Music enthusiasts filled the seats of the famous Araneta Coliseum one Monday evening in February for a charity concert spearheaded by a famous local radio station. As they remain fired up from the previous performances, five young, eager musicians in black were backstage, waiting to be called to the main platform to set up their instruments and serenade the crowd with their songs.
With limited tickets sold in the event, Filipino pop band The Juans—consisting of Carl Guevarra, Japs Mendoza, RJ Cruz, Chael Adriano, and Joshua Coronel—was not expecting a huge amount of support from the crowd as the members were not able to formally invite friends and fans. And they were just one of the many bands performing that night. The fact that they were newbies did not help boost their confidence.
“By that time, we weren’t sure if people knew us,” lead vocalist and keyboardist Carl tells pikapika.ph. “We were just really counting on our fans who will cheer for us kasi it’s Araneta.”
Expecting only one section of fans to cheer for them, The Juans took their first step to the main stage of The Big Dome and were, to their utter surprise, welcomed with loud cheers and warm applause from every section of the crowd!
“Paano n’yo kami nakilala?” Carl thought to himself as he faced the enormous Araneta crowd. “The moment we went out, everyone just went crazy and, then, by the time we started singing our songs, they were singing with us, and [...] para akong nananaginip. This is like a dream.”
The now popular band was admittedly overwhelmed with emotions when the Araneta crowd sang along to their songs such as “Hindi Tayo Pwede” and “Hatid” while thinking to themselves that the blessing they were facing was way beyond what they had prayed for to God.
Truly, The Juans are fully blessed when it comes to their musical career, especially with the success of “Hindi Tayo Pwede” in music sharing platforms, having 30 million streams on Spotify and over 26 million views on YouTube. Now, the hit will now enable emotions in the upcoming Viva Films offering of the same title starring Tony Labrusca, Marco Gumabao, and Lovi Poe.
However, before living the life of successful musicians, these five guys were simple probinsyano kids who only dreamed of being performers.
STARTED AS DREAMERS
Before becoming the popular OPM group they are today, the members of the The Juans lived separate lives in Malolos, Bulacan. Yet, despite such, they shared one childhood dream: to become performers.
A young Carl got all giddy when he saw child stars appear on TV screens. Seeing them sing, act, and dance in shows, he aspired to do what they do which was to entertain viewers.
“I’ve always dreamed of being an artist, ever since po talaga,” he admitted. “Dahil hindi naman po influencial ’yong family namin, hindi mayaman, meron ding feeling [ako noon] na pangarap lang talaga ’yon na mahirap matupad.”
Yet, Carl pushed himself to pursue his dream. With all his brothers being musicians, he joined a music group in his local church while taking up voice and keyboard lessons and joining singing contests on the side.
“Super typical aspiring kid ’yong pinagdaanan ko,” Carl describes his early musical experiences.
One of his biggest attempts to become a performer back then was when he came with his mother to the offices of Viva Entertainment to audition for a show called Search For A Star, where he had to audition twice in front of former Viva Artist Center head Arsi Baltazar.
“I was around 10 to 13 years old,” he recalled. “I remember mag-a-audition ka muna sa mall. ’Pag natanggap ka, pupunta ka sa Viva Records tapos sa isang office, si Arsi Baltazar, papanoorin ka niya kumanta. ’Pag pumasa ka sa kanya, tsaka ka pa lang magkakaroon ng chance na kumanta sa TV. Pero, never ako nakalagpas kay Sir Arsi.”
The audition process was so surreal for Carl because he recalled that his family had no car back then so he and his mother had to take a bus from Bulacan just to try out for the singing talent show, only to be rejected twice. Now, walking the halls of Viva as a successful musician, Carl remains in awe from the total 180-degree turn that happened in his life.
“When I was a kid, I used to go back here and feel the rejection of people because I wasn’t ready,” Carl recounts. “And now, coming back here, this is my second home [now]. It’s just crazy how God has been so faithful. Solid, sobra.”
For vocalist and acoustic guitarist RJ Cruz, he told everyone that he had dreams of becoming a doctor but deep in his heart, he wanted to become a celebrity. However, he had to keep it a secret because of his childhood bullies.
“’Pag nanood ako ng TV, parang lagi kong sinasabi na sana maging ganoon ako,” RJ recalls. “Pero tinatago ko sa sarili ko ’yon kasi dati noong bata, na-bu-bully ako kasi mataba ako. Hindi ka-arti-artista ’yong mukha ko... pero hindi nawala ’yong pusong gustong maging artista.”
Bass guitarist Chael Adriano was an avid listener of famous OPM bands like Callalily and Cueshé when he was a kid. And this fascination prompted him to learn how to play the guitar all by himself.
