The all-girl music group Rouge has been through a roller coaster of emotions in their musical journey as they celebrate their 7th anniversary. But apart from amazing singles and great performances, Kara Mendez, Jeri Oro, Princess Ybañez, and Gyan Murriel cherish, more than anything, the tight sisterly bond that they’ve formed within those years.
“It’s a day for celebration, for me,” violinist-vocalist Princess told pikapika.ph during the group’s 7th-anniversary celebration and physical reunion last March 24.
“Ang dami na naming pinagdaanang maganda, nakaka-iyak, nakakaloka sa seven years na ’yon! Araw-araw kaming magkasama so walang choice kundi masabi sa isa’t isang kung ano’ng mga ganap.”
She added how the COVID-19 pandemic affected their group, not seeing each other and not doing performances for a year, yet they still remain closely-bonded.
“After mga five years [na dire-diretso] kaming magkakasama, biglang isang taon hindi kami nagkikita, pero okay pa rin kaya talagang today is my happiest day,” Princess described.
With seven years in tow, Rouge continues their legacy with their empowering music and performances.
Rouge started their musical journeys differently. Guitarist-vocalist Jeri Oro grew up listening to iconic musicians such as Gloria Estefan and Astrud Gillberto and had been doing music professionally prior to joining the all-girl group.
“I sing in a band for a living since I was fifteen years old,” she recalled. “So, parang hindi na rin ako magtataka kung bakit nag-end up ako as part ng isang band.”
Bassist Kara, who grew up being inspired by singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette and rock band The Cranberries, came from a musical family. However, she attempted to veer away from her family’s usual background to pursue a different type of career.
“Triny ko siyang i-change so nag-course ako ng pag-pi-piloto,” she revealed. “Pero nag-end up pa rin ako sa pagiging musician.”
Like Kara, Princess also grew up in a musical family, being surrounded by people who sing and play musical instruments and heavily-influenced by classical music, Christian hymns, and standard jazz. She, however, said she had a rebel phase, being influenced as well by pop-rock bands like Blink 182 and Simple Plan.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to be in a popular band but it’s nice to be in one,” she said.
“Kaya hanggang ngayon, na-e-enjoy ko naman ’yong pag-da-drums kaya ’pag graduate ko, heto pa din, heto pa din ’yong ginagawa ko,” she said.
However, fate would bring them together when Paulo Zarate and JP Montilla had an idea of starting auditions for an all-girl group they would call Rouge. Eventually, the founding members were picked, and they were Kara, Jeri, drummer Celina Pastor, and guitarist Ayu Kassinique.
Yet, a month later, some members had to leave for different purposes, that is why Rouge had to halt performing and find new members.
“After a month, si Princess pumasok na siya sa band namin as a violinist tapos nawala na si Ayu,” Kara recalled. “Tapos, after ilang months, nawala na rin si Celina, ’yong drummer. Nag-flight attendant siya, pinalitan naman siya ni Jacq.”
Jacq Abad Santos became the replacement for Celina. However, after a few months, she got married and migrated to the United States, putting the remaining members at worry about the future of their group.
“Half a year pa lang, ang dami ng change of members, parang napaghinaan na talaga kami noon, pero nagpa-audition kami, dumating ang aming forever!” she said referring to Gyan.
Gyan arrived as the now long-time drummer of the group on March 24, 2014. With no members leaving since then, Rouge has considered the date their anniversary.
“Kaya seven years [kami ngayon], nag-base kami doon sa March 24, 2014 na nabuo kaming apat. Heto na ’yong pinaka-core, ’yong pinaka-solid ever!” Kara added.
MAKING THEIR DEBUT
Rouge became the name of the group as Paulo and JP, armed with the idea of forming an all-girl rock band, was thinking about a name that would represent “girl power.”
“Sa mga nahanap nila, nagustuhan nila ’yong ‘rouge’ na French term for red. Ginagamit din siya sa mga make-up like, kunyari, ’yong color ng lipstick ko rouge or ’yong blush-on rouge, so ’yon,” Princess explained.
With an empowering name for a band, the founding members of Rouge made their debut in a mall in Mandaluyong for an anime convention called ToyCon.
“Ang kasama pa namin noon ay ’yong former lead guitarist na si Ayumi ’tsaka si former drummer na si Celina tapos ’yon ’yong una naming salta as a band,” Jeri recalled.
