Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Interview with Augustana's Dan Layus

Augustana: “I Didn’t Know How Pivotal ‘Boston’ Would Be In My Life
The band behind the modern classic “Boston” is coming to Manila for the first time to play at this year’s Wanderland Music Festival

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If you know Augustana then you know “Boston.” The American rock band invaded the airwaves exactly 10 years ago with their mournful but strangely comforting song about anguish and self-discovery.

The band has released four albums and a few other singles, including the equally lush “Sweet and Low,” and the tender “Steal Your Heart.” Driven by frontman Dan Layus’ warm and warbly vocals, they kept pace with the rock-alternative sound of the early 2000s, alongside other similar acts like Switchfoot, The Fray, Dashboard Confessional and others.

Augustana is one of the featured acts in this year’s Wanderland Music Festival, which will be held on April 25, 2015 at the Globe Circuit Event Grounds in Makati City. The festival will also feature headline act Kid Cudi, RAC, The Jungle Giants, Lewis Watson, Youngblood Hawke, plus local acts led by Hale, Kate Torralba, The Strange Creatures, Sinyma and many others. 

Here’s an exclusive interview with Layus, who is the sole remaining original member of the band. Excerpts:

Where are you now and what can you see outside your window?
Dan Layus: I'm currently at home in Tennessee. I can see the snow from the last winter storm out the window, most of it is thawing out. Spring feels like it's coming soon.

Please tell us your earliest musical memories. What sort of music did you listen to as a kid? 
DL: I have always loved music as long as I can remember, I don't remember many specifics before middle school but I do remember really turning into a real music lover in my high school years.

You play a lot of instruments. Which one did you learn first and do you remember the first song you learned to play on it was?
DL: The first song I ever learned to play and perform on guitar was Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I played it at my 6th Grade talent show, without bothering trying to sing, just guitar.

I think people will always have a soft spot for your song "Boston." It's still very popular over here. I know it’s been a while, but could you talk about the song's beginnings? Did you know then that there was something pretty unique and special about it?
DL: The song was written very early in my time in college. I remember very little about the actual process other than it came very easily and very naturally. I didn't know at that time just how incredibly pivotal that song would be in my life. Even now I'm hearing of younger generations discovering the song and I couldn't be more excited and honored that the song has connected with such a wide audience for so many years now.

You're pretty much a solo act now but still carry the name Augustana. Was this a conscious decision? How much different do you think Augustana is now with how it was as a full band?
DL: I still for tour for the most part with a full band, however they are not the original lineup that started in 2003. I treasure those many years with my partners in the band and know they remember many great times as well. I felt it was unnecessary to change the name or go in a different direction with what I was doing, mostly because the material I was and am still writing just feels like "AUGUSTANA" to me. I know many fans out there hold the name and the music close to their hearts and memories, as do I.

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I think you have one of the most distinctive singing voices around. How protective are you of your voice? I mean, do you have a careful regimen? (No cold drinks, smoking, etc?)
DL: I find that singing more often seems to keep me in better vocal shape. The first week of a tour can be hard for me to get back in the groove with the longer sets of music, but come week 2 to 3...I begin to feel more strength and resilience after time.

Tell us about your songwriting process. How does a song start?
DL: Sometimes I deliberately take time out of the day or night to work on a song or write something (melody/lyric etc) and sometimes it just hits me while I'm doing something completely normal at any random moment of the day or night.

Which musician/band are you a fan of and would follow around on tour if you could?
DL: I'm a fan of all kinds of music. I've been listening to a lot of classic country as well as a lot of 80's alternative music, like Tears for Fears, New Order, A-Ha, Depeche Mode. I also like some newer cuts from artists like Empire of the Sun, The Presets...etc.

You're coming to the Philippines to play at Wanderland. Have you been here before? Anything you're looking forward to seeing/ experiencing while you're here?
DL: I've never been to the Philippines before and couldn't be more excited or enthusiastic to see the city of Manila and play this show. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Surfing in La Union

This is a slightly altered version of a story that came out in Travel Now magazine

For a weekend surfing trip, nothing beats the beaches of San Juan, La Union

By Paul John Caña
Photos by Portia Carbonell and Paul John Caña

Urbiztondo beach in San Juan, La Union is surfing ground zero

Surf's up in San Juan
Surfers clad in nothing more than two-piece bikinis and hip-hugging board shorts congregate in The Little Surf Maid Resort to get some breakfast after riding the waves in San Juan, La Union. Over steaming heaps of rice, hotdogs and eggs sunny side up, they discuss technique and form, with the occasional complaint about how the waves aren’t big enough this time of year. It’s just another day for these regulars in the Surfing Capital of the Northern Philippines.

