What is it about the rock genre that keeps people youthful at heart?
Perhaps, it could be the inherent, anachronistic spirit that lies deep in the hearts of many rock stars, or could it be an enhanced form of adeptness (and an open embrace) to the modern styles that are trending now?
This was a question I wanted to pose to the members of Chicosci, who stood right in front of me decked out in curated streetwear pieces from head to toe. At any glance, you wouldn’t even think that singer Miggy Chavez, guitarist Mong Alcaraz, bassist Eco Del Rio, and drummer Victor Guison were older than they looked. It isn’t the impression that any of them gives off online, or even as you meet them in person.
Yet in reality, Chicosci were formed in the year 1996, back when Chavez and Alcaraz were still students at the Ateneo De Manila University. “Things started out because of our passion for music back when we were kids [in high school],” says Alcaraz. “We formed the band [just like that], like we saw some of our classmates in the corridor performing an instrument, and all of a sudden we’re like, ‘Oh, he’s cool with bass.’ So that’s how we got the bassist,” he laughs.
As sudden as their formation seemed to be, the journey that led up to the moment that launched their professional music careers was no easy path for them. Like a college band success story straight out of the movies, Chicosci won an inter-school battle of the bands competition, which awarded them a significant sum of prize money that they wisely invested into recording a demo — which landed them a two-album record deal with EMI Philippines (one of the biggest record labels at the time) and has led for them to be recognized as one of the most prolific rock bands in the country.
Milestones Over The Decades
While many memories have stood out as highlights in Chicosci’s decades-long career in the scene, the opportunities around them seem limitless from their perspective. There isn’t any cap as to what they could achieve, since their growth as musicians has allowed their goals to evolve accordingly.
“When we started, it was always about small milestones [for us],” Alcaraz shares. Whether it was looking for gigs to play at, making demos to submit to record labels, or even the process of being able to record a song, Chicosci were able to tick all those off of their to-do list at such an early point in their career. Chavez even wonders, “It’s always been like, ‘What’s the next goal?’”
To the band, one of the latest milestones that they’ve hit comes from the recent re-release of their 2006 self-titled record last October. “This is the first time we’ve put the record out on digital platforms years after its original release, and it made us feel like the first time we heard our song on the radio,” Alcaraz mentions.
The moment became an even more significant milestone for them, especially as they realized how fast it attained 100,000 streams in one day. “We had people asking us, ‘Is this real?’ And we couldn’t even respond properly because it was such an unreal moment for us,” recalls Del Rio.
Exchanging Cultures Through Touring
Over the years, one aspect of their careers that has consistently stood out as a triumph for Chicosci has been their experience touring and performing live for varied sets of audiences.
To the group, the experience of touring is like a sharing of cultures between them and the crowd. “I feel like that’s number one in the whole experience of being in a band. I mean, yes, we’re a family. We make music together, have each other’s backs, play live performances, and cannot let our brothers down. That’s what Chicosci is all about, but we do all of that because we want the Philippines to be able to go around the world and immerse in other cultures. That’s the whole point of it — you know, exploring the very parts unknown,” Alcaraz states.
Remembering one of their international gigs from 2008 in particular, he even recalls, “We still can’t believe we hung out with Jared Leto,” to which the rest of the band laughs with a sense of fondness to that memory.
Whether it’s across the country, around Southeast Asia, or in the United States, every moment of performing their music to a live audience is what they cherish most as a group. “We do our recordings so that we can be able to play live, and that’s what we keep in mind not merely for ourselves, but no matter who’s in the audience, too,” says Chavez.
Adding to Chavez’s sentiments, Alcaraz affirms, “[At times] we don’t think about what the fans say online, because, to us, it’s more about who shows up as a part of the crowd. Then from there, we know what to perform because we’re able to get an understanding of the crowd and what they would like to hear.”
And if you’re one of those audiences who has witnessed any of Chicosci’s live performances, you could easily agree that these rock stars truly know how to put on a show — complete with all the energy and intensity that you’d expect from any post-hardcore band.
“With our maturity, we’re aware of where we don’t want to go or what we don’t want to do ––which I think is important.”
New Lineup, New Norms
Today, after six studio albums and an assortment of singles, the band finds themselves in their third iteration of life. Alcaraz shares, “I’m just happy that we had the chance to meet new guys who felt the same way and were passionate about our music.“ Pointing to Del Rio and Guison, he adds, “With these guys, I feel the same energy of Chicosci — one that still retains the core of the group.”
