What do a rowdy Chinese rocker, a quiet Japanese computer programmer, two goofy Filipinos and two more serious white guys do during their spare time? They work on their mission to burst the ‘Irvine Bubble,’ a musical mission that began more than three years ago in the Lorien dorm hall of Middle Earth. It all started when Sean Halpin, a fourth-year environmental analysis and design major, walked into fourth-year computer science major Wesley Hayashi’s room and saw him drumming.
‘Hey, you play drums!’ Halpin said.
‘Yea, I do,’ replied Wesley as he put down his drumsticks.
‘I play guitar! We should start a band!’ Halpin said. As the old saying goes, the rest was history.
According to Halpin, their band, Kearsey, was quickly formed after their first encounter. They played music together the same night of their fateful meeting.
From then on, Halpin visited Hayashi’s house on weekends after his martial arts practice to create music. They would write songs and play until nighttime and then, perhaps, grab a movie at the end of the night.
By the end of the year, they discovered guitarist David Salvador, a fourth-year biological sciences major, and DJ Kevin Agorrilla, a fourth-year social science major. They also found Ismet Lenger, a fourth-year political science major, who wanted to pursue playing bass.
Halpin says they started ‘jamming together in parking structures, Humanities Hall and everywhere else.’ Although he was a talented lead singer, he had other commitments, which soon forced him to quit. Fortunately, this occurred at the same time the band met Bentley Chang, a fourth-year political science major with a booming voice.
‘The more we talked about it, [we knew] Bentley was exactly what the group needed,’ Halpin said. ‘We needed somebody who would grab your attention and keep you thinking, ‘Holy shit!’ On top of that, we needed somebody who could write lyrics. He was the right fit.’
Prior to using the name Kearsey, they often called themselves the ‘United Nations of Band,’ because they had Chang the rocker, Hayashi the quiet computer programmer, Agorrilla and Salvador the goofy Filipinos, and Halpin and Lenger as the two white guys, who were more serious than the rest of the group. The guys eventually rented a studio in Fountain Valley for about two hours once a week. They would also rent the studio for up to three times a week when they were practicing for a show.
Although it is initially difficult to grasp, the energetic tenor of their music materializes progressively as each instrument falls into its own parts. Kearsey’s music has slowly matured into a mixture of rap, hip-hop, rock, funk, blues and jazz. Their performances are passionate, with wild movements, distinguished particularly by Chang. His mohawk is so tall, the audience can only wonder if his flinging head movements will cast his dramatic hair limp. During their performances, the audience grasps the chairs before them in excitement and wonders if Halpin, skipping in rhythm to his guitar, will trip over any cords. Hayashi and his sturdy drumsticks set a pulsing beat for the entire band.
Clearly, Kearsey’s performances are one of a kind and they take immense pride in their unique style. Chang, a member of the MySpace group ‘Bursting the Irvine Bubble, Art Exhibits in Orange County,’ strongly believes in individual self-expression.
‘Strip everything away, all we have is our ability to express ourselves,’ Chang said. ‘I really encourage people to be true to themselves and not get caught up just because other people think that’s how it should be.’ He believes that this is the fundamental message Kearsey delivers to its listeners.
Their songs usually are created in an assembly-line manner. They begin with Halpin, who ‘throws out a riff, then Wes will get on it right away and just throw a beat,’ Chang said. ‘I don’t normally write the lyrics until the rest of the song has pretty much taken shape because I kind of like to feel what the song has.’
The band’s name originated one late night when Agorrilla and Salvador were watching ‘Death Wish 3,’ a cheesy, mid-80’s action movie. According to Agorrilla, the movie stars Charles Bronson as 70-year-old Paul Kersey who runs around shooting people with a huge handgun named Wilby. ‘This is a really great movie!’ Agorrilla thought. Later, the band was in Halpin and Hayashi’s room trying to think of a name for their group.
‘Death Wish 3’ emerged in Agorrilla’s mind. ‘Bronson’ and ‘Wilby’ were already taken, so they eventually decided on ‘Kersey.’ Some time later, Chang designed a logo for the band and spelled ‘Kersey’ with an added ‘a’ to make Kearsey. The name stuck.
Finally with a name, Kearsey performed for the first time a year-and-a-half ago at the Beall.
‘We thought we were the shit. Then we saw the video that Wesley’s girlfriend recorded and we realized we were shit,’ Agorrilla said.
Having played many more performances since then, the band continuously reflects on that awful performance at the Beall as inspiration to become better musicians. ‘I use that sort of as a humbling experience,’ Halpin said. ‘Every time I look back at that video, I tell myself, ‘Jesus Christ, you need to keep working.”
Today, Kearsey has made it to the UC Irvine Battle of the Bands and is one of the five groups that made it out of the 30 groups that auditioned.
Although they did not win Battle of the Bands, being one of the top five is one of their greatest achievements. ‘We just stopped practicing and we were celebrating like we just won the Super Bowl,’ Agorrilla said.
Kearsey is a humble group of individuals, with success defined as ‘playing in front of people for the next few years, and having more and more people coming out and supporting us and enjoying what we do.’ To Halpin, that is success. ‘Dream big, but reality is all we have, and I am happy with it and as long as we work and develop that, I couldn’t really ask for anything else.’
Kearsey is proud of the fact that their musical style challenges the paths that other bands take. However, at the same time, they understand that improvement is always necessary.
To date, Kearsey has written nine songs, and each of their nine songs was, at one exciting moment, the greatest song on the earth.
‘But then, we write another song, and it’s the new greatest song,’ Lenger said.
‘Every song that we write will be the next greatest song,’ Agorrilla said.