Classic rock-rooted outfit Hinlalato makes good use of their refound power, and comes out swinging the second time around. WRITTEN BY JOEY DIZON

 It’s the evening before New Year’s Eve, and one might think that it’d be hard to muster-up a crowd in the mood for some good ol’ fashioned partying-til-you drop given the circumstances of the evening. The biggest occasion in the land [next to Christmas…] was upon the Quezon City metro, yet it was close to midnight when I arrived at a packed Historia Bar, homey-yet-beefed-up music venue located in the heart of Q.C., and the festivities seemed to be in full-throttle, with drinks flowing and the music non-stop. Judging by the crowd’s continuous applause, cheer and ordering of ice cold brews, they weren’t just about to call it a night, but seemed to be eagerly anticipating the performance of the band of the evening, who were busily setting-up on stage.

Of course, when you’ve been to a few album launches like myself, you sort of expect more than a few clichés and a sort of de rigueur to the night, but this was clearly not the case for Hinlalato – the band. In fact, vocalist Clarence “Clang” Santos, a stocky, jovial personality, was working on his nth bottle of beer and happily interacting with as many people as he could from the stage, while the rest of the band’s spirits were obviously kicked-into high gear. What was refreshing was, the group seemingly couldn’t wait to start playing. You’d think that album launches were all about gimmicks and fancy parlor games and what-not, but clearly, for a band like theirs, it was really all about getting the show underway, and letting the sound speak for itself.

            And right before the set, the lights dimmed as the evening’s host mustered-up all the excitement she could and introduced the music video for the night – the single, simply monikered as “Fili,” was a return to all things awesome about rock music in the first place: a funky, almost bouncy intro that segued into sharp-witted and unabashedly patriotic lyrical bursts and calls which invited a stadium-sized chorus and gang-shouts and catch phrases. Straight-to-the-point and absolutely no-frills, the video – directed by Eli Balce – has the band members (vocalist Clang, guitarists Luden and Jon Salazar, bassist Godwin Samar and drummer Aldwin Alberto…) individually bound in chains, struggling to break free, and channeling the power of their live performances, while shots of socio-political strife quickly jab in-between performance and conceptual takes.

Needless to say, the set that followed was an hour-plus blow-by-blow odyssey which highlighted both original material off the band’s current EP simply titled X, and a hodgepodge of well-loved covers from the Black Crowes, AC/DC, and even local favorites like Razorback and the like. In a nutshell, Hinlalato’s business is giving people a good time… and business is doing good.

Formed roughly more than a decade ago, Hinlalato – which is local Philippine jargon which refers to the middle finger – can quite fairly be seen as a band on its second wind. After a year-long hiatus due to personnel changes, Santos and his other cohorts – who were themselves, involved with different groups, and playing covers – decided that even though they did enjoy playing crowd favorites, they also really wanted to focus on playing original material.

“We want to play our own songs a lot more, because we really want people to hear what we have to offer,” says Santos of the band’s current direction, and adds, “it may not be that different from the style of music that we’re known to play, but these are songs that we can definitely call ‘ours…’ Actually, if you listen to the EP – and this is very much unintentional – surprisingly, all three songs we selected for the EP talk about love: “Walang Tigil Ang Alon” talks about unconditional love, “Amelie” talks about something that you love but it’s not yours, and “Fili” talks about love of country… everybody seems to be talking about something, whether it be “hugot”-themed songs or fucking getting mad about something; and I’m not saying people shouldn’t feel that way, but I think it helps to be talking about love more… and having fun with the many aspects that could mean.”

Talking about the music video for the first single “Fili,” has the band in smiles, almost laughing at how different the experience was compared to anything they’ve done before.

“Sobrang newbies kami before,” Luden says of the band’s early years as recording musicians, “but working on the video, we started to feel that excitement and nervousness when it came to shoot the video.”

“It was SO different, and we also learned new things – like the fact that we knew how to act!” laughs Santos. “Playing live is merely just having fun and showing people you’re into it… but with the video, you start shooting at 7am and we almost packed-up at around 3am the next day; not to mention we didn’t get any sleep the day before because we were so excited. Good thing was, the performance part was actually fast – mainly because we were really playing when we shot that. The basic concept was mainly ours: we wanted a black and white video, we wanted close shots and we wanted to perform live as well. And director Eli Balce – who himself is a drummer and loves rock n’ roll – listened to the song, and somehow struck a chord in him, so it was a very, very good experience working with him. Again, it’s not a video that is meant to be totally political, but one that hopefully inspires questions, like any good film.”

Almost coincidentally, Hinlalato’s stand on both the music they create and the music they play almost seems to be a defiant middle finger to the current trends of the day, especially when it comes to the sound the band enjoys creating-with. When asked about their loyalty to the sound and style they’ve come to be very good at, it’s not really much of an issue, nor important prerequisite, in their mission to bringing a good time.

“Naisip na namin dati, pero sa totoo lang, bakit pa?” guitarists Luden and Jon Salazar (yes, they’re brothers…) chime in, with smiles. “But then we really thought: why are we doing this? I mean, yeah, we could play differently, or play a certain style of rock that’s young n’ hip and sound like this and that band, but it’s not really about that; besides, it probably wouldn’t sound as natural, anyway,” Luden adds, while Jon claims “I guess it’s all down to personality and sincerity – different people play different styles of music, and siguro mas bagay sa personality nila ‘yung specific style of music. Kami, parang eto na ‘yung talagang alam and gusto namin. We’re just very happy with what we do and how we do it.”

On the flipside, the band doesn’t really claim to have an agenda to bring the good ol’ rock sound back to the forefront, despite the resurgence of classic genres among many crowds and aficionados of music. “Again, I guess we just naturally carried our influences throughout the years, and we’re comfortable playing to our strengths.”

“I remember sometime ago, a radio jockey commented on classic rock being the genre that separated the men from the boys, and that has always stuck with me,” bassist Samar recounts. “Iba talaga din ‘yung traditional rock n’ roll… tugtog mama; very man-ly,” he laughs.

When asked about the whole experience of releasing an EP and playing the rounds this second time around, Luden is quick to point-out that the challenges never really go away, while Santos shares: “I think it’s not that things are easier, but mainly because we’re pushing ourselves harder… we’re telling ourselves ‘hey – we’ve got to mature, we’ve got to get better at this!’ compared to the early days where we just wanted to play music and that was that… things are on our terms definitely, and we’re more in-control when it comes to marketing and how people will react; we’re not so much as about trying to please everyone, but we are kind of at a place where we’re wondering how people will react to what it is we’re doing, and let people know what it is exactly what we do… and I think if people see that we’re having a blast and enjoying ourselves, then that will be infectious for them as well.”

Currently, the band is planning a tour that’ll hopefully span dates all over the metro, playing in various venues and for very different crowds, and ultimately nationwide in the major cities like Cebu and Davao. Though an entire full-length album is not exactly top priority, it’s mainly getting a feel for legitimate reactions from audiences that continue to fuel the fire under Hinlalato’s collective belly… they’re hungry for more, and they’re playing better than ever.

“We’re driven by emotions, what we’re feeling at the moment… we’re not a song mill,” smiles Santos. “But rock n’ roll is alive and well – there are so many great bands, and we definitely have to hand it to younger musicians who carved-out a sound for themselves. But here we are – lovers of classic Pinoy Rock – and we’re here to have the time of our lives. Oh, I’m drunk by the way…[laughs]

 

[photos by Glenn Realo]

 

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