This article originally appeared on VICE Asia.
Meet Polo. Nope, not like the fashion brand, although his real name is Ralph Lawrence Reyes. Not like the hide-and-seek game, nor the famous explorer either. Not even like the horseback sport played by snooty noblemen. Polo, like the Filipino indie-pop musician known as Mellow Fellow.
After graduating from college in 2015, Polo thought that he would eventually start his professional career or help out with his family business. Five years on and the future looks slightly different. Going from releasing a slew of singles and albums on Soundcloud to touring around the world, the bedroom pop musician has decidedly come into his own.
Now, he melds low full-bodied vocals over crooning guitar melodies. Punctuated with lo-fi drums and the odd saxophone solo, Polo's music is made to tide you through the bad days. With lyrics centred around themes of love and heartbreak, the songwriter has become a familiar face among indie pop aficionados the likes of, Clairo, Vansire (both of whom he has collaborated with), and Boy Pablo.
One could mistake the smooth and sultry resonance of Polo’s vocals for nonchalance, but the truth is that the journey to the Filipino musician’s dreamy calm was often marked by adversity.
“The response to my music felt massively overwhelming at first. I had no plans on becoming an artist or someone that people would look up to. This was just not part of my plan and to be super candid with you, it’s not easy.”
From dealing with external judgement and internal doubt, Polo has seen his fair share of the bad, and has remarkably been able to channel that negativity into a source of hope and belonging.
“We see a lot of bad stuff on the news and social media and we get really affected by it. What I've learned about that is — if you don't take life so seriously and if you take it one day, one step at a time, if you try to provide solutions, not thinking too much ahead — life can be a bit more enjoyable that way.”
At 25, Polo proves that age doesn't have to be a measure of wisdom and that you don’t always need a plan to progress. True to his moniker, listening to Polo’s humble catalogue of tunes is like ripping a page from a dictionary that reads, "made gentle and compassionate by age or experience."
I believe in… The power of water. We take water for granted, it’s such a simple and basic need but it’s the one thing that actually keeps us going.
As far as I know, our body is 75 percent comprised of water. We drink a lot of coffee, we drink a lot of alcohol, we drink a lot of sugary drinks and whatever the fuck people drink nowadays, but at the end of the day, you gotta come home to water. Water is a major driving force of life, and if we run out of water, we die. I always say this — you gotta stay hydrated if you wanna stay in the game.
My friends say I am… Fat. As much as I love to exercise, I love to eat, so it kinda negates the exercise. I was actually borderline obese a couple of months ago, so I had to change my lifestyle.
But I like to think I am… losing weight.
I've been working on… Some new songs for my personal project and releasing an album with my old band. I also hope I can drop a music video this year because I have none at all and that’s embarrassing.
I used to be in this surf rock, punk band called The Benchwarmers for about four years before Mellow Fellow was even a thing. We had the most amazing music, at least to my ears. It was the rawest form of music. We performed a lot and used to be just the rowdiest people on stage, breaking mics and diving into drum sets. We created songs years back but never really got to finish because of complications. We came back together this year and we’ll see if people like it.
I am inspired by… Sunlight. I’ve been living in my studio the past few months and taped up my window for acoustic panels, but that was at the sacrifice of sunlight. Recently I took that out and life just looks better. It feels more inspiring to see the sunlight, circadian rhythm and all that. It’s a very important thing for your mind.
Recently I've been really into… Mob movies. I’ve been into them since I was 14. I watched The Godfather and dived deep into that genre of film. With all the violence that occurs in those films, I think we often miss the takeaway. It’s mostly about dealing with people and learning how to do business, whether they’re aggressive or pushovers. What I’ve learned is that any mobster who uses violence to have his way at the start of the movie always ends up getting whacked by the end of it. Always. I guess that taught me that even though there are going to be people who talk shit in my life, it’s always better to forgive.
I’ve also really been into my girlfriend Ruru’s music. I've always been a big fan of her stuff from the start, not just because I'm her partner. I’m glad to see her grow every day. People need to stop sleeping on her music, she’s coming up with some really exciting stuff this year.
Cowboy Country Club and Andy Chlau, I’m really into their stuff. For international artists, I'm really into Jerry Paper. I'm a little late to the party but yeah, Jerry Paper, you are amazing. I look up to Steve Lacy as well; I’ve heard he's part Filipino so yeah, go Philippines.
You can usually find me at… My studio cause I don't really go out anymore. You can also find me at the basketball court. I love playing basketball and working out.
On bad days, I… Drink coffee. Pure black coffee has just been amazing for me, and I was never really a fan of coffee until last year. I know it’s such an addictive thing but I can't go on with my day without it. Especially if I’m having a bad day, when I drink coffee I tend to snap out of the negative thoughts. I’m better able to rationalize all these things and tell myself hey, everything’s gonna be good.
I live for… Cheese. One of my family members from way back when used to call me ‘Polo the Mouse’ because it was just weird for them that I would slice cheese and eat it whole. Even if it’s just processed cheese, I would never say no. Except for blue cheese — blue cheese is wack, that shit is fucking disgusting, but any other kind of cheese is good. Cheese is life. There’s something about cheese, I just can't stop eating it.
In five years… I probably still won’t be able to answer this question. I grew up in a family where this was always asked and I gave them different answers every time: “I'll be a doctor,” “I'll be a businessman,” “I'll be an executive or a president of a company.” I was supposed to go in that direction until my music happened to be awesome for a lot of people.
I could say a lot of things are gonna happen in five years but 95 percent of the time it never happens, unless you really will it. But when I willed myself to go somewhere I didn't enjoy the journey or the process, even if I eventually got to where I wanted to. If anything, hopefully in five years I will learn how to be happy. Not that I'm not happy now, but to learn how to sustain happiness regardless of where I am in life. That's where I wanna be.