Man of Style: Rock this way with Atom Henares
- Ana G. Kalaw () - October 28, 2009 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Atom Henares is into a lot of things — he’s into real estate, an electric power plant, produces palm oil — but the one thing people always seem to remember about him is the radio station. Having co-founded and co-created NU 107, the rock radio station that has become a launch pad for many local rock and alternative bands, has afforded Atom hero-worship eligibility, yet has also made him a target for many a know-it-all’s estimations. “Many people think they can run a radio station,” the former banker explains. “They always have an opinion on what we should do and what we should play.” He goes on to ponder why NU will most likely be inscribed on his epitaph: “Radio is all about art, communication and philosophy, which is, really, the core of being human. I think that’s the reason why people get excited over it, and why I get excited.”

It’s easy to understand where the excitement comes from, especially after seeing a photo of Rosanna Roces clad in a very, very (actually, extremely) sheer top (did we mention she was braless?) presenting at the NU Rock Awards, the station’s annual tribute to the rising and risen stars of the local rock scene. The photo was taken in the event’s earlier years (the Rock Award is now on its 16th year). But Atom just shrugs that off as one of the (perkier) perks of the job. The NU Rock Awards, which will be held this Friday, draws a lot of babes, but it also brings together the indie-rock community that the station has helped form in its 22-year run over the airwaves. “It’s a fellowship and a celebration,” says Atom. “The local rock scene become a lifestyle. It’s not just music. There are also music videos, fashion, artwork, exhibits.”

In an age where radio stations are replicas of one another, transmitting a mishmash of hip-hop, pop and anthem tunes, NU is one of the rare broadcasters that has stayed true to the music it promised when it first started: rock. Good old indie, alternative and mainstream rock. “NU has never veered away. That’s the one thing I’ve always been proud of. Good times, bad times, we’re there. It’s never really been a jackpot for me; it’s the smallest of my businesses but it’s my baby. It’s been fulfilling in a way because I’m supporting a culture that Filipinos excel at.”

NU may have lasting influences over the local music scene but, even if it were convenient, it would be unfair to just remember Atom Henares as that dude who helped make Pinoy rock mainstream. It would be unfair also to peg him just as Vicki Belo’s ex-husband. Or as the father of movie and TV director Quark Henares and Belo Essentials CEO Cristalle Henares. Atom Henares may be a businessman first and a family man foremost, but in leisure moments, he is a travel junkie and an advocate of the “live life and try everything once” philosophy.

PHILIPPINE STAR: Was there ever a time when you dressed like a rock band groupie, or even a rock star?

ATOM HENARES: It’s hard to fake being a rock star — you either have to really be one or not. I can be rock glam but there can only be one Joey “Pepe” Smith — who gave me his belt when I commented on it — but I don’t think I ever dressed like a rock star. But actually, I was very conservative before because I was a banker. So I was one of those establishment kinds of guys who wore khaki pants and a barong.

Who are your favorite designers?

Oh, well, Randy Ortiz makes clothes for me. Of the foreign brands, I like Cavalli, John Varvatos, J. Lindeberg, Neil Barrett, Agnes B. and True Religion for jeans. There’s also this nice Japanese brand called Undercover that I discovered in Club 21 in Singapore. I guess you can say I like understated stuff with modern cuts and details. I’m not really into flashy stuff, except for my boots.

What are your grooming rituals?

I like to take care of myself. People don’t realize how time and effort goes into grooming. Some people don’t make time for that but I feel like I should. I always go for a haircut, facials. I go to the gym and try to eat properly.

What are your skincare musts?

Oh, I’m a Belo boy.

Of course.

Only Belo touches my skin (laughs). But she’s really amazing and she’s world-class. So I go there quite regularly for skin rejuvenation treatments. I also use Belo Essentials and Obagi, both Belo products. And I buy them.

How often do you travel?

Well, when I got back from Provence a couple of weeks ago, I met up with this German customer of mine — we have a paper company — who comes to the Philippines every three to four months. So he asks me, “So what’s your story this time?” And so I told him about my trip and then he goes, “So next time I go, it’ll be another story.” And I ask him what he meant and he says, “Atom, every time I come here, you always have a different story to tell me. When I was here three months ago, you had just come back from Monterey, from Laguna, and you had gone there to race cars. Four months before that, I was also here and you had just gotten back from Palau scuba-diving with your daughter, Cristalle.” It never really occurred to me that I travel quite a lot. Before Palau, I was in Singapore for the F1 race. And before that, the Beijing Olympics, and then Tokyo and Macau, watching the Sting concert.

What pushes you to travel so much?

