Tuesday, July 21, 2009

PERF DE CASTRO - Pinoy Rock Journeyman

Saying that Perf De Castro is one of the best guitarists in the Philippines is an understatement. We all know of his stunning technique on the fretboard and enormous talent. What most of us may not know is the different adventures that Perf has experienced through the years; from taking up a challenge from his high school music teacher to learn to play a new instrument all the way to playing classical music pieces with a 10-string classical guitar. His musical exploits include being the original guitarist of Rivermaya, forming power trio Triaxis, sideman to late Pinoy rap artist Francis M. and hundreds of side projects in between. Now living in southern California, Perf De Castro is strumming nylon more than he is riding the lightning with his electric axes. Yet, still with the technique that compels. The Pinoy Rocker shot a bunch of inquiries to Mr. Perfection himself.

The Pinoy Rocker: Were you formally trained?

Perf De Castro: I took classical guitar lessons from 3R’s Yamaha School of Music when I was 13. Prior to that I already knew how to read and write music from Music class in Don Bosco Makati. Later on I enrolled in Music College first in UST then eventually transferring to PWU where I got my Bachelor Degrees in Guitar performance and Music Education. However, my electric guitar chops were mostly acquired through a lot of self-research and experience.

TPR: Do you remember the moment you decided you wanted to play music?

PDC: I was in 2nd yr High School, the music teacher challenged the whole class at the start of the school year to learn at least 1 musical instrument by the end of the year. I signed up for classical guitar lessons a couple of weeks after. I got hooked and started practicing guitar for hours everyday. By 3rd yr HS I started teaching at the Yamaha school I learned in and by senior year I was pretty much set on having a music career.

TPR: What was the first album you got as a kid

PDC: I don’t remember…. Some New Wave compilation on LP.

TPR: What was your first guitar?

PDC: My first guitar was a locally-made nylon string, a few months later (after a lot of begging) my mom bought me a fake Gibson SG. Both were purchased from JB Music.

TPR: Who were your early favorite music artists growing up?

PDC: I started off digging New Wave: The Cure, The Alarm, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Echo and the Bunnymen, Bolshoi, etc. When I started playing I found out that I needed to buy guitar effects to play New Wave. Being without guitar pedals I got into Punk: The Descendents, Sex Pistols, anything that only required me to turn up my amp and rock out.

When my skills got better, I got into Glam Rock: Poison, Warrant, Cinderella, etc.

TPR: Can you tell us how you got in to Rivermaya?

PDC: The band was pretty much formed in my studio along Sucat Rd in 1993. Lizza Nakpil found the core members Nathan and Rico and started auditioning the other members there. Nathan eventually brought in Bamboo and Mark and they started gigging as a cover band in Makati. They booked the studio 3-5x a week and for the most part the guys were just goofing off the whole time. Oftentimes I would find myself jamming with whoever’s around just to pass the time. Eventually they fired their guitar player and invited me to join.

TPR: What was the reason for you leaving them?

PDC: Youthful pride, I guess. We all had our ideas on which direction to take the band in. And being young and egotistic, we turned matters that should’ve been handled business-like into some sort of personal slight against each other. Musical differences turned personal.

TPR: Who were your musical influences by this time?

PDC: Well, from Glam I worked my way back into Classic Rock, then Blues, then eventually widening my horizons to pretty much all genres of music. I listened to everybody: Eric Clapton, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Mr. BIG, BB King, Buddy Guy, George Benson, Richie Kotzen…. The whole gamut.

TPR: How did Triaxis form? What were your experiences and accomplishments?

PDC: Well, I soon realized during my time with Rivermaya that I won’t be able to do everything I wanted to do musically with them. I remember a time when Bamboo lost his voice and we couldn’t gig for weeks! Instead of moping around, I grabbed my guitar and looked for gigs where I could just sit in…. one such occurrence was a couple of Kalye gigs with Wolfgang where I just showed up and played both sets without even rehearsing! Those were memorable jams for me, music being born out of the spur of the moment.

I also formed a Blues trio that first performed at the Atrium’s Weekends Live under the name “Voodoo Jones” with bassist Dave Harder and drummer Kent Sison (who later played with pop band Great Divide). We did Blues tunes from Clapton to Gary Moore to some Hendrix tunes. This format just clicked with me for some reason and I knew then my next band (if I were to join/form another one) would be a 3 piece Blues/Rock band.

In the months leading to my departure from Rivermaya, I had started writing my own tunes that didn’t fit with the direction the band was heading in. So I decided to record these on my own at my studio with just a drum machine and later on with the help of Wolfgang bassist Mon Legaspi. Sometime later we met drummer Wendell Garcia and started jamming any Blues/Rock tunes that we could think of and eventually working out the songs I’ve been recording. We started gigging as “Blues Trio”, a terribly imaginative name, hitting clubs like 70’s Bistro, Mayric’s and the Edsa Club Dredd. When schedule conflicts with Wolfgang started making life difficult for Mon, we brought in Claire Sobejana on bass.

