As the Music Plays at 15: An Oral History

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photo EMI/Polyeast

Cast of characters: Francisco “Bamboo” Mañalac (vocals), Ira Cruz (guitars), Vic Mercado (drums), Pancho Gonzales (manager), Christopher Sy (EMI managing director), Russell Eustaquio (EMI A&R), Francis Guevarra, EMI A&R), Angee Rozul (Tracks Studio, sound engineer). Cris Hermosisima (NU107 Station Manager), Papa JT (Barangay LS), and CJ Rivera (Magic89.9 Music and Programming Director). Nathan Azaron declined to be interviewed for the feature.
(NOTE: This intro was the intro that didn’t make it. To read the intro that was published, visit https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/specials/content/76/hoy-pinoy-ako-an-oral-history-of-as-the-music-plays-at-15/ .)

It took Bamboo (the band) exactly one year to write and record As the Music Plays, their debut album. When it was released 15 years ago, in 2004, “it broke OPM again on the rock side,” begins Chris Sy, former Managing Director of EMI Philippines, the record label that signed Bamboo and released the band’s records. “Bamboo ushered in the second coming of the band scene.”
Consider the landscape back then: acoustic covers were lording it over mainstream radio, and Pinoy Rock, though swarming with bands left and right, was pretty much left to its own devices and within its own eksena.
And then “Noypi” was released as the lead single off As the Music Plays in 2004, catching everybody unaware and by surprise waking everybody up from the acoustic slumber: Who is this…band? Why do they sound so fresh but familiar?
The patriotic anthem and the record from which it came hit a nerve, it immediately catapulted Francisco “Bamboo” Mañalac, Nathan Azarcon, Ira Cruz, and Vic Mercado into rock royalty of the Philippine music industry.
It was something they never intended to happen— or at least admit having thought of.
They are no strangers to the music scene. Nathan and Bamboo were members of ‘90s rock superstars Rivermaya, and Ira and Vic of pop group Passage. It was a curios collection of players, but one that made so much sense—high in talent, they created music that was beautiful, good, and accessible. And their chemistry? On stage, especially, their electrifying presence was undeniable.

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photo EMI/Polyeast

Bamboo would go on to create four albums, top the charts, win awards, tour the Philippines and even the world, only to disband eight years later. It was a most unexpected news for the fans but an inevitable conclusion for the members.
Fifteen years after the release of their debut album, all four members are busy living their lives with music still very much part of it. Mañalac is already working on his third solo album, while Ira is a sessionist for several artists including KZ Tandingan, Rico Blanco and Nicole Asensio. Vic has moved to New Jersey, working as a handyman and still playing drums for a New York-based indie rock band called The Glorious Veins. Nathan is back doing bass duties, writing, and making the gig rounds with Rivermaya.
But that’s getting ahead of the story.
In 1998, when Rivermaya was at the height of its career, Bamboo left the band and opted to go to school in the US. “I felt like I still wanted to play but I didn’t enjoy the business side of the whole thing,” Bamboo begins. “During that time, the idea of the music business left a bad taste in my mouth, so I figured, it’s time to move on,” says Bamboo.
Nathan stayed with Rivermaya and they transitioned into a three-piece band with Rico Blanco doing vocal duties. After Rivermaya released It’s Not Easy Being Green and Free Nathan departed from the group in 2001.

PART I.
‘There was an instant musical connection when we jammed’

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Photo Grace Guino

In 2002, Nathan Azarcon had departed Rivermaya and was busy forming Kapatid. He invited Ira Cruz, who had already left Passage, to join the band. Meanwhile, Pancho Gonzales, Rivermaya’s old production manager, was in the US looking for Bamboo Mañalac, who had earlier met with Nathan in Malate during one of his earlier trips back home.
Ira Cruz, guitarist: Iniisip ko kung pupunta na lang ba ako sa States. Hindi ko alam ang gagawin ko. Kuwento, inom. Tapos sabi ni Nathan, “Ba’t ‘di ka na lang sumama sa Kapatid?” Sabi ko, sige.

Vic Mercado, drummer: Nauna umalis ng Passage si Ira. Sumunod ako. Sumasama ako nu’n kay Ira kasi nagre-record ang Kapatid, parang kabubuo pa lang nila nu’n. Du’n ko rin nakilala si Nates. Laging nag-ja-jam si Ira at Nates. Tapos may isang jam sila, wala si J-Hoon [Balbuena, Kapatid’s drummer]. Sinabi ni Ira, “‘Yang si Vic nag-da-drums ‘yan.” Ayun, nag-jam na kaming tatlo.