I gotta tell you, it always gets better. The more you see, the more you learn. You learn how to recognize the small subtleties everywhere you go. I might have gone to Provence five years ago but it was a lot different on my trip this time. This trip, I took the bullet train from Paris to Provence (it seemed like we were levitating; that train was so fast) and my first stop was Avignon where the Pope used to reside. There I rented a car and then just drove around. Provence has these little villages where everyone knows everyone and the food is always fresh and any day of the week, the market just moves from one village to another — I would actually just follow the market.

What do you indulge in when you travel?

It’s always an adventure. I always like to see new things; there are always these paradigm shifts where you’re in an environment that’s so different from what you usually see. This trip, I went kayaking and did wine tours and went to all these Michelin-rated restaurants. One restaurant I went to had 13 courses. The chef just cooks what he wants to cook. Four of these courses were desserts. Four! The person I was with gave up at number eight, but I finished all 13.

What’s your favorite place as of this moment?

About a year ago, I took a drive from Los Angeles to Sonoma. I took the Pacific Coast Highway, where one side is the hills and another side is the ocean. And it’s a rough ocean, lots of rocks. Eventually you see all these sea otters. It was so beautiful. If I had gone there when I was younger, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much. I drove up through Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo and the ended up at Big Sur, this area that is about 300 feet above sea level. Anyway, the place is filled with all these redwood trees and then you also get a view of the ocean on one side. It was so nice. And the food was amazing. Big Sur is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen.

Is there one place you haven’t been to but would like to visit?

I’ve never been to South America. I heard Chile was good and Costa Rica is supposed to have one of the best spots in the world called Cocos island.

Do you dive a lot?

That’s my bonding time with my daughter Cristalle. We dive together a lot. We were in Palau recently.

How do you bond with your son, Quark?

Quark and I watch movies and we like to eat. Both of them like art and museums also and we all bond through that. Although, when I was in Africa, it was Quark who was with me when I dove with the great white shark.

And would that constitute the craziest thing you’ve done?

Yes, that would be it. The water was nine degrees — I was dying. I was actually more scared of the water than the shark. And we were in this small boat that was just about the size of the shark — the great white is about six or eight meters. And you’re supposed to jump into this cage that was very light and made of aluminum. I could have pulled it apart with my hands, so it wasn’t really very reassuring.

Do you often travel as a family?

Yes. When I went to Macau to watch Sting, I was with Quark and Cristalle. Isn’t that the coolest? They’re so fun to be with.

You also travel with your ex-wife Vicki, right?

Yes. We were all in Africa together and the last time was in Tokyo — to see the cherry blossoms. Vicki and I are very close. I admire her a lot and respect her.

It’s great that you’re really close to your kids.

Yes, they’ve grown up really well — despite their parents. (Laughs loudly.)

Who would you love to see in concert?

The Rolling Stones. I’ve missed them so many times. I’ve been in cities with them. When I was in Vegas, they were there. Also in LA. I just wasn’t able to make arrangements.

What’s the best concert you’ve been to?

Metallica. I saw them here in Manila. And I tell you, that was pretty scary. I was right in front and was right up to the crash guard. People were pushing me from the back and in front of me were these American security guards with baseball bats! But, the music was amazing. The way you can tell that they’re such a good band is, when they play as a group, you can hear each instrument. Distinctly. Live. Ang galing.

Aside from rock, do you listen to any other music genres?

Yes, I love Barry White. I also like Sting, Nina Simone. Well, I like Led Zeppelin. Beatles forever, of course. And Rolling Stones.

Let’s talk about your other big passion aside from music and travel…

I love cars. I love just taking out my cars — a Porsche Boxster and a 911 — and going for a drive. I don’t show off my cars; I really drive them. I’m not one of those guys with no mileage on their cars and just take them to the mall; I take mine to Subic or Punta Fuego. In one of my trips, I signed up for a racecar driving course in Laguna. It’s a well-known racetrack in Monterey in California.

What started your passion for fast cars?

I used to like motorbikes but that got to be life-threatening: insects crushing into your face, stones flying at you at 200 km/hour. If you don’t have a facemask, you’re a dead man. At one point, I told myself I had responsibilities and got into cars instead. The beauty of a racecar is not the top speeds — any car can go fast. It’s the acceleration. It’s the precision. These are precision machines and they’re made for one purpose: to go fast. And to corner quickly. Also, the most important, they’re made to brake quickly.

So you’re a speed junkie?

I don’t like people to think I’m a speed addict. I like sports car driving to cruise, sometimes to slalom and accelerate. But I also like driving convertible sports cars because not many experiences can top driving around top down with a friend in Tagaytay or Batangas at night, with a the stars illuminating the sky and a cool breeze blowing on your cheeks.

What’s your dream car?

I don’t have a dream car. Well, it’d be nice to have a Lamborghini. Although, I got to tell you, the Porsche is probably the best-designed car in the world. It will go as fast as a Ferrari but you can drive it every day.

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