“Hinding-hindi ko makakalimutan ’yong time na natuto ako mag-gitara,” he says. “Alam mo ’yong feeling na may na-diskubre kang something na magical? Parang ganoon ’yong feeling na binaon ko ’yon noong high school ako...noong college, na sumasali ako sa battle of the bands, not knowing na mapupunta pala ako dito.”
Drummer Josh Coronel, initially, was aspiring to become a guitarist, learning the ropes while he was a choir for his local church. At first, his choir would only place him in performances without the guitar plugged in because he was still learning how to play the acoustic guitar at the time.
“Sa music team, parang saling kit lang [ako],” Josh recalls. ’Yong tumutugtog ako, pero hindi naman talaga naka-connect [’yong gitara].”
That moved Josh to pursue learning the acoustic guitar more, training left and right until he finally got to move on to another type of the fretted musical instrument: the electric guitar.
Yet, when their church pastor moved to another parish, he took his son with him, who was the choir drummer, at the time. Without any possible replacements, Josh volunteered to try out this new instrument. Despite such, he began to question why he needs to move to drums when playing the guitar was his comfort zone.
“Na-realize ko pala na kaya ko pala pinagdaanan ’yon para dito, para makasama ko ’yong The Juans,” he reflects.
“Kung gitarista ka, hindi ka namin kasama!” Carl adds in jest. “Kasi may Japs na.”
The original Juans started out in a talent management that discovered them playing musical instruments. Slated to become a boy band, Carl and Japs, along with original members Jiad Arroyo, Daniel Grospe, and Jason de Mesa, were turned into a conventional band whose name is inspired by the usual Filipino name.
“Well, the name The Juans, we were looking for a name that could relate to ordinary Filipinos,” Carl explains, looking back at the history of the band. “’Yong Juan kasi very ordinary na pangalan para sa Pinoy. In fact, may iba na nagsasabi na ‘Ang corny naman ng pangalan n’yo. Ang baduy. Napaka-cheap.’”
“We want to use an ordinary Filipino name that we could relate to so that one day if we become successful, then we can be an example of how an ordinary guy from Bulacan can actually work hard and achieve their dreams,” he adds.
“We want to be inspirational, in that sense. Our vision, really, is that one day, people will hear The Juans and they will be proud to identify themselves as ‘Juan’”
The Juans want to challenge the Filipinos to change the connotation of the name Juan into a positive light, albeit being associated with “Juan Tamad” and using Manny Pacquiao as an example who, upon people hearing his name, would want to identify as a proud Pinoy.
“We’re all just quick to want to identify with that name,” Carl says. “So, hopefully, if we become successful, the vision is people will be proud to say that ‘Juan ako.’”
As time passed by and all members were being serious about music, they left the abovementioned management and began a career as an indie band. A year later, they were discovered by Viva Records when they were doing a gig in a bar in Quezon City.
“Ang context noon, maghihiwa-hiwalay na rin [sana] kami,” Carl begins to recall. “Ang hirap ng walang manager ta’s lima kayong lalake tapos may kanya-kanya kayong plano sa buhay, tapos barya-barya lang ’yong TF (talent fee) n’yo kasi bars lang, e.”
However, a sound engineer from Viva, who was in Amerasian Studios at the time, was in the mood for adobong kangkong, so he went to the bar across the studio where he saw The Juans playing. Seeing potential in the group, the next time he went to the bar, he brought the executives from Viva Records to scout them.
The band playing their original songs caught the ears of the executives, which prompted them to sign The Juans to a music contract.
However, by the end of 2018, when Jiad, Daniel, and Jason were ready to move on from the band to pursue different endeavors, Carl was ready to quit playing music, recalling his conversation with Viva Chairman of the Board Vicente “Boss Vic” Del Rosario, Jr. wherein he asked the media mogul if he can just become an actor or a songwriter.
“I remember talking to Boss Vic. Sabi ko ‘Boss, mag-artista na lang kaya ako? Gusto mo gagawa pa rin ako ng music, kahit iba na lang kumanta.’” Carl recounts. “I was ready to just throw in my boots, so to speak, and say ‘I tried everything’ and I’m done.”
What prompted Carl to change his mind was Japs, who was more than willing to continue the band as a duo, and their fans, The Juanistas, who were still willing to listen to their music.
“What caused me to stay is I felt like our fans were still willing to listen to us,” he says. “Marami pa rin sa kanila ’yong hungry for the music that we put out and, feeling ko, kailangan [nila ’yong] music na ginagawa namin.”
“Another reason is when I spoke to Japs, sabi ko ‘Okey ka ba gawin natin ’to kahit tayong dalawa na lang?’ and he was so willing to do it and continue it,” Carl adds. “If you’re not giving up and if they’re not giving up, then I’m not gonna give up, I’m just going to keep going.”