Ira Cruz: During Kapatid, may ginagawa kaming pseudo band kasama nila Epy [Quizon], Gio [Alvarez], Boy2 [Quizon], and Norris [Lopez]. ‘Yun ‘yung Makatha. Rhythm section nu’n was Vic, Nathan, at ako. At that time, nag-uusap kami ni Nates. Sabi niya babalik si Bamboo, kunin daw namin si Vic.

Vic Mercado: Kausap na ni Nathan sa telepono si Bamboo. Sabi niya [sa amin], “Uy, baka may vocalist na tayo.” Medyo matagal na din kami na nag-ja-jam [at that time], hindi pa nu’n nakakauwi si Bamboo sa Pilipinas.

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“I guess the phone call (with Nathan) made it happen.”- Bamboo

Bamboo Mañalac, vocalist: I came back [for vacation] maybe two years before finally staying here. I met up with Nathan somewhere in Malate. During that time, a lot of people were telling me that I have to really go back to the Philippines and start doing music again. I’ve already started writing na rin nu’n.

Pancho Gonzales, manager of Bamboo: Nasa America ako, hinahanap ko si Bambs. Tapos nagkausap kami ni Nathan, sabi niya nasa Pilipinas na raw si Bambs, umuwi na raw ako.

Bamboo Mañalac: I guess the phone call (with Nathan) made it happen.

Vic Mercado: Una kong na-meet si Bamboo, nahuli kami nila Nathan ng MMDA sa gitna ng Megamall kasi naubusan ng gasolina yung Kia ni Nathan na si Bullfrog. Siguro mga 2003 yun.

Ira Cruz: Pagdating ni Bambs, mga one week after, nag-jam kami. ‘Yun na ‘yun.

Bamboo Mañalac: There was an instant musical connection when we jammed. We all wanted to work. I always enjoyed the first moments the most: the first rehearsals, the first sitting down on the table, and creating songs. I enjoyed our creative process.

Ira Cruz: Nu’ng first jam namin, sobrang OK. Ang saya-saya namin. Biglang pumasok si Mylene (Dizon) sa rehearsal room, sabi niya, “Ba’t ang sasaya niyo?” Musically, nag-shoot lang talaga kaming lahat. Jina-jam namin ‘yung ilang songs na medyo buo na, mga dala ni Bambs. Bago kami mag-jam, inuman muna tapos may gitara. Mas matagal pa kaming mag-inuman at kwentuhan kaysa tumugtog.

Bamboo Mañalac: I came back to play with Nathan, a good friend of mine, my brother. When we started, we didn’t think that this is going to be a long-term thing. We thought na one album lang ito, then goodbye.

Vic Mercado: Wala akong expectations at all. Sinabi ko nga dati na ni minsan, hindi ko naalala na may kinausap ako na gusto kong maging ganito kasikat, na dapat ‘yung mga kanta namin, number one. ‘Yan din siguro ‘yung isa sa mga bagay na naging OK sa amin. Gusto lang talaga namin tumugtog nu’n. Basta masaya lang.

Bamboo Mañalac: At that time, they were telling me that there’s no money in this. What brought us together is friendship, which was key to me. Sabi ko nu’n, if I’m going to do this again, I want to do it with friends, I want to do it with people I like.
I saw us as a collective but my relationship with Nathan is of course different than theirs. I like Ira and Vic but it’s not even close with what I have with Nathan. We’ve known each other for so long. He’s like my brother. When I left Rivermaya, with the aftermath of how everything happened, Nathan and I felt that we needed to do a Count of Monte Cristo kind of comeback.

PART II.
‘I never liked our name’

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photo EMI/Polyeast

They were beginning to book gigs, but they still didn’t have a name. They were thinking of calling themselves “Black Sheep,” but they had an epiphany at an event in Ateneo.

Vic Mercado: Sasampa na kami sa stage pero wala pa kaming pangalan. Black Sheep pa ‘ata ‘yung nasa isip namin na gamitin nun. Tapos may suot-suot na production pass si Bambs nu’n, nakasulat ‘yung pangalan niya. Tapos ‘yun na lang ‘yung naisip namin.

Bamboo Mañalac: I never liked our name. I contested it but they sold it on me that it would be easier to break in if we were called that, that it would be recognizable agad. That was their strategy there, but I never liked the use of it. In fact, after Light, Peace, Love (Bamboo’s second album) I asked if we can change the band’s name.

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“There was a goal to look after the band as a brand. You always have to “know your worth, pero kailangan enjoy pa rin.” – Ira Cruz

Ira Cruz: There was a goal to look after the band as a brand. You always have to know your worth, pero kailangan enjoy pa rin.