Wendell, Claire and I decided to change our name to “Axis” after the Hendrix song, mainly because we didn’t want to be limited to the Blues genre as our previous name suggested. Shortly thereafter we changed it to “Triaxis” just to make it easier for people to say and remember.


We released our debut CD “Further Down the Bend” under EPIC/Sony Music Philippines in 1996 and toured the country for over a year. That CD received critical praise and eventually won a Katha Award for Best Rock Instrumental.

Claire got tired of the Rock band lifestyle and went back to school to complete her music degree at UP, so we brought in King Baldoz to play bass. King was a good friend and a frequent tambay at my studio in Paranaque. We recorded our 2nd CD “Who We Are” and released it in 1998. This CD earned me my NU107 Guitarist of the Year Award.

At the 1999 NU 107 Rock Awards.

We carried on for a few more years until the Rock band scene died down. Instead of changing sounds, we decided to stop for awhile and go our separate ways with the option of getting back together when it feels right again. I went back to school and got my Music degrees, King played with the Blue Jean Junkies and started his own design firm, Wendell went on to play for Barbie’s Cradle and Pupil and from what I hear nowadays, pretty much everybody in the music scene.


TPR: What was your gear at this time?

PDC: For Triaxis, my gear evolved a bit. I started out with the green Mightek guitar I used with Rivermaya. Then a friend of mine built me another guitar with the same shape but with different woods and I used that for quite a bit. Then sometime 1997 I signed on as an RJ Guitars endorser again and started gigging with 2 custom-made RJ Ravens. I also had a MIJ Fender Strat in candy apple red and a butterscotch Tokai Telecaster that I had bought from Francis Reyes.

For amps/efx, I started out using a Digitech GSP2101 rackmount efx preamp running that into a Marshall series 9000 power amp and a Peavey Classic 410 cabinet. When I got tired of lugging that around, I started using a Fender Blues Deluxe amp with a Boss Dual Overdrive pedal and sometimes a Vox V827 wah. Then when *that* became tiring to bring around, I started using a lowly Zoom 505 multifx pedal heheh It was cheap but it did the job.

There was also a period where I used a Roland Guitar Synthesizer live to add another dimension to the rock trio sound. Audiences were sometimes confused trying to look for whoever was making those keyboard sounds! One guy literally went up onstage and looked behind the amps for a hidden keyboard player!

TPR: You used to run a rehearsal studio in Sucat, Paranaque. How and when did that idea start?

PDC: All my high school bands used to rehearse at home and eventually I wanted to move to a place where we could jam all the time and not disturb the neighbors. My family owned an apartment complex along Sucat Rd. and my parents graciously let me have a couple of units to turn into a rehearsal studio. Now we had a place to hang out in and at the same time clients would help pay with the studio upkeep.

It eventually expanded into a recording studio, first starting with a 4 track cassette recorder, then into a 16 track ADAT studio until becoming a full-fledged multitrack digital recording studio. By 1998 I was recording major label releases in there, as well as countless indie albums.

TPR: You had different side projects with various musicians throughout the 90’s. Care to elaborate on them?

PDC: So many projects, I don’t even remember most of them anymore! I used to play with anybody and everybody, like that previously-mentioned Wolfgang gig I sat in. I just like being in different musical situations and I constantly sought them out. A lot of them resulted in magical moments onstage…. I lived for those moments!

Perf with the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar (2000)

TPR: When did you migrate to the US and what was the reason for that?

PDC: We moved to the US in 2004. My wife got hired as a registered nurse here and I figured I should at least try to continue my musical career here in the US. So far it’s been working out.

TPR: Did you play in any bands when you got there?

PDC: I did a couple of sessions with Elson Trinidad and his R&B band. I also did gigs with some transplanted Pinoy rockers here (Paco Arespacochaga, Jonathan Buencamino, Basti Artadi) to promote a benefit CD for Leyte that I put together a few years ago. I also played on a couple of gigs with Glen Jacinto around L.A. clubs. Mike Turner and I jammed a few times to see what we could come up with, but never really gelled.

Honestly, I didn’t really pursue the band thing because I didn’t want to start from scratch again… finding band members, rehearsing, booking “exposure” gigs, blah, blah, blah. The main appeal of solo classical guitar for me is that I no longer have to worry about persons other than my self as far as my career goes.

TPR: Your move to classical guitar was quite surprising. Using a 10-string classical guitar was shocking. How did this all come about?

PDC: Well, around 1998 the music scene was changing and there was less and less demand for Triaxis. So we talked and decided to start focusing on other aspects of our lives. I went back to music school and got my music degrees. In doing so, I also discovered that I could continue my career as a classical guitarist.

