In “Surface,” the first song from Kjwan’s self-titled debut album, drummer J-Hoon Balbuena thumps his snare drum, after which vocalist and guitarist Marc Abaya shouts, “Go!”
It’s the perfect intro song for a band that lived for big riffs and dizzying guitar work, relentless sound and good old testosterone rock and roll.
“We wanted it to be as raw and unrelenting – at least for us,” Abaya described of the debut album.
The band – Abaya, guitarist Jorel Corpus, bassist Kelly Mangahas and drummer J-Hoon Balbuena – sounded like an indie rock supergroup. Abaya had come from Sandwich, Corpus was with Happy Meals with his schoolmate and Greyhoundz bassist Niño Avenido, Mangahas was with Dicta License, while Balbuena was Kapatid’s drummer.
“It was my first real professional job,” admitted Corpus, who after Kjwan’s second album, 2-Step Marv, moved to the United States. “It was the first time I recorded in a real recording studio, played in concerts where we were paid and where I took seriously the fact of being a professional musician and not doing something that was just for fun.”
“It came out when I was graduating from Ateneo and thinking about going to film school in London,” Abaya said. “I was excited to go, but I changed my mind somewhere. Then Kelly came to my house in Horseshoe Village where we had this long talk. He said we could form a band and make the music we love. ‘Why not make our own Audioslave with members from different bands?’”
The year 2004 was the year Kitchie Nadal released her first solo album after leaving Mojofly. Mayonnaise dropped out of debut. The classmates of Ateneo Chicosci have released their third album, Icarus. Out without sugar, Dramachine. Rivermaya re-released Between the Stars & Waves with the song “Liwanag sa Dilim”. Cebuanos Urbandub released their second album, Birth. Imago released take 2! Bamboo have released their scintillating debut album, As the Music Plays.
Despite fierce competition, Kjwan has been recognized and nominated for a host of awards at the NU Rock Awards, MTV Pilipinas Video Music Awards, Ikon Asean and Myx Music Awards.
The album featured model Mia Fernandez sitting on a red sofa; a striking design.
“We wanted women as beautiful as Mia Fernandez to listen to our music,” Abaya explained.
In the original compact disc cover, there were two wires that stretched from the sofa to the band’s guitars to rock it.
With the redesign in gatefold format, the threads have been photo-shopped.
“We would still love to make that connection,” Corpus joked.
Now, 18 years after that debut – and the first of five albums spanning a decade – Backspacer Records has reissued Kjwan on red vinyl, in gatefold format, numbered and with a rearranged track listing and slightly different artwork.
“Backspacer Records gave it new life,” Abaya noted of the re-release two years before the album’s 20th anniversary. “I had just transitioned from CD music to streaming and digital. Then I noticed that friends and fellow musicians were starting to get into vinyl and I wondered if it was a trend? But Kelly really loved vinyl and had told me it had been on the rise for over a decade now, and as a vinylhead he pushed for it.
When the band started putting the vinyl project together, Abaya noticed that there was an increase in social media, with local music fans being happy and excited about the vinyl debut.
“It’s good to know that he has this ability to reach people after a while,” said Corpus, who returned from Los Angeles to attend his sister’s college graduation. This album was a time capsule of that time for us.
And it was. Producer Angee Rozul put the band to the test by demanding perfection. He would send the band members home if their performance that day did not live up to his expectations. Once Corpus accidentally erased all the guitar tracks and the band had to re-record them.
“I guess we’ll never know if the original recordings were better,” laughed Abaya.
“But it’s here and now,” said Mangahas, who saw Dicta’s License’s second album, Pagbigkas, also released by Backspacer Records last May. “I hope this will win us a new audience.”
For fans who wish to purchase the limited edition version of Kjwan’s debut album, they can visit Backspacer Records’ Facebook page or website.