Music

Remember Introvoys? They're Now the 'Number One OPM Band in North America'

Original band member Paco Arespacochaga talks about reuniting with the rest of the band making It in the U.S., and living their version of the American dream
IMAGE Introvoys
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“Actually, we are the number one OPM band in North America.”

This is quite a strong claim—the sort that would raise eyebrows—from Paco Arespacochaga, longtime drummer and founding member of Introvoys. He pauses a moment for emphasis, chuckles, and then clarifies his statement.

“Because we’re the only one.” He laughs heartily, pleased with his punch line. “Pero, totoo yun, di ba? If we’re the only one, then we’re number one.”

Technically, Arespacochaga’s declaration—one he made during an exclusive online video interview with Esquire Philippines after a rehearsal session of the band recently—is true. No other OPM band that is quite as popular has set up base in America and is continuing to pursue a music career overseas, too.

Paco Arespacochaga is the drummer and a founding member of OPM band Introvoys

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IMAGE: Introvoys

The band has been rehearsing in preparation for its North American tour, which covers cities in the U.S. and Canada. The drum kit and audio equipment inside the band’s studio were in plain sight during the first few minutes of the interview, and vocalist Jonathan Buencamino and guitarist Vic Carpio were present. But they excused themselves before long to go home, which really didn’t come as a surprise. It was already past 11 p.m. in Los Angeles, California, where three of the band members are now based. Arespacochaga—the band’s designated spokesperson—stayed online to answer questions. 

“No. 1 Band in the Land”

Introvoys was one of the first bands to kickstart the so-called OPM band explosion in the 1990s, along with AfterImage, Color It Red, Rivermaya, and the Eraserheads.

“However Which Way” was the first Introvoys single to top Filipino radio charts soon after its release in 1990, but it was only in 1992—a time when streaming music was unheard of, cassettes were still mass-produced by major record labels, and listening to the radio was the accessible way to discover new music—when Introvoys truly conquered the airwaves with “Di Na Ko Aasa Pa,” a single from the band’s sophomore album Breaking New Grounds. It hit number one in the countdown of most local radio stations at the time, including 93.9 WKC, 97.1 LSFM, Magic 89.9, 101.9 Radio Romance, and RX93.1. Follow-up tracks such as “Will I Survive” and “Stay” enjoyed constant radio airplay as well.

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The band hit a new milestone when album sales for Breaking New Grounds reached quadruple platinum status, and some people even started referring to Introvoys as "The No. 1 Band in the Land" soon after. The release of the album Line to Heaven in 1993 paved the way for more radio hits such as “Kailanman” and “Line to Heaven,” further cementing the Introvoys’ status as one of the most popular OPM bands of the era.

“We were poster boys, maniwala ka,” insists Arespacochaga, referring to the way his band was celebrated by radio stations back in the day. Even AM stations like DZMM and DWIZ had Introvoys on the top of their charts.

Arespacochaga admits that there were also radio stations that could not be bothered to play their songs, such as NU107 and 99.5 RT.

Baduy daw kami eh.” He shrugs, then smiles.

Arespacochaga says the band broke up because "egos were all over the place"

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IMAGE: Introvoys

Paco leaves the band

Introvoys released its fourth album, One, in 1996. Everything seemed fine until Arespacochaga decided to leave the band that same year.

“Egos were all over the place,” Arespacochaga shares. He pauses a second as if trying to come up with a suitable explanation in his head, then continues, “I would write songs but Jonathan wouldn’t sing them and say, ‘mas okay ‘tong kanta ko.’ Or Jonathan would write songs and I’d say, ‘nah, hindi ko type.’

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“We were imploding. To the point that I wanted to go a different direction and I wasn’t willing to go the direction they wanted, and vice versa.”

After leaving Introvoys,Arespacochaga formed a new band, Mystery, thinking it was “a better move.”

“It wasn’t as big as Introvoys,” he admits.

Introvoys found a new drummer and resumed playing and recording after Arespacochaga’s departure. The band even released a fifth album, Eroplano, in 1997, probably not expecting that Buencamino would leave the band the following year due to a medical condition that could have cost him to lose his voice indefinitely. 

A snapshot of the Introvoys lineup in the early 1990s

IMAGE: Introvoys

Second chances

Arespacochaga’s separation from Introvoys was short-lived. The band was invited to perform at a big provincial event, a New Year’s countdown celebration. The original members shared the stage again on December 31, 2000.

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Arespacochaga recalls, “When we met again after four years of not talking to each other, we realized how much we missed each other, and how, when there were no egos involved, we were good together.”

Performing together again on stage and playing songs they co-wrote not only made Introvoys’s members feel nostalgic—it also made them realize that they hadn’t lost their dynamics as a band after all those years.

Since the band reunited, Arespacochaga says they all realized that they all still liked playing together 

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IMAGE: Introvoys

“No effort, as in no effort at all. We thought, ‘Oo nga, pwede yun. Ba’t di natin subukan?’”

More gigs, as well as TV guestings, followed. And while nothing had changed in the way they complemented one another on stage, one thing was different, according to Arespacochaga.

“The ego should not really exist,” he says. They all made a conscious effort to try again, but this time with egos in check.

They all had the same mindset: “Hit or miss, let’s all remain friends until the day we die, kahit anong mangyari sa atin.”