UNITING AS ‘JUAN’
As Carl and Japs pursued to be a supposed duo, enter RJ, Chael, and Josh who graced their talents into the band.
The five of them were already bandmates pre-Juans, being part of a worship team in church back in Bulacan, hence being heavily inspired by Gospel and contemporary Christian music.
In fact, back when the original Juans were performing in gigs, RJ and Josh would help them in editing videos and setting up the instruments, respectively. As the three original band members left, RJ, Josh, and Chael were promoted as the new Juans.
“By the time the other members left, we just technically tapped them to be part of the band,” Carl says. “Even before, we were already bandmates. So, finding them wasn’t really difficult because they were already around. [...] It was more of like they were promoted to become members because they were involved with everything The Juans have been doing for the past years already.”
With new members in tow, the revamped The Juans would enjoy more successes, as they became more known in the public eye, especially when they released their album Umaga in 2018, which includes their songs “Hindi Tayo Pwede” and “Hatid.” Both songs were a hit among their Juanistas and other music listeners in the past year until now.
The Juans continue to be in awe with their success as a refurbished group. However, they do not credit themselves for such, looking up to the Lord for all the blessings they have received.
“In some amazing turn of events and just, siguro, faithfulness at goodness ni Lord sa buhay namin na it’s now what it is, we totally cannot understand or cannot credit sa sarili namin na ‘Kasi magaling kami kaya gumanda ’yong takbo ng The Juans,’” Carl explains.
“I think we’re always just in awe na God has brought The Juans to another level and we don’t know why. We just really kept doing what we’ve always been doing and that’s giving our best, singing our songs, being faithful to what’s entrusted to us, with the platform that we’re given and the rest is just God elevating us to places where we are now,” he adds.
THE CHALLENGE AS NON-CONFORMISTS
Apart from the successes they enjoyed come the struggles of being a band.
As Carl creatively puts it: with new “new levels” come “new devils.” Meaning, moving on to every phase does not come without a struggle.
For Chael, one struggle the band faces is having different, separate expectations they want to meet that do not parallel with each other.
“Siguro, one good thing about the group is kung may problemang ganoon, kung may kailangan ayusin na ganoon, may mga bagay na dapat pang i-improve, pinag-uusapan talaga siya,” Chael says. “One vital element ng isang relasyon ay ’yong communication talaga and ’yon ’yong nagre-resolve doon sa problema.”
Carl adds that the main goal of The Juans, which represents ordinary guys wanting to be somebodies, is to put out music that is something new to the ears of listeners. The struggle there is the acceptance as not all new things are easy to shallow.
“In a very general sense, whatever it is we’re trying to do, we always meet struggles along the way,” explains Carl. “For example, wanting to put out content that is not typical, [...] and that’s very hard to be accepted by people. So ’yon palang, putting your music out, you’re going against the grain so to speak.”
“A lot of the things we do is counter-cultural,” Carl adds, describing the band’s non-conformist ways in making music. “Majority of the stuff we do are probably not practiced yet in the Philippines and merong mga bagay na kami pa lang ’yong gumagawa.
“So, sometimes people are a bit uncomfy when we are around because [they say] ‘Heto nanaman ang The Juans, may mga bago na naman silang gagawin na wala pang gumagawa.’ And sometimes it’s hard for people to embrace and believe what we do unless they see it that it works.”
That is the reason why The Juans find it hard to explain and allow people to buy into what they do. That is already a struggle for them because they want to have their own style and not conform to the norm of the bands that came before them.
However, they see their unconventional style as an opportunity to let aspiring bands and musicians be inspired to do the same.
“We learned it this way, so the next bands who will be under us, it will be easier kasi ginawa na ng The Juans ’yan,” Carl continues.
“In every phase, in every season, there’s always a struggle,” Carl goes on. “I think that’s an essential part of life ‘cause if there’s no struggle, there’s no refining, there’s no effort to improve things, there’s no drive to actually achieve better or be better or get to a better place. So, I think struggle is always part of the formula, and that’s what makes us dependent on each other, dependent on God because there are struggles that are beyond us.
“May mga struggles naman na we can control and that causes us to recalibrate our focus, that causes us to meet all the time, to always align our vision, and align our hearts, our efforts all the time. So, struggle makes us work.”
THE STORY BEHIND A HIT
Switching to the topic of their hit song “Hindi Tayo Pwede,” Carl explains that it was deeply inspired by his friends undergoing similar situations: pushing for endeavors they already know is not for them.
“’Yong inspiration no’n is minsan sa buhay natin, kailangan natin tanggapin na may mga bagay na hindi para sa atin,” Carl narrates. “And I think wala pa kong naririnig na kanta that acknowledges that: no, there are things that are not for you.”