Baler may have its diehard fans, but I've never been there, except passing through on the way to Dinadiawan beach. San Juan, on the other, hand feels like a second home. (I even went on a solo trip there recently). Zambales may have San Narciso and Pundaquit, and Aurora province has a long coastline facing the Pacific Ocean with numerous surfing possibilities, but I'll argue that Urbiztondo beach in San Juan offers the most consistent waves ideal for surfing, not to mention a well-entrenched community of surfers that call this town home. Plus, thanks to the SCTEX and TPLEX, it's only about a five-and-half hour drive from Manila. 

The quieter side of San Juan beach

San Juan Surf Resort circa 2012. The resort has undergone a major facelift and looks a bit different today
Surf lessons and board rentals that way
Surfing Lessons
La Union is the gateway to the Ilocos region, and its capital, San Fernando, is just minutes away from the beaches of San Juan. Numerous surfing schools and resorts that offer lessons and surfboard rentals line the stretch of sand from Urbiztondo to Ili Norte. If you’re making your first trip up North and you’re determined to get some surf time in, most pro-surfers would recommend hiring an instructor to teach you the basics.

The San Juan Surf Resort operated by award-winning surfer and part-time model Luke Landrigan is one of the more popular surfing schools not just in San Juan but in the entire country. Landrigan, who has racked up numerous awards for his surfing skills, including the prestigious Lanuza International Longboard Invitational in 2006, grew up in San Juan and has always been, in his own words, a child of the sea. “Ever since I could walk, I’ve been in the water,” he says. Since founding his surf school, he has personally mentored hundreds of amateur surfers (myself included), and the numbers have only gone up through the years as more and more people discover the thrills of riding the waves.

Me getting my surfer game on

This was the very first time I tried surfing, back in 2008. Luke said I was *ahem* a natural 
The surf season in San Juan is generally divided into two parts: November to February is the ideal season as the waves are more consistent due to the typhoons prevalent this time of year. From July to October, veterans flock to the other parts of the beach in search of better waves. A few places to check out in the area are Darigayos, the Urbiztondo Beach Break and a well-known spot known as The Point.

While tourists looking to try surfing on a longboard are the most frequent visitors to San Juan, casual beachgoers looking to just swim and sunbathe are also welcome. The sand is a bit coarse and is a dark tan color, but it’s not uncommon to see sun worshippers spread out along the beach checking out the action offshore.

My friends and I all did pretty well our first time to ride the waves. Here's Arnie...

...Portia even managed a wave...

...and here's Brix

Food and Lodging
Longtime surfers tell stories of how, during the early 90s, when San Juan was only starting to build a reputation as a surfing destination, they would surf the whole day and then spend the night in grassy makeshift huts as there were no decent overnight accommodations. These days though, you can take your pick from among the resorts that dot the beach. All generally provide reasonably priced lodgings for tourists, although the most popular seem to be Landrigan’s San Juan Surf Resort and The Little Surf Maid. If money isn't a concern, try The Big Kahuna, which supposedly provides the most high-end accommodations in the area. While many of the resorts offer surfing lessons and rent out longboards and other essentials, it’s a good idea to check their rates first and inquire with a trusted surfing veteran or San Juan local.

As for food, don’t expect the resorts to serve five-star culinary masterpieces; most just offer stomach fillers that are a bit too pricey, and there are no restaurants of note worth mentioning. A good tip though if you want to save on your meals is to check out the restaurants away from the beach strip and to explore the myriad choices along the main road and nearer San Fernando. Remember that you’re practically at the doorstep of Ilocandia, and of course, you have the option of sampling their native cuisine, including authentic Ilocano dishes like their famous longganisa, pinakbet, papaitan and the sinful bagnet.

The obligatory shot

Taking a break

With Luke. You'll know this photo is dated because they tore down that concrete wave at San Juan Surf Resort

I've since lost count how many times I've been back to San Juan. For a quick weekend beach getaway, it's always at or near the top of my list and should be on yours, too.

A La Union sunset
The best way to travel to San Juan is by bus. A number of bus companies travel to La Union (and all the way to the Ilocos provinces) from Manila, with the most popular ones being Partas, Fariñas and RCJ Transit. A one-way ticket costs around P500. The buses travel along the national highway just a few steps away from the beach, so you can actually get off the bus and walk towards the shore.

Resorts in San Juan are relatively affordable. A standard aircon room good for two persons at the San Juan Surf Resort (+63 72 7200340) costs around P1000 to P1200, while a bigger room that can accommodate 4 persons is around P1,350 to P1500. For inquiries and a further listing of their rates, check out their website <>