Bamboo Mañalac: We wanted to do well. We didn’t want to play in a vacuum lang naman. But I’m not the kind of guy who puts intentions. If it happens, it happens. That’s just how I see things.

PART III.
‘Linagyan namin ng pintura ‘yung palad namin tapos pinress sa bond paper’

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photo EMI/Polyeast

With no record deal or even a manager, the band started to work on their songs. Even the packaging for the album was done with a DIY mindset.
Ira Cruz: The goal from the start was to record an album. Ang ginawa namin ni Nates, tinawagan namin si Angee [Rozul from Tracks Studios]. Nakiusap muna kami sa kanya na magre-record muna kami sa Tracks, then we’ll settle our accounts after getting signed.
Angee Rozul, Sound Engineer of Tracks Studios: Maraming Rivermaya albums ang rinecord ko, kaya ko kilala si Nathan. Nakilala ko si Bamboo kasi yung It’s Not Easy Being Green was the first album na rinecord ko with Rivermaya. ‘Yun ‘yung album na ginawa ni Bamboo pero nang matapos, wala na siya sa banda.
Nung 2003, nag-inquire si Nathan sa akin. Nu’ng nag-inquire siya, parang may hint na ako na may bagong banda sila. Alam ko na nakabalik na si Bamboo galing US.

Ira Cruz: Tapos naging OK naman kay Angee, naging on board naman siya. Pero inabot kami ng one year kasi for the first few months, puro rehearsal lang ‘yun, walang recording.
Nag-camp kami sa bahay nila Vic ng one-week para gumawa ng kanta. Pati sa bahay ko, mag-ja-jam kami. Gagawin namin ‘yun mga two or three times over the course of the pre-prod nung album — actually hanggang sa huli ginagawa namin ‘yun.

Bamboo Mañalac: I just remember travelling almost every day from where I lived to Ira’s place and it was such a daily grind. And we were very slow-moving as a unit, but we were still productive. There were a lot of sessions that we just sat down, talked, and drank lang. It took us a year to finish that album. The first song we did was “Take Me Down.” It’s the first song that we ran, to get a taste of what we’re going to do.

Vic Mercado: ‘Yung bulk ng trabaho ko talaga pagpwesto lang, du’n ako nasanay nu’ng nag-sho-showband pa ako, kaya wala talaga akong idea sa paggawa ng album. Meron kaming Kamp Kawayan na parang mag-ka-camping kami sa isang spot sa kwarto ko sa Marikina. Doon na-record sa bahay ko ‘yung cover namin nu’ng kanta ni Bob Marley na “Waiting in Vain.” Du’n din ni-record ‘yung demo namin.
Basta naalala ko nu’n, nag-ja-jam lang kami hanggang sa makabuo na kami ng mga original na kanta. Nagsho-shop na kami nu’n ng manager.

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Nathan Azarcon

Angee Rozul: Nagpatulong sila sa akin kasi nu’ng time na ‘yun, wala pa naman silang funds, kaya partly, naging co-producer ako ng As the Music Plays. [Apat] yung mga una naming rinecord: “Noypi,” “Masaya,” at “Hudas.” Nakalimutan ko na yung isa.

Vic Mercado: Nu’ng time na ‘yun nag-ga-graphic design ako. Ako ‘yung gumawa ng layout nung album. ‘Yung compilations ng pictures du’n sa album, kinunan ‘yun lahat gamit ‘yung Cybershot camera ko. Linagyan namin ng pintura ‘yung palad namin tapos pinress sa bond paper. Tapos kinuhanan ko tapos inayos ko sa Photoshop. Si Nates ‘ata nandiri nu’ng nilublob na niya ‘yung kamay niya sa pintura, ‘di ko alam pero parang pinahid niya kaya yung kamay niya sa album, medyo may spaces.
Ang order ng kanta at pati yung gap between songs in-arrange ‘yun depende kung paano nag-end at ‘yung tempo. Standard ‘ata na two seconds ‘yung gap pero inexperimentuhan namin ng iba-iba ‘yung gap niyan para may sense ‘yung transition.

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As the Music Plays

Ira Cruz: Naka-arrange siya depende sa kung ano yung tingin naming OK pakinggan na sunod-sunod. Parang setlist.

Vic Mercado: Tapos nu’ng finally nabuo na namin ‘yung demo namin, shinop na namin siya sa iba’t ibang labels.

