The Sweetheart Series: Mei & Stefán

In the Sweetheart Series, we're giving artist interview control to the people who (probably should) know them best: their partners. The questions are up to them and we won't edit anything that's said in the interview. We're hoping this brings out a more intimate, interesting interview and, who knows, maybe they'll learn something they didn't know about their partner.(Note from our lawyer: Distinction Music Management is not liable for any break ups that result from the Sweetheart Series)

The artist: Stefán Kubeja, of DON

The partner: Mei Horiuchi

Time together: 1.5 years

How they met: I met Stefán in fall of 2015 through a mutual friend - Daniel Salka, DON's synth player. We started dating shortly after we met.

Mei Horiuchi is a UW student who will be spending her summer working on her senior thesis, a collection featuring the experiences of vegans of Japanese descent. She'll also be building her modeling portfolio, walking dogs, and dancing nights away in the Seattle scene.

June 1st marked the release of DON’s debut EP, Thanks For All The Help. DON is a Future Soul group rapidly gaining fame here in Seattle. Their unique sound – a blend of Hip Hop, R&B, and jazz - packs house shows on the weekends and earned them first place at Rainy Dawg Radio’s Battle of the Bands. Within the past couple months, they’ve played shows with D.R.A.M., Sango, and Kero Kero Bonito.

Thanks For All The Help holds the secret of their success, showcasing the talents of the five-piece project – Stefán Kubeja, Bobby Jimmi, Daniel Salka, Ori Levari, and