Undoubtedly, to reach 20 years as a band is something worth commending and celebrating. This significant milestone of longevity is not one many can easily reach. And yet, through sheer grit and steadfast determination, it’s something Kjwan has successfully achieved. And they are far from being done.

Still owning whatever stage they stand upon to this day, the long-standing Filipino rock unit continue to demonstrate what it means to be OPM icons, fearlessly launching themselves against all odds and refusing to give in to stagnation. Yes, the pandemic did put their pace to a screeching halt. However, the band, composed of Marc Abaya on vocals and guitars, Kelley Mangahas on bass, Eo Marcos on drums, and newcomer Louis Isok on guitars, have proven that the musical fire inside of them just can’t simply be snuffed out. Who they are today is a testament to the passion and discipline that has helped the group last 2 decades and counting already.

After 8 years, with their brand-new lineup and renewed drive, Kjwan are poised to release their first new single since 2016: “Dahas”. It is a song that serves both as a showcase of their undying spirit of musical evolution and as a perfect example of unyielding resilience fitting for a band that has lasted this long.

Prior to the release of their highly anticipated new single, Billboard Philippines caught up with the members of Kjwan to discuss “Dahas”, how Isok came to join the band and reignited their creative spirits, their continued evolution as group even after 20 years of existence, what’s next, and more.

Billboard Philippines: You’re releasing a new single entitled “Dahas” this April 26. Tell us more about the track. What’s it about? Walk us through the process of how it came to be. 

Marc Abaya: The new lineup initially formed in December of 2022. By the second week of January 2023, we hit the studio together. We had a demo, an existing demo, of the song mostly by Louis. I remember going to his house and recording this track, trying to keep up with him and the basic melodies so that by the time we hit the studio, the four of us had an idea of what the song was. By luck or by destiny, however you want to call it, and hard work, most of all, we were able to pull off two songs upon the first rehearsal pa lang [upon just the first rehearsal]. 

After that, we kept on writing songs. The method was that I and then Eo would be with me, if ever. We would visit Louis, I would bring my entire PC system there, sound recording stuff, to be able to keep with all of his musical ideas. We were able to record, my God, I don’t know, 15 to 20 songs. Rough sketches, rough ideas.

December 13, 2022. That’s when Louis was formally inducted into the band. January 15, 2023 was the first time the band rehearsed in a studio and completed “Dahas” basically. The recording began on May 24, 2023 in Love One Another Recording and Music Production Studio under Joey Santos.

Ever since its inception, meaning, “Dahas”, we kind of knew. Louis, particularly, predicted that it would be the single. Because it was short, it was explosive, it was straight to the point, it was something familiar and yet fresh. That’s why we knew that it was what it was.

Courtesy of Kjwan.

Apart from its duration, it’s the song that feels the most angry, initially… We’ve since written a couple of songs after that which, for me, lyrically, feel more hopeful, more positive. Looking back on “Dahas”, it feels like it was a catalyst song to the other songs. Although it feels and sounds like it’s angry, it feels like an exorcism. 

I don’t want to give away too much [of] the meaning of the song. Most of us in the band firmly believe that there are songs that should be left to the listener to decipher or to find meaning in. Whatever you think when you feel it, that’s what it’s about. On my side, the little that I’ll give away is that it truly feels like a positive song. Because, usually self-awareness includes facing reality, however unpleasant it may be. But it is the only way to be able to become better.

Kelley Mangahas: Just to add, this is a new lineup for the band. We have a new guitar player. Isok came in, like Marc said, in December (2022). “Dahas” was actually the first song that we worked on. And I guess, when Isok was talking about it, we knew this kind of set the tone for where we wanted the band to kind of go. Very, you know, straight to the point. Tagalog lyrics, heavy riffs. This was kind of the warm-up. This is our initial sound that we kind of wanted to put together with the four of us. 

This was the first kind of salvo that we, as a group put together. Yun lang yung thoughts ko [Those are my only thoughts] from that and I think it also showcases when Isok and Marc made the riff and I was like, “Wow, this kind of gives it back to that raw, that energy, that riff-based motion na [that] Isok’s also known for,” and that was a big part of the sound and how we kind of put those things together. 

Your last album, Kjwan IV was released as 2 EPs, Volume I in 2012 and Volume II in 2014. Fast forward to 2024, does the release of “Dahas” finally signal a new album from the band soon?

Marc Abaya: The funny thing is, when we would have discussions about it… in the two years that we’ve been working, it’s a new band, new energy, new love, new passion. It’s a new discipline, it’s new writing, new music. Of course, we’ve been talking and, especially, after lockdown and [the] pandemic, reflecting on the times, “Isn’t it funny that this is our 20th year?”  

From where we’ve been in the 20 years journey to get to where we are now, how can I not feel that there are forces beyond us that are encouraging us to do better than what we’ve done in the past. Especially with this lineup. Especially in these times. It’s amazing! None of these things were planned.