PART IV.
‘Kailangan ‘yung kausap namin musiko din’

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Photo EMI/Polyeast

The band began shopping their four-song demo around to record companies. Bamboo was playing a gig at ‘70s Bistro, where A&R men Russell Eustaquio of Polyeast Records and Kiko Gueverra of EMI was part of the audience. At this point, there were rumors that the two record companies were merging.

Kiko Guevarra, EMI Philippines: They were already shopping around for a record label nu’n kasi lumapit din sila sa EMI. Ang nakausap ko either si Nathan or Ira, inimbita ako sa gig nila sa 70’s Bistro. Pagpunta ko ng 70’s Bistro, andun [din] si Russell.

Russell Eustaquio, Polyeast Records: Hiwalay kami ng table.

Kiko Guevarra: Pero magkakilala kami.

Russell Eustaquio: Pero alam ko na, “Ah eto, sina-spot-an na rin nila.” Si Nathan ang umupo sa table ko.

Kiko Guevarra: Si Ira naman sa akin. Pero at some point nag-usap din kami ni Russell.

Russell Eustaquio: Sabi ni Kiko, “Russ, magme-merge ‘ata tayo.” So ayan na, ‘yan na ‘yung first project natin.

Chris Sy, EMI Philippines, Managing Director: It became easy for Russell and Kiko because by the time we all got together, in 2003, isa na ang PolyEast at EMI. When I walked into the role sa company, parang ‘ika nga, luto na eh. Officially, ako ‘yung naka-sign sa contract, but they were talking to Kiko and they were talking to Russell, trying to decide which one they would go.

Ira Cruz: Isang factor kung bakit kami nag-EMI kasi musiko sina Russell at Kiko. Importante sa amin yun. Kailangan ‘yung kausap namin musiko din.

Russell Eustaquio: May term kami ni Kiko eh: ‘yung “kilabot factor.” ‘Yung naghalo na lahat nu’ng talent sa songwriting, ‘yung talent sa pagtugtog live, tapos ang gagandang lalaki nila. ‘Yun ‘yung kapag hindi mo sila si-nign, ang hina mo na talaga.

Kiko Guevarra: Tapos may legacy ka pa. You’re not signing anyone unknown. ‘Yung musicianship na lang, bow ka sa kanila eh kasi lahat sila magaling. “Super group” ika nga, although never namin silang tinawag na ganu’n.

Chris Sy: Kapag napakinggan mo ‘yung album, rinig na rinig mo ‘yung galing talaga at kitang-kita mo na ‘yung singles. It’s actually a no-brainer to sign them.

Angee Rozul: Nu’ng nag-present sila sa EMI at kinuha agad, kinumpleto na namin ‘yung album. Dahil medyo planado na sila sa pagrecord ng As the Music Plays, ‘di naman sila ganu’n katagal nag-record. Siguro kung pagdidikit-dikitin ko ‘yung araw ng nasa studio sila, kasama na ang mixing, hindi kami aabot ng one month. Hindi rin naman sila araw-araw na sa studio. Du’n sa album na ‘yun lumabas na ‘yung live recording, ‘yung magre-record sila ng sabay-sabay although hindi sa lahat ng songs.

SIDEBAR:

Ira Cruz and Vic Mercado tell the stories behind the songs of As the Music Plays

“Take Me Down”
Ira Cruz: Dala ‘yan ni Bambs from the States. Actually, ito ‘yung gusto naming maging first single. Siya ‘yung unang na-jam kasi kinakanta-kanta na ni Bambs, tinutugtog niya sa guitara.

“As the Music Plays the Band”
Ira Cruz: Nagsulat niyan si Nathan at si Adi, ‘yung kaibigan namin na sculptor. ‘Yung time na ‘yan nakikinig kami ng Phish. Ang Phish kasi parang jam band, kaya ang daming solohan eh. We named the debut album that kasi ‘yun ‘yung pakiramdam namin kapag tumutugtog kami. May euphoria, may spark ng joy kapag tumutugtog kami kasi may feeling na mas malaki sa amin, ‘yung music, as individuals. Naala ko pa si Nathan, after na-release ‘yung album, sabi niya, “Buti na lang ‘yung guitar solo mo du’n sa huli, hindi mo linagyan ng distortion. ‘Kala ng mga tao bass solo. Kala tuloy nila ang galing galing ko.”

“Mr. Clay”
Vic Mercado: Nathan na Nathan ‘yan eh. Kapag nag-ja-jam kami noon, ‘yung bassline niyan ‘yung ginagamit naming panimula. Parang resulta na ‘yan ng mga Beastie Boys albums na pinapakinggan namin.

