Rivermaya: What I've Learned

Bamboo Mañalac, Rico Blanco, Nathan Azarcon, and Mark Escueta on their old band, making music, and regrets.

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A good song needs to be true.—Nathan 

I became a drummer by accident. I was supposed to be the keyboardist of my band in high school. Everything was set, but we didn’t have a drum set. My bandmates asked me to ask my parents for a drum set for Christmas. And that’s how I became a drummer.—Mark

I knew I wanted to be a musician when I saw Ira playing guitar for a group of girls.—Nathan

I sung everywhere when I was younger but when I became the singer of Rivermaya, I stopped singing at home and in gatherings. But before I would sing everywhere and drive everyone nuts. The minute I sang for Rivermaya I became shy. I get really shy.—Rico

I was terrified. But Nathan was very confident and so I took a lot from his confidence. He and Mark were very confident that I could do it. I was so terrified when they told me that they wanted me to do take over vocal duties kasi they were the ones also who said to me na to take over guitars. Sabi ko “Ah okay, sige. I don’t really know how to play the guitar.”—Rico

A good drummer knows how to listen to what’s happening around them.—Mark

I’m very particular about how loud I am on stage. There are drummers who tend to play too loud, and you can’t hear the other instruments or even the vocals.—Mark


My monitor settings are very low.—Mark

Guitarists are a dime a dozen. —Nathan

You got to have a tuner. That’s the most important thing. You have to tune your guitar.—Nathan

Noise isn’t automatically more astig than silence.—Rico

Sometimes, you might feel like you’re tired of the whole music thing. You might just need to try something new. I’ve learned a lot from learning to play the guitar. It helped me rediscover the music I grew up with.—Mark

Playing the guitar is harder, because you have to know all these chords. Drumming lets you sit back and listen to the music.—Mark

I don’t think I could ever be a lead guitarist or a lead vocalist. I prefer to be in the background.—Mark

Start with rhythm. If you start with the solo crap, it will fuck you up. It’s about playing with the other guys and keeping time. If you don’t have rhythm, you’re just going to fuck it up.—Nathan

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Becoming the frontman of Rivermaya was a risk. I think anytime you switch positions or roles, or change the way you play or change the sound a bit, that’s a risk.—Rico

Risk is taking your chances with something you can fail at. Kasi if you can’t fail, eh ‘di wala lang.—Rico

Rivermaya isn’t about any particular group of musicians. There are fans now who don’t even know that Bamboo was the first vocalist. Right from the start, our lineup was always changing.—Mark

I wouldn’t say that getting in Rivermaya was a risk. No, because there was nothing to lose. I had nothing to lose.—Rico

Risk for me, it’s very mababaw. Seeing my kids walk down the stairs, that’s risky for me, you know what I mean? That sort of thing: I want everyone safe! Stay in your carseat! Put on your seatbelt! But on a deeper, bigger level? I don’t know what risk is. I don’t see risk.—Bamboo


Stick to what you know and do it well. When you’re limited technically, and you try something that’s a little out of your ability, that’s when things start to suck.—Mark

You have to understand that the entire second album of Rivermaya was a documentation of me learning to play the guitar.—Rico

The hardest thing about making an album is knowing when to stop. You have to give yourself a deadline. If you don’t, it’s going to take forever. You’re not going to stop. It’s always going to be something that you’re going to want to fix.—Nathan

Some songs take five years. Some take a day. “Masaya” took five years. If you don’t have it, you just have to stop and stash it somewhere. When you finally get the perfect chorus, there it is.—Rico

Back in the ‘90s, I wrote songs because we needed another song, or because we needed another hit.—Nathan

I’m the biggest critic of my own voice. I hate it. I didn’t want to look funny to other singers. I said “Quits na tayo, pag alis ni Bambs, thank you, goodbye. I’d probably look for another band or get a day job or something.” But they said “No, you sing.” And I said, ‘Ay ‘yan, lokohan na.”—Rico

Musical ability is more important than personality. I’d rather have an asshole who knew what he was doing.—Nathan

Give me a song I made and I’ll tell you a hundred things that is wrong with it.—Rico

I don’t like the intro in “Himala.” Ayoko yung boses ko.—Rico

Sometimes I listen to my songs from the ‘90s, and it’s just weird. Someone will come up to me and say “I really liked that song,” and I’m thinking “That song is crap.”—Nathan

I like myself. I’ve learned to like myself. It’s self-help-ish, I know but that’s good.—Bamboo

A band can’t be a dictatorship. You have to consider all your bandmates.—Mark

First time I met the Eraserheads I asked for their autograph. Ganito ah, background: I didn’t have Rivermaya and you can ask them this. You can ask Raimond. I wasn’t in Rivermaya yet, and the Eraserheads came to Sta. Rosa, Laguna. They went to Sta. Rosa, and I’m from San Pedro, and I went to this house, where they went after their gig, which belongs to a friend of mine. They sat on the piano, jamming “Lakambini,” and it became a medley of all sorts of songs. The line up was Raimond, me and Dong Abay. But I wasn’t in any band yet and of course, they were like, “Who is that boy?” Then Rivermaya had an album, I asked for their autograph for Circus, their second album. I told them, remember that time in Sta. Rosa, I was that guy and they were like, “No shit.”—Rico


The mavericks, the offbeats, those people who stray away from the norm, and how they sort of, fit in [to the whole picture]. I have a lot of respect for them, because if you’re able to bring in what you’ve got and put it in this pot and remain to be open to whatever, that’s courageous.—Bamboo

If the majority has doubts about one member, you should kick him out of the band immediately. It’s just going to ruin you.—Nathan

When we weren’t together anymore, the first person I went to after I left Rivermaya was Nathan. I was really depressed and Nathan took care of me.—Rico

