Cover Story

Wild Boars: How Razorback Refuse To Slow Down

Thirty-three years and counting, these old boys of hard rock show no indication of slowing down or playing softly.

It’s almost 8:30 and I sit waiting in one of the offices with only the ambient light of the common area coming through the glass. First in the Zoom room is Patrick Pulumbarit, not the band’s first manager but certainly the longest. Next is Marco Cuneta, the band’s oldest sessionist and, I think, the newest member following the exit of bassist Louie Talan in 2019. We three become preoccupied between catching up and getting-to-know-each-other stories that I fail to notice the three members in the waiting room — current drummer Francis Aquino, singer Kevin Roy, and guitarist Tirso Ripoll.

They just came from their Christmas party the night before where Roy kept playing new wave songs that Ripoll could relate to (finally) but didn’t know. “Yeah, new wave stuff, which is cool, but I was just not into it at the time, you know, when you’re into Iron Maiden… but my wife knows all the songs. She’s really into that.” Roy, who kept them at the party until midnight, played, among other songs, a song by the Waterboys, “I think my English is not American. I think it’s more UK, like poetic. It’s the poetry, the flow of it. It’s like the Americans, their topics are light. My lyrics are a little… you know, it’s just, it’s more flowing poetry-ish, you can quote me on that. Hahaha!”

This is the Razorback I know — friendly and funny, with Roy and Ripoll taking the lead and practically talking over each other (they should have a talk show).

Photographed by Benj Barayuga

Origin Story

It all started with Ripoll and original drummer Miguel Ortigas. At around 12 or 13, Ripoll recalls meeting Ortigas, who shared a common love for Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath (and all that), through his cousin. “He had an incredible, incredible record collection,” narrates Ripoll. “Just incredible. He had all that great metal because he would go to the States a lot, at least once or twice a year. So he’d always come back with these amazing records and stuff. So from there, obviously at some point we’re like, we should get a band together. And then that’s basically it. So we’re like, yeah, we’re going to get a band and whatever. And then eventually we did it.”

Back in the day, they would jam at Ortigas’s house. Like every college kid, they went out  choosing bars where the drinks were affordable. “We’d go out to Kalye because the drinks were super cheap. (Imagine vodka tonics at fifty pesos each — like happy hour all night.) Ricky (Cui) and [his band] were playing, and then they’re like, ‘Hey, you guys want to jam?’ And so Isabel, Miguel, and I would get up and jam. And you know, we would be there with all our friends and they’re like, well, this is fun. And then every time we’d go back, they’d make us jam again.” 

“Yeah, Saturday. Yeah, for sure, no problem.”
“Hey, we got a gig. Kalye.”
“Yes, this Saturday. But, uhm, we gotta play three hours.”
“How many sets?”
“Are you nuts?! We gotta get to work.”
“I know.”

Cui got into a fight with the owners of Kalye and they needed to replace his band. The Kalye owners called Ortigas on a Tuesday and by Saturday they were on stage. “So we went and it was terrible,” continues Ripoll. ”But we had a lot of friends who drank a lot. And that’s really the trick. If you want the club to ask you back, have a lot of heavy drinking friends and the club will always book you no matter how awful you are. Then eventually we got good.”

They had about eight songs down and survived a three-hour, three set gig. They did what most show bands or jazz bands do to fill in the time: vamp. “We obviously learned a few, but we just really, you know, played ‘All Along the Watchtower’ for 20 minutes or something.”

All In The Family

To make sense of the Razorback back story is like watching Pulp Fiction: the story is linear but can only be told in a non-linear fashion: one member leaves and gets replaced, but the new member originates from a family or friend relationship of another. Instead of a timeline, theirs is a diagram.

Ripoll’s brother Junus was the first bassist of Razorback. “[But] my brother wanted to do something else. We were doing mostly covers. He didn’t want to do that. So he started his own band and then I think we went through a few bassists, and then Louie [Talan] came over and that was it.” Talan played on each of the band’s three studio albums: Hebigat Sounds Vol. 1, Beggar’s Moon, and Star. Since Talan left in 2019, bass duties have been taken over by Marco Cuneta, their one-time regular sessionist. 