Since it was an anime convention, they had to perform Japanese songs in front of die-hard fans of different Japanese animated series. Being nervous as ever being a start-up group, Rouge had to do a second take of their performance, which they, fortunately, delivered well.
On the other hand, Princess recalled her first time performing as a Rouge member.
“One day before ’yong performance nila, ’yong gig nila sa Bagaberde [Grill & Bar], hindi nila ma-contact si Ayumi, so kailangan nila ng sub. Dahil ako, mina-manage din nila ako as a solo violinist nila Kuya Pau, kaya nila ako naisip kasi babae, nasa age range, maganda. Charot!” she recalled.
Though she felt she did not have any singing ability at that time, Princess accepted the challenge after she was asked to do so. It was a requirement for the band. After singing a few bars from “A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri, she was not happy with the outcome so she simply played the violin throughout the song.
“Hindi naman ako na-sipa sa banda [after that],” she jokingly clarified. “Sabi nila, ‘Nasa tono ka naman, p’wede mo i-work out?’ So, ’yon ’yong first performance ko.”
“Ako ang first gig ko [with them], sa Araneta Coliseum,” Gyan butted in. Laughing, she added: “Pero sa labas lang.”
Gyan was referring to her debut performance with Rouge at the Banchetto of the Araneta Center in Cubao. It was special for her because her family members were all present at that time.
“Ako kasi, sanay na ako mag-gig, e,” said Gyan. “Sanay na akong tumugtog kasi may banda rin ako bago pumasok sa Rouge. Okay naman ’yong tugtog namin, na-practice ko naman lahat ng pinapa-aral nila. Ayoko rin masipa, e.”
ENTERING THE MAINSTREAM
Two years later, Rouge impressed television viewers when they auditioned for the fifth season of Pilipinas Got Talent (PGT) in 2016. In front of judges Vice Ganda, Angel Locsin, Robin Padilla, and Freddie M. Garcia, they performed “Zombie” by The Cranberries, to the amazement of audience members.
It was Princess’ idea for the band to try out as she had prior experience. She auditioned for the talent show’s first season.
“It really opened a lot of doors for me, career-wise, kaya na-pursue ko ’yong pagba-violin kahit registered nurse ako,” Princess narrated. “Na-pursue ko ’yong pagba-violin dahil nag-PGT ako so I suggested sa kanilang tatlo and game din naman sila. And it did open a lot of doors for us. Dami namin napuntahan.”
Their PGT journey became their gateway to being closer as they were locked in a hotel room for a week prior to the competition.
“It was an opportunity for us to know each other well,” Jeri said. “The day before ng PGT, nag-bonding kami and meron kaming certain video na pinanood tapos kinabukasan, paos na kami. Nakapag-bonding kami dahil doon sa PGT. ’Yon ’yong masasabi kong pinaka-first kasi ’yon ’yong [...] nagkakila-kilala talaga kami in one room.”
Their closeness removed all the pressure brought about by the competition. After bowing down during Week 6 of PGT, they became in-demand, performing in different parts of the country.
After PGT, Rouge had gone independent, performing in gigs in different venues. And though the indie route had given them small earnings, it also brought them some silver linings.
“Iba rin ’yong crowd ng indie, pero wala masyadong pera...’yon ’yong reality,” Kara explained. “’Yong mga tugtugan sa indie, parang five songs, three songs, ganoon lang... pero nagamit din namin siya talaga kasi lumaki ’yong following namin lahat kasi mga ibang crowd naman, mga original music ’yong tinutugtog.”
Through the indie journey, they also got to meet other bands that offered their own unique take on music. Besides gathering connections, their exposure to indie lif —observing and absorbing knowledge—allowed them to improve their own music skills.
“Magandang community, magandang community ’yong indie scene,” Princess said.
“Kung hindi kami nag-indie, hindi kami mag-i-improve sa pagtugtog kasi nakakapanood kami ng mga original sa mga banda talaga, nakikita namin paano sila natutugtog,” Kara recalled. “E, dati cover band kami, ’di ba? Kumbaga, ’yong cover, ini-improve lang namin, ni-re-rearrange namin. Heto [now], nakakagawa na kami ng sariling tugtog.”
Being independent also taught Rouge how to move through the music industry on their own.
“Na-test talaga lahat, daming learnings,” Kara added.
