We have pretty much dug our grave, and we’re lying in it! It’s our niche! Anyone who comes close to us, parang, “Ah, classic rock? Parang Razorback.” But at least we’ve put a peg on that. We’ve captured it—not by force, just by sheer luck. So do you consider that iconic? I’ll just throw that out there.
Key Terms and Phrases
Sensitive Male Rock
Personal problems with Karaoke
Today’s frightening lack of melodic guitars and skilled guitar playing
Music as (an) education
Being “The Voice of Beer”
The Allegory of the Spam-fed Maggot (and the Internet)
How to keep your band together
No introductions are necessary for Kevin Roy, just a disclaimer that I have him on record telling me to feel free to edit and “autocorrect” whatever needs correcting (he was also pretty drunk towards the end of it). Therefore, this is going to be published without his edits. It has also been close to a decade since I’d last seen either Loquy or Razorback perform. Although he is, in his words, “the voice of beer”, making his presence no less ubiquitous.
This interview was recorded in mid-December at Big Sky Mind in New Manila, Quezon City.
My name is Kevin Roy – Kevin to most, Kev to friends. I hate being called Karl Roy—well, I used to hate it, but now it brings back fond memories. I’ve been singing for twenty years professionally. I started really young. I was 17 when I started, and I’m turning 38, so twenty-one years na pala! I stopped counting at 36, so yeah (Holy crap, man…Is my math right?).
Anyway, twenty-one years, on and off; it depends on how active the band is, it depends on the “shift”–the alignment–of the planets. Stuff like that. Everyone got older, but anyway…let’s stick to the question! What do I do? I sing for the band, Razorback. I don’t make the music, sadly, because I don’t play any instruments. The only instrument I play is the drums, which has nothing to do with melody, which is the main element [of singing], but it does wonders for my phrasing. Plus, I get to help out my drummer with some arrangements.
What else do I do outside of music? I love Diablo II. I also love Diablo III. I waited for that game for twenty years (well, hindi naman twenty, mga twelve years ata) and I’m a bit disappointed, but not as disappointed as the masses. I’m a gamer. Not so hardcore, but I spend a lot of free time on that.
I’m a magician, if you will. Not the parlor magician, but I like to distort time and space. Of course it’s all in my mind, substances included: alcohol. (tips glass)
I graduated from culinary school. I’m a non-practicing chef, I apprenticed under Chef Ninyo of Ninyo Wine Lounge–amazing guy, Japanese-French-trained. I have a fondness for kitchen stuff, particularly molecular cooking. I think it’s a good angle. The Philippines is not ready yet but there’s some stuff you can try na. Mahirap nga lang gawin— perhaps climate has something to do with it? I grew fond of cooking when I took a break from singing. Now, I’m singing full-time.
I’m a father to a 13-year-old, I’m a husband in a 15-year marriage. That’s that.
I started getting sensitive when I began playing for this band called Loquy. The person who turned me around was probably Cynthia Alexander. Through Cynthia, I started listening to Pakistani music, like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (he’s like the Elvis of Pakistan, right?). And then there’s Norah Jones–dim the lights and turn on the Norah Jones, baby! On the angrier side of things, there’s Ani DiFranco. I love her live, she’s awesome. And currently, Muse is my new favorite old band. I’m kind of a late bloomer that way.
With the current wave of acts, I’m not too familiar… I’m still leaning towards the electronic stuff. I like the Chemical Borthers, I like Prodigy. Back then, I heavily associated the Chemical Brothers with killing the rock scene—enter the techno worm, you know? Like, all of a sudden, DJs and the like were the new rock stars, which was like one guy versus five guys rockin’ out.
Arguably, pag pogi yung banda—at magaling—you could compete. Kami, hindi kami pogi. The music’s good, but the Philippines doesn’t like our music. Honestly, I’m starting to think we’re meant for another place; it’s just that I love this country. I love this shithole so much, I can’t leave it. Everything I love is here. Beneath the scene, beneath the people, the places, it’s here.
I can trace my current taste in music to the first time I heard Cynthia, and from there I actually built a band with Sancho, her guitar player. We made Loquy. And people were actually trying to classify us like, “What genre are you playing? Is it folk-metal? Acoustic metal?”
“Dude, it’s Sensitive Male Rock.”
So yeah, that project was doomed!
We play like four or five times a year, meaning whenever somebody books us, we play. Even if everyone’s doing their own thing: Sancho works for…I think it’s Google (Something internet…basta, a big company); Niño – our flutician – is now an artist; Francis is hellish busy with Wolfgang; Louie’s in two or three bands and raising a youngling (three years old). And there’s me: I’m making ends meet by doing Razorback, a little bit of cooking on the side, and GAP– Guilty Acoustic Pleasures, my acoustic playground.
