“Woah, what I’m looking at right now is amazing!”
Sunbathing on a rooftop, overlooking a forest somewhere in the Philippines, the artist known as ((( O ))) is awe-struck admiring the shifting cirrus clouds overhead. “This is crazy! These murky cloud formations mean there’s going to be a fire rainbow, where neon colours start appearing in the sky. And they’re already starting to come out now! Oh my god, I love it!”
Conducting our interview in the midst of a natural phenomenon feels apt. Born in Dallas to Filipino parents, the singer-songwriter moved back to the Philippines on her own aged just 16 specifically to cherish the country’s rich natural resources and to pursue a more sustainable existence. Looking back now, she concedes that it was a brave decision to make so young, though one she vehemently stands by.
“The mission statement for The Sundrop Garden is to change the way that we create everything.”
“My parents moved [to the USA] for a better life, but [Filipinos] have only been brainwashed by Americans to think that America is better when it’s not actually the case,” she laughs. “It’s like the grass is always greener on the other side, except it’s actually greener here. So I’m trying to spread a message, encouraging this decolonisation mindset.
“I’m not American and I’m not Filipino, and I don’t feel like I belong in either of those worlds. I’m a bit of an outcast but that’s made me stronger and more independent. It’s the same in terms of my music: I just rely on myself and what I’ve come here to say in this lifetime.”
The ultimate goal is to be totally self-sustaining, and she’s made good progress from her base in the jungle. Working from a hand-built treehouse studio, using a mixture of traditional and modern instruments, ((( O ))) is totally reliant on solar power to pursue her deeply spiritual strain of electronic soul, a limitation that she finds inspiring rather than confining. “If there is sun then I have the gift to create,” she smiles. “But if I don’t have any sun that day, then it’s not meant to be.”
This zen-like patience bleeds into her compositions, manifesting itself in the spacious vocal harmonies and sparse guitar notes that power ‘Silence’, and the loose beats, languid brass and easy flow of ‘Yuyu’. These working methods inform the central philosophy of a project that she calls “The Sundrop Garden”. Snippets of material – billed as “moondrops” – are released every full moon, and a “sundrop” – or album – is due on her birthday – August 27th – annually for the next 12 years.
((( O ))) isn’t intimidated by the commitment, but then as is implicit in her deliberately unpronounceable and pretty much Google-proof moniker, this is an artist determined to pursue a radically authentic vision, rather than follow a formula. “I think it’s a form of self-sabotage to ground me,” she muses, considering the Big Bang-inspired symbol, adding. “But I can’t be rushed, or catapulted into the usual route for music careers.”
Certainly, her latest moondrop couldn’t feel further removed from the machinations of the music industry. A dreamy devotional in praise of fruit-bearing plant life, ‘Come Home O’Shawn’ samples a monologue from her Babaylan mentor (a Filipino shaman).
To counteract the potential negative impact of touring, she’s already proactively donating a percentage of her record sales to preserve a forest in the Philippines. And at the “gatherings” or pop-up shows themselves, she plans to promote the importance of biodiversity, gardening and maintaining a deep respect for our surroundings.
In every sense, ((( O ))) is dreaming big: “The mission statement for The Sundrop Garden is to change the way that we create everything: art, music, shows, business, brands. To offer a new approach to all of that, in a more sustainable way.”