Music was more than just a fun hobby to Kevin Carbajal. Like most young people coming of age, he treated it as an asylum — a place where he could express himself and cope with whatever he was going through. While growing up in Gypsum, he hoped to ultimately turn it into a full-blown career. And although that won't happen — Kevin took his own life on June 15, 2022, mere months before turning 21 — his brother, Irvin, is honoring him by creating a music studio called Kev City Studio in the small town where they grew up.
Listening to those close to Kevin talk about him, it's clear that music was his life and love language. He taught himself to play several instruments, and he learned how to produce his own beats by reading manuals and watching videos online.
“Whatever he was feeling, he would put into his music,” says Kevin’s lifelong best friend, Savanna Vasquez. “He definitely was always into music. Always blasting music in my old, beat-up car, or putting music on whenever we were making dinner or cleaning. He was always dancing. He was just very involved in music, whether it was making it or playing it.”
The two had moved to Aurora together, away from the nest of their small hometown, right after graduating from high school. They were only seventeen and eighteen at the time, and they “took on the world,” as Vasquez puts it, taking advantage of all the city had to offer, especially frequenting concerts and shows. Kevin would always be practicing, hoping to connect with fellow musicians, Vasquez recalls.
“It was kind of wild to live on our own for the first time and not having parents tell us what to do. We were going to concerts every weekend, if not twice in a weekend. That’s where a majority of our money went,” she adds with a laugh. “I think [Kevin's] big goal was to produce beats and music for people to hear. Friends would rap over his beats. His main goal was just to share the music that he loved or created with the people who he loved.”
Irvin hopes Kev City Studio will attract people like his brother, who found solace in music. The project officially began on January 13, and the studio will be located inside Gypsum's My Future Pathways Youth Center; Irvin notes that the center's director, Bratzo Horruitiner, has also helped make the studio a reality. The anticipated grand opening is March 18, though that could change.
Irvin, who is soft-spoken and stoic when speaking about Kevin’s musical aspirations and dedication, says that while he didn’t share his brother's musical fervor or skill growing up, he always admired his vision and infectious joy.
“Ever since he was little, [he was about] music in every sense. When he was little, before he could even talk, he would dance to commercials and make beats by tapping on things,” Irvin recalls. “He learned how to play the guitar when he was very young after having a toy guitar; he took it pretty seriously. He started to play a lot of instruments as he grew up; he learned how to play the piano. We never had any of these instruments, so I don’t know how he did it.”
Like any great music maker, Kevin listened to everything from jazz to hip-hop as he studied his craft. Vasquez fondly remembers hanging out with him at their apartment, particularly during the down times of the pandemic, and how Kevin would get excited to introduce new music to her. But he was shy at times about sharing his own creations, and would often erase what he was working on before they finished listening. Since his passing, she's enjoyed listening to some of her friend’s beats and tunes.
“He was always sharing songs with me, or I was sharing songs with him. Any time that any songs that we shared with each other would come on, I’d definitely reminisce,” she says, before becoming choked up. “Listening to music that Irvin has sent me of his...Kevin never liked to send us music, really. He just showed us stuff, and then he would delete it because he thought it wasn’t good enough.”
When Irvin hinted at creating a studio in Kevin’s memory, Vasquez says, she couldn’t have come up with a better idea to celebrate her friend, the budding music producer. “I think that’s something that Kevin would have really loved, just because he loved sharing music, ideas and knowledge,” she adds.
Once completed, the new studio will also include Kevin’s equipment, which is one way to pay it forward, Irvin explains: “I wanted to do this studio to honor him. When we were in school, there’s really no opportunity for students to be exposed to music like that. If you want to go into music production, you have to go out of your way and do it yourself. I wanted to create a space and studio for students to be exposed to music and have that opportunity. I’m using his equipment, then adding a little bit more to make it more well-rounded.”
Music has long been shown to help reduce stress, among other benefits. According to the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, music therapy can help "psychologically, emotionally, physically, spiritually, cognitively and socially.” It’s another reason that Irvin believes in the importance of bringing a studio like Kev City to the community and to youth who may be searching for a productive activity.
“I have two main goals with this studio, which are to help students on their technical skills, but also I see it as an outlet for emotions and stresses," he says. "That’s one way my brother saw [music]. He took his emotions out a lot with music. When he had a bad day, he’d go into his room, plug in and express himself that way. I feel like a lot of other people can relate.
"It's an age when a lot is going on, and maybe music is one thing that can help you for the better. Maybe you’ll find a passion you didn’t know you had," Irvin adds.
Kevin had a similar sentiment, according to Vasquez. He wanted to someday lead by example: If he could make it in the music industry, then anyone from Gypsum could, too.
“Coming from such a small town and not having the same opportunities as everyone, he didn’t have the money to go to school, so he just wanted to be self-taught and learn everything that he could and make it into something, and help people who were in Gypsum like him make it big, too,” she explains. “He was a one-of-a-kind person. He would always put the needs and wants of other people above his own. I think that him expressing how he feels through music was a big way of him showing people how he loved them or how he wanted them to hear his new ideas.”
Kevin Carbajal's impact is already evident. The studio that Irvin is building in his memory will only continue to share his story — that of a loving son, a little brother, a loyal friend, an aspiring music producer — with those who may not have known him but can relate to him.
“All of this has been so hard on me. I’ll never understand. It’s something that shouldn’t happen. My idea is to keep him alive with his beliefs and passions, which is why I decided to do this studio and give back to the community while honoring and sharing what he liked to do,” Irvin says. “He used to always say — because he would challenge a lot of ideas or societal pressures whenever people would tell him that this was not right — that ‘when you stop doing what you love or what you believe in, you stop being yourself.’ He stuck to what he liked and what made him happy.”