Karl Roy: The Legacy of a Filipino Rock Legend

Original Pinoy Music (OPM), as a movement, was a musical statement that gave hope to the creative abilities of our local artists to push the boundaries of what our brand of music can deliver and become on par with international acts.

The spirit of OPM, however, has become derided by greedy record labels looking for a quick buck during the boom of local bands in the ‘90s, which paved the way for stale and indistinguishable acts to lord the airwaves.

The principle espoused by OPM – integrity through creativity – was slowly decaying in place of the basic need to sell records and break bank. Artists receive fame and royalties from the records sold, while companies reaped the benefits of the aural drivel they have produced, in which the mindless mass is responsible for consuming millions of them. Everybody wins, apparently.

This institution did bring out the best of some artists who were able to produce challenging yet accessible work without tampering their integrity and keeping their identity intact – Eraserheads and Rivermaya spring to mind. And there was one who raised the middle finger.

Karl Roy.

March 13, 2012 was a sad day for the family, relatives, friends, and fans of Karl Roy, who died of a cardiac arrest at their home. The Advent Call/P.O.T/Kapatid frontman has had a well-documented history of heart problems, as he has suffered from multiple strokes throughout the years.

Karl Roy during performance

A promise of another gig with Roy has been robbed from us, especially for those who haven’t seen one of the best vocalists in the country perform in person, even when his best years were behind him. However, instead of mulling over what could have been, Razorback vocalist and Karl’s younger brother Kevin Roy solemnly offers his thoughts about the death through text to the Philippine Daily Inquirer:

Karl … will continue to inspire a lot of people. Please do not grieve; instead, let us celebrate his life.

As a casual fan of his work and in observance of Kevin Roy’s words, here is how I would celebrate his life.

Farewell to my friends
Thought I’d leave you all behind
My time is runnin’
And I’m about to lose my mind again.

My very close encounter with whom I consider as one of two true-and-blue rock icons the Philippines has ever produced – one being Pepe Smith – came in the form of a CD, but one that changed my perspective of how music can be played and how it can transcend into something more than just a harmonious collection of sound using different instruments.

Backtrack to the summer of 2003. I was and have been a big music fan, but I was a bigger fan of heavy metal music. Since metal resources were scant in the country, I had to resort to downloading Slayer, Death, and Iron Maiden songs using our 56.6k modem, making it much more difficult to be a fan of this genre (unlike cable internet, downloading a song using this modem type took hours to complete).

Heavy metal music, despite preconceived notions, has been my immovable object and unstoppable force both at the same time. It has helped me get through difficult times and has given me strength to overcome obstacles in my path. This is one of the reasons why I play music – it is an outflow for my passion in the craft, which I hope would inspire people to play music as well regardless of genre and just show how much they love it.

In relation, I was never into local acts. Worse, I was never into OPM. Sure, I sang Eraserhead tunes once in a while, but I won’t go out my way to discover Filipino music outside from what I hear on the radio. Call it colonial mentality or cultural snobbery, but the music didn’t just do it for me.

Maybe I deserve that middle finger.

While researching for music on the Internet that combines the aggression and uncompromising vision as artists who value the importance of expression above all else, I procured a copy of P.O.T’s album from my friend. I was fully aware of their radio hit “Yugyugan Na,” a funk-rock remake from the ‘70s Philippine band Advisors, which was reason enough to give this disc a spin.

After listening to the CD, it was pretty much what I was looking for that whole time.

Now I see the sunlight shining through
There’s no reason to be blue, but,
Now I know I’m going down,
I look all oround me and laugh like a clown.

Words won’t do justice, but let’s give it a try – P.O.T’s self-titled album is OPM in every sense of the word. Roy’s vocal seamlessly blends into the tapestry of music played by guitarist Ryan Umali, bassist Mally Paraguya, and drummer Harley Alarcon. There is attitude (“Monkey on My Back, “Overload”) and vulnerability (“Piece of This,” “Panaginip”) in their heartfelt performances, but most of all, there is a magnetic personality in Roy that grabs listeners by the throat and draws attention to his every scowl and croon, as if there’s a chip on his shoulder.

Fact is, there is something to prove not only for him, but for all Filipino artists. P.O.T showed that they don’t care about anything except for being true to themselves. By doing so, not only did they achieve moderate success as a group (which was an impossibility unless you sounded just like every other band back then), but also ended up as one of finest acts the country has to offer. Their album is a testament to the challenge posed to local artists by OPM – pushing the envelope of what Filipino music has to offer.

With P.O.T., in my humble opinion, Roy and the gang have produced an absolute masterpiece that Eraserheads, Rivermaya, Juan dela Cruz Brand, and even P.O.T. themselves can only dream of topping.

After breaking away from P.O.T., it has never been the same with Karl Roy. Kapatid did keep Roy busy artistically and creatively, but what all their efforts did was to cower behind the shadow casted by his previous band’s single body of work.

Even before he passed away, he was no longer the same. One of my friends told me that he’s “lost the fire.” It didn’t come as a surprise – his body had taken so much punishment throughout the years, making it impossible to sustain his high-level performance onstage, let alone conjure it, in the state he was in.

Regardless of everything else that happened in between, P.O.T. was his beautiful curse, the monkey on his back. It is not meant as a jab at his talent, but a celebration of his person forever enshrined in the annals of Philippine music. He has created something larger than life itself and, for that, we are forever in awe of being part in its creation.

No more loneliness.
No more emptiness.
No more melancholy, baby.
Have a piece of this.

-P.O.T., “Piece of This”