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Rivermaya’s Mike Elgar strums his fate |

Young Star

Rivermaya’s Mike Elgar strums his fate

- Paula C. Nocon of the Philippine Star’s YS -
When Michael Elgar was only in high school, he found himself shoved into a nationwide guitar contest. Thinking it was just a jamming session, he played, and played hard. He was inspired just to be in the presence of many excellent guitarists, some of them in their thirties and forties.

But Mike won. At age 15 he was declared the best guitar player in the country.

Now 26 years old, Mike has been Rivermaya’s lead and rhythm guitarist for the past one and a half years. It all began when he was only 10, when he was introduced to the instrument by his older brother Allan. He was largely self-taught, as he dropped out of his only formal guitar lessons when he was 13. And so on his own he practised, practised and practised, falling asleep with his guitar by his side.

He once dreamed of playing guitar for a living, but thought that it was an impossible dream. So he went on to take his Bachelor of Arts in Communication at the Ateneo de Manila, in the hope of becoming a filmmaker. He had a one-year stint in ABS-CBN as a writer for ASAP and Martin Late@Nite, while he moonlighted as lead singer and guitarist for his brother’s band 7foot Jr.

But the guitar beckoned. When he was approached to join Rivermaya, one of the country’s leading rock bands, he knew he had to make a crucial decision. Would it be his brother, or a real career in music?

It was a difficult period for Mike. "I didn’t want to leave my brother, of course. And then I knew that I wanted to say at the end of the day that I wouldn’t regret anything. I don‘t like that What if‚ feeling. And then my brother said, "Choose Rivermaya. 7foot Jr. can’t promise you anything, but with Rivermaya you’ll finally have the luxury of having music as your career."

And the rest is history in the making. Doing exactly what he loves to do, Mike Elgar is a Bright Young Thing.

Is it a dilemma to have to play music that is considered commercial?

We at Rivermaya are given a free hand by our record label (Viva), but usually most record labels ask a band or artist to give around five hit singles per album. But we try to do that anyway.

It’s all part of being a musician. You have to be flexible. I want to be able to say that I can do anything, and I’m not closed to one kind of music. As long as there’s creative freedom.

How are you handling the fame and fortune of being a rock star?

The fans really inspire us to keep writing more songs, to keep getting better. When you perform in front of a lot of people it motivates you.

My lifestyle hasn’t changed. I don’t go out often. I’d rather sleep the whole day, see my girlfriend, and just practice.

The money is not a big deal, it’s okay. Seriously.

How did you feel when you won that contest at such a young age?

I felt that they just let me win because I was the youngest. The second placer was this American who played blues and the other was this other foreigner who did flamenco! Sobrang galing! I felt that I didn’t deserve it.

But at the same time, it motivated me to prove myself that I really did deserve that award.

Which guitarists did you admire as you were growing up?

I liked Van Halen, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Steve Vai. Locally, Noel Mendez of the Hype. And of course, my brother Allan.

Did you ever play the guitar for other reasons apart from love of playing?

Yes, I tried doing that in college. I couldn’t stomach it.

That’s when I said, "Never again!"

What do you think of boy bands?

Actually, I like N’Sync. Some of their songs are really good! I wouldn’t play their music, but I can appreciate it.

How have you matured as an artist?

There are two sides of music, the technical, which is about speed, technique. And there’s the creative side, which is about understanding music, writing and producing songs. When I was younger I was more obsessed with technique. Now it’s the creative part.

Like, I’d rather do chords now than just solo. The song comes first, the guitar follows. I’ve become a team player. You get more, the song works more. The focus is on the song.

But how do you express your individuality?

My style still comes out. You put in a part of you. I write songs, I sing. So you can’t help but express yourself.

What helps you most in expressing yourself?

Time. Free time for the ideas to flow.

What do you think of piracy?

Well, on one hand, sales have dropped. But we still have shows, so that’s okay.

It’s not entirely bad, because music spreads at a low price. But in the long term, the label suffers. And you need a label for marketing, promotions, etc.

Do you ever feel tired of performing the same songs again and again?

As Jon Bon Jovi said, a great song will always be a great song. Each time you play it is always different.

What’s the problem with the local music industry?

. We don’t have a strong identity. Our colonial mentality has kept us from truly developing our own sound.

So how can we develop musical tastes?

Education plays a big part in developing taste. Education, as in schooling. If people are not educated, they settle for simple songs. They can’t appreciate complex songs, new songs.

How would you like to help your country?

I’d like Rivermaya to be an international recording artist. To be the world’s number one!

What’s the Pinoy sound?

It’s halo-halo. It should have all the influences — Spanish, American, Chinese. So I guess ours would sound like world music. Cynthia Alexander is a great example.

What is the power of music in influencing today’s youth?

Music influences the lifestyle of listeners. You get this cult following. Not only in terms of music, but dressing, talking, thinking.

How do you take care of your talent?

I try to perform well, practice a lot, and always give my best. And I continually write songs.

Young people wanting to be guitarists look up to you now. How do you handle it?

I don’t think about it that much. I get e-mails, and when I answer them I just say practice, practice, practice. But I don’t say more than that. This business is not for everybody.
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