James Reid’s Palm Dreams electrified listeners everywhere with lush R&B soundscapes unlike anything we’ve heard from him before—but beyond the hazy neons and after-party comedown anthems, perhaps more intriguing is the young star’s mysterious collaborator, an up-and-coming sonic innovator by the name of Paulo Tiongson, better known by his alias Poor Ta$te.
Fueled by sheer ambition and ironically good taste, manipulating sound is almost second nature to the young creative. In between his pursuits as a producer, brand ambassador and all around cool kid on Instagram, Paulo sets his sights on reinventing the local music scene with his own unique brand of eclectic beats to build a dream bigger than himself. In an all-new Generation Lit, /ESCAPE discovers that when you put everything on the line, you’ve got nothing to lose.
/ESCAPE: Describe your roots.
Paulo Tiongson: My parents are both Filipino. We moved to the States when we were five because my mum fell ill and dad wanted to provide a better life for us. We roughed it out for five years, but my parents always made sure I was loved. When I was 10, we gave up on the States and found a comfortable life in Australia. When I was 19 I dropped out of college, sold some of my guitars and booked a one-way ticket to the Philippines.
Are you finally moving to Manila for good?
PT: Don’t think I’ll be leaving any time too soon… but I’ll play it by ear, I gotta go where I gotta go. I had sisig at Manam for the first time last week though, I don’t know if I’ll be able to leave anymore.
What got you into music?
PT: Shit, I was always that kid with a new hobby every week—but music just stuck with me. When I was 10, my school gave us three weeks of compulsory guitar lessons, after that I got my dad to buy me an electric guitar, a year later I was uploading Slayer covers to YouTube.
The love never left, I played around with and listened to every genre after that.
PT: Even had a band at one point, if you look up Uncharted Waters Sirens on YouTube, you’ll hear me doing screams and death growls (laughs). I just love to create and perform constantly, that’s what got me into it and that’s what keeps me here.
What instruments do you play?
PT: Guitar, bass, a little bit of keys, and a little bit of drums.
You’ve shared on IG that pursuing music full-time was a gamble. Has it always been a huge part of your life?
PT: Yeah, there was a fair amount of pressure. My parents and family were always trying to get me to go back to college, and my previous circle wasn’t very supportive. But now my family’s super chill and proud. People often just try to protect you from harm, and when you see something they don’t see, you just have to be patient until you can show them. I’m just really grateful that they’re happy for me.
Let’s talk about your stage name, why “Poor Ta$te”?
PT: Firstly, it’s to remind myself why I do all of this.The poor people never get a chance in this country, and as I grow bigger, I want to use my platform, my ideas, and my finances to create infrastructural change which will allow for a fairer society. Secondly, I think things that are offensive, things that are in “poor taste” are essential for honest conversation. If you can’t be comfortable enough to be lewd with someone, how the f*ck are you gonna have an honest discussion about politics? Sexuality? Your dreams? And lastly dude, I just have great taste.
What’s your edge as a producer?
PT: My strongest suit isn’t my technical skill. But I really vibe out with who I’m working with, I try to get in touch with their emotions and help them bring out things which were inside them all along. I’m a people person, and I really try to capture a moment. Oh, and the guitar (laughs). You’ll be hearing a lot more guitar in my upcoming work.
Could you tell us about your work on Palm Dreams and working with James Reid?
PT: It was awesome man, just two friends working on our dreams together, creating and bouncing off each others energy. James is super talented and just getting better and better—we had our ups and downs, but we talked it out and I really feel like we bring out the best in each other.
Did you ever anticipate that it would blow up the way it did?
PT: I believed in the project and I knew it was going to do well, but all the love really exceeded my expectations. My favorite thing is hearing all the people who never had faith in the Filipino mainstream enjoying the music we made for them. A lot of people have told me they would never think it’s from the Philippines as a compliment. I’d like to gently correct them and tell them it VERY much is. We need to banish the colonized way of thinking, that everything foreign is better, when we have so much going on here. Filipinos are amazing people with so much potential. We need to love ourselves more, and love ourselves the way we are. The more we do that, the more the world will hear us.
What’s your take on the local music scene? Is OPM really dead?
PT: OPM is alive and well, and I'm proud to consider myself an OPM artist. There's a lot of amazing music being made here that people need to know about. The whole idea for Palm Dreams was just to widen up what "OPM" could be, and to shatter the idea that the Filipino mainstream could not accommodate modern music. James and I aren't fucking superheroes, we're just two dudes from Australia who loved the same kind of music. As for more "traditional" OPM, dude, we all need to listen to "Kung Wala" and drunk dial an ex every once in a while.
Fill in the blank, my dream collab would be with ____
PT: Jimi Hendrix. I would give up lasagna for the rest of my life to jam with that man. We would be so free, we'd rock out so hard and light so much shit on fire. He’s been a hero since my first days, I loved the way he lived. Rest in peace dude.
Name three musicians that you’d love to meet and why.
PT: Bamboo as the first for sure. I saw him at Manila X and I nearly cried. He was completely consumed in his performance and that's what's always mattered to me most: How much someone loves the music. Rick Rubin, eventually, because I'd love to see what parts of my music he'd take away and keep. I'd love to see what he thinks my "essence" is. And Kanye, of course. I love people that think big. And that man sure can think big. A lot of his music and his message helped me get through the stages when I was having so much doubt shoveled on me. He reminds people to trust themselves.
Give a lyric from a song that resonates with you.
PT: "Two riders were approaching, and the wind began to howl". All Along the Watchtower has been my favourite song since I was a kid. Especially the original Dylan version. There's just a sense of dark, looming, grand adventure that just hits me in my fucking soul dude.
It's not unusual to spot you in designer threads. How would you describe your sense of style?
PT: High & low. Poor with taste (laughs). A lot of people think I'm rich, but I'm just always at the ukay-ukay/thrift. I'll always get compliments on my shoes or something, like: "Oh shit! Are those Valentino?" And I'll be like, "Nah, they're 400 pesos from a shelf in Makati Cinema Square." If you have passion for something, you can always find a way. This applies to everything.
Best piece of advice you've ever received?
PT: Listen more. I've been doing that and learning a lot. Humility and openness is some really nourishing shit. Always trying to have more of that in my life. You just gotta be honest with yourself, and be aware of when it's time for one or the other.
Got any new music in store this year?
PT: So much. The season is about to start. I think there's a chance I might put out more music than any Filipino artist in 2017.
What's your favourite /ESCAPE??
PT: Going all the way in when you create. When the walls melt and you tunnel into that place where you can just truly be with yourself. I don't like to escape so much, I like to enter. I like to fuck with everything, break boundaries and contribute where I can. I think it's fun.
Produced and styled by Kaye Pernia (@kayepernia)
Edited by Dan Buenaventura (@dnbnv)
Interview by Kimberly Lynch (@kimberlynch)
Photography by Karlo Torio (@karlotorio)
Grooming by Celina Fernandez (@astrud_celina), National Brow Artist of Benefit Cosmetics (@benefitph)
Assisted by Dana Malang (@danamalang) and Paula Gisala (@moleypolley)