He then used the example of being a basketball player, saying that the sport is not really for him.
“It does not mean it’s the end of the world, for me. It’s just that there are things na para sa akin naman,” he says. “But, the first step in acknowledging that, the first step bago ka makarating sa point na makuha mo ’yong para sa’yo is tanggapin mo na merong mga bagay na hindi para sa’yo. So, that’s where ‘Hindi Tayo Pwede’ came from.”
Carl then recalled the time that he was sitting in his bedroom, praying to God for a song he can create. He then started writing, thinking about the song’s inspirations and started to make the melody for it, all in one sitting.
And now it is the mega-hit we know today, with over 30 million streams on Spotify and over 26 million views on YouTube.
Did The Juans expect this to be the success it is now?
“To be honest, no. Hindi talaga,” Carl answers.
In fact, they even had doubts about releasing the song in the first place.
“Naalala ko noon, ’yong pinag-usapan natin ’yong album, parang iniisip natin na ’yong ‘Hindi Tayo Pwede’ parang nag-da-doubt tayo,” RJ recalls. “Parang [ang] jeje, ganoon.”
“You know that feeling na parang it’s the least song we would actually expect to hit?” Carl says. “And, somehow, that’s what resounded to people. It’s not that we’re ashamed of the song. It’s just that, siguro, if you’re a musician, you have your taste, you have your preferences. But what you prefer and what you like does not necessarily mean that’s what the general public will like. So, ’yon. It’s really unexpected.”
Continuing with the song’s success, it got picked up by Viva Films as the official soundtrack for the movie of the same name, written by acclaimed screenwriter Ricky Lee and directed by renowned film director Joel Lamangan.
The Juans only found about it when Viva Executives sent Carl a copy of the official poster.
“When I found out about it, sobrang gusto ko magwala. Sobrang kinilig ako,” Carl says. “Seryoso ba? To think it started in your bedroom writing it and, then, being heard by millions of people and, now, it’s gonna be a movie and alam mo na hindi mo ’yon pinush, hindi mo ’yon pinakiusap... I’m literally blown away na they’re using this song as a title of the movie and I’m excited to see the film also.”
Meanwhile, Josh only found out when he saw the poster in the photos from the Viva Vision 2020 event.
“Nakita ko siya sa Facebook post [ng Viva] Vision 2020,” Josh recalls. “Sabi ko ‘Shucks! Pangalan ng kanta namin ’yon!’ Tapos parang inisip ko na gagamitin ba na OST ’yong song namin or iba? Pero sabi ko ‘Title ng song namin ’yon!’”
A DEEPER REASON
With all the blessings they have as musicians, what advice does The Juans have when it comes to aspiring bands and singers?
Chael believes that having a passion for the craft is one thing that can really help them pursue such.
“Kaya sa mga tao na aspiring musicians and [gusto] i-pursue ’yong music, masasabi ko lang na eto ’yong ’pag walang bayad, gagawin at gagawin mo pa rin kasi ito ’yong pinaka-pahinga mo, ito ’yong pinakamahal mong gawin at hindi ka mapapagod sa pag-pursue ng gusto mo,” he says.
Asking what you really want in life is what Carl would advise to them. He warns that finding validation from people is not enough to become a musician.
“Is it because there’s an empty space in your heart that you think ’yon ’yong magpupuno? ’Cause if that’s where you are, kaya mo gusto maging musician or maging artist, I would humbly say that’s not the route.” he says. “To be an artist and to really make it your career, you have to be sure why you want to do it.”
A deeper reason is what aspiring musicians need to find in order for them to find a career in the world of music, according to vocalist-keyboardist Carl.
“In fact, in this industry, you see the most famous people, sometimes they’re the most depressed also and they feel so much emptiness,” Carl says. “I’m here to tell aspiring artists na if that’s what you’re going for, you won’t find it here in this industry: ’yong validation. It’s so superficial...para siyang masaya pero madali siyang maluma. So if you want to be part of this industry, there has to be a deeper reason.”
“Maybe, it’s to share your platform, to inspire different people,” he goes on. “A vision that’s just bigger than yourself. I guess, ’yon ’yong mapapayo ko.”
The Juans then teases us with what is to expect from them this 2020. More video content and new songs will be coming their way, the latter being released on a monthly basis starting March 2020.
“Marami kaming pasabog, marami kaming gustong i-share para sa mga tao,” Carl announces. “It’s gonna be a busy year for us. So, ’yon. Generally, people can expect new music from us.”
And we cannot wait! Good luck and have a good year ahead, The Juans!
TEXT AND INTERVIEW: Adam Laurena
PHOTOGRAPHY: Melo Balingit
SHOOT PRODUCER: Irene Mislang and Anna Pingol
ART DIRECTION: Stephen Jan Cruz
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