Pakiramdam ko black and white na lang ang gagamitin ko hanggang sa matapos na 'yung career ko. [I feel like I’ll be sticking to black and white until my career ends.]

You’ll be playing shows for The Grandma Tour, with the first show happening in September. How are you preparing for your first ever solo concert?

Pahinga lang nang pahinga. [Just resting and resting.]

Written by Sophie Caraan

Photographed by Erwin Canlas
Makeup by Apple Faraon