Despite having a strong following in the indie scene, Kara said Rouge wanted to level up in the music industry, having a goal of producing a hit song.
“Para magkaroon no’n, we need the help of a label. Alam mo ’yon? Lahat ng promotion na matutulong ng agency or ng isang record label. Kaya nag-step up kami,” Kara explained.
They talked to different music labels with different offers, yet it was Viva Records who made an offer they could not refuse.
Rouge’s manager, Leah Herrera Bool, had also worked with Ibelyn Manuel, who worked with Sarah Geronimo during one of her concerts in the Middle East. She became the gateway for Rouge to sign with Viva and meet the big boss, Viva’s Chairman of the Board and CEO Vicente “Boss Vic” Del Rosario, Jr.
“Ang dali naming naipasok ’yong Rouge, napakilala kay Boss Vic,” Kara recalled. “August of 2019 noong nag-start kami sa Viva, ta’s ayun na.”
Rouge also chose to be represented by Viva because the latter compromised for Jeri, who wanted to leave the group to settle down. After initially giving them a 5-year-contract, Viva gave Rouge three years so Jeri, who is engaged for more than a year, can start a family after.
“We’re so lucky din na na-meet ’yong right person sa Viva, si Ms. Ibelyn na sobrang hands-on talaga sa amin, sobrang wala kaming reklamo sa ngayon when it comes to production, when it comes to support, marketing. Wala kaming reklamo...’Yon ’yong reason bakit kami sa Viva, dahil sinu-support nila kami,” Jeri summarized.
After officially signing with Viva in 2019, the members of Rouge were elated to be part of the record label’s esteemed roster of talents.
“Another achievement siya, off [the] bucket list,” said Kara. “And I’m sure ganoon din nafe-feel ng bandmates ko.”
THE MYSTERY OF WHAT’S NEXT
“Basically, nagawa na namin lahat sa Rouge. Nag-indie, nag-Star Records, nag-corporate, nag-covers, originals namin, sulat ng iba. Lahat na talaga, pinush na namin,” Kara said.
And it was all worth it for Rouge, as they not only remain as one of the well-known girl groups in the country, they have also created an enviable friendship that’s akin to family.
“’Yong attachment namin sa isa’t isa talaga. If you will notice... kaya proud na proud ako talaga,” offered Kara. “Ang daming bands na ’di nagkaka-sundo...kahit anong galing nila, ’di sila nagkakasundo, nagdi-disband sila. Kami, kahit wala kaming hit songs yet, pero sobrang solid talaga, mahal namin isa’t isa. Wala kaming crab mentality na hatakan pababa, walang ganu’n! Pamilya ’to!”
They added that whether they settle down with families or not, they will continue to be Rouge.
“Tingin ko kahit may mag-asawa sa’min or may anak, tuloy-tuloy lang hanggang kaya,” Kara said. “Ang galing din, e. Isa sa natutunan ko ngayong pandemic, isipin mo one year wala nanaman kaming corporate gig or gig. Ibig sabihin, hindi na ganoon ka-big deal ’pag dumating ’yong time na may isang nawala dahil kinasal. Kumbaga, na-experience na namin maglayo sa isa’t isa and look—hanggang ngayon magkasama pa rin kami.”
With seven years credit in the musical scene, Rouge offers this advice to those who want to pursue music, too:
“Just be a good person,” Princess said. “Huwag ka maging toxic. ’Yong ego mo, i-side mo muna kasi at the end of the day, it’s not about who’s right, it’s about what’s best for everyone, lalo na kung group. Relationship ’yon, e. Maraming mga decisions na hindi kami nag-a-agree pero what’s good for everyone, ’yon ’yong nasusunod. Kung ano ’yong what’s keeping the group together.”
Rouge just sealed off their seventh anniversary by releasing a new single called “Kalimutan Ka.” As for what’s next, Rouge, just like the rest of us, is eagerly awaiting what the universe would offer amidst these uncertain times.
“[We] like embracing the mystery of what’s next,” Princess said, speaking for the group. “It’s so hard to think of something and then it doesn’t happen and then you suffer. So, you know, thinking that everything is working for you and having that positive attitude and you attract positive things, too. So, just trust in what’s next. It’s definitely what you need. It’s probably what you need.”
Amen to that! Happy 7th anniversary, Rouge!
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