The difference between sex and love? Sex and love are two beautiful things that have to work together.—Bamboo

Love doesn’t have to be a fireworks display. When you’re generally a better person when you’re around someone, that’s when you know it might be time to get married.—Mark

I was bullied in school, so I don’t like being bullied by big corporations, politicians, and government institutions. Of course, people close to me would always advise me to choose my battles but it takes so much energy for me to just restrain myself when I see all the injustices around me.—Rico

My conscience is clear. I never assigned my publishing rights for that song to anyone. And they made it appear that I’m the stupid musician who doesn’t know when you sign your contract. I review contracts. When they give it to Lizza (Nakpil, Rivermaya manager), I review them. I note the loopholes. I’m not a stupid musician.—Rico

My father was the one who taught me to think big. He taught me greatness. Stories about presidents, about great men, heroes. Greatness and, at the same time, showed me humility.—Rico

Who I was before my children is not the same as who I was after. They taught me everything.—Bamboo

My mom was telling me, when they talk about dying and where they want to be buried; they would say na huwag sa malayo para makakapunta pa rin si George, our neighbor.—Rico

I used to make fun of my dad when I was younger, and now, I’m turning out to be like him.—Rico

It’s my family. They bring me the most love and the most joy in my life but they also bring me the most fear. I’m always worried for them. They’re something I most cradle, most protect.—Bamboo


I sing the exact way my dad sings. I just got sidetracked by the whole alternative scene. But the way I sing talaga is how my dad sings, like Matt Monroe, big voices.—Rico

A good dad balances being affectionate with being tough. If my kid falls over, I have to stop myself from picking him up. Because he’s got to learn: life is tough.—Nathan

Dami kong gustong ipakanta kay Ely kaso nakakahiya naman!—Rico

Ely and I went out one time. We saw this movie and had dinner. We talked about the possibility of working together in the future. Kami rin ni Raimond, we said we had to have a band together and we keep telling each other it’s going to happen.—Rico

I would never want to meet anyone I like so much. I just want to admire them from afar because that might debunk the myth.—Bamboo

We’ve never been a normal band.—Mark

It was only Rico who could tell me what to do.—Nathan

Democracy doesn’t work in a band. You need someone with a vision leading, choosing a direction.—Nathan

I have not talked to Nathan since the break up of the band. He has not replied to texts.—Rico

It doesn’t mean anything to me that I was part of the first lineup. To me, original only means something if you’re still in the band.—Mark

I took up photography because I have a really bad memory. Friends would tell stories about stuff we did, and I wouldn’t remember any of it. That’s when I realized maybe I should keep a record of things.—Mark

A photo needs to have an emotion in it.—Mark

Jolina is a much better photographer than I am.—Mark

If you believe in something, you should be ready to risk everything. In history, people who took real risks were rewarded with immortality.—Nathan

I hate losing. I just hate it.—Nathan

Kapatid was a disappointment. Looking back on it now, it wasn’t bad, but it could have been more. We should have been able to reach a lot more people.—Nathan

When I lose, I’m depressed for a day. Then I eat. Corned beef, or a cheeseburger. Then I pick myself up and move on. After a day, you have to get back to work.—Nathan

I don’t cook anymore, because I don’t like washing the dishes.—Nathan

Anong gagawin ko sa umaga? Every NBA game was in the morning. So I would sit down at home and watch every game, like everyone else, just to get my mind off things, move on.—Bamboo

Bamboo taught me about passion. He’s always in the moment. It’s always like his last performance. He doesn’t see himself doing anything else.—Mark

Bamboo taught me to look out for the business side of the band more. It needs to be transparent, or things will go wrong…. With Rico, I would just sit back and let him do the work. He tells me what to do and I just do it.—Nathan


Rico taught me about dedication; dedication maybe sometimes to a fault. That’s a point I don’t want to reach—to get absorbed so much by your musical career that you start to sacrifice other things in your life. You don’t want to work too hard.—Mark

It’s not impossible for artists to manage themselves, but you’ll definitely be making less music.—Mark

Yeah yeah, I heard Hijo. I love it. Me and Ira naman are in touch eh. Sa Bamboo side I’m in touch with Pancho. You know, I haven’t seen and heard from Nathan in a long time already. —Rico

Technology has really changed the business. It used to be a dream to release an album, or even to record. We used to record demos on karaoke machines. Now you can make a good quality recording on an iPad. —Mark

Some days, it seems to feel like life is a piece of shit or that you’re going to hell. But I’ve learned, as much as possible, to look at the sunny side. Gone are those dark days! I’ve let the light shine in. I’ve learned to relax in that sort of way.—Bamboo

If you can, it’s best to be in a band with your friends. It’s easier to talk. You can criticize them without it becoming a thing.—Mark

I’m okay with Nathan and Bambs. Because I have a responsibility to the people who care about me, to fans who got hurt by the things I heard when I left Rivermaya. So I can’t patch things up without addressing that public hurt.—Rico

Don’t get me wrong. I love all my songs, but I feel like the music I make now is closer to me.—Nathan

Theater is important for musicians. You can’t pirate it. You can’t download it.—Mark

Playing a bad gig keeps me up at night. Sometimes I just have to go out and find a club where I can play so I can redeem myself.—Nathan

Looking back at Rivermaya, I think we made good albums, but we could have done better live.—Nathan

I was just too stoned all the time.—Nathan

The gig is the celebration. The gig is the party. Most of the work happens offstage.—Mark

To not give a shit and just play. To give up the idea of “I wanna be cool.” I think that’s cooler.—Bamboo


This article originally appeared in the January-February 2012 issue of Esquire Philippines. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.


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