As for the 10-string, my teacher, Jose Valdez, played 10-string as well so he was a huge influence. Plus I thought the guitar looked really cool! I had been playing a 7 string electric guitar at that time and I know what the possibilities are with more strings.

TPR: When did this interest in classical music begin?

PDC: Like I said, I’m into all kinds of music. But when I was younger I leaned more towards heavier stuff. When I went back to school at an older age, I matured enough to be able to listen and find interesting things about other genres. Where in the past I thought music history was a waste of time, this time around I enjoyed learning about composers, their lives and their inspirations.

TPR: Please explain the concept of a 10-string classical guitar.

PDC: Simply put, the first 6 strings are that of a regular guitar, the extra strings are usually tuned as extra basses.

It was first developed to increase the resonance of the guitar. With the extra strings tuned to a specific set of notes, you can get equal resonance on every note of the chromatic scale… much like playing a piano with the damper pedal pressed down.

Eventually, players started using different tunings to expand the musical range of the instrument, thus lending it to play other music, like old lute music as well as encouraging new compositions and transcriptions in different musical genres.

TPR: Who else uses this kind of instrument?

PDC: It’s been around in some form or another, like the harp guitars with floating strings (meaning strings off the fretboard).

The guitar type I’m using, with all 10 strings on the fretboard, was developed by Spanish guitarist Narciso Yepes and Spanish guitar builder Jose Ramirez III. Yepes had his students and followers all over the world playing 10-strings.

In the Philippines, as mentioned, the main 10-string figure is my maestro, Jose Valdez.

In non-classical genres, the most famous 10-string player is Egberto Gismonti.

TPR: What have your projects involving the classical guitar been?

PDC: My first classical guitar project was the Kasilag Guitar Quartet CD released in 2004. We recorded that back in my Sucat studio and was released to international acclaim.

In 2007 I released my first solo 10-string CD, “A Journey through 10 Strings”. I’ve toured behind the CD across the US and in the Philippines and it has met some good reviews as well.

I just released my 2nd solo 10-string CD entitled “CAPARISON”, it’s available through my website (http://www.perfdecastro.com/merchandise.htm ) and will soon be available on CDBaby.com and iTunes.

My next projects will be an all new music CD and an all Filipino music CD. Aside from that I’ll be working towards putting together some video performances and instructionals that will be available for sale as well.

TPR: Who in the classical music genre are your influences?

PDC: There’s a whole bunch as well, I try to listen to everybody.

For guitar there’s Pepe Romero, Andres Segovia (of course), Narciso Yepes, John Williams, Scott Kritzer, James Kline, David Russell, Kazuhito Yamashita, Remi Boucher, Paco de Lucia and a bunch of others I can’t remember right now.

For music in general: BACH, Beethoven, Debussy, Puccini, , Ravel, Joaquin Rodrigo, Federico Moreno-Torroba, Dvorak, Pablo Casals, Mstislav Rostropovich, Glen Gould, Yo Yo Ma, Andrea Bocelli, Paul Robeson, Pavarotti, Philip Rosheger and again others I’m sure I can’t recall off the top of my head.

TPR: Do you still play electric guitar?

PDC: Yes, I do, though not as intently as I used to. I keep my chops up enough to handle my guitar classes and the occasional jam.

TPR: Do you still jam rock n’ roll these days?

PDC: Mostly in my guitar classes. The bulk of my students are aspiring rockers and we get to work on tunes that range from classic rock to the current KROQ hits.

Once in a while I get together with some friends and just blast our amps the whole afternoon. It’s a welcome change from the rigors of classical guitar practice.

TPR: Who are the artists that you presently listen to?

PDC: Aside from the classical guys, I get to check out some fairly new music because of my students: Muse, Rise Against, MCR, Disturbed, Avenged 7fold, Foo Fighters, The Strokes, etc. However, I don’t seek them out unless I have to. When driving I usually just tune in to a classic rock station and listen to whatever they’re spinning.

TPR: Aside from the 10-string, what is your present gear?

PDC: I got back my candy apple red Fender Stratocaster that I’ve used on all my recordings back in the Philippines. I also have a custom 7-string electric made by Kansas guitar maker Dave Wendler that’s an awesome, awesome guitar.

As for amplification, I have a boutique amplifier that’s a clone of a Dumble amp, like the ones Santana, Robben Ford, Larry Carlton and John Mayer use. It’s built by my friend Bob Ingram out of New Jersey. Great amp.

I have different odds and ends as far as accessories go: Boss Dual Overdrive, Guyatone Wah Rocker, Ultrasound acoustic DI, Digitech RP350.

TPR: What are your top 5 all-time favorite albums?

PDC: That’s tough, there’s so much great music out there!

Steve Vai – Passion and Warfare

Pepe Romero – Noches de EspaƱa

Kazuhito Yamashita – Bach Cello Suites

The Black Crowes – The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion

Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown