Interview: Tubero – Kupal Metal for a Kupal World

Interview with vocalist Lovel Ajok

Tubero—a band of the people. Since 2008, the Filipino grindcore outfit has taken the name “Tubero”—meaning plumber—literally, with songs and lyrics that point out and attempt to fix the leaky pipes that seep human waste into society. Their series of videos and spirited live performances have struck a nerve with the common folk of the Philippines, making the band spokespeople for the nation.

Like Brujeria or Sepultura, when listening to Tubero, there is a sense of regional issues which can be understood on a universal level. Despite being revered by metal fans in the Philippines, the band remain underdogs, not yet playing outside of their own country, though there are many leaky, shitty faucets that need to be fixed abroad, and it’s only a matter of time before they’re called upon.

What is the story of Tubero? it started through downtime at Tower of Doom recordings?
The band Tubero started in 2008. The original members were co-workers in a Recording Studio (Joctv Studio) at Commonwealth Ave, Quezon City, Metro Manila. It all happened when a friend’s band went to our studio to practice their performance and me being my funny self, got the microphone and started yelling and cussing at all of them while they were setting up their instruments. They played along with me.

I was unaware that my friend was recording all of it with his phone. A week after that, he sent me a YouTube link and told me he uploaded the video he took of me. After watching the video, it gave me an idea of forming a band to play the same kinda shit I did that day – since I had been in a band in high school and had enough knowledge about music. I then talked to my colleagues and asked them if they want to join me, given that they were frustrated musicians too. I showed them the vid my friend and took of me and we all had a good laugh at it and so they all agreed to make more of that soon. Just a few days after that I was already able to write couple songs and made riffs from the melodies that ran in my head.

The Tubero is a plumber, but he also has another secret job, right?
A Tubero is a plumber, yeah. One day, while on my way to work, I saw this placard of a plumber on a light post on the street. It said TUBERO —call this number XXXXXXX, and then that’s it! I already knew I was gonna use it as my band’s name. My songs are all about rage and anger towards all the SHIT in our society then and now. My lyrics are short but brief and very much true. The people who can relate to my songs and get what little satisfaction and joy out of it are like clogged pipes and drainage systems in this broken society that are being fixed by my music.

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What is the story behind the masks?
We are commoners. All five members of our band are living a middle-class lifestyle, making ends meet and all working hard for a living. Our music is our way to ease the stress of our daily life struggles and to enjoy the pleasure of performing with the people who appreciate us. We are for the masses. They are why we do what we do. With masks on our faces, people wouldn’t be able to know who we are and won’t recognize us even if we bump with each other on the streets. It gives us the luxury of blending in with the crowd and live our lives like everybody else and still enjoy our music with them.

Tubero describe themselves as Kupal Metal. What is that?
“KUPAL METAL” doesn’t mean anything. I invented it. Kupal literally means smegma, but it is used as a cuss here in the Philippines—equal to the term “asshole” in the U.S. My songs are made to piss off those assholes who are affected by my lyrics and to make fun of them. I consider Kupal Metal a funny term to represent my version of grindcore here in the Philippines.

You are starting to play gigs again. How are things going there in regards to COVID?
The pandemic was first reported in China on December of 2019. The Philippines was one of the first countries to get the virus from Wuhan, given the fact that our President is pro China and our gates weren’t closed right away to give way to the Chinese to come in and out of the country to finish their business before the lockdown. The pandemic put a halt to pretty much all sorts of industries, including the music industry.

For a couple of years, there were no live performances anywhere and the only way to continue this industry was through the internet and it wasn’t helping as much as when there were gigs and events because honestly, that’s where the cash is and that’s where the real fun is. My band, like any other band in the affected counties, had to pause our career to cope with our daily lives and survive COVID. Gladly, the virus is almost gone, thanks to the vaccines. Gigs and events are up again. We are back!

Can you explain your connection to your fans? Tubero seems to connect with a lot of people in the Philippines. Did it start right when Tubero began or did it gradually build? 

Our songs are mostly cussing and shouting. But the cuss words in the lyrics are the typical ones used by pretty much every Filipino in the world when they are frustrated about all sorts of things. This is why Tubero fans are not purely metal heads. Our fans are from different groups in the society. No gender. No social status. No age. No religion. Just anybody who can relate to our songs and find them cool and funny.

Many of your songs are about the struggles of daily life, which is why I think Tubero is a band of the people. “Wala Na Akong Pera” talks about being broke,“Kapitbahay” is about being annoyed with shit neighbors and so on. What are some other problems you’d like to bring up in your songs?  

All these songs are basedon real life experiences. Specifically, my own personal experiences.

Guard – This happened in Audiophile, Alimall Cubao. The music shop was in a mall. I worked there for four consecutive years. And one day, for some reason, a certain security guard stopped me at the entrance. I had no idea why but I stopped anyway and had them check my things and go through the metal detector and the fucker still wouldn’t let me in. So I walked past him pissed and fuming, but when I was already on the escalator going up, the guard blew his whistle and told me to go back. I just looked at him and said the exact words “Guard, Tang ina mo!” I found out later on that he thought of me as a druggie or whatever.

Kapitbahay – This song is about my neighbors. My house is located in between many houses with very little space apart. And my neighbors are very inconsiderate. They’d sing and dance with their karaoke from early morning until past midnight, would noisily start up their motorbikes like they are breaking the engines and of course, their dogs are barking 24/7. I work more than eight hours a day on weekdays and play gigs during the weekends – if not that then doing  chores at home… and sleep is just impossible with my neighbor’s shit.

Wala na akong pera – I made this song during the peak of the pandemic. It is simply about me being broke. I came to a point when I literally had no cash and didn’t know what else to do because the world was in lockdown and hundreds of thousands were already dying of COVID. Everything was closed. I got stuck in the house with nothing. I was desperate.

PWEH – Spit. It is said to be a global sign of anger, hatred and disrespect. This one-second song I sing with contempt.

If this interview helps Tubero get noticed overseas, what festival would you hope to play on in the future? 

This interview is surely a big help for Tubero to get noticed locally and internationally. But if this goes viral and we’d be given a chance to get invited to a festival, I wish it’d be (OEF) Obscene Extreme Festival in the Czech Republic. I saw in their videos how united the bands there are to each other and I believe that’s where our kind of music belongs.

Check out the band here. 

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