“It’s been great so far, and I feel that we have each other’s backs,” says Chavez. “That’s the most important thing, really.”
“Even when we’re in the process of songwriting, we take note of one another’s influences and contributions. With this set of guys, I love how we don’t just shoot down anyone’s ideas, you know what I mean? There’s no discouragement because we make sure to hear each other out, whether it’s our feelings or any suggestions. There’s very much a sense of open-mindedness with this lineup we have today,” mentions Alcaraz.
Expounding further, he states, “I think all of us are open-minded in the sense that we listen. If someone says, ‘Oh, I don’t know, let’s try this,’ we’ll always give it a chance. And then when we get together, things come together naturally.”
“As friends, we also know each other’s tastes,” agrees Del Rio. “So that helps us know how to present our ideas and stuff.”
With where they are now, Guison mentions how their united front allows them to improve their craft and even grow as musicians: “We’re all trying to achieve one goal here. And that’s to be better. It’s nice when you understand one another, even if it’s all new, you know?”
Maturity With Room To Grow
Amidst everything Chicosci have been able to accomplish throughout the 23-plus years since the release of their debut album, the future isn’t necessarily something they find themselves worrying about.
“There’s never a plan, nor is there a clear path that we have in mind,” Chavez mentions. “It’s not that simple and it’s so different than doing things so spontaneously like before, maybe because of our maturity,” he adds.
In what has been more than two decades on the scene, age and experience have definitely played their part in allowing each member of Chicosci to gather knowledge and wisdom over time. “Back then, we were just f**king around. But now, with our maturity, we’re aware of where we don’t want to go or what we don’t want to do — which I think is important”, says Alcaraz.
The whole process has evolved for them because the art of writing as such isn’t just some formula to which they have to adhere to. They may laugh about being in their “advanced” ages, but each member of the band agrees that they have accepted the changes of time, as well as the many differences in workflows and responsibilities. Alcaraz even notes, “It’s different times for us as well, as having a wife and a kid to come home to, it’s a whole different type of responsibility that comes with it.”
Still, that doesn’t mean that Chicosci aren’t planning anything sometime soon. As it is, they just released a new single titled “Dust” earlier this May via Tower Of Doom Records, and they’re already finalizing another one, which should be due early this year. “We’ve been talking to a director already, as we’re planning to make a two-part music video for both of the songs. Who knows, it might be like a short film, even,” says Alcaraz.
When I questioned if this was leading up to something bigger — like a full album or extended play project — Alcaraz responded “Who knows, man? We’ve been thinking about that, and it’s looking really good. If you think of what Chicosci’s essence is, then you’ll probably like what we have in store soon.”
Still Young At Heart, Amidst Everything
As I prepare myself for the last part of this interview, I ask them the golden question on my mind — “What is it about the rock genre that keeps people youthful at heart?”
Alcaraz replies, “Most people, whatever they discovered when they were 13 to 15 years old, it’s what stuck to them at their core, so I think that’s true for all of us, [not even just to those in the scene].”
“For me and Miggy, [not wanting to date ourselves], we came of age with Nirvana and Rage Against The Machine, Far Beyond Driven by Pantera, or even Metallica’s ‘black album,’” he continues. “To be able to say that it’s true for most people our age that sit around, we stick to that because that’s what they discovered [at such a formative part of their lives]. And for everyone, it’s like that. It depends on where they came from, but that’s still your core,” he says.
He explains, “Usually, your sensibility is very much informed by that 13-year-old inside you, right? Like, will this be done? Do you have barometers for cool decisions that go beyond songwriting, even? It’s more of the decisions you make every day that lead up to certain paths to choose from, so of course, the 13-year-old in me is what says, ‘This is the cooler path.’”
As Alcaraz closes it off with that, so concludes our conversation. After exchanging farewells and formalities, the guys resume their earlier discussion amongst themselves — “O ano, tuloy ba tayo sa Salomon sale sa Glorietta?” (So, are we going to the Salomon sale in Glorietta?) — to which most of them encourage and agree.
Seeing this, I tell myself, “God, I wish I was a quarter ounce as cool as these guys.”
This cover story is part of Billboard Philippines’ Pinoy Rock series, where we define the sound the Filipino rock scene through 10 of the most influential bands in the country. Read more of the series below.