We were supposed to release last year but forces beyond us told us, “No,” and now we find ourselves here, 20 years since we’ve been born — it feels like, for the lack of a better term, a rebirth. Like starting from the beginning [but] of course, with the wisdom of 20 years of being in the scene. We come back in a time where music has evolved. OPM is, once again, dominating. Different from from the 90’s, from the 2000’s. We embrace it. We are wandering and marveling at it – this resurgence of OPM. We feel that we want to be a part of it, that we have something to offer along with these new amazing bands. 

Courtesy of Kjwan.

Kelley Mangahas: We definitely have songs so, we’re there. I think coming into it like a new band also, I’m amazed at what Isok brings to the table. [It’s] something new for me. I’ve learned a lot from him, he’s challenged me to be a better player as well. I’m learning from, of course, the chemistry I have with Marc and Eo. This is all a new thing for us. And definitely, as a group, you know, we’re also trying to do something different.

At the same time, like Marc said, we’ve been around for 20 years but new music is always something that drives us, the challenge of “Okay, we’re creating something new with a new guitar player, with a new dynamic.” For me, that’s the spark that actually kind of fueled myself in terms of “Okay, now we’re gonna do new music” and “Where are we gonna go with this?” 

I think it’s a combination of the four members that’s also something fresh. I believe you’ll hear it with the new single that’s gonna come out. Like, “Okay, how is this dynamic going to fit together?” You have this amazing guitar player and you have the three of us coming together. And now, we’re writing new material and we’re being challenged there. But I love the challenge and the motivation for creativity in working together with all these guys.

It’s nice to hear that coming from a band that’s been around for 2 decades. It’s nice to see that a band of your caliber and tenure is still finding that spark to play and to write songs. It’s something that can be really inspiring for younger bands nowadays to hear that. That being said, your latest single will see the participation of your new guitarist Louis Isok into the fray. Tell us about how he came to join the band.

Louis Isok: It was a long time coming. There was one time where nag-session ako [I sessioned] for Kjwan, si Eo na rin yung nag-d-drums noon [Eo was already the drummer back then]. It just felt right but it just wasn’t that time. Now is that time. 

Going back to how it happened, nagkita kami ni Marc noon [me and Marc saw each other before] and we were just discussing life, kung nasa’n na kami [where we were at], you know, bilang magkaibigan [as friends]. We didn’t really plan anything but, you know, at that moment, yun talaga siya [It was really like], “Let’s do this! Tara na [Let’s go]!!”

Naturally, I was drawn to the group because the fundamental of friendship is one recipe I’m looking for for chemistry. Let it be known I operate more on energy than words and I’ve never been prouder of a tight-knit group kasi [because] I can really see the potential in where we’re going.

Marc Abaya: Like Louis said, nagkamustahan kami [we checked in on each other]. In the process, I started talking to him about where Kjwan was at that time. And he just started laughing, with this bright, not annoying, endearing laugh and I’m like, “Why are you laughing?”. He goes, “Tara [Let’s go]!”

I immediately called Kelley and Eo the next and tell them what happened. They both freaked the f**k out. They were both in disbelief.

Courtesy of Kjwan.

Kelley Mangahas: We’re friends and we’ve known each other for a while, we’ve had experiences outside of the band together. It felt natural when Marc told us about it. I thought, “Wow, I think it’s a good match,” kasi kilala na namin si [because we already know] Isok, we know he’s a good guy and musically, it kind of fits.

Just a little backstory, of course, coming from the pandemic, we had other members right? Boogie (Romero, guitar) was with us. Inky (De Dios, keys) was with us. It was a hard commitment coming back from the pandemic. 

I remember Marc calling and saying, “Hey, let’s start up the band again. Let’s get back into it.” Not everyone wanted to come back. It was at the point where everyone had different reasons, things they were doing. So at that point when we were trying to make new songs, we did it with the three of us, Eo, Marc, and myself. We knew something was missing in terms of the creative vibe of being a band and I think that kind of tied up [to] when Marc and Isok were talking, had their meeting, and then Marc told us that Isok’s down. 

We were missing something. We were missing the band feel of us being together again. With this, we felt like we were back to our roots, back to a four-piece. It felt like a new experience for us and that’s why it motivates us na [that] when you look at what we’re doing now, we have a new sound, new material. It’s exciting. It’s challenging. It’s scary but we’re very happy in terms of the things we were doing. We know it’s hard but we’re up for it because we know we can get so much new music from it. 

Eo Marcos: Just to add, before Isok joined the band, when it was decided that some of the members weren’t coming back, there was a time where it was decided that “Sige, mag-trio na lang tayo [Let’s just be a trio].” We were even trying to write songs and, to be honest, we were kind of having a hard time to get things going as a trio. So, when I got the call that Isok was game to join us, of course, I was like, “Oh sh*t”, ‘cause I know Isok’s a songwriting machine. I’ve known Isok even before I joined Kjwan, we were gigging a lot together before for other bands.