Ira Cruz: Si Nathan ang nagsulat nito pero ‘yung rap si Bambs. Ginagawa namin ‘to kasi kailangan namin ng rock na rock na kanta. Nu’ng rinerehearse namin ito, may isang part dito na mag-o-odd time, gusto namin ‘yun pero sinabi ni Nates kay Vic na OK lang mag-odd time pero wag niya kaming ligawin. Kasi kapag kumawala na talaga si Vic, talagang maliligaw ka. Magaling talaga si Vic. Naalala ko nu’n all-analog kami tsaka tinutugtog namin ‘yung kanta ng sabay-sabay kami. Tapos mag-o-overdub lang ng instrumento.

“Pride and the Flame”
Vic Mercado: Naalala ko na tinutugtog ni Bambs ‘to dati sa gitara tapos dini-discuss niya sa amin ‘yung process na gusto niyang mangyari sa kanta.

Ira Cruz: Eto sa tingin ko leftover pa ito nu’ng Rivermaya days pa niya [Bamboo] eh. I think ha, ‘di ako sigurado. Magkaterno ‘to sa “Take Me Down” eh. I remember si Nathan nu’ng narinig niyang tinugtog ni Bambs, sabi niya “O, natatandaan ko ‘yan.” So I guess, hindi pa siyabuo nu’n, kinakanta-kanta na ni Bambs ‘yung first line nu’ng kanta, ‘yun ‘yung pinakatatak niya eh. So baka nabuo nya lang sa States or whatever.

“Masaya”
Ira Cruz: Si Nathan ‘yan. ‘yan, buo na ‘yan bago pa dumating si Bambs. Naging third single namin siya. Ayaw namin na maging first single siya kasi love song. But I kind of knew na itong kantang ‘to okay. Pang-jukebox eh.

Vic Mercado: Naalala ko dito nakainom si Nates habang ginagawa at kinakanta niya to, na-record ko pa ‘yung version na ‘yun. Para sa akin ‘yun ang best version. Marami nang version ‘yan e, ‘yung isa ‘yung may piano ni Ria (Osorio), andun din siya sa music video.

“War of Hearts and Minds ”
Ira Cruz: Si Nathan din ito eh, pero hati sila ni Bambs na sumulat nito. Verse at chorus si Nates ‘yan, pero ‘yung second verse na marami nang words, si Bambs na ‘yan. Si Bambs kasi kapag gumagawa siya ng kanta, nag-gigitara siya tapos kinakanta niya, ‘yun na ‘yun. Happy na siya dun. Pero ‘yung overall picture kung paano siya tutunog as a band, wala pa.
Ang huling nabuo. Muntik na siyang hindi masama sa album. Ayaw nilang i-record ‘to, kasi jina-jam namin siya for the longest time tapos parang walang nangyayari. Sabi ko “one last time,” tapos natsambahan ko ‘yung intro, so OK na ‘yun.

Vic Mercado: Kay Nates ito eh, pero hindi ako sure. Si Nates kasi kapag gumagawa ng kanta, kasama na sa iniisip nya ‘yung style nung kung sino ang tutugtog at sino ang kakanta, na kunwari kung si Bambs ang kakanta, ganito ‘yung range. Kaya medyo madali kasi kung anong gawin mo, ikaw ‘yung nasa ulo niya eh.

“Light Years”
Ira Cruz: Kay Nathan ito. Ito isa pa itong parang Phish na song. Kumbaga parang “I Like it Like This” ng Kapatid ‘yan e. Nu’ng nag-ja-jam kami for Makatha, tinutugtog tugtog na namin ‘yan.

Vic Mercado: Parang isa ito sa pinakahuli naming mga na-record.

“These Days”
Ira Cruz: Kay Bamboo ‘to. Basta maraming lyrics, kanya ‘yan.

“Hudas”
Ira Cruz: Naalala ko si Nathan, kinukwento niya sa akin ‘yung concept. Magkasama kami nila Epy [Quizon]. Sabi niya, “Ano kaya kung si Satanas tsaka si Lord, magkaibigan pala sila. Tapos nag-iinuman sila habang dine-decide nila ‘yung fate of humankind. Tapos ang fall guy nila si Hudas.” Silang dalawa ‘yung may kasalanan pero si Hudas ‘yung gusto nilang masisi, siya ‘yung traidor eh.