You’d think I’d remember the first album I purchased with my own money…I do remember one of the first: it was Pink Floyd’s Momentary Lapse of Reason. I was seven years old, I bought it with my allowance, and I did not listen to it. I was looking for The Wall, so I made a mistake.
When it came to CDs ordered from my first paycheck, it had to be the Zeppelin box set – the four-piece box set— I had to have that shit. Another one was Boston’s first album. They weren’t a trinity, but a triumvirate—New Wave, Floyd, and Zepp—that’s my core, and that doesn’t change. I get tired of it, but I can’t escape it.
Actually, I only got into Classic Rock when I joined Razorback. Before that, I was really into New Wave and Elvis. My roots are in the 80s, so that’s when I really developed my music core. I grew up with cool brothers with lots of cool records, and New Wave was the in thing then, so my knowledge of it is quite deep. I can pull out a few ones that will take you back to, “Oh my god, this song!”
What I play during the day is not random. It’s the result of how I feel.
I’ll answer this question by telling you what I listen to: O, by Damien Rice – whole album; occasionally, I’ll get the tearjerker from Cynthia (Alexander). I crave Cynthia Alexander! Every once in a while, it’s so nice to go back to her. When I’m in a playful mood, I’ll turn on OK radio. If I’m nostalgic, I’ll go back to Sting. Sometimes when I need an ego boost, I’ll check out my own music–but just to revisit! (laughs)
I’ll whip out Death Magnetic once in a while and System of a Down’s first album. So I do the whole spectrum, but I’m so detached from music that when I need to hear a song, I’ll still go to my laptop to play it. I’m not the type who’ll be taking a shower and have music blasting—I used to be, but for some reason I’m off it.
You know what’s weird, is that I do not own an iPod. I’m not the typical music guy who’ll turn on sounds every day. I can actually drive and be left with my thoughts, peacefully, and I like it that way. The sound of silence, like, “What’s your favourite song?”
“The Sound of Silence,”
“Like Simon and Garfunkel?”
“Nope. The sound of *silence*”
I don’t like karaoke because it feels like my job. I don’t know if it follows, but I sing every night. I’m one of those singers who needs to rest when I get tired of it. I mean, why would I do this for fun if I already do this for a living? I still enjoy singing, mind you, but professionally on stage, to a crowd; not singing for fun to a TV. I like interaction not between me and the TV, but between me and the crowd. And I hate that –(makes bellowing sound into imaginary microphone) That! Especially when all you hear is yourself and no backing band, just some weird, flute-based melody going on? I hate that.
Anyway, you get me?
I got introduced to Tears for Fears when I was in grade four, and I memorized the lyrics to the album. It’s not quite right for kids that age to know the words to albums like that. They’re quite heavy, so when I finally understood them, it was like, “oh…wow…this is good shit,” and I would copy them into my notebook.
I grew up musically inclined: my father played instruments, my lola was a magna cum laude in voice, my aunt majored in piano, my sister was S1 for the Singing Ambassadors – the chorale (the golden age, in the 1990s when they’d go out and win competitions versus the Madrigals, who were classically trained—and they were just winging it, oido, so I’m very proud of my sister that way), my brother Karl was in the glee club, then my brother Keith also sang in a band with Chuck Isidro from 6 Cycle and After Image. They were bandmates in high school, but my brother decided to just play it safe. He became a broker.
So in effect, you could say I was born into it, or at least there’s a predisposition. But I never really dreamed about getting on stage and making my own music until I saw Karl live. I was in high school (first year or grade seven?), and I was already playing drums then (I even played for Advent Call a few times, maybe around three gigs). I was young, I sucked at it and I still do—but when I saw Karl live, I knew I really wanted to sing.
So I built myself up for it over the years, getting to that point when Razorback wanted Karl to sing for them. Karl declined because he already had commitments with Advent Call, so there he was, tapping his fingers together, looking at me from our balcony, then he said, “Why don’t you try?”
And I was like, “Really? Me?”
“Yeah, I’ll set it up. I’ll call Miguel.”
So that’s how it started. I gave you a little history all the way from high school, but the trigger was Karl. It wasn’t so much the music I listened to because I didn’t have access to watch any concerts. I was too young to see Duran Duran when they were here (actually I could have, but my dad didn’t bring me, and my brothers were too cool to bring their younger brother; so I was like, “Fuck you both…now who do you watch? Me. ME.” [laughs] But it’s good, man. We’re tight. We’re solid, that way). I landed the job and it snowballed. Twenty-one years after, fast forward: here we are.
