Enter Galactik Fiestamatik, Rico Blanco’s new haven. As he describes it, it’s part-Ati-Atihan, and part-outer space. It’s not only a completely new sound, but it’s whole ‘nother look. Rico Blanco takes us back to his percussion roots, but blasts us into outer space with electro. Discover his new sound, look, and… let him introduce you to his new friend, Fiesto Bandido.
“[Galactik Fiestamatik] was an experiment, to be completely honest. I wanted to discipline myself, and find a song that will work even if you just sing within an octave or an octave and a half at the most, and not rely on the dramatics of lows, and the screaming highs, and the big parts.”
Can you introduce yourself to the camera first?
My name is Rico Blanco. Hello.
I don’t know if you remember, but it’s been a year since we last featured you in STATUS Magazine.
Yeah, I do remember.
What’s changed since, aside from your look and your sound?
I have recorded an album—my second album as a solo artist. Mostly that, and a few other things, but mostly that.
We’ve been talking about the personas in your music. Can you tell us about the persona in Galactik Fiestamatik?
The persona behind Galactik Fiestamatik is this guy… I’m not sure where he’s from but it doesn’t look like he’s from here. His name is Fiesto Bandido. And he loves to dance, and to sing, and to have fun. He loves fiestas. He’s the ultimate cheerleader, and life of the party. It could be possible he could be from another planet and ended up here, and maybe met a few people in an Ati-Atihan festival. Or he could’ve come from an Ati-Atihan tribe and he might have been transported to outer space during the apocalypse with some items from this civilization to preserve, and they just happen to have come back.
In that interview, you told us that you never saw yourself having a one-dimensional life. Is having this new persona a way for you to add to that depth, that dimension into your life?
I think it’s just a byproduct… Having a certain persona that goes with the music is just a byproduct of the music that I created for this album. I don’t really see having that character as adding another dimension to my life; I think it’s still part of me as a musician, as an artist. If I try out new things in different fields, say I learn a new sport or a new skill or get a new job, a different job than the one that I have, that would be, for me, more in line with what I told you last year about me wanting to add different dimensions to my life.
I was referring to not just a musician, as a lot of people know me to be. I think having Fiesto around is still part of how I want to present the music that I ended up creating in the same way that I would change the way I fix my appearance with every album or with every single since the start of my career. I just always feel the visual should just go with whatever you’re hearing just to help the music, to help send the message I want to send. Music videos are supported by the same philosophy, I suppose—and pictorials and other things like that.
You mentioned, especially today with the intersection of music videos, that sound and visuals are so connected now. Does it help you personally, to make your music by changing your appearance? Does it help you internalize that new sound?
I often find myself guided by an imaginary persona whenever I’m working on a sound or an album. I think even from the first year of my album, I would already have this idea of the person singing it. When I was with Bamboo and Rivermaya, I was imagining him singing it. When I started singing the songs myself, I would imagine what I would look like singing it or the kind of expressions I would have when I’m singing it. I don’t know if it helps the music, I’m not sure about that. But it helps me to stay in one place when I’m working on a song or an album because otherwise, you know, I’d lose focus and go everywhere with the song and I’m not sure if that’ll work.
Let’s talk about the new sound in your album. I only heard four songs from the new album, and it’s very electro, very percussion. It feels like a total departure for you but at the same time, it feels like you’re going back to your roots with percussion in Rivermaya. So, can you tell us how this new sound developed, and what inspired it?
I think I actually just stumbled upon this mix of two things that I love, like you said, heavy tribal drumming and percussions, and also technology. I initially was thinking of double album, wherein one album would be a completely different genre and persona, and the other album would be a different genre and persona—totally opposite. But then I was aware of the challenges a double album would give us in terms of promotion, and I guess, spending power of consumers. I was worried they wouldn’t get the whole picture—legally, I mean, without having to download it or buy the pirate version. So I wondered to myself if I could come up with something in the middle.
I actually ended up with something on a totally different plane from those two concepts, and it just came to me while I was working on “Amats,” which was initially a sort of OPM pop/rock dity with major chords and anthemic, sweet melodies. And I was working on the key… I wanted to sing in on a key that I arranged, that I wanted to keep myself in for this album. I just set that parameter early on; I don’t wanna sing my full range the way I have in all my previous albums. I just want to stick to a few notes, and stay there.
