Justin Huynh has reached a remarkable milestone in the music industry, and he traces much of his success to his time as a student at Edmonds College in 2014 and 2015.
Huynh, who uses the stage name Kauai45, produced and released a remake of the song “Just the Two of Us”, a cover of the 1980 hit by Bill Withers and Grover Washington, Jr. The song exploded in popularity on Spotify and has been streamed more than 30 million times, a record number officially reached on March 16.
Huynh has been passionate about music all his life. He grew up in Bothell, immersed in music with a pianist mom and a guitarist dad. He started piano lessons at a very young age, and by the time he entered college he was able to play five instruments. Huynh changed direction in high school and started singing in the choir. Coming out of high school, he was, by all accounts, a talented and diverse musician, but he didn’t have the wherewithal to channel that talent.
“When I came out of high school, I wanted to do music, but I had nowhere to start,” said Huynh, who in addition to piano can also play drums, clarinet, violin trumpet, guitar and ukulele. “I didn’t know how to do anything from production.”
The humble Huynh would eventually learn the skills he needed to succeed in the music business at Edmonds College, but he only set foot on campus due to fortuitous circumstances. Huynh went to Washington State University, intending to major in journalism. He planned to follow in the footsteps of his musical idols and learn video production so he could create high-quality YouTube videos. But in his first semester, he tore his ACL in his knee while playing basketball. The injury limited his mobility and, admittedly, his motivation to trek the hills of campus to attend classes. He returned home after his first semester and enrolled at Edmonds College. It was at this time that his musical aspirations took off.
“When I realized I was going to leave WSU, I started researching community colleges back home,” Huynh recalls. “Edmonds College was the only one that offered studio music production classes. That’s what caught my eye.”
At Edmonds College, Huynh took a course from instructor Dr. Nick Sibicky. He had an immediate connection with Sibicky who helped Huynh turn his raw talent into a finished product.
“Professor Sibicky sees a lot of potential in his students, especially those who share his interest in music and express that interest,” Huynh said. “I didn’t really learn until I got to Edmonds. This is where Nick showed me how to do it right. This is where the passion for electronic music and DJing merged with production.
Huynh realized he had a music mentor after one of his first interactions with Sibicky during class. The instructor asked if anyone knew the name of the Beach Boys’ first electronically produced song. Huynh guessed “Good Vibrations,” which drew a long “Yaaaaah” from Sibicky in his best California surfer voice.
“Immediately I knew I had to follow this guy,” Huynh said. “I just knew he had it.”
Over time, Sibicky was able to help Huynh understand what he was hearing. Huynh described it as if Sibicky “almost put the words in my mouth. I didn’t know the musical terms and how to say them. He was just able to connect the dots and fill in the blanks, so we were able to chat about music and get interested in old Beach Boys classics right away. It was cool to talk about that kind of stuff.
Sibicky remembers Huynh as a very kind and mature student who was very social and worked well with other students.
“Justin went through a period of strong growth at Edmonds College,” said Sibicky. “He had a maturity that belied his age, and I think that helped him recognize the value our campus brought to him.
“In my program, he took music production classes, but his training was as a performing musician. He was able to take his sense of music and incorporate it into larger productions.
Huynh received his Associate of Arts degree from Edmonds College and transferred to Washington State, where he completed his bachelor’s degree in journalism and media production. In Pullman, he was able to continue to feed his musical passion as a DJ at local parties and clubs.
After college he moved back to Seattle and started working as a music promoter and DJ at night and made music at home during the day. He began to form new relationships and meet music producers through his concerts. He was able to get into rooms with people because their musical tastes were similar, and he was able to build up a list of collaborators.
In his circle there were some who wondered if he would make a living pursuing music, but Huhyn slowly began to convert the doubters. The tides turned in Huynh’s favor when he started releasing his tracks, but no one, not even Huynh, could imagine that a song would explode to be as big as “Just the Two of Us.”
In 2020, Huynh was going through a period of reflection where he was trying to figure out what would make him the happiest in his career. Although he writes his music, he is very comfortable doing covers, so he decided to produce music that he was happy with. He landed on “Just the Two of Us” and quickly composed a cover.
“I made the beat, started singing it, and did some chords,” Huynh said of the process. “Overnight, I was done with the skeleton, and I was like, ‘It doesn’t even matter if anyone hears this. I like it.'”
He performed the song for a few friends, including former Bothell High School choir member Yvonne Idro (aka Sweet Cocoa). Idro was immediately drawn to the piece, and Huynh happily invited her to collaborate on the project and provide additional voices. In 30 minutes, Idro was able to record his games.
The original plan was to take the track out for family and friends to enjoy. They created a simple music video to accompany the recording, intended for use on Tik Tok and other social media platforms.
“It was nothing too serious; it was just us having fun,” Huynh said. “Obviously our friends loved it, so everyone started sharing it on Instagram.”
The song took off when actress Victoria Pedretti, a Netflix star on shows like “You,” “The Haunting of Bly Manor” and “The Haunting of Hill House” burst onto the scene. She’s known for promoting the music she loves on her social media and certainly gave Huynh’s song a boost when she told her fans to check out the cover back in December.
As of January 3, 2021, the song has 100,000 streams, hit 500,000 in March, and surpassed the 1 million mark on May 14. The song’s popularity reached 25 million streams on January 18, 2022, just over a year after its release.
Now that “Just the Two of Us” has passed the 30 million mark, he’s enjoying the success and realizing this is just the start of his dream career. He hopes to release more songs soon and yearns for a one-day tour. But for now, he is able to think things through and has nearly 30 million reasons to be grateful for his time at Edmonds College.
“I really think it was essential for my career to go to Edmonds College,” he said. “I wouldn’t have learned to produce music as fast as possible and I wouldn’t be as good a DJ as I am. Edmonds got me to where I wanted to be when it came to refining my priorities and where my passions were. Right now I’m making music full time and I’m as happy as can be.”
— Story reproduced by kind permission of Edmonds College