Sprouting Wood (an interview with Bamboo)

Bamboo, one of the best known Pinoy Rock bands...

Bamboo, one of the best known Pinoy Rock bands in the Philippines. Taken December 2006 by exec8 during their Christmas party. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The name Bamboo may have preceded the band, but it doesn’t necessarily define them. “The band comes from the chemistry of all the members, it’s like DNA,” says drummer Vic Mercado. “When you lose one member, it all changes. You can’t force it.” But Vic jokes that if they do need to replace their lead vocalist, they can always get the local equivalent of that “Coldplay” guy.

For a rocker who seems so spontaneous onstage, Bamboo Mañalac himself is a stickler for details and preparation, preferring to have everything planned and checked beforehand. So right now he’s rather wound up about their next project, which charts unexplored territory for the Filipino music industry. Even their big-gun record label, EMI, is still “making kapa” (feeling things out). What they’ve done is combine their first two albums, putting together all of the songs with English lyrics, and giving it a final edit and polish. Then they’ll be releasing the resulting album simultaneously in 6 countries around the region: India, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore, followed by a grand Asian tour. Bamboo could grow bigger than was ever thought possible for a Pinoy band. So we at Manual are glad we got them before things get too crazy.

When asked what music he’d like to pose to for the cover shoot, Bamboo cites Miles Davis, “basta negro,” he says without any hesitation. Vic theorizes that black music has extra soul because of the legendary size of their genitalia. He got to prove this for himself when he was left behind in LA and doing his laundry alone in a neighborhood shop. A homeless black man was sitting outside against the wall, getting himself drunk. Before Vic knew it, the man’s huge package was hanging out. Then the guy started playing with himself. This prompted Vic to speculate that the blacks’ gift for musical improvisation must come from down there. It turns out that the band found themselves fascinated by, of all things, LA’s laundromat scene. In La-la land, these temples to the washing machine provide other distractions such as arcade games, internet service, cafes, and even bars as an alternative to watching dirty clothes go round and round. The guys would observe seedy-looking Latinos hanging out, drinking bottles of god-knows-what concealed in brown paper bags, each character ripe fodder for a gritty tale. Bamboo recounts the time when he was doing his laundry in a shop somewhere in Melrose while the others were away. He then found himself in the middle of a brawl between a member of the Chinese Mafia and a Taliban terrorist, or so they seemed. There aren’t any laundry-inspired songs yet in the band’s repertoire, but you never know. The guys also found it great fun to play Dr. Phil-type self-help audiobooks on the long drives, the psychobabble would always get them to crack up laughing. It was also a blast to be able to crank up the volume on guitarist Ira Cruz’s collection of classic porn soundtracks, real premium boom-chicka-wow-wow stuff that you don’t normally get to appreciate while otherwise “enjoying” porn with the sound turned down low.

Bamboo describes his bandmates as “mga walang hiya” (shameless). They’d agree to get naked, if the situation called for it. If there’s one thing they’re never going to do, it’s to pose with their instruments, a concept they find too cheesy for words. They don’t really care about fussing with their appearance. While touring the US with glossier, more glamorous acts like The Strokes, Bamboo noticed that they were the only band who didn’t have a particular style. There’s Bamboo with his close-cropped hair, Ira with his tats and goatee, and bassist Nathan Azarcon’s impenetrably dark glasses. Hardly a cohesive look. They’re not saying never to being all made up or dressed up, just that they’ll never do it for the money. That’s a hard line to follow in an industry where commercial endorsement tie-ins are increasingly picking up the slack for weakening sales. But Bamboo is the band in the pole position now, and they’re not bowing out anytime soon.

-first published in Manual magazine, 2006. text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved.

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