It was an experiment, to be completely honest. I wanted to discipline myself, and find a song that will work even if you just sing within an octave or an octave and a half at the most, and not rely on the dramatics of lows, and the screaming highs, and the big parts. So while I was trying to figure out which key and range to sing the song, I wondered to myself if I could rearrange the song and make it dark. And it just excited me because the topic was dark, and it was a surprise why I didn’t think of it sooner, you know.
I just thought it was sweet that someone didn’t know what to do, or gets nervous every time his crush is around… it’s just typically “high school” or “grade school”. But the minute I tried it in my head, I tried it in a darker chord progression, I already heard it right away. I instantly fell in love with it, and when I started arranging it on the computer, it just came to me in a flash—putting the two things I love together: technology and ethnic world or Filipino music. Right then and there I decided the whole album, if not the rest of my career, is going to sound that way.
So this is a sound you’re planning to continue on even albums later?
“I honestly don’t like the way my voice sounds 90% of the time, maybe 95. The 5% that I liked it were in songs that didn’t end up as singles…I think I’m a better producer that I am a singer.”
I was listening to [the album], and I dunno, it really reminded me of 1980s music. Like, “Sayaw” for some reason really reminded me of “Safety Dance” [Laughs]. And the range you were describing, it’s kind of very Bowie, very Billy Idol. Was that a conscious inspiration for you, the 1980s?
There was no conscious inspiration, in that sense, if you were referring to the 1980s or I don’t know, the 90s or whatnot. For this project, I just… remember, I just kept asking myself “What do you really like?” Every element I put in, I would ask myself, “what do you really like?” So I didn’t restrict myself with eras. If you say 80s, what about it? Oh, I didn’t like everything in the 80s. But I did love the synthesizers, you know. I don’t particularly love all the David Bowie albums. I’m not even a completest. But I did like how he sounded in his 80s albums—which I heard he hates, I’m not sure—and I like other artists from that time which I learned about later on who were influenced by him. I liked Bowie because I liked Duran Duran first, and they liked Sylvian, who liked Bowie. But I just found that out later. I was just this kid who was a big Duran Duran fan, and I just liked how Libon would sing in Rio, the first album I had. Then I bought the first album after that. So, you know, things I love. If I sound like someone at one point in time or another, it was just all these things I was into. And with regards to range, I honestly don’t like the way my voice sounds 90% of the time, maybe 95. The 5% that I liked it were in songs that didn’t end up as singles. They were just album tracks, album cuts, where I’m singing really low. So I guess this time around I didn’t want to give the record label the chance to put out a single that wasn’t in that range because all the songs are in that range. That’s that.
I still don’t like how my voice sounds [Laughs]. But it’s closer to the goal, I guess. See, I’m a producer too. I think I’m a better producer that I am a singer. I make the instruments sound really good, as good as I can make them sound. And every time I insert my voice, I get just really… disappointed. But that’s one instrument I can’t change the sound of. So, I gotta live with that.
If you could change the voice in all of your tracks, whose the ideal voice you would put in there?
I’d definitely put Sinatra’s voice in there, in all the songs.
What things have remained the same?
Music-wise, I don’t think much has changed in the sense that there had always been huge changes from album to album in my career.
First album of Rivermaya was big to me, it was my first album. Second album, I had to learn the guitar in the studio during recording. A few years later, I had to sing. And then a few years later, a different line-up completely. And then, having to do a solo album my work was different musicians. I don’t think this album is any different in that sense that there had always been changes—big changes from album to album.
What I like to think that has remained the same [are] my sense of melody and lyricism. I’m still trying to get better at both; I think there’s a lot for me to learn as a songwriter but I’m enjoying the things I’m discovering with every new song I write. The strength of having a verse and a chorus is still there, although sometimes I jumble them up and start with a chorus, and then two verses. But definitely, I still value that.
Another thing that has remained the same for this album will be the amount of work I put in. It still wasn’t an easy album to finish. I think I put more hours in this album than in any other album I’ve recorded. The way I write is still the same, the way ideas come to me—they come to me from different places and at different times. So that’s still the same. The fact that I don’t really listen to other artists while I’m recording; that rule was still implemented during recording sessions for this album.
Who is your holy trinity of icons for sex, love and rock & roll?
Sex, I think would be Madonna. Love would be McCartney. Rock & Roll would be Pepe Smith.
Interview by Rita Faire
Video by Art Alera