FRANCO: THE MAN AND THE SUPERBAND
By Fbrew Reyes (no relation)
Get Mr Hot Guitarist from Band A, pair him up with Uber-Vocalist Such-and-such… oh is that kickass rhythm section from This-and-this available? It’s not difficult locally to find a band that doesn’t share a member or two from somewhere else; the collective reputations and energies generally have worked well. The idea is commonplace now, and apparently a lucrative one.
It is also easy to have a cynical ear aimed at these collaborative efforts… is it the music that makes the band, or the combined reputation and fanbases of the individual members?
Your browser may not support display of this image. MCA’s newest band is, hands down, a supergroup. Undoubtedly, a true Pinoy rock fan would recognize these names: Gabby Alipe (guitar) and Jan-jan Mendoza (drums) from Urbandub! 8 Toleran (guitar) of Queso! Buwi Meneses (bass) of Parokya Ni Edgar (whoa!)! All in one band! The expectations, good and bad, are to be expected. Is this a vanity project for those involved? Happily, the answer, evident on every song from their eponymous album, is no. Their collective sound is not actually dependent on their musical and nominal reputations (and for the record, they do play really well on the album)… it is actually defined by their hitherto unknown vocalist/songwriter and band namesake: Franco.
Franco Reyes is probably Cebu’s last well-kept secret. Over the years, Cebuanos have been whispering his name in reverential tones. He left for Florida in 1992 and would return to Cebu occasionally to form a musical project. In the late 90s, he formed Frank; one of the band’s songs ‘Spin And Fall’ even became an airplay favourite on NU107. And then… nothing. In 2003, he returned to the States. “I’ve worked different kinds of jobs, you know, the 9-to-5 grind…” he says in his quiet unassuming way, “…and I said ‘Nah, this isn’t gonna work for me.’ Specially every time I would hold my guitar, I was like ‘Should I give this a try?’ And I was thinking I should because my dad, before he died, advised me and said ‘Why don’t you try, give it a few years? You have nothing to lose. If it’s gonna work, it works, if not at least you tried.’” Franco recorded some songs while he was abroad and brought them back home.
Your browser may not support display of this image. Your browser may not support display of this image. How many songs has he written? “Um… including the album? All in all?” He chuckles almost embarrassedly, “I don’t know… I’ve got small bits and pieces in my laptop, which I hope I won’t lose. I even have those mini-tapes from before. If I get inspired I just sit down even if it’s not a whole song, maybe just work on a verse…hopefully someday I’ll revisit those tapes.” One of his older songs from the Frank days is ‘Song For The Suspect.’ “We were sitting around in a friends house, drinking, and there was a guitar there… four strings (laughs). I was a little tipsy and I came up with the chorus first. But the whole song, matagal natapos. It was like a year-and-a-half.”
Franco, the band, decided on which songs written by Franco, the man, would be included on the album. Although he may perceived as the head of the whole project, this unassuming genius is gracious with his bandmates’ ideas and contributions. While all the songs are his, he never refers to the album as his alone. “Everybody decided, everybody chose, you know, what we had on the table. We just did it and hoped for the best.” The first single “Castaway” which instantly had rock listeners asking which foreign band was responsible for a sound that is at once epic and soothing. The whole album, in fact, sounds big and clean, at times seamlessly marrying reggae and metal. Even on an apparently angry track “Next Train Out,” Franco’s vocal work is unhurried. His singing voice is a picture of the man himself: steady yet authoritative. He has a presence if you will. If the band is a typhoon (and some of the riffs do feel like it), Franco Reyes is its calm eye. And very admirably for a ‘supergroup,’ nobody actually sticks out sonically; a testament to their cohesion as a unit.
Did he choose the band members? The circumstances were probably serendipitous. “We were good friends even before this project started. You know, it was like ‘Hey you’re a guitar player, he’s a bassist, why not form a band?’ And they were looking for a vocalist and I wasn’t doing anything when I was in the states. So everything just… yun na.” There were a few personal adjustments: 8 Toleran, known for his huge Queso riffs, changed his guitar playing a bit. “I ditched the seven-string and went back to the six,” he offers, “That’s sorta new for me. I’ve been playing for Queso for 15 years, so it’s like learning again. it’s a little less responsibility, a bit more laid back. I get to muck around a bit, so that’s nice for me.” As for Buwi Meneses, this band is probably a good chance for people to hear his bass-playing in a more ‘serious’ context. How do Parokya Ni Edgar fans feel about this? “They’re actually present at Franco gigs,” he says happily, “I mean I watch Queso at their gigs, iba talaga ang crowd. There is a difference between the audiences, but they both go to Franco gigs so… it’s a wider audience.”
The diverse audiences attracted by the band’s collective CV is obviously a plus but ultimately, it’s the songs that seal the deal. “All of the songs on the album are about real life experiences, so anybody can relate to that,” Franco adds modestly. His writing influences? “Uhhh, I don’t read books. I’ve only read a few. If you can include singers…marami. Sting for example. He’s a really good writer. Layne Staley… masyadong marami…” His quiet speaking voice morphs into an even quieter chuckle.
Isn’t a superband difficult to keep together logistically?
Franco remains reassuring, “So far, wala pa naman conflict sa schedule. We’re really good friends… so this is probably going to last a long long time.”
Grab a copy of FRANCO’s self-titled album available in all major record bars nationwide to experience fresh, raw and unadulterated music in its truest sense. Tracks from the album are also available for download via Globe and Smart WAP sites. To download a ringback tone of FRANCO’s latest single “Castaway”, key in the keyword CASTWAY and send to 2728 for Smart Subscribers, or the code KF693 and send to 2332 for Globe Subscribers. FRANCO is released exclusively under MCA Music.