Kevin Kawano and Matt Lau were roommates while attending UC Santa Cruz when they bonded and took a brave leap to focus on music.
“I wasn't loving what I was studying and I had always wanted to do music, but never really had the guts to do it on my own,” said Kawano, a Torrance native. “When I talked to Matt about it, we kind of wanted to try it and take the chance and do something different from what we were both studying.”
The duo moved back to the South Bay after they finished college in 2018, and formed the band, Joker's Hand.
They release their first EP on March 10. On Sunday, March 8, the band will open for Sponge at Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach to celebrate the EP release. They will also be on the same bill as the Steve Miller Band and Sublime with Rome on Sunday, May 3, at the BeachLife Festival in Redondo Beach.
Joker's Hand self-titled first EP features five songs. The first single, “Anthem,” has been played on FM radio stations throughout Southern California and Arizona.
“We rooted ourselves in rock and in a sense experimented towards the alternative side, pop elements and punk,” said Lau, a Placentia native.
Kawano is the lead vocalist and plays guitar, Lau also sings and plays guitar. Bassist Blake Baldwin, a Torrance native, joined them last year
“South Bay musicians, we all kind of meet each other especially orbiting a great studio like Total Access,” Baldwin said.
From last year until early 2020, Joker's Hand has recorded around 20 songs with producers Steve Ornest and Wyn Davis at Total Access Recording Studios where bands like Sublime, No Doubt and Guns N' Roses have recorded during its long history.
Ornest had first seen the band at an open mic at Suzy's in Hermosa Beach. His fiance owns a music school and is a vocal coach, so he went to Suzy's to see one of her students perform.
“These guys killed it,” Ornest recalled. “I go out all the time looking (for new talent) and it was just one of those things, 'Are you kidding me?'”
But it so happens that Kawano lost Ornest's business card and didn't see him again until he walked into Total Access last year to start recording.
Joker's Hand does not consider themselves a political band, but they believe it's an artist's job to comment on what's going on in society. The song “Hijacked,” for example, was inspired by news media headlines and the country's current political divide.
Lau added, “It (does) not a hard stance, but a perspective of seeing a division between the citizen and the government and reacting to it in on emotional level.”
They have also recorded a song, “Hibakusha,” which is not on the EP, about those who were affected by the Hiroshima bomb.
Kawano's perception of life was altered forever when he underwent brain surgery when he was 16 years old. He was diagnosed with scoliosis when he was 12, but faced surgery to relieve swelling that affected his spine and his legs, not knowing if he would be able to walk again.
“I use to be into school and then it made me look at life a little differently, focusing more on my happiness rather than getting good grades,” said Kawano as he recovered. “Not that I was getting bad grades, but it made me realize more my mortality I guess.”
Ornest said the five-song EP will be the first batch of songs released by Joker's Hand, with a full-length album coming in the future.
But right now the band is excited for the release of their first EP, the party at Saint Rocke and the big stage of the BeachLife Festival, which last year attracted an average of 10,000 attendees for the three-day event.
“I think we're all itching to play bigger and better stages,” Baldwin said. “We've played some dive bars and we've played some of the Hollywood venues, but we're really excited.”
Joker's Hand will also be performing at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas latter this month.
For more information, jokershand.com.