David Aguirre, Ortigas’ step brother, joined the band also at age 12 or 13 — when the rest of them were already in college. “At the time, I was around 12 years old and a student of legendary Yamaha Music Head Instructor Benji Zialcita,” Aguirre narrates. “I was merely tagging along with my older brother and his buddies at these jam sessions – saling pusa. It was not intended for me to be a part of their band.” But Aguirre was a natural at the guitar, and even though he was too young to bring to bar gigs, was made a member. “David was so good, and we were like, you know, [we] can’t be bringing this kid around. He’s really a bit young to be going to any of the bars or whatever. But he was too good. We couldn’t ignore it,” adds Ripoll. Ripoll’s other longtime friend Manuel Legarda (of Wolfgang fame) would take up the guitar reins when Aguirre left for the US in 2004.

Photographed by Benj Barayuga

Isabel Lozano, who we will consider here as Razorback’s first vocalist, left the band early on because “strict ang parents niya (Her parents were strict),” Ripoll recalls, “I don’t think her folks liked her going out to clubs, playing in the band. Then Jose Mari Cuervo joined.” Cuervo also left after some time and the band looked to Karl Roy (later of P.O.T. and Kapatid) to join them. Ripoll continues, “None of us knew Kev, but we knew Karl because he was with Advent Call at the time. And when Mari left, we were, you know, basically making ligaw (courting) Karl like full on. We even took him to Fiesta Carnival (This was a small amusement park complete with a rollercoaster inside a building on what is now Shopwise in Cubao). And then he and I got stuck in the ferris wheel and I spent that 20 minutes convincing him to join the band. I think he really wanted to but then Advent Call was playing every day. They were working. We were playing once a week. So it was different.” 

It would all work out in the end. Roy brought his brother Kevin to the audition. Of the two Roys, Kevin agrees with the common opinion of him compared to  his brother: “Karl is a different entity on stage. Yeah, I think I was the better singer, but he was the better performer.” The younger Roy’s vocals fit the band so perfectly that he would eventually be known by most as the only voice Razorback has ever had. Jett Pangan of The Dawn, himself a highly regarded vocalist, said this of Roy: “Kevin has one of the most soulful voices in hard rock. Sturdy, too.” 

The “voice of rock” as Roy is now known, left briefly in 2018, much to the shock of fans and friends. Whatever it was, that time has passed and he is back in front of the band.

“If you want the club to ask you back, have a lot of heavy drinking friends and the club will always book you no matter how awful you are.”

As we go through the roster of members and exchange anecdotes about the past, someone eventually mentions former longtime drummer Brian Velasco. It was a topic I wanted to avoid, his death being a deep loss not just to his family and his band brothers, but also to everyone who cared about the Philippine rock scene. Pulumbarit, Ripoll, and Roy recall the previous times they had to talk him off the ledge. 

“Uh, I think the first time I was there, I hung out with him for a long time. I called you. You went there.” 
“What do you mean? When?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. The first time. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. That’s when he got committed. I had to trick him. It was so bad, but I had to do it. Yeah, [It was] the only way I knew how to save him.”
“Long story short, uh, the, uh, ambulance, uh, uh, I forgot the name of the place, but, uh… yeah. Got him there. Stay there for a few months.”
“He hated it there. Yeah, he had some stories about that place, though.”
“Then there’s the other time. Gosh. Hard to remember these things, I mean. But uh, but he would always…”
“You know, he would always call.”
“He’d ask for help.”
“He would always call. But this time he didn’t.”

Ripoll closes off the topic: “It was obviously devastating, to lose someone you love very much. We had been asked, are you still going to continue and whatever. And, you know, Brian wrote us a note. And it was clear that he would have wanted us to keep going. So, I wasn’t going to insult his memory. None of us felt like doing that Like, you know. ‘Well, we’re just not going to do this anymore.’ I know he wouldn’t have wanted to be the reason to end it all, you know what I mean?” 

