Jon Kuwada wants to make people happy. Using his soulful croon and effortless flow to capture the hearts and ears of listeners around the country, Jon collaborates with his twin brother Cameron as the duo “Kuwada.” Together, the Hawaii-raised brothers have amassed over 6 million “listens” on Spotify for their songs “Cherry Cola” (2018) and “Ocean” (2017). With a strong online following on platforms like YouTube and Soundcloud, an upcoming EP through Columbia Records and plans to move to LA to pursue music full-time, Jon’s future in music remains bright, filled with infectious melodies and tasty guitar licks.
With a grandfather who was a music teacher and musically oriented parents, Jon grew up in Hawaii exposed to musical greats like Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead, Al Green and Curtis Mayfield. Jon started on classical piano at age six, then moved to jazz in favor of improvisation. Through this, Jon found a means to get his “creativity flowing,” composing songs “even though they were bad.” Inspired by his upbringing, today Jon looks to contemporary artists like Anderson .Paak, Chance the Rapper, Drake and more obscure artists he finds on Soundcloud as primary musical influences.
Informed by his experiences growing up in Hawaii and the sounds of his childhood, Jon’s musical journey has brought him to new realizations on making music. For Jon, the success of songs like “Cherry Cola” and his upcoming musical projects reflect his own authenticity as an artist — staying true to who he is, what he likes best about music and what he hopes to convey to listeners.
“I like music that’s chill. I like music that’s relaxed,” Jon said. “I kind of gave [‘Cherry Cola’] that Hawaii-feel, with an R&B feel to it. I was able to connect what I felt inside and who I am to the music and to the audience. I think a successful song properly communicates the feeling an artist has to an audience through the music. The hardest part is doing this through the music, because a lot gets lost in translation … I stopped trying to be someone else. I realized that if I do what sounds good to me, it’ll sound good to other people.”
Despite his success today, Jon is incredibly humble when describing his early forays into songwriting and performance. In high school, Jon played in multiple bands. But as a college student, Jon began approaching music from new angles beyond live performance. At Tufts, aside from playing guitar in the band Children of the Horn, Jon has been mostly focusing on his production skills with software like Logic and GarageBand.
Junior Kana Higuchi, who has known Jon since her first year at Tufts, recalled Jon’s humble beginnings honing his skills as a producer.
“Jon’s been practicing music for so many years and I always knew he was a talented singer, but I didn’t know he was working on producing until a couple months after I met him,” Higuchi said. “Whenever I was working on homework in Tisch, Jon would always be making beats. At first I didn’t really understand what he was doing. I guess it came off as disinterested, and he was a little hurt by my reaction. But obviously he kept going, and he works on music pretty much every day now.”
Today Jon collaborates with his twin brother Cameron Kuwada. Their collaboration goes way back, and it hasn’t always been easy between the two brothers. While rehearsing for a talent show with their band in high school, Cameron recalled a heated argument that he noted as emblematic of their relationship.
“During practice, we all got into a huge argument and started critiquing each other and yelling, though it was mainly me and Jon,” Cameron said. “Our mom came down to see what was going on, and after practice she said, ‘What’s the point of doing music if it doesn’t even seem like you guys are having fun?’ We both replied, ‘It’s not about having fun, it’s about being the best.’ I think that stubbornness encapsulates our personalities.”
Nevertheless, as professional musicians, today the two maintain a markedly professional collaborative process. The two usually begin when Jon forms a “rough idea” for a song; then they continue by “flesh[ing] it out,” splitting production and instrumentation responsibilities between the two. Cameron described Jon’s abilities in the studio, balancing his skill-set as a musician with his intuition for song-craft.
“He is first and foremost an excellent musician, yet never lets musicianship distract from the song or interfere with the songwriting,” Cameron said. “He knows how to create not just songs, but musical soundscapes that evoke imagery.”
But Jon’s creativity isn’t limited to the songs he builds in the studio. Balancing his musical endeavors with coursework in psychology and biology and lab work in the psychology department, Jon cited his curiosity as a student and musician as one of his strengths.
“I love to learn, as stupid as that sounds,” Jon said. “I’ve always been excited to learn different things, whether that’s learning different types of music, listening to different types of music or learning new things in class.”
Muna Akhtar, a PhD student in the psychology department who has worked closely with Jon for several years, spoke to Jon’s curiosity, noting his ability to synthesize new ideas and strive for knowledge in the lab.
“Jon is a bright and inquisitive student with a passion for understanding the relationship between social media and activism,” Akhtar said. “In my time at Tufts, he is the only student I have mentored that has been able to turn a proposal into his own study that has become his senior honors thesis. This speaks to his ability to think critically, develop original questions and his creativity as a young researcher.”
Jon’s senior honors thesis project proposal, which investigates the relationship between social media and activism, caught the attention of Jessica Remedios, principal investigator for the Social Identity and Stigma Laboratory. Dr. Remedios noted Jon’s capability as a researcher, highlighting the energy he brings to the lab.
“He’s brought a lot of enthusiasm to his work, particularly to his honors thesis project,” Remedios said. “I was so impressed by the idea that eventually became his senior project that last year I approached Jon and asked him to do a thesis in my lab. Usually this happens the other way around, with students approaching me. That gives you an idea of his aptitude for research in psychology.”
But Jon never lets his strong work ethic in the studio or the lab get in the way of caring for the people around him. Higuchi described Jon’s ability to balance work and compassion toward others as one of his best qualities as a friend.
“He always makes time for the things and people he loves,” Higuchi said. “No matter how much work he has, he’ll still spend time with me and his family, play music for fun or go surfing or skating with his friends. I think this is his best quality and it comes from how much he values his upbringing in Hawaii.”
Cameron echoed Higuchi’s comments to Jon’s qualities as a friend. As Jon’s brother and musical collaborator, Cameron holds immense respect for Jon’s loyalty and work ethic as a musician.
“He is a very loyal person to his family and friends, even when such relationships get tense,” Cameron said. “I always admired his work ethic when it comes to practicing music, and I always dreamed of being as good of a musician as him when I first started playing guitar.”
As Jon furthers his career in music, the Tufts community will watch — and listen — closely for his continued success with Kuwada. Jon’s presence on campus will be missed, but his music will continue to bring joy to those around him.