“Noypi”
Ira Cruz: Si Mylene [Dizon] may ginagawa siyang movie na ‘yung kasama niyang actor, big on agimat. During the meeting, kinwento sa akin ‘yung story ng movie na kinwento ko kay Nates. Ang original plan pa dapat si Karl [Roy] at si Bambs pa ang kakanta para du’n sa soundtrack, pero ayaw yata ni Karl. Kaso hindi siya natuloy na maging theme song nu’ng movie kasi namahalan sila du’n sa presyo na binigay namin. Ayaw nilang magbayad.

Vic Mercado: ‘Yung mga memories ko diyan, wala pa si Bambs eh. Naalala ko nu’n, nag-iinuman sila. Ako kumakain lang ako nga mga chips, orange na orange ‘yung daliri ko kasi hindi naman ako umiinom. Kung ano ‘yung naging discussion sa table na ‘yun, ‘yun ‘yung nagiging lyrics.

PART V.
‘For the longest time, ‘yung mga kanta tungkol sa mga Pinoy lagi na lang hassle at malungkot.’

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photo Grace Guino

With Bamboo signed, there was the question of what song would be their first single. After watching the band play at Watering Hole in Ortigas, there was little doubt in the minds of EMI executives.

Chris Sy: Habang tinutugtog nila ‘yung “Noypi,” sabi ko kay Russell, “Ayan na o.” ‘Yan na ‘yung hit eh.

Bamboo Mañalac: The label saw it as anthemic and it’s rock. But I think what led to that song to be the first single was the timing. The timing of the song coming up in connection to a narrative of what was going on in the Philippines.

Chris Sy: Bamboo mismo took me aside for maybe 20 seconds kasi at some point I said nga “Noypi” and he said, “Talaga? Kasi we were thinking ‘Take Me Down.’ We know ‘Noypi’ is a hit but maybe we can save it as the second single.” Kaso hindi siya pwedeng maging second kasi nga dahil may legacy na sila, everyone is looking at this album release, kailangan go ka kaagad. “Noypi” is obviously the biggest song in the album. Umoo naman sila agad, it didn’t become a huge issue.

Cris Hermosisima, Station Manager, NU107: The first track I heard from As the Music Plays was “Noypi.” I remember Chris Sy brought the demo to me. The first thing I noticed was “Noypi’s” strong anthemic elements, which was a good character of a hit song.

Ira Cruz: Positive affirmation ‘yung gusto kasi namin diyan.

Vic Mercado: Unang-una Tagalog, mas maraming makaka-relate at makakaintindi. Tsaka for the longest time, ‘yung mga kanta tungkol sa mga Pinoy lagi na lang hassle at malungkot. ‘Yung “Noypi” kasi, kahit kami proud kaming tugtugin siya. Kapag tumutugtog kami sa ibang bansa, talagang maraming nanonood na mga Pinoy OFWs. Lumalapit sila sa amin tsaka nagkukwento ng buhay nila. ‘yung kanta na ‘yan naging anthem na siya ng ibang mga Pinoy. Na-inspire sila sa kanta tapos kami rin nai-inspire sa mga buhay at kuwento.
Makikita mo talaga ‘yung real time na effect sa mga Pinoy nu’ng kanta eh, kapag tinutugtog namin. Bihira mo naman makikita ‘yan, siguro sa mga love songs?

Papa JT: Maganda ‘yung ginawa nilang ‘yun ‘yung unang nilabas. Nakuha nila ‘yung puso ng Pinoy. I was still a student when it came out but boom. Ramdam mo na eh. It talks about Pinoys and how powerful the Pinoy spirit is. Tingin ko ‘yun ‘yun. Siguro if they released any other song, baka iba ‘yung impact.

Cris Hermosisima: “Noypi” was a really good rock track, it was just fitting that NU107 was the first station to break it on air. Our listeners loved it. I remember the station doing a campus tour that featured Bamboo and the audience reception was fantastic.

Chris Sy: It was never played by Magic 89.9. They never played it when we were servicing it. They probably didn’t want to take a risk on it.

CJ Rivera, Music and Programming Director of Magic 89.9: I remember, one of the bigger reasons why nag-pass ang Magic on Noypi at first [was] because it was too heavy — leaning towards NU107 level. Magic was a pop radio station and its failure to embrace the change na papunta sa ganu’ng direction ‘yung OPM at that time, I think it was really just an honest mistake.
To make up for the mistake of missing it, in-insert siya eventually sa playlist. The station realized that mistake, so everything that Bamboo came out with following “Noypi” nagto-top na kaagad. They got so much airplay. It got a lot of requests and votes from our listeners.

Chris Sy: ‘Yung second single was “Mr. Clay.” It was a continuation na kasi rock band sila and they have to maintain that rock edge para mas ma-establish na “rock ito ha!”