Roy continues the thought, “While it was devastating, I think stopping would have just made it worse. I guess it helped; [continuing the band] helped to work through it, you know?” 

Play Loud, Live Hard

The word “loud” often comes second when you say “Razorback” because RAZORBACK! PLAYS! LOUD! I remember nights when the ‘70s Bistro owner would run out to tell the band to lower their volume because the neighbors were complaining about the noise. Then he would ban the band from his place but reneged later on because Razorback was good business. Kevin remembers that ‘70s Bistro “kept getting us back because they had to make, like, two beer runs a night.”

At their recent 33rd anniversary gig, a lot of lumang tao (people from way back) showed up: Dennis Lagdameo, who used to do their sets; King Alburo, who was their roadie and event PA; and Jamie Wilson, friend and their other stage manager apart from me. “Razorback plays loud enough to blow my briefs off!” exclaims Wilson as he heads out of 12 Monkeys. He continues, “They’re also the only band I’ve seen that can still effortlessly do a three hour set,” Wilson says on his “ear break.” 

And not just that. They also have a wicked sense of humor. On their 10th or 11th anniversary — back when I met them for the first time — they decided to do a concert at the Music Museum. Since their true anniversary came so close to Halloween, they thought that playing in costume would be fun. They dressed themselves as school girls, donned on villain makeup, and billed themselves as “Catholic High School Girls in Trouble.” I recall then-manager Ricci Fidelino hemming a Maryknoll (now Miriam) school uniform for Talan. Ripoll recites the roster of crossed characters: “Kevin was the Joker wearing an Assumption uniform. I was like a ghoul wearing a Santa Rosa uniform. David was Darth Maul in Poveda.”

Photographed by Benj Barayuga

Of their many anniversary gigs, everyone agrees that the 20th, when they wore security guard uniforms, was the best. “Dude, it was awesome,” Roy chimes in. Even Fidelino said it was her favorite. Mainly Pulumbarit’s idea, the band decided their 20th was an occasion to go all out, “Nagpatahi talaga kami ng costume (We really had costumes made).” 

“It was really fun — so many security guard jokes, and we’re running around inspecting people’s bags and like, you know, patting people down just for trips,” Ripoll continues. He then proceeds to share some of the pictures on his phone from that gig — all of which I asked for and some, I hope, will make it to print.

We got into Ripoll’s (to be patented) DIY beer holder attached to his amp that led to many different ideas for where drummers can park their beer. We talked about their pandemic-derailed 30th anniversary plans (Razorback XXX) and their non-plans of retirement. Ripoll answers, “Um, you know, we had all these plans. The pandemic obviously derailed it, but we’re out of the pandemic already, so yeah, definitely. I think everyone really just wants to start working on some new material. So we’re just putting stuff together. We’ve got a bunch of stuff in the can. But Kevin’s got to, you know, [stick to] his process. In the meantime, we’re doing our bit, you know, while we’re, you know.”

Yes, we know — while they’re still around and rocking hard.

To close our interview-turned-kwentuhan (storytelling), we played a round of quick questions. I asked them which Razorback song was their favorite and found it funny that none of them mention “Payaso.” Finally, I ask, “Anong favorite ulam mo?” (What’s your favorite viand?) just for kicks. Ripoll and Roy both say adobo. Across the sea, Aguirre sends in his answer, “Crispy pata” (deep fried pork trotters). Francis Aquino (very loud drummer, very quiet person) chooses sinigang na baboy (sour pork stew), and Cuneta goes for inihaw na liempo (grilled pork belly). And just as we conclude that “baboy rocks,” Legarda says, “Tuyo” (dried fish).

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.

Read the Stories

Rare Like Shooting Stars: Teeth On Falling Apart To Come Together

Rare Like Shooting Stars: Teeth On Falling Apart To Come Together

The National Bards: Parokya Ni Edgar On Wreaking Havoc And Having Fun

Six Degrees of Separation from Sandwich