I’d do it all again. I’d do it, but better and smarter—same amounts of alcohol, perhaps more? I’d make sure to keep myself fit. I’d stay in the gym and stay visually appealing. It helps, you know? It helps bands sell.
I’ve seen change, baby! The 90’s were just so much fun. Everyone was trying to establish themselves: we were all kids, all growing up in this scene, wanting to be noticed, wanting to be recognized, and craving respect. I’ll speak for myself, first and foremost: it wasn’t so much the money, the money came and went; but earning the respect of your peers was instrumental to growing into it. Audience din kami – we’d watch each other, learn from each other, and there was some sense of healthy competition. Parang, “uy, ang galing ng growth ng bandang ‘to. Now I have to go out and do my research and learn to sing better.”
Nowadays, the kids are younger. They’re more awesome actually – there’s some real musicianship. How whiny some things get is a matter of preference, but I do know that they’re playing their instruments better. I do however notice a frightening lack of melodic guitars and skilled guitar playing. The blues, the heart of it, is disappearing. Even the melodies aren’t so bluesy anymore, and I look for that. I look for something soulful because nothing out there seems to fill my soul. It sounds so romantic or whatnot, but it’s really true.
There are some songs out there, some Up Dharma songs—I don’t even know the titles. But when I hear it, I’m like, “Oh my god, I love this song.” Aia (de Leon), isa pa yon – that big song of theirs (Imago), (sings) “Sabihin saaaa ‘kin…” Akap (Take 2 [2005; PolyEast])! Awesome song. Vin (Peryodiko) has got some good songs. I love Ebe’s “Kuwarto” (Sugarfree, Dramachine [2004; EMI]), Rico Blanco’s storytelling in songs like “Ambulansya” (Free ).
I just wish that as education, and through the really great artists that are unsung, they can take the Blues to a place where pedestrians will understand. I’ll just say it, because that’s what I’m going for: I’m trying to educate the masses. This is not coming from an elitist standpoint, it’s just for lack of a better word. Imbis na Willie Revillame yung naririnig nila, imbis na Viva Hot Babes–sorry, uso pa ba ‘yon?–and apologies in advance, but to name a few more, there’s Rocksteddy, Kamikazee, Parokya…I mean, I get it: they’re awesome, they’re intelligent, they’re great friends, and I love them…but…But the crowd is a constant and they don’t experiment, so they need to be educated. When they see us, you can tell if they’re seeing us for the first time because it’s like, “How come I’ve never seen these guys before when they’ve been around for twenty years?”
If they need to be educated though, that’s not my job. We produce our records, but they’re not buying, which makes me think we should probably give them away. I’m okay with giving my music away. We produce our own stuff now, anyway. The consolation I get for that, as mentioned earlier, is the respect that I get from my peers…Brosnan. Guy Pearce. Tears for Peers.
I must be doing something right though—and I’m sorry, but here’s my fucking ego—because I’m being hired to do ads. I’m serious. That’s professional shit. There was a time when I was the voice of beer! Tapos may iced tea pa on the side!
I’m also proud to have recorded on magnetic reels, and we still have some of those reels! We started in 1993, and by 1998, that was our third and last record on reels. I’m proud to have done that, because if you make a mistake you have to go back and re-do the whole thing, and tt’s not easy to punch. Some engineers are skilled in that way, and some aren’t, so it takes some level of discipline.
How easy and accessible recording now is just changes everything, that’s why you have YouTube and all these talents just popping up like mushrooms. Now, anyone can record, anyone can become an “engineer”, but a really good engineer who knows the proper tweaking? I myself am not well-versed in kilohertz and what cancels this or that out, how to fix this or take out that hissing. Now, at the push of the button, you have all these presets. The greats, like sina Angee Rozul, sina Dante, from Greenhills Sound—god, I don’t know where those guys are! Sayang na medyo nauubusan na sila ng trabaho. Really great mixes came from those guys (arguably, medyo pop, but still great mixes). Take any of those guys, sit them down, make them mix an orchestra, and that will show you an engineer with really great hands and ears.
That was in the 70’s or 80’s though. The 90’s guys really killed them naman (laughs): naging puro midi, yung drummer naging drum machine…things change. It’s the only constant in life. That and Pepe Smith.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a physical CD of ours in a stand. Record companies had the power to do that before. Now, they’re close to powerless— they have jack because there’s indie and everyone’s distributing. I mean, isn’t this the reason why they’re saying Pinoy rock is dead? It’s because they have no power and yet, they’re supposed to be controlling the market. In a way, they are though. What plays on the radio is…nevermind. It’s sad.
