Lourd De Veyra slings savage guitar riffs with new heavy metal project

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Kapitan Kulam is an exquisitely grotesque and heavy, noisy foray into instrumental post-metal, sludge metal, drone rock, and hardcore punk, where all four members wear white outfits. Photo courtesy of LOURD DE VEYRA

In Filipino arts and literature, Lourd de Veyra is a creative giant.

His output mainly straddles poetry and music, but his professional resume as a journalist and network news personality have propelled him into the pop culture limelight with shows like “History with Lourd,” “Wag Po!,” and the cheeky “Wasak.”

At one time you may have seen him on billboards along EDSA hugging packs of Chicharon ni Mang Juan (with or without a Photoshopped six pack of abs) or endorsing a plate full of pork tocino. Yet his output as a literary writer of meaningful distinction and intelligent nuance continues unabated. It challenges ideas of his persona as something that only embraces grungy low culture, as many of his haters and critics are wont to point out. His latest collection of poems may be titled "Marka Demonyo" (Anvil Publishing, 2020) but his verses on that book are far from superficial beatnik ramblings — “Tragedy is a place where nobody changes the channel” he writes to decry both vicious news cycle and audience appetite for vicarious spectacle in the poem “When the hour of death arrives.”

He's also known as the frontman of the jazz rock and spoken word band Radioactive Sago Project. Together with his brother Francis on bass, they married Coltrane and Davis with punk verve and poetry into something that was both radio friendly and intensely catchy. Remember their monster hit "Gusto Ko ng Baboy"? It’s become so big it’s now one of those classic staples on videoke lists.

De Veyra’s new band Kapitan Kulam is an exquisitely grotesque and heavy, noisy foray into instrumental post-metal, sludge metal, drone rock, and hardcore punk. All four members wear white outfits.

In Kapitan Kulam, De Veyra is joined by Jay Gapasin on drums, Kaloy Olavides on guitar, and Eric Melendez on bass. They released a four-track debut EP on Spotify last January. Formed in 2017, this new project sees De Veyra dropping the mic (mostly) and strapping on a guitar. People forget that he’s more than just a screaming head dropping spoken word choruses about coffee and coffins, he’s also a considerably able guitarist with roots in hardcore and punk rock — he briefly ripped up venues with punk giants Dead Ends and Throw.

Sludge and doom are kissing cousins in the many subsets that is heavy metal. Filipino sludge outfits like Surrogate Prey, Eyes of Fire, Gapang, and Gonzo Army have already dropped many acid tabs and bottles of cough syrup as first explorers in this territory of meditative mantras. It’s a genre inspired by the downtuned guitars and dragging, molasses riffs of bands like Black Sabbath, The Melvins, Electric Wizard, Crowbar, Boris, Neurosis, and the mighty drone conceits of Sunn O))). On the more instrumental, post-metal side, you can hear strains of Earth, Pelican, and Altar of Plagues in Kapitan Kulam’s sound, garnished with classic ’80s thrash, ’90s grunge, and occasional odd time jazz flourishes.

At the center of the noise and bedlam in Kapitan Kulam’s sound is the architecture of the guitar riff. Those nuanced changes you get from repetition and a quiet/loud dynamic. In the EP you can hear it in the bull and toreador strains of “Agimat,” and the surprisingly melodic guitar solo of “Paa.”

One of their early singles “Singhot” (a track that’s not on this EP) best illustrates this and listening to it, you can feel the joy of the members even as the physicality required to execute the vibe of the song also comes through.

The subtle and increasing complications of the riff is a theme that’s repeated and built on, as if the four members were mad wizards layering a Babel of a cake to see just how tall they could stack it before the whole catastrophe topples. Then the sonic strategy can go one of three ways: bring the intensity back down gradually, let it disintegrate into a wash of feedback, or even more of an exciting sonic plot twist and Lourd’s confessed favorite: escalate it until the first riff morphs into its Super Saiyan-esque ripped-to-smithereens final form.

That concept of mandala iterations is taken to the brink of almost catastrophe in the EP track “White Flower,” arguably the most complex and characteristically sludge metal of the four songs — also my favorite, and De Veyra explains more about how difficult this song is to play in the interview below.