“We were like, ‘Masaya ‘to eh.’ We weren’t out there to compete with any band. We were just having fun making music that other people shared with us. That’s who we are, talaga.”

Introvoys continued to be active in the local music scene for another year, playing one provincial gig after the other up until Arespacochaga announced that he would be moving to the United States in 2001.

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Ang pinakahuli naming stint was (now defunct late night talk and variety show) Martin After Dark, and then pumunta na ‘ko ng America after that.”

Finding a new purpose

Introvoys went on hiatus again for another four years, until Arespacochaga convinced his bandmates to migrate to the United States like he did. In 2005, Jonathan Buencamino and his brother JJ, who also plays keyboards for the band, went to the U.S. They resumed jamming sessions with Arespacochaga and a few new members. The band reintroduced themselves to the Pinoy community in the U.S.

“We were very warmly received, and binansagan nila kaming ‘Ang Banda ng Mga OFW,” says Arespacochaga. “I like that. Kasi mga OFW din kami. That was the mission—to bring OPM fun to the global Pinoy. It became something we all got really excited about. Nagkaroon kami ng purpose.”

Jonathan Buencamino is Introvoys' frontman and vocalist 

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IMAGE: Introvoys

The band makes it a point to go on tour annually and to try and release a new album every couple of years. In 2005, Introvoys released the album A Brighter Day, followed by Where We Left Off in 2014.

There have been several changes in the band’s lineup since they reunited in 2005. Vic Carpio, who first joined Introvoys to replace Ira Cruz in 1991, resumed playing guitar for the band in 2016.

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Self-produced shows

These days, the band produces its own shows, which means it has control over the gig schedules, venues, sound system, and even the ticket prices. Bayan Promotions does publicity for the gigs, but the band has the final say on matters that, in the Philippine concert setting, could only be made by big-time concert producers.

Arespacochaga says mounting shows on their own allows them to make concert tickets affordable so more people could attend. It has become easier for them to reach out to more fans, given the power of the Internet and social media.

The band plays regularly in California where they all live and will soon embark on a more extensive tour in other U.S. cities and Canada

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IMAGE: Introvoys

Producing their own shows also prevents the possibility of middlemen trying to take advantage by jacking up the price of tickets so they can get a big chunk of the revenue—something that, according to Arespacochaga, artists experience both in the Philippines and the U.S.

The band plays in different kinds of venues, ranging from modest clubs that can accommodate a couple of hundreds to gymnasiums that can house thousands of people. Granted that it plays primarily for OFWs, its setlist is usually composed of different medleys, among these an OPM rock medley that includes Alamid’s “Your Love,” Francis M’s “Kaleidoscope World,” and select Introvoys hits; a ‘70s OPM medley that includes songs by VST & Company and Boyfriend, to name a few; and a new wave medley that takes the audience back to the ‘80s.

“We don’t mind,” says Arespacochaga. “I guess we’re old enough and secure enough to just have fun playing music.”

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People who come to see their shows are mostly OFWs in their mid-30s to their 50s, so the setlist works.

While the band’s repertoire has grown to cater to a more mature audience, Arespacochaga says there are certain Introvoys hits that he still loves playing to this day. He names the Top 3: “Will I Survive,” “Line to Heaven,” and “Di Na Ko Aasa Pa.”

“Yung ‘Di Na Ko Aasa Pa,’ I always cry inside my heart pag tinutugtog namin ‘yun. Istorya ko yun, eh. And the girl I wrote that song for passed away already,” he shares.

A family affair

Each of Introvoys’ current members has a family of his own. Arespacochaga, for one, has remarried and has four other children aside from Heaven, his 23-year-old son with ex-wife Geneva Cruz. Jonathan Buencamino has a 17-year-old son, Carpio has five kids, while JJ Buencamino is also married but does not have children yet.

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Whenever the band goes on tour, the spouses and children are welcome to join, whichever among them are available. It’s always a family affair, says Arespacochaga.

“I’ve been with these guys since we were kids,” he says. “Kung hindi kami magkakabanda, we’ll probably be having a barbeque with our families. Magkakaibigan kami.”  

Once a top band here in the Philippines, Introvoys are now making a name for themselves playing for Filipino audiences in the US

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IMAGE: Introvoys

But they don’t tour as frequently as they used to, or as they did when they were still a young band in the Philippines. In America, the members of Introvoys are OFWs as much as they are musicians—they have regular nine-to-five jobs. Aside from paying for their families’ daily expenses, the guys use their day jobs as leverage for not having to be pressured into performing in too many shows, all the time. Performing for them now feels like a quick weekend getaway, which they truly enjoy. The income they earn from live shows goes to their retirement fund.

As of late March, Introvoys has toured in Brentwood, California and in San Francisco. The next leg will see the band in different parts of Canada, from Saskatoon to Calgary.

Die-hard fans in the Philippines, on the other hand, might finally get the chance to see Introvoys perform live later this year. The band is slated to return to the country for a concert in Cebu this coming November. Details will be announced once finalized.

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If you want to catch up on Introvoys, visit the official website where you can also download the band’s songs, order a physical copy of their latest album, and check show schedules. Follow them on Facebook for updates.

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Jill Tan Radovan
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