“Every song is a time stamp,” Soliven from the new era hip-hop and R&B duo MANILA GREY tells Complex PH about their latest full-length album SOUND DRIFT. The Juno-nominated Filipino Canadian group further explores their identity as first-generation immigrants and navigates the human experience in the masterful 12-track album.
Soliven and Neeko, who both grew up in the Philippines and assimilated to life in Canada at an early age, are a testament to how far hard work, grit, and perseverance can take you in life. From their name alone, it illustrates the stark difference between the two places they consider home—the Philippines, a sunny paradise abounding with islands, and Vancouver, a bustling city where it’s almost always gloomy.
Having collaborated with all-around Filipino creatives like Careless Music’s James Reid, plus Nadine Lustre in the past, they feature fast-rising balladeer Arthur Nery in the deeply moving anthem Turbo on SOUND DRIFT. Filipino American rapper Guapdad 4000 also makes an appearance and collaborates with MANILA GREY on the ultra-catchy (and deliciously petty) track Hoodie Back.
After performing in Manila last December for 88rising’s Head in the Clouds Festival, Neeko and Soliven returned to the cities they were born in “that helped [us] understand who [we are] and where [we] came from.”
Read more on MANILA GREY’s homecoming ahead.
How has your creative process and flow changed while working on SOUND DRIFT, especially after the past three years that left many feeling overwhelmed and uncertain?
Soliven: Drifting is the throughline to SOUND DRIFT. Drifting through life, drifting from reality, drifting in the nighttime. All these feelings fueled the album.
Neeko: We wanted to be honest in the creative process, and that also meant being okay with being uncertain.
What was the most challenging thing about creating your latest full-length album?
Neeko: Learning to balance everything while creating the album. Traveling, playing shows, running the business. We’re independent artists so we’re heavily involved in all aspects of the business and the art.
Soliven: It’s cool though, we just bring a studio set up around and record on the go. We love recording about our experiences in real-time. SOUND DRIFT is basically that, we recorded it everywhere. Every song is a time stamp.
A recurring theme in your music is your shared immigrant experience, which is evident in SOUND DRIFT, especially with the very powerful single Motherland. How has your understanding of it evolved through the years?
Neeko: This might have to be a whole interview on its own. Being first-generation has its own unique experience. The reasons why our families moved, the assimilation, the status quo of everything. We’re still understanding it as we speak.
Turbo is a personal favorite from the 12-track album. How did the collaboration with Filipino balladeer Arthur Nery come about—who reached out to who? Was he always on your radar?
Soliven: We got put on by our brothers at Don’t Blame The Kids. We sent Arthur Nery a demo and the concept, and he sent it back in a few days. All of us were enthusiastic about the record and the process was just mad cool with him. He’s a young legend, it was dope getting to see his approach to music.
You guys have worked with the likes of Guapdad 4000, James Reid, and Al James. Who are Filipino musicians from the diaspora you’d love to work with in the future?
Neeko: We’re open to working with anyone. It’s really about who we vibe with.
For people who have recently discovered your music, what do you want them to feel?
And what do you want them to remember when they listen to SOUND DRIFT?
Neeko: The music is for them as much as it is for us. We want them to create memories with this album.
MANILA GREY returned to the Philippines in December to play for 88rising’s Head in the Clouds. What did you discover about yourselves during your homecoming?
Neeko: We discovered the love for the cities we were born in. I visited my OGs memorial in Olongapo and that helped me understand who I am and where I came from.
Soliven: I visited the old hood in Cavite, the first time coming home after my Lola passed. I got to pay my respects and had the chance to reconnect with my family and the city where it all began for me.
Of course, I just had to ask, is a tour in the Philippines in the works?
MANILA GREY: Only right that the island boys touch the islands again.
Photos: Sharad Gadhia and Adrian Per