#GenerationLit: Hitting The Right Notes with Chelsea Ronquillo
Young, beautiful, spunky, original, multi-talented and brimming with promise, Chelsea Ronquillo is exactly the type of girl who’s got everything it takes to make it.
If you’ve found yourself navigating the strata of the internet, you’ve probably chanced upon the singer’s Instagram or SoundCloud accounts, which she keeps up-to-date with frequent acoustic renditions of her favorite songs. Her unique, husky and smooth yet powerful tone, and distinct, relaxed street style are but a few qualities that make her a clear-cut standout from today’s cloying pop star hopefuls. Though she has built herself a decent online following, Chelsea’s down-to-earth and unassuming disposition would never give her away.
“Sorry, pero I’m not really ready for this interview,” the musician let out a chuckle with a demeanor so cool we forgot she had the capacity to feel nervous. We quickly placated her apprehension, reassuring her that we would keep it casual––just like making kwento. And from her early beginnings, to her pilot alter-ego, to a fateful trip to Greenhills that would forever alter the course of her existence, all the good kwento is exactly what we got.
Have you always been a musical person?
I don’t think I’ve always been a musical person. I started performing when I was 4, but I was more into dancing then. I was never really into music until I took Star Magic workshops under ABS. What happened was, my director made me sing so often, to the point where I thought I might have the talent for it, and I just decided to pursue it. And music ended up really being my passion.
What kind of music have you been inclined toward since you were younger?
I’ve always been into either acoustic music or R&B. My aunt is actually a singer also, so that’s where I think I got my voice since my parents aren’t really musical. She was a musical inspiration to me. Also, when I was younger, I wasn’t really aware of Taylor Swift until one day, I went to Greenhills to get my iPod fixed and they downloaded music onto it. The first thing I heard was a song of Taylor Swift’s. She immediately caught my attention, and then I started listening to her. She got me interested in country music and inspired me to learn the guitar. It’s funny, my best friend gifted me with a guitar to start learning on, pero sira-sira siya [it was beat-up]; it only had four strings! And then after a while, my mom replaced it with a new guitar, which led me to start making music and recording it. My dad heard my music and realized I could sing, so he endorsed me to a producer, Vehnee Saturno. After receiving my family’s full support, I realized I could pursue this as a career.
How did you start performing?
My first ever gig was in St. Andrew’s School, Parañaque. I wasn’t really expecting anything out of it, but after I performed, so many people came up to me and asked for photos. I was shocked to find na ang dami palang tagahanga [there were so many people who admired my music]. The bookings began to pour in after that, nag tuloy-tuloy na siya. I’d get inquiries from mostly campuses, and performed in Ateneo, La Salle, UST, and others. The same thing happened in all the campuses, and when my parents saw the amount of people who admired my music, they pushed me to take my career seriously, to the point where Viva and Star Magic reached out. But I was only 17 and didn’t feel ready yet. It was only when I turned 21 that I decided it was time.
How would you describe your own style of music?
Mostly acoustic talaga. If not acoustic, ballads. If not ballads, pop & R&B. I appreciate the softness and emotion of the genre. I’m not really a vocal person, so I express my feelings through music.
Your voice has such a unique tone to it. Where do you think you got your technique?
There was this producer who got me to sing in the studio, and when he heard me, he told me that my voice is extremely unique, and that I sound different from the other singers who all start to sound the same after a while. And then he gave me a tip. He said, “If you want to pursue this career, you need your own style.” And I realized that’s exactly what I had to do—concentrate more on finding my own personal style or individuality, and work on developing it. And I think I’ve done that quite well.
We all know you as a singer. But you also have a distinct branding online. Is there anybody responsible for that?
I’m actually fully independent. My online persona, and how I present myself online is just me trying to be myself, trying to be individual. I don’t think I need too much help from other people with that, because my identity originates from myself. And I think it’s best that I remain independent. I’ve had a manager previously, but felt like I wanted to do things on my own, so am currently doing just that. And I think it’s best to stay an independent artist for now.
The industry that you’re in is very saturated, be it online or otherwise. How do you rise above that? How do you make sure you stand out?
Honestly, I don’t think it’s about being competitive with other artists. I personally believe that all I have to do is be myself and stay unique. I think that’s really the most important thing. Cause if I try to compete with other people, syempre mapupunta ako sa baba [I’ll fall behind]. And that’s possibly the best trait I have—that I never compete with other people. So if I find an audience who likes my sound, that’s more than enough for me. It’s a good feeling to know that people appreciate the art I make, and the sound I created.
What keeps you motivated in the work that you do?
My dad wants me to be a pilot—I actually already am one—and he would always tell me to shift my focus more to studies or aviation. But I always tell him, “This is my passion, I can’t change that.” I just want to believe more in myself, cause I know that I can be on top, and so much better as an artist, even without anybody’s help.
There are plenty of artists who turn away from covers. You on the other hand record them quite often, and it works for you. Why did you choose to go that route?
Covering songs that people are familiar to people allows them to connect with your music. Also, I remember a director told me before that the covers I make should be of songs originally sung by men, cause it’s very rare for women to do that. And that inspired me, cause it makes me different. It makes me stand out. Also, I frequently revive songs from the past, cause it widens my audience. It guarantees that not just our generation will be listening, but people of all ages.
You have an original song up in SoundCloud. What inspired it?
I have an original song on SoundCloud, and it’s called When I Look At You. I attended a songwriting workshop, and was inspired to write. What’s it about? Funny story, I fell in love with a guy, and hindi niya ako gusto [he didn’t like me back]. So I put it in the song, and the song actually became a hit. I wasn’t expecting a lot of people to listen to my music, cause I’m just a girl on SoundCloud. And then when I searched for my song, I was surprised to find a lot of people had actually covered it. That’s what touched me, cause I guess people could relate to my song, and that’s the best part of it all.
Do you have any more unreleased music?
I wrote a song recently when I was abroad, but it’s still in the works. I actually have two songs I’m working on! The latest one is a collaboration with Louie Pedroso from GMA, and it’s set for release this February.
Where do you see your music going? What do you hope for it to become?
Well I’m not really hoping for it to become a huge part of the music industry, but for now, I just want people to relate to my music, and to hear me out, especially about how I feel. Because basically music is an outlet for me to release my feelings, especially cause I’m not the most expressive person. So I pour out my emotions through my music, and I hope that people listen.
Would you consider signing with a major label, or are you happier releasing your music independently?
For now, I’m enjoying being independent. It allows me to stay authentic and hold onto my personal style. But if the right opportunity comes, of course, I’ll always take it.
What’s your escape when life gets overwhelming?
That’s the toughest question so far! I think life will always be a little overwhelming for me. My greatest escape would be regaining control of my mind and self. I try to heal by reminding myself why I started in the first place. I pause, I check in with myself, and I learn to say no to the things that weigh me down. Music is one of the things that help soothe me, too. Tara Estacaan once said, “A pause gives you breathing space so listen to the whispers of the real you waiting to happen.” I couldn’t agree more!
Photography by Mike Gella
Produced and edited by Vani Altomonte
Art Direction by Nigel Garcia
Layout by Francesca Lagmay
Words by Emmanuelle Vera
Production Coordination by Stevie Eigenmann
Shot on location at Xylo