Kelley Mangahas: The timing of everything, it really felt cosmic.

Louis Isok: The 20 years was amounting to this!

Marc Abaya: Last year, around November, Jorel Corpus, our original guitarist who left because he got accepted into Berklee, called me and woke me up just to tell me how happy he is that Louis Isok is in the band. He told me, he made me very emotional, he told me, “It almost feels like a rebirth, like what we were. What the original intention of the band was.” It just meant the world that even Jorel, who is a dear friend whom we love to this day, called because he knew… he didn’t even hear the music, that’s the thing! But he knew the energy, the equation. 

Eo Marcos: It’s amazing to have Louis in the band! Like what Kelley also said earlier, he really challenges us to step up. Personally, he makes me want to be a better musician. It’s just cool to have everyone team up again. We’ve been working really hard.


Courtesy of Kjwan.

More than 20 years as a band is no easy feat and we’re sure you’ve gone through a multitude of experiences over the years. What would you say are the greatest lessons you’ve learned during that time that have positively impacted the band as a whole?

Louis Isok: Find that excellence that lies within you. Sa amin kasi [in our case], that excellence comes out of our music. We want to inspire people to tap into their own excellence. We want to share to people that if you have a voice, if you have a platform, inspire other people using your own strive for excellence. More importantly, polish your craft and learn discipline. Practice! Being good isn’t really a destination. It’s an everyday practice you really have to hone.

Marc Abaya: I feel that it is my responsibility to help make the world a little bit better. If it’s through making music, so be it. To make people happy. To be a better musician. To be better at it, to take it more seriously, and to share it. The intent must be good. Share it with people to evoke positive things, whether it’s ideas or emotions. New bands are touching hundreds of kids, they’re singing along and we don’t even know the band or the song. But we, as a band, are marveling at them. “Wow! so this is the scene. How can we do our part? Because they’re doing it.” Because there are kids listening and it’s music that inspires. It makes the world a little bit better than it was a minute ago. That’s the most important thing I’ve learned. There must be intention and purpose. Make the world better.

Discipline! Just doing it everyday even if you don’t want to. Just f**king do it. Because it defines you.

Eo Marcos:  Staying the course. With whatever you do, if you really want it then just stay the course. Be true to yourself. Stay humble in the process.

Marc Abaya: You must be able to evolve. There is no point in going on if you cannot evolve. If you stay stubborn and refuse to acknowledge the change[s] of the time, you will be stuck in the past. You will not be able to grow. Although there are some select, very few brilliant artists who do not evolve, stay the way that they are, and that’s okay. I don’t think I’m one of them. 

Kelley Mangahas: What I’ve learned is, really, to always find joy with what you’re doing. There’s so many ups and downs in this music thing. We’ve gone through so many different challenges, personal, mental, everything that goes through this journey about music. What we have in common is that all of us believe in it so much. We want to do it and we want it to be part of our lives so, I think, even if we’re caught up in a lot of the small things, we can always take a step back and see the joy in what we’re doing. We’re creating music. We’re performing for people. We’re making art. There’s so many positive things to take note of in one’s journey. Find joy and be appreciative.


Courtesy of Kjwan.

Other than “Dahas” and the other songs coming up, what does Kjwan have in store in the near future? What else can your fans expect from the band?

Kelley Mangahas: It’s a different world right now. When we released our last album, wala pa masyadong [there wasn’t much] social media. Now, it’s fully social media. Now, we’ve been embracing a lot of the newer types of promotion. We’re on TikTok. We’ve been having Facebook Lives. We’ve been using Instagram Live. Trying to figure this out and embracing it. We’re open to it. We know it’s part of the way we promote now. 

At the same time, we’re doing a lot of the things on our own. Like, Marc’s in charge of the music video we’re doing for this track (“Dahas”). We’re also preparing for a launch for the single. We’re doing a merch run. So, we know using the experience we’ve had in the past 20 years and understanding how music is also being released now, we’re aware of those things. We have our eyes wide open, we know how things are done, and we know we want to bring in our fans and we want to get new fans.

I think that’s always the thing about new material. It’s if you can surprise people, that’s always the interesting thing and I know our new material now is gonna surprise a lot of people.

Louis Isok: [“Dahas”] will be the start of something. 

Eo Marcos: We have a bunch of songs ready.

Louis Isok: We’re celebrating “Dahas” but it will definitely be one of many songs to come your way. This is gonna be a wave of our lives’ best work kasi [because] life has given us an opportunity to dig deep as we can as musicians, as human beings, to share what we can.

Marc Abaya: Here we are now. 2024. And there’s still a lot more to come.

“Dahas” comes out tomorrow, April 26. Pre-save the new single from Kjwan here.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.