In this interview, De Veyra delved into the many complications of the riff, the challenges of playing really slow songs, and what the heck is up with their all-white performance clothing.

For a sludge band, you guys do have plenty of fast, punky, and thrashy parts. You also sing in some of them, or more like you shout.

The people listening to us may be confused. They thought it'd be all sludge and slow but I don’t think we fit the mold of a sludge band. The tracks I sang on were the ones that were a bit more hardcore than metal. The fast and more D-beat ones, but the others don't have the (growls). That's just two songs.

You guys all come from slightly different musical roots and genres. How’d you come together and find out you all liked this specific subgenre of metal enough to play it as an outfit?

I came from Sago, Kaloy (Olavides) came from shoegaze, indie, and plays for Pastilan Dong! Jay is punk, drum n' bass, and jazz. Eric? Eric is a Satanist. Joking, he came from punk and hardcore as well.

The original intent was Black Sabbath plus experimental noise. I really had no intention to sing, at all. Kaloy (whose favorite band is Hum) and I would point at each other to do the singing.

And now there’s just four members. Must feel so different coming from how there were so many of you in Radioactive Sago Project?

Kulam was a relief. Nanibago talaga ako. Ah, there's really just four of us? We're actually complete? If you only knew my stress levels in personnel logistics with Sago. We're already on our first song and one of the horn players or someone else still isn't there yet. Grabe, I grew damn old in that band doing that under such stress for 20 years.

Can't complain though because this person or that person came from work or another paying gig. He's from Rizal or some other far away location. And you're playing at Mayric's, so everyone is just sharing 300 pesos of payment. The fare is much much more expensive. You can't blame or hold it against him that he's late. Actually the bottom line is they're doing ME a favor.

How’d you settle on the Kapitan Kulam name?

Around 2017, when we were just starting to jam, I listed down around 10 names for the others to choose from. And I just threw in Kapitan Kulam in there. Didn't really care much for the name.

So they voted on it and settled on KK within like 30 seconds. They decided it that fast! It felt insulting, so facile! Some people were also laughing at the name afterwards. What the heck is funny with KK? I have no idea. Could be they think it's like it has a Mang Kepweng vibe to it?

Still, I didn't want something obviously obnoxious like Rotting Innards or something. I kind of wanted a combination. An English word that had Tagalog elements. I actually wanted Dabyana. Or Goliath. With a name like Goliath though, you box yourself in with just slow, ponderous songs.

"It's irritating to hear firecrackers but it's way thrilling to set off firecrackers yourself. It's so different if you're playing and then you can feel the vibration of the amp. It really is a physical experience. You're making the vibrations that your own body will receive."

What about the white clothing, what’s up with that concept or was it just something you guys decided on impulse one day?

The white clothing was just a trip we had one day. We said: let’s all go in white. At metal shows people are all in black and one gig organizer said, hey that’s great we can easily spot you guys. Madali daw kami hanapin kahit sa malayo.

I know you like avant garde noise and sound art, but was post-metal and really slow, sludgy, drone stuff something you were always interested in?

My knowledge isn't as encyclopedic or as deep when it comes to sludge, stoner, and doom metal. In fact, I probably know the really old ones in proto-sludge like Fudge Tunnel — a very slow, early Earache Records artist.

Now this is true now, I might even get shot for it. I can't listen too long to sludge, to drone, in fact I rarely get to finish a whole album. Stoner metal though is something I like, because it has a clear groove.

I really can't listen long to Sunn O))).

There’s a running joke with metal fans who like Sunn O)): you may mistake the band playing if you leave your fridge door open, turn on the electric fan, air conditioning, and tune your TV to static. Still, the pneumatic experience of their live performance is what makes the band quite different.

They do say to appreciate Sunn O))) the best, you need to see them as a live and physical experience. Your bowels will really shake, they say.

We’d consider doing something like that if we could hurdle the technical component, like it would of course assume that we could bring amplifiers that fit our specifications. Not likely. See we’ve still played venues that the amp is just a karaoke!