Vic Mercado: Hindi naman namin talaga priority na hatiin ‘yung kung ano ‘yung pinakikinggan ng mga tao nu’n. Hindi namin naging goal yun. ‘yung mga kanta namin? ‘Di rin naman namin in-expect na magiging number one. Masarap lang talaga tugtugin ‘yung mga kanta namin.

Chris Sy: The single that was super played was “Masaya.” It got played from Magic to Yes FM to LSFM. By then, sikat na sikat na sila.

PART VI.
‘Alam ko, na-ban pa kami sa mga SM dahil maingay kami’

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Photo PolyEast Records

With the success of Noypi and the rest of the album, Bamboo was suddenly in demand everywhere, and the members had to adjust on the fly.

Ira Cruz: Hindi ko na matandaan ‘yung part ng from being OK lang na hindi masyadong busy, na may gigs paminsan-minsan tapos bigla na lang naging busy kaming lahat. Bigla na lang araw-araw kaming nagkikita. Alam ko, na-ban pa kami sa mga SM dahil maingay kami tapos umaakyat-baba sa escalator si Bambs habang tumutugtog kami.

Vic Mercado: Mahirap siya kasi ang dami naming inaasikaso. Ito ‘yung time na tutugtog kami at the same time binubuo namin ‘yung crew namin. Sinama ko nu’n si Bogs, tech ko pa sa Passage. Imadyinin mo nu’ng nag-gi-gig kami dati, dala namin lahat ng backline, lahat ng amps, guitara, drums, mic, lahat.
Nagmo-mall shows kami, out-of-town, ganu’n. Nag-enjoy ako nu’ng pinopromote namin ‘yung album kasi mahilig ako mangalikot at mangutingting ng mga equipment namin. Nu’ng time na ‘yun, dun namin binubuo ‘yung set-up namin, ‘yung technical requirements namin, marami akong natutunan. Ako ‘yung naga-assemble ng stage tapos kaming dalawa ni Pancho ‘yung nagche-check ng sound.

Pancho Gonzales, Manager of Bamboo: I finally came in during the time when they were already promoting As the Music Plays. Signed na sila sa EMI. I handled the business dealings. Medyo double jeopardy na rin para sa akin kasi nag-o-oversee din ako ng technical aspects ng banda. The most difficult part of touring with them during that early stage of their career would be waking them up to a scheduled flight or travel for a gig. Kasi minsan parang hindi ka lang manager, yaya ka pa.

Bamboo Mañalac: We had no strategy… What we knew that we were good at, was that we played live well. As long as we’re out there on that stage, it was something that we can go to battle with anything because that’s something that we’re all very capable of doing.

PART VII.
‘Kapag napanood mo, bibilib ka talaga at bibili ka talaga ng album’

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PULP Magazine cover. Photographed by Mark Nicdao

The furious live performances of Bamboo translated directly into album success for As the Music Plays.

Kiko Guevarra: Kapag napanood mo, bibilib ka talaga at bibili ka talaga ng album.

Chris Sy: As the Music Plays I think it ended up selling mga 75,000 copies, which at that time was a lot.

Kiko Guevarra: Double platinum ‘yung As the Music Plays. It was very strong.

Pancho Gonzales: Their debut album was the one that defined them—their music and their place in the music industry. It was their breakthrough.

CJ Rivera: I really felt that the album was going to be a hit because you can never take away the voice power of Bamboo; it’s very distinct. Sa ganda nu’ng pagka-eclectic and diverse nung songs sa album, it really complimented each other. People looked forward to hearing Bamboo after such a long time and here comes a band na hindi katunog ng dating banda niya. Ang ganda lang talaga.

Cris Hermosisima: If I remember it right, Bamboo won the Artist of the Year Award in the 2004 NU107 Rock Awards. They also performed “Noypi” live.

Papa JT: Noon, in 2004, when As The Music Plays was released, lahat na touch: mayaman, mahirap. Pinoy ka eh. Na-antig ka. Kaya ang ganda ng release noon, inantabayanan na sila ng lahat. It was very headstrong.

Ira Cruz: The album did really well, better than I expected. Actually, the whole experience and I don’t think that we could have done it with a different set of people.

Vic Mercado: Kung hindi pa ako maging masaya sa success nu’ng album, sobra naman na. Ang agreement namin ng nanay ko noon tapusin ko lang daw ‘yung high school, pwede na akong magbanda. Nu’ng nagawa pa lang namin ‘yung album alam ko na lagpas-lagpas na ‘yung narating ko. Kulang ‘yung pagpapasalamat ko sa mga nangyayari. Para sa akin, lahat ng blessings na natanggap namin, sobra sobra talaga.

