Kjwan's sparkling self-titled debut gets the vinyl treatment

Rick Olivares

Posted at Sep 06 2022 05:09 AM | Updated as of Sep 06 2022 08:50 PM

Marc Abaya, Jorel Corpus, and Kelly Mangahas of Kjwan celebrate the re-release of their self-titled debut album on vinyl courtesy of Backspacer Records. Photo courtesy of Backspacer Records
Marc Abaya, Jorel Corpus, and Kelly Mangahas of Kjwan celebrate the re-release of their self-titled debut album on vinyl courtesy of Backspacer Records. Photo courtesy of Backspacer Records

In “Surface,” the first song of Kjwan’s self-titled debut, drummer J-Hoon Balbuena rattles off his snare drum after which vocalist and guitarist Marc Abaya yells, “Go!”

It’s the perfect lead-off song for a band that lived for big riffs and dizzying guitar work, a relentless sound, and good old testosterone rock and roll. 

“We wanted it to be as raw and unrelenting – at least for us,” described Abaya of the debut album.

The band – Abaya, guitarist Jorel Corpus, bassist Kelly Mangahas, and drummer J-Hoon Balbuena – were like an indie rock supergroup. Abaya had come from Sandwich, Corpus was with the Happy Meals with schoolmate and Greyhoundz bassist Niño Avenido, Mangahas was with Dicta License, while Balbuena was the drummer of Kapatid. 

“It was my first real professional work,” admitted Corpus who after Kjwan’s second album, 2-Step Marv, relocated to the United States. “It was my first to record in a real recording studio, to play in gigs where we got paid, and where I became serious about being a professional musician and not doing something that was just for fun.”

“This came out at the time of my graduation from college at the Ateneo and I was thinking of continuing my studies in film school in London,” related Abaya. “I was gung-ho about going but had a change of heart somewhere. Then Kelly came over to my place at Horseshoe Village where we had this long discussion. He said we can form a band and make the music we like. ‘Why don’t we do our own Audioslave with members coming from different bands?’”

The year 2004 was the year Kitchie Nadal released her first solo album after leaving Mojofly. Mayonnaise dropped their debut. Ateneo schoolmates Chicosci released their third album, Icarus. Sugarfree released, Dramachine. Rivermaya re-released Between the Stars & Waves with the song, “Liwanag sa Dilim.” Cebuanos Urbandub put out their sophomore album, Birth. Imago released Take 2! Bamboo released their scintillating debut, As the Music Plays.

In spite of the fierce competition, Kjwan was recognized and nominated for a slew of awards in 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 couch; an arresting design.

“We wanted women as beautiful as Mia Fernandez to listen to our music,” explained Abaya. 

In the original compact disc cover, there were two wires that extended from the couch to the band’s guitars rocking it out. 

With the re-design in gatefold format, the wires were photo-shopped out. 

“We’d still like to make that connection though,” joked Corpus. 

Today, 18 years after that debut – and the first of five albums cut across a decade – Backspacer Records has re-released Kjwan on red vinyl, in gatefold format, numbered, and with a re-arranged track listing and slightly different artwork.

“It’s been given new life by Backspacer Records,” noted Abaya of the re-release two years ahead of the album’s 20th anniversary. “I had just switched from having my music on compact disc to streaming and digital. Then I noticed friends and fellow musicians began getting into vinyl and I wondered if this was a fad? But Kelly was really into vinyl and had been telling me that it had been on the upswing for over a decade now, and as a vinylhead, he pushed for it.”

When the band started putting the vinyl project together, Abaya noticed there was a surge on social media with local music fans being happy and excited about the debut on vinyl. 

“It’s good to know that it has this ability to reach people after quite some time,” pointed out Corpus who came home from Los Angeles to be present for his sister’s graduation from college. This album was a time capsule of that time for us.”

And it was. Producer Angee Rozul put the band through their paces demanding perfection. He would send members of the band home if their performance that day wasn’t up to the quality he expected. One time, Corpus accidentally erased all the guitar tracks and the band had to re-record them.

“I guess we will never know if the original recordings were better,” laughed Abaya.

“But it is here and now,” chimed in Mangahas who has seen Dicta’s License’s second album, Pagbigkas, also released by Backspacer Records this past May. “Hopefully, it gains us a new audience.”

For fans who wish to purchase the limited edition release of Kjwan’s debut album, they can visit Backspacer Records’ Facebook page or website.