It's not because it's unbearable to listen to, rather my issue is there's no surprise in it compositionally with some of the longest songs. The flaw is sometimes there's no build-up, there's no plot turn in the narrative. I would like some escalation, some kind of complication as the song progresses later on. Buti nga may Spotify na e, let me fast forward this thing. I do that and three minutes later nothing has happened, nothing has changed.

Yeah, the mantra is still droning on sans change, so to speak.

Some of my friends chide me and tease me for being ignorant. That I should appreciate the layers of sound. I do get that kind of idea, it's just that I’m all tapped out there. Quota na ko 'dyan e! When I was younger I dug those avant garde 20th century music, minimalism, and stuff like that. But at least those had musical complications, their noise had architecture. They're not like, somebody made random guitar feedback and recorded it.

The joy of a hot, distorted guitar is quite different, of course.

The big BUT there is, it's a different thing if you're the one playing, because the physical aspect of it is so strong.

Let me put it this way so I can compare. It's irritating to hear firecrackers but it's way thrilling to set off firecrackers yourself. It's so different if you're playing and then you can feel the vibration of the amp. It really is a physical experience. You're making the vibrations that your own body will receive. Especially if you're on the grass, it's no longer music, it's something very different. It's repetitive and simple but you can layer.

There’s also the question of gear and technical know-how to achieve that kind of bowel-shaking intensity. What’s your guitar rig like for KK?

I have an Orange Dark Terror amp head, the one with vacuum tubes which is around 30 watts. They sound great but it’s kind of weak in a live setting and playing against a whole band. I pair it with a Marshall speaker—which is underutilized to be honest.

I don’t even need a pedalboard! Am happy with it. Maybe if you’d like to do a delay and stuff like that but with dirt, nah, this is all I need. Ang saya na niya.

Of course it’s not always possible to bring an amp so I bring an FZ-2 by Boss. This is the Hyperfuzz that Electric Wizard uses. It’s a fuzz with an EQ. I do have a delay pedal, the Boss DD-500 multi-delay that I bought on sale. This pedal is great, it’s like six or eight pedals in one! It’s got a Reverb, a Looper, and it’s even got their Terra Echo. Ang saya din niya! Boss is really doing good with their new products.

See, I don’t understand some of the purists. I think plenty of digital amp modellers sound great.

"The white clothing was just a trip we had one day. We said: let’s all go in white. At metal shows people are all in black and one gig organizer said, hey that’s great we can easily spot you guys. Madali daw kami hanapin kahit sa malayo."

Were these gear choices for Kapitan Kulam or just for playing metal in general?

No, they were just all on sale. Every one of my major equipment was something I bought because they were on sale. Just like my black Gibson SG in 2017 — good job on the sales guy upselling me on that, when I was just supposed to buy a Tony Iommi Epiphone that was way cheaper. Iba talaga pakiramdam ng Gibson e. Kulam wasn’t even born yet, but I bought that guitar and I use it now on almost all our shows. I use heavy strings and I tell the person setting it up that we play in Drop B tuning.

You’ve played with some of the sludge outfits that have explored this brand of heaviness before Kapitan Kulam did. How do you like the all-metal gigs?

Whenever we play at gigs where there are other established doom or sludge bands like Surrogate Prey, they make us look like we’re the Ben&Ben of the bunch. They’re never hurrying and they sound so heavy. So slow and so damn heavy.

See, I thought we already sounded heavy, but no, they make us sound bright and cheery. Because of that, could be the next songs will have a different approach.

Contrary to popular belief, it is quite damn hard to play slow and really really sludgy stuff.

It’s so hard to constantly time-keep the slowness of it all. Jay, our drummer, would sometimes complain he just gets lost and confused. With sludge and doom your instinct as a drummer is inverted, the tendency for humans is to go faster.

Since he’s also the drummer for Sago, his instinct is to go really fast. He gets excited! He once said, it’s way harder to play really really slow than to play fast.

“White Flower” to me is the characteristically sludgy and heavy song among all your EP tracks. It’s damn tasty.

“White Flower” is so hard to play. May bilang dun na odd time in the first part. The end part is tricky when we just let the feedback wash through, but it’s when we come back that’s the problem. We always screw it up. Bihira na naming tugtugin kasi sumasabit lang kami.


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