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Rivermaya: The past was just an opening gig

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RIVERMAYA members (from left) Mark Escueta, Mike Elgar, Ryan Peralta and Norby David

After their gigs in San Francisco and Los Angeles in the United States, Mark Escueta and then-Rivermaya band mates Rico Blanco and Nathan Azarcon flew to New York to watch Aerosmith perform in Jones Bay. Front act was the alternative rock-grunge group Fuel. Mark was impressed, and wished he could also open for Steven Tyler someday.

That was in 1998. Rivermaya had just lost longtime vocalist Bamboo Mañalac and things were looking quite shaky for the band, Mark recalled.

Little did he know that, 15 years later, he would indeed get to open for Aerosmith, and that Rivermaya, despite several changes in the lineup, would still be intact and making music.

Serendipity

The band, currently composed of Mark (vocals, guitars), Mike Elgar (vocals, guitars), Ryan Peralta (drums) and Norby David (vocals, bass), is set to sing three to five songs as Aerosmith’s opening act at the SM Mall of Asia Arena on May 8.

“Watching that Aerosmith show was serendipitous. We were uncertain about the band’s future at the time. Turns out, everything was God’s plan,” Mark said in a recent interview.

They can’t contain their excitement about the prospect of going back to back onstage with Aerosmith, and meeting its legendary frontman. Mark said they were personally chosen by the US band after hearing some of their songs, specifically their latest single, “Pilipinas, Kailan Ka Magigising.”

A new record

“I doubt if they understood our songs, but we’re honored, just knowing that they listened to them,” Mark said.

Meanwhile, Mike learned from concert organizers that Tyler would arrive in Manila one week before the show. “I hope we get to have snapshots taken with them, or at least say ‘hi,’” he said.

Given the chance to jam with Aerosmith, what would they play? In unison, the members said, “Oh, whatever they want!”

Apart from the May 8 stint, the band is excited about their latest album, “Panatang Makabanda,” under Universal Records—their first since “Closest Thing to Heaven” in 2009. After all the chaos brought about by the seemingly endless lineup changes over the past two years, Mark said they’re grateful just to have a new record out. “We considered going indie,” he said. “Fortunately. Universal Records liked the material and gave us a three-year contract.”

“Past is past,” he stressed. “What’s important is we’re still making music. It’s all about moving forward. There’s no pressure; we’re enjoying what we’re doing.”

Not futile

After Rico’s departure from the band in 2007, many believed keeping the name Rivermaya would be a futile endeavor. Mark disagreed, pointing out that Rivermaya should be defined by its music, not by its members.

“The band is getting better and better. This is the most relaxed the band has ever been,” Mark said. “Disbanding doesn’t make sense because we’re still here, giving our 100 percent.”

In 2011, Rico’s successor, Jayson Fernandez, quit the band to pursue a solo career, leaving Rivermaya without a  frontman. And so the main vocal duties fell on the laps of Mark, Mike and Norby.

Vocal coach

“I was used to doing backup; singing while playing takes getting used to. But we’re adjusting and doing fine,” Mike said. “We hired a vocal coach.”

Mark said the lack of a lead vocalist pushed them to doing new arrangements. “I think having three vocalists singing at the same time makes our music sound fresh,” Mark said.

Is the band keen on finding a new frontman? “Not really,” Mark replied. “We have a lot of plans for this lineup. We’re experimenting with different sounds and equipment. I hope this is for good.”


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