In “Tuning In”, we delve into the lives and loves of the people behind the tracks you love — and the ones they love, as well. In this edition, we talk to drummer and metalhead JM Inot, of ARKM, Hybrid Stereo and, yes, Honky Tonks Tavern.
Bartender by day, bartender by night, rockstar by, well, also night, it’s not entirely clear if JM Inot has ever seen a morning commute. But with his talents, he’ll probably never have to.
That’s because unlike the rest of us 9-to-5 suckers in our cubicle confines, Inot’s skills — both behind the bar, and amid a sea of hi-hats and toms — keep him a crucial part of the engine that keeps Hong Kong alive and vibrant after dark, night after night, wave after wave.
Drummers, good ones at least, tend to be in high demand in the industry. Nice work if you can get it. And self-described metalhead Inot, who got his start with drumming in his school’s orchestra, currently occupies the leather throne behind two bands: ARKM, a metal band, and Hybrid Stereo, an alternative/post-hardcore band — what he lovingly describes as “heavy and down-tuned anger management music”.
“I have always been into rock music since I was a child. I look up to my dad, who’s also a musician, so I learn my work ethic from him,” says Inot, who also spends his evenings holding court behind the bar at Honky Tonks Tavern, the Southern-inspired, Asia’s 50 Best-recognised, restaurant and cocktail dive (one that also we hear fries a pretty mean bird) just off of Hollywood Road.
With bars and clubs reopened — and live music, hopefully, to follow suit soon — we caught up with Inot (and more than a few tequila sodas at Honky Tonks) to talk drums, Manila’s underground music scene and his double-life after dark in Hong Kong.
Tuning In: JM Inot of ARKM and Hybrid Stereo
What was your first instrument or training with music?
I think it has always been drums. I’ve tried different instruments, but I felt really comfortable with drums. My dad thought me a few paradiddles and some basic drum stuff. I joined the school band in 5th grade, and l learned how to read notes and play with an orchestra band. But the real training came when I stayed at my drum teacher’s hometown for the summer, just to learn more and experience being in a marching band.
Did you grow up around music? Does it run in your family?
Yes I did, my dad plays the alto saxophone and my mom was a singer. We would always watch Chicago and Earth, Wind and Fire DVDs when I was young. Music runs on my dad’s side — one of my uncles played the drums and my grandfather played the tenor saxophone as well.
What’s the first song you’ve ever learned by heart?
“Friends and Strangers” by Dave Grusin. I love that song, my dad played that with his band at his old work at The Peak, and I instantly fell in love with it! It made me want to learn it just so I could jam with my dad and his band.
When did you realise you were musical? Can you pinpoint a formative moment when you realised you were *good*?
I think it was back in 2005 or 2006? It was that time when our school band had this concert, where everyone from kindergarteners to high school seniors were watching. I was playing the main drum set, and also switching between snare and percussions with my drum teacher for some marching songs.
How have different cultural influences in your life shaped you as a musician?
Being a third culture kid, it helps me to be open to other types of music and genres. This gives me an opportunity to learn more and embrace the differences of styles.
What’s a song (or album, or performance) that had a really important, lasting impact on you, both personally and as an artist?
I think it was the time when I borrowed my sister’s PULP magazine — it’s a well known magazine in the Philippines for both local and foreign bands — that specific issue had this “World Battle of the Bands – Philippines Division.” I think it was a 12-track CD? It had everyone from the underground scene in Manila. Since then I discovered that I have this love for heavy and down-tuned anger management music. From there, I did my own research and discovered what kind of music I really like, which is metal genre.
Who’s your favourite musician/artist? Name up to three and how they inspired you.
Number one is my dad; he’s the one that inspired me to pick up an instrument in the first place and to always play with your heart. I wouldn’t be playing drums if it weren’t for his guidance and inspiration. I owe it all to him.
Second would be my bandmate, Kuya Danilo ‘JR’ Gabuya; we’ve been bandmates since early 2012. He is like my big brother, the one who inspired me to be unique and be true to my craft. I will never forget this line that he told us: “Don’t just do it for the sake of a band and playing out there, do it for your own experience and chance to improve what you lack and learn how it feels to play tight and precise.” He is also the person who told me to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself to do better.
Third is my brother and good friend, Naseem Khan, vocalist of Dagger and Parallel Horizons. This dude inspired me in so many different ways. From writing songs, mixing songs, to playing tight at shows and a lot more. This guy always states facts, specially when it comes to mixing and playing. He is one of the most humble and down-to-earth people that I know. He not only inspired me, but everyone else in our circle.
What does music, or being a musician, mean to you?
For me, music is my passion. People ask me why don’t I become a full time musician — I say I’m not doing this for the money, I’m doing this ’cause I love playing the drums. I love jamming with my bandmates and making our own music. If we can do this full time, it would be a blessing. My biggest goal is to release songs and albums that my bandmates and I would be really proud of.
Is there anyone or any band — especially around Hong Kong — whose work you’re currently really excited about?
PARALLEL HORIZONS! I’m so stoked for their upcoming releases, not because they’re my homies, but they deserve more recognition for all the hard work they’ve done over the past years. From instruments to lyrics to the vibe, their songs are just simply inspiring. Every song that you hear from them is a step up! I would say, they changed the game in the metal scene in Hong Kong. Go check out their track “Ashen One”, that will forever be my favourite from them.
What’s your creative process?
Normally our guitarist for both bands, ARKM and Hybrid Stereo, would write riffs and some drums together just to get the idea going. But most of the time we just jam first, then if one of us gets an idea, we share it and it usually ends up being a song. Because of the government’s restrictions, we barely meet up now, so we’re just sending demos to each other and try to add ideas. It’s the modern way of writing, I guess.
What’s your favourite lyric, ever?
Darkness swallowed hope, rapture carved in stone, blackened soul walks the road, destined for agony, eternal blight, no end in sight, lost inside the eye of the storm.
- (from Parallel Horizons – “Ashen One”)
Taylor Swift. Thoughts?
Low-key I’m a Swiftie (laughs). I only know a few songs from her, but overall I think she’s good, and most important of all, she’s real.
What are your five most-played tracks on Spotify?
It tends to change depending on my mood, but recently, it’s:
- Volumes – “Intake”
- Scriptvre – “INFJ” (feat. LALALIN)
- Reflections – “Shadow Self”
- Darko US – “Acid Inject”
- Seasons for Change – “Anchors”
Any guilty-pleasure tunes you’d like to plug?
Shiba San – “Show Me”, Show Me, Hammock – “Air Between Us” and Young Lions – “Relativity”.
Do you have any pre- and post-show rituals?
Pre-show, normally I just do stretches before our set. I like to set-up my double pedals before we get on stage just so I can get that out of the way and start setting up the drums. Now that I’m using an in-ear monitor during our set, I open my program earlier and put my laptop to sleep, so when I get up there, I just plug and play. I usually get nervous — especially if it’s a big show — so I don’t eat much before we play. I used to drink before our show, but now maybe just a drink to calm my nerves (laughs). Mostly, I try to joke around just to calm myself and focus on the adrenaline.
Post-Show, I tend to watch videos of our performance, and see how we sound from the crowd’s perspective. Usually you’ll see me chilling or trying to catch my breath after playing (laughs). Sometimes I join the mosh pit, since I’m done with our set.
What’s next, what are you working on?
Both of my bands are currently in the mixing and mastering process for an EP. So while waiting for that, I’m just trying to write my own songs. When I have spare time, I try to write as much as I can. If I get lazy, I always end up just jamming on my drums.
(Images courtesy of JM Inot / ARKM / Hybrid Stereo)