Underdogs tend to be excessively humble. When Hilera won during the recent Nescafe Soundskool inter-school competition, Chris, the band’s soft-spoken vocalist, was apologetic as they went up the stage to receive the P150, 000 grand prize. He kept on ranting about playing badly and that his band – along with Ivan on bass and his brother, Bobby, on drums – did not deserve to win.

He could’ve said sorry to the crowd who spent a few pesos worth of cell phone credits because a band from Kalayaan College bested other bands from more prominent schools like Ateneo, College of St. Benilde or Mapua (in the text vote tally, Hilera was dead last the entire time).

But Hilera need not apologize for its music, which clearly stood out from the other bands that played at Ultra that night. In a sea of bands playing generic, radio-friendly rock, Hilera was swimming in clearly unfamiliar waters. Consider their music influences: Pantera, Sepultura and Slayer; if that’s not enough, throw in Korn, Metallica, A Perfect Circle and Incubus for good measure.

While all these sounds oh-so-metal, Chris, who plays guitars and writes their songs, also digs classic albums by The Police and admits to listening to his mom’s “The Great American Songbook” album by Rod Stewart. “I like his versions (of the songs) a lot better than Michael Buble,” he says during an interview at the offices of EMI Music Philippines, which signed Hilera onto a record contract as part of the band’s grand prize package.

Not bad for a young band that officially started only December last year. Chris and Ivan have been playing for more than a year but couldn’t find a permanent drummer until literally forcing Bobby (the youngest in the group at 15) to learn how to play drums. After going through several name changes, they settled for Hilera. Chris explains laughing: “We figured it’s catchy enough like Pantera or Sepultura.”

Or perhaps, paying homage to some of the bands they listen to, although Bobby says he listens to Japanese pop or J-pop as well. Meanwhile, Chris adds Hilera (which literally translates to “forming a line”) can connote a lot of things: a line-up of friends or discipline, like a teacher asking a rowdy bunch of students to line up and get smacked from behind as punishment.

Likewise, his songs are as diverse in meaning and never consciously written to project an image. Their original song “Sungrass”, Chris says, for example, is about being happy; although he admits he sometimes write about all-too-familiar themes of heartaches and unrequited love. At his age, nobody can blame him. Finding inspiration in the movie “Finding Forrester”, his attitude is “just write and write whatever you feel”, which is working wonders since Hilera has more than enough songs to fill their debut album.

According to Chris (at this point of the interview, it becomes clear that he’s Hilera’s most eloquent member), they initially wanted to go grunge during their formative days. Thankfully, they opted to be more experimental in their sound; we’ve had enough singers trying to sound like Eddie Vedder. Plus, there’s no sign grunge is making a comeback; every member of Pearl Jam has cut his hair short.

EMI, which also carries Bamboo and college-friendly Hale, is quite secretive what exactly their plan “streamlining” Hilera’s music is all about. They want to no reason to apologize for when Hilera’s debut album is released.

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