PART VIII.
‘After a while, ‘yung mga maliliit na bagay, nagiging nakakaasar na’

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Photo PolyEast Records

Bamboo would create three more albums, top the charts, win awards, tour the Philippines and the rest of the world. But the pressures of performing and creative differences would take their toll on the band, which would disband in 2012 — eight years after their breakthrough debut album.

Ira Cruz: If there was anything that I would have done differently, I would have taken more breaks. We did have breaks, but once a year lang, before Christmas until the second week of January. Pagkatapos nu’ng break na yun, tugtog talaga na matindi. Kasi ang nangyari, naiipon nang naiipon ‘yung mga hindi OK na bagay. Isipin mo, magkakasama kayo halos araw-araw. After a while, ‘yung mga maliliit na bagay, nagiging nakakaasar na.
Ang joke nga namin “O kapag break na, walang tawagan ha.” We were just tired and at the same time, there was animosity building. We obviously had communication problems. We got so busy that we all valued whatever free time we could get.

Bamboo Mañalac: That decision to disband, to move forward from each other, I think we’re all better off for it. I think we all became men. The last months na, it just came to a point that it wasn’t healthy for all of us—both mentally and physically. It showed us that it was really, really time to move on.

Pancho Gonzales: I enjoyed their process of making music. They’re very talented and passionate individuals with different and strong personalities. Probably the hitch from managing them was the stress it brought me from touring.

Russell Eustaquio: Ganu’n naman kasi usually, lalo na kapag touring bands. May mangyayari diyan personally, at may mangyayari diyan musically.

Angee Rozul: Alam mo parang dito lang sa Pilipinas ata ‘yung naga-announce na nagdi-disband. Sa America kasi basta titigil na lang sila sa paggawa ng album then magugulat ka after a few years, eto na naman. Normal naman talaga sa banda ‘yung hindi pagkakaintindihan. Sa isang banda na hindi nag-aaway, ibig sabihin nu’n boring ‘yung banda na yun. Ibig sabihin nu’n walang may passion du’n sa bandang ‘yun. Kasi siyempre apat na artist ‘yan e, hindi talaga magkakasundo-sundo ‘yan. Siyempre may kanya-kanyang concerns ‘yan sa art nila. Kanya-kanyang pagki-criticize sa sarili. Pero hindi ko lang talaga akalain na maghihiwalay sila, sana hindi nangyari.

Bamboo Mañalac: Probably one of our failures is that we speak about unity in our songs and we couldn’t make ourselves work. That sucks. I came with the ideals that this is going to be my band for life. I came in with a commitment. But at certain circumstances, we’re very different at that time. It’s a tricky thing to navigate.

Vic Mercado: Nakita ko na ‘yung taas at baba ng lahat ng pangyayari kaya alam mo na kung saan mo na dapat ilagay ‘yung sarili mo ngayon. Na-experience mo na ‘yung hindi ka kilala ng security na hinaharang ka sa gate at ayaw ka papasukin at ‘yung feeling na ang daming security na nakapalibot sayo. Hindi lahat ng banda napagdaanan ‘yan, sinwerte na naranasan namin ‘yan and at some point, we were able to put it into good use. Nakapagpasaya kami ng mga tao.

Ira Cruz: Kaya pala na you can have success on your own terms. In everything naman, you always have to compromise pero siguro ito na ‘yung may least set of compromises na nangyari musicality-wise.

Bamboo Mañalac: Just the time with them, I became a better artist. I have so many things that I picked up from each of them that made me who I am today. I could say the same with everyone that I’ve worked with through all these years like Rivermaya and the guys I work with today. It piles on, you have to be a sponge, take everything in, learn, and grow. They were a big part of my growth.

Ira Cruz: Reunion? More than anything, kailangan muna umupo at mag-usap ang mga dapat mag-usap. Gagawin ko ‘yung reunion if everyone wants to do it, at hindi basta para sa pera lang. Pero kung mangyari man ‘yun, ang saya lang nu’n. Ang saya nu’n. It would be fun to play again na maski isang beses lang.

Bamboo Mañalac: You know what our reunion should be? It should be us four just sitting on the table, having a bottle of wine and a couple of beers, and that’s a reunion for me. It’s not getting up and performing on stage. We are in different points in our lives and have different responsibilities. It doesn’t help when you go back. It’s just counterproductive with what you do as an artist trying to move forward. But then again, you never say never.

Published originally in GMA NEWS ONLINE, June 11, 2019