Manila Killa: “Music is always there for me” [interview + giveaway]

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Photo credit: STruong Photography

Some people go to work at a consulting firm after graduation. Others might go to graduate school. Chris Gavino aka Manila Killa is ending his I Want You tour in Chicago this weekend after performing over a dozen shows across the country this fall. That’s what he’s been doing since graduating from George Mason University in Virginia earlier last year.

You might hear stories about people who dropped out of school to pursue music, but what about someone who stuck it out and finished strong, and is now headlining his own tour?

That’s probably the most inspiring part of his story: while he was moving around a lot growing up, Gavino turned to music as something that he could do anytime, anywhere.

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When his musical career started to take off in 2015, he was in the middle of finishing his college degree. He decided to keep going, creating a system to balance his musical career with his academics. He worked on music on weekends during the school year and travelled during breaks to perform shows.

“I was only able to play shows if it didn’t interfere with school,” he said.

Now that he’s graduated with a degree in business development, he actively incorporates what he’s learned into his own musical career.

“The most important thing that I learned, that I still apply today, is probably marketing,” he said. “How to put yourself out there into the world and figure out how to create a package that’s digestible by a lot of people but also fulfilling for your own artistic integrity.”

Gavino has also capitalized on social media to build his personal brand.

“As I was learning traditional marketing methods and the theory behind it all, I was trying to figure out ways to implement that into my social media strategies,” he said.

In addition to building out his own brand, he’s also a founding member of Moving Castle, a music collective that he runs with his friends Andrew Okamura of AObeats, Ethan Budnick of Robokid and others, like Brett Blackman, the label’s manager.

“It was just a bunch of friends who came together just to support each other’s music,” he said. “It’s just us and it’s just our ideas. We don’t have anyone looking over our shoulders.”

Growing up, Gavino had many hobbies. He wanted to design cars at one point, and also loved break dancing and basketball.

One of the pivotal moments in his life was discovering that he only needed a laptop to make music. Suddenly, just like anyone could consume music anywhere – in a car, a plane or on a walk, the same was true about music production.

“I’m always moving, I’m always travelling,” he said. “Music is always there for me.”

For Gavino, music was a portable project that began as a hobby and grew into something much larger. After he discovered music production, anything was possible.

When he was younger, he listened to a lot of Eminem, Linkin Park and a heavy metal band called Avenged Sevenfold. These days, his favorite acts to keep up with are San Holo, Taska Black, Odesza and Zhu.

He also said that when living in different places around the globe like Manila in the Philippines, he met all sorts of people who influenced his music.

“I’m working off of the energy that I’ve received from the people around me,” he said. “The memories that I make with these people all come together, and that’s what I put into my music.”

The result?

A bright, emotional touch that wavers between aggressive and chill.

While in college, Gavino knew he had to come clean to his parents eventually about his side hustle.

His advice?

“Don’t ignore your parents – they’ve helped you so much even though you don’t realize it, but also don’t ignore what you truly want.”

He said that while his parents wanted what was best for him, it was difficult for them to understand his desire to go into entertainment, typically not a very stable career path.

“Earlier in my career, I wasn’t really open with what I was doing,” he said. “I was doing it secretly, because I didn’t want my parents to find out that I was spending time on that, rather than school.”

This summer, he brought his mom on stage at a concert. That was the first time he spent his summer doing something other than a traditional internship – he was headlining his own tour.

He recalls the thoughts running through his head that evening.

“My mom has gotten this far. She’s given me this much of a chance. She’s at my show, she’s watching me prove myself,” he said. “I want to show her that I really want this, and I want her to be involved in everything that I’m doing.”

With that, he called his mom onto the stage.

“I said whatever came out of my mouth first,” he said sheepishly, “I said, ‘thanks for giving birth to me.'”

And let’s face it, Manila Killa has been…killing it.

He’s found an audience of people who love his sound: energetic yet melodic tracks.

“For 99% of this entire journey, I’ve had no idea what I was doing,” Gavino said. “It was so unpredictable.”

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