Marketing has changed to put the power in the musician’s hands. Those in the Metro can sell it themselves now during gigs. On the internet, you have the digital files. For the people in the provinces though, not everyone’s connected to the net, so if there are no physical copies it’s hard to get the music out. That’s what makes it tricky.
Magagawan naman ng paraan yan because Filipinos will find a way of getting what they wants. There will be civil unrest. Imagine if they took piracy away? Shet, overpopulation na yan. What’s there to do? Fuck? Drink? Fucking DVDs keep us in line! Pirated shit keeps the normal Filipino happy.
I’m not being a hypocrite because I don’t make money from record sales. There’s some money to be made, but it ends at some point. Now, if you bring us (meaning Razorback) out of the country, there’s a lot of money to be made there – an untapped well. Personally, a strategy I’d like to apply is to just give my music away and make money at shows. That’s what makes sense to me and that’s the way we’ve been doing it since day one. I don’t know why not everyone in our band agrees with it, but whatever. [I’d suggest to] Just keep it on iTunes then throw one or two CDs away.
It’s really all a chain now, from the way it’s recorded to the way it’s distributed: it’s all applications, making it a whole new ball game. And sadly for Razorback, we are a little bit old school and we’re not very connected to that world. We can’t even find the people who used to write about us. We have photographer friends, but everyone’s a fucking photographer nowadays, if you know what I mean? Our band doesn’t get any press or publicity. We did garner some attention lately because we hit twenty* years and we released an album, and at the launch they were like, “Oh these guys are still alive!” And then they came to watch because we were actually there, so there was a buzz: people interviewed us, there were nice photos, and there was attention.
*note that it was actually twenty-two years
It was nice, but print is difficult nowadays. You have to put naked people on the covers or a gadget has to be reviewed in the same pages just for it to sell. What changed was that before, you needed that publicity. I should make a scandal, but I don’t even think that people would watch it…Maybe if it were Manuel Legarda who did it? That would be a sight to see. He’s a beautiful man…you know he has blue eyes? I get lost. “Manuel, can you play that part in…bluuu–I mean B! Blue flat! I mean, B-flat!”
You know what really makes a person? It’s his deeds, his actions, his legacy; of course, there are the ones who have passed na, but among the ones who are alive and are still around…I’m going to answer this at a very personal level. These are the people who inspire me and have set me off in the direction I’m walking towards now:
Cynthia Alexander is both my drug and my hero, and she has inspired me in many different ways. That person’s amazing. Big Sky is iconic. Lots of legends were born here—not just people – legends, epics, tales. From my peers, I do love Dong Abay’s writing. Always. If I want to raise my grasp of Tagalog, I listen to Vin Dancel. Mike Villegas is not in the mainstream anymore, but he’s an awesome guitar player and a good friend (the brothers, Angelo and Mike, actually. The twins).
You know what? We have pretty much dug our grave, and we’re lying in it! It’s our niche! Anyone who comes close to us, parang, “Ah, classic rock? Parang Razorback.” But at least we’ve put a peg on that. We’ve captured it—not by force, just by sheer luck. So do you consider that iconic? I’ll just throw that out there.
The industry will be like this for a while. I don’t actually see it progressing. Paano ba? It’s basically technological advancements, which have grown exponentially in the past ten years with the internet. I’m inclined to think it’s about to explode—or implode? It’ll kill itself or eat itself. I don’t know if you’ve done this as a kid, but if you make a little hole in a can of Spam and bury it for days on end, you’ll have little maggots. Then when the Spam runs out, they’ll start eating each other ‘til you have this one HUGE, canned, Spam-fed maggot: the Spaggot. (I didn’t try this, but Basti [Artadi] did, so if it doesn’t work, blame him.)
The growth is crazy exponential, and as musicians we have to keep up. So lamang diyan yung kids, or the grown-ups with tech support. Even facebook is quite advanced for me—HAHAHAHA!—text blast pa rin ako. To me, technology is the godhead right now. It dictates the pace. Tweets, for crying out loud.
Anyway, that’s the future, man. Keep up and keep your band together. Grow up. Stay friends. You’re only a few guys who are really close and are making good music—that’s it, I think. That’s the recipe. Plus a good state of mind.
Recorded on December18, 2012 at Big Sky Mind, New Manila, Quezon City. Duration: 56 minutes with edits. Illustrated by Jules Quiambao.