Thursday, December 31, 2009

Rico Blanco

WHILE 2009 was not exactly a year to remember for many Filipinos, it was still a pretty good year for a good number of them.

CNN Hero of the Year Efren PeƱaflorida and seven-titleholder prizefighter Manny Pacquiao, among others, made us proud to be Filipinos with what they have achieved for the year.

And 2009 was also quite a year for talented singer-songwriter Rico Blanco. The former Rivermaya frontman enjoyed more carryover success from his breakout solo album, Your Universe that continued to earn him the kind of critical acclaim he never quite achieved with his former band.

In 2009, Rico also won several awards including Favorite New Artist at the Myx Music Awards; Best New Artist, Best Solo Artist and Album of the Year (Your Universe) in the 1st Philippine Radio Music Awards; and Song of the Year for “Antukin” during the last NU 107 Rock Awards 2009. The year also saw the relaunch of Rico's own official web site at, even as he continues to hit his stride with his latest hit single, “Ayuz” also from Your Universe.

When he finally emerged from what was a wildly-speculated absence following his departure from Rivermaya in 2008, I had the chance to write a feature on Rico on not just one but two magazines that year. One of them was a Q & A format type of piece for MAXIM Philippines.

The other was this lengthier feature that I wrote for One Philippines, a lifestyle and entertainment magazine for OFW’s published in several countries except the Philippines.

So I thought since this has been a pretty good year for Rico and I’d honestly like for at least some friends to get to read that One Philippines piece back here at home, here it is in a slightly improved version.

Some of the pics in this post are from Rico Blanco's Facebook fan page.

Nothing’s gonna change Rico Blanco’s world

RICO Blanco just wanted a vacation.

“Look at The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith. These guys have been together for years. But no vacation?,” he protests. “I thought I was going to be with Rivermaya for life. Leaving the band wasn’t in my mind at all.”

Even though he dabbled in extra curricular pursuits like acting (Nasaan Si Francis?) and t-shirts designing (Bench’s Human brand), the brooding enigmatic rocker never had any intentions of leaving the band that defined him as a person and as a musician for as long as anyone can remember.

“My original plan was to take an indefinite vacation from the band and I tried to prepare everyone the best way I could,” Rico reveals. “Everyone reacted differently, of course and I understood that they wanted to continue without me. I have been working all my life since the band started and while there were breaks, there wasn’t a really long break.”

From Rico’s recollection, the band thought it wasn’t a good idea for him to take a vacation at the time of his departure. Apparently plans were already made and Rivermaya was booked for gigs for months. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Rico did what he thought was best under the situation—he quit the band.

“I was devastated but it was impossible to work under those circumstances,” he continues, “I lost a family when I left Rivermaya. I lost my brothers, my ate (referring to manager Lizza Nakpil) and the next thing I knew, I was already kicked out of our own mailing list. Except for a website where I occasionally posted brief statements, I had no venue to state my side of the story. All I heard was that I was no longer with the group and doing things outside of music.”

Describing his hiatus as “fantastic,” Rico stayed out of the spotlight for over a year as he traveled extensively to several continents. “I would wake up not doing anything except for mundane things that has nothing to do with music. For the first few months, I didn’t listen to anything. I didn’t touch my guitar or my piano.”

For someone who admits to being in love with music all his life, it was not at all easy for Rico to detach himself from something he does best. Forget the celebrated musicians that played musical chairs to Rivermaya’s rotating incarnations over the years. Frontman Bamboo MaƱalac, bass player Nathan Azarcon and guitarist Perf De Castro may have been pieces of the puzzle that made the band work at certain stages of its evolution but make no mistake about it, it was Rico Blanco who created the blueprint for Rivermaya’s chart-topping success.

So what if Rivermaya always played second fiddle to the Erasherheads or any other band that took its place at the top after the latter’s disintegration? So what if because the band is perceived to be, uh, “manufactured,” they never enjoyed the kind of acclaim and respect that they actually deserve? And so what if Rico is more of a blue-collar superstar than the likes of say, Ely Buendia and Karl Roy, who are generally considered as rock royalty?

With his penchant for crafting unforgettable pop hooks that has that unmistakable McCartney-meets-Abba effect in our consciousness as exhibited by now classics like “Kisapmata,” “Himala,” “Hinahanap-hanap Kita,” and “Umaaraw Umuulan,” no one else worked as extra hard and no one else was actually more consistent in delivering the goods with every new release.

Which was why as much as Rico wanted to enjoy his lengthy time off after the falling out, he simply couldn’t stay away for long.

“I was surprised with the kind of support that I got from fans and fellow musicians who told me to just enjoy my vacation and take time off from all the bullshit,” he beams. “When I came home from the airport, an immigration official pretty much told me the same thing and I was humbled by it. But then these same people, my former bandmate Nathan in particular, later told me, “Hoy bumalik ka na! Tama na ang bakasyon!”

Rico eventually found himself writing songs again—lots of it. “I wasn’t planning on releasing anything, I was just writing what comes to my mind and I would record everything at first but when they became too many, I couldn’t stop. Then the Human deal happened and I was pushed back into the spotlight much sooner than I would have wanted.”

Human gave Rico a chance to flex his creative muscles further as the youth-oriented fashion brand gave him a chance to design his own pop culture-inspired t-shirts line, an immediate bestseller just like his own greatest hits. Even after the success of that well, diversification, Rico still wasn’t ready for a musical “comeback” which was a misnomer of sorts considering that he has yet to come back from something.

He eventually found himself at the studio armed with the new material that he wrote during his hiatus as well as some spillovers from the Rivermaya days that somehow never managed to see the light of day for one reason or another. The result is Your Universe, his debut solo release for Warner Music Philippines.

Just when everyone was still talking about that abbreviated Eraserheads reunion concert, Rico came out of left field and unleashed his own solo recording and the early returns looked promising.

There’s “Say Forever,” an 80’s homage to new wave that jumps in your face like a rat-tat-tat tommy gun. There’s the title track, an acoustic ballad in the tradition of “Himala” and “Balisong” that Rico says is “borne out of my appreciation for all the blessings I have received in my life.”

And then there’s the “epic” single, “Yugto” which at first listen would seem like it’s about his ugly divorce from Rivermaya. “The song is actually bigger than my own story,” he says. “It’s inspired by current events, what’s going on in the news and asking who is really telling the truth?”

Well, whoever is telling the truth, it certainly can’t be denied that Your Universe, which also features a stellar cast of musicians that include former Eraserhead Buddy Zabala, Razorback’s Louie Talan, Mojofly’s Ricci Gurango and Bamboo’s Nathan Azarcon, is a refreshing return to form for Rico. Sure, there are still some bruised egos to heal and maybe a lawsuit or two to settle with his old band’s management but as far as Rico is concerned, he’s already liberated by the whole experience.

“My music is my legacy and I’d rather let that speak for me. I was really surprised with the kind of high that I got from this new-found freedom,” he declares. “It exceeded all my expectations and I’m glad that I did it.”

Now Rico Blanco can take his vacation anytime he wants.

Your Universe by Rico Blanco is released and distributed by Warner Music Philippines. Also visit

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