Spotlight: Grand Fools Derby
Written by DJ Tulisan on June 19, 2020
GRAND FOOLS DERBY is a new wave/alternative band in Los Angeles, California, and is made of up Monty Rili on vocals, Rex Aglibot on guitars, J.P. “Pope” Victoria on bass, and Joven Calingo on drums. The group has been a longtime fixture in the Los Angeles indie rock scene, and enjoyed great success playing in various parts of Downtown Los Angeles during the mid to late 2000s. The band is known for its unique approach to cover songs and their catchy original music that range from heartfelt ballads to raunchy funk tunes. Amid changes that the band went through, their core lineup of Monty, Rex, Pope, and Joven remain at the heart of the band’s performances and the primary movers of GFD’s music.
The group possesses a resume of performances spanning diverse venues and events. They have already performed twice at the world-famous Whisky a Go-Go, among other landmark venues in Los Angeles. Even as they enjoy a significantly long hiatus, the core members are still able to come together and perform at the drop of a hat.
Grand Fools Derby’s music is actually two sides of the same coin. On one side, they play cover songs from the 80s, 90s and even the 2000s, but with a unique flair that goes beyond just repeating the words and using the same chords. Starting out with Red Hot Chili Peppers and Stone Temple Pilots, they transitioned to The Killers and Muse. They add the “GFD” twist to any song they emulate, from varied tempos to added words to different ways of ending the song. While many bands tend to imitate cover songs note for note, GFD rarely leaves a song in the same condition they found it. It was reminiscent of the way the Philippine band Side A did their covers, where they always make it their own version instead of a copy of the original version.
On the other side of the same coin, GFD writes songs teeming with nostalgia, reminiscence, and heartbreak. With Pope manning the keyboards, the band plays piano-driven ballads and string-laden symphonic creations that tease the borders of pop but pulls back at the last moment. With Rex and Monty on guitars, the band can create melodies from anthemic rock music to unapologetic punk pieces. But amid all the music, the listener can feel the fun, the joy, the love that the group has for their craft. And this was the quality of the band that made them a popular and beloved addition to the Los Angeles music scene.
The seeds that lay the foundation for the band were planted much earlier than the time they got together to form it. Monty and Joven were classmates in San Beda College in Manila and have already developed some rapport and the same taste in music. Pope is Monty’s cousin and part of a musically-talented family, even learning all songs from the Beatles from his father. Rex, the youngest member of the group, had also been playing guitars occasionally at gigs in Manila prior to coming to the United States.
All their disparate histories converged when they attended a get-together party in 2003. Monty, Pope, Joven, and then-guitarist Robert Ner started jamming and found instant chemistry. Thus, the band was formed, with Blind as the first song written; by 2006, almost a dozen songs were created after exhaustive bouts of brainstorming and booze. The band started performing in small, private gigs and were slowly getting a fan following. Unfortunately, Robert had to leave the band for personal reasons. GFD, now a trio (with Monty doing double duty on guitars), then began holding informal auditions for a new lead guitarist.
Rex, who had just recently come to the United States and was working in the high tech industry, caught word of the band’s need for a lead guitarist and decided to get a leg up before the auditions by learning and playing the band’s songs beforehand. The band was so impressed by Rex’s knowledge and skill with their originals that he was hired on the spot to take over the band’s lead guitar duties.
Monty was the one who came up with the band’s name due to his obsession with Philippine cockfighting at the time. He always thought of the sport as “the derby where fools bet on who’s the better fighter.” Hence, Grand Fools Derby was born, and although they refer to themselves as “fools” from time to time, their fun approach to performances shows how smart they actually are when it comes to music.
The band went on to perform in dozens of gigs in Downtown Los Angeles, as well as private events. The apex of the band’s musical journey came in their first Whisky a Go-Go performance in 2008. It was the culmination of everything they had worked for up to that point, performing in the same venue that launched the careers of such bands as The Doors, Van Halen, Guns N’ Roses and Motley Crue. This was followed by a second trip back to the Whisky in the same year, this time with keyboardist Tolitz Rosel in tow, further solidifying the band’s hold as one of the premier Pinoy indie acts in Los Angeles.
However, like all other Pinoy bands in Los Angeles who are not fulltime musicians, the band members were faced with the realities of their personal and professional lives, in addition to changing availabilities and proximities to each other. It was in late 2012 when the band decided to call it quits, prioritizing family and careers over the band’s unpredictable and ultimately unclear future. But that did not stop each member of GFD from continuing to pursue music in their own way.
Amid all this, the band has not yet recorded a studio album. The only songs they recorded were part of a bootleg cassette that has the GFD’s originals in an alcohol-infused live jamming session. Even though the recording came out “decently,” no one in the band can remember the details of how they recorded it, or even being there.
GFD still had a lot of material that needed to be recorded, but it seemed during the time that all they would have are the memories of a great double performance at the Whisky, and a bootleg cassette.
Fast forward 2020. The pandemic hits, the quarantine ensues, and many musicians resorted to recording collaboration videos ad posting them online. It came as a surprise that one of those bands was Grand Fools Derby, whose core group recorded their first acoustic song in almost ten years. The song was “The Best of Us,” recorded as a Zoom meeting. This was a follow-up to another landmark event for the band that week, when their other song “The Picture” was pressed on vinyl (as a test) for the very first time and came out really well.
Grand Fools Derby has not confirmed a resurgence, or a reunion. But there are things left undone, lists left unbucketed, and albums left unrecorded. If Grand Fools Derby ever decides to come back for real, then the Pinoy indie rock scene in Los Angeles needs to brace itself for a truly eventful second coming.
MONTY RILI (Vocals/Guitars)
Monty is the band’s charismatic front man, main songwriter and pseudo-pimp. He is unapologetic about his admiration for the female form, and tries to spread its gospel to his receptive friends. Outside GFD, he is a business owner who shows the same passion for his work.
Influences: Beatles and Queen, The Knack and Eagles. But he also loves disco, house, “Faces,” and “Euphoria” music.
J.P. “POPE” VICTORIA (Bass/Keyboards/Backup Vocals)
Pope is the multitalented cousin of Monty who acts as the group’s anchor in their performances. Also capable of playing guitars and keyboards, as well as take over singing chores when the song demands a more refined approach, Pope also performs with his co-workers in the law firm he works at, with notable success. He is currently remixing the band’s old music.
Influences: Beatles, Depeche Mode, GNR, and Styx.
REX AGLIBOT (Guitars/Backup Vocals)
Rex is the group’s boisterous lead guitarist, flaunting the fact that he is the youngest member, and he demonstrates it in every jamming session. Even though he occasionally displays raw musicianship on the stage with heavy guitar riffs, he is in fact classically trained in piano but prefers to rock out rather than sit it out.
Influences: Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Megadeth, and everything else from Bach to Zep.
JOVEN CALINGO (Drums/Backup Vocals)
Joven is the group’s spiritual leader and keeps them grounded, acting as shepherd to a sometimes-rowdy group of juiced up musicians. He has known Monty since college, and both are proud Bedans. He was also the drummer of the 80s Pinoy new wave band Sequel, whose song “The Sign” was part of NU107’s compilation NU Rock: The Album in 1988. Outside GFD, he prefers gardening and painting.
Influences: The Beatles’ Ringo Starr, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith, The Police’s Stewart Copeland, John Mayer’s Steve Jordan, and a session favorite by most artists like Eric Clapton and James Taylor, Steve Gadd.
Pinoy Rock USA would like to thank Monty, Rex, Pope and Joven of Grand Fools Derby for allowing us to feature them in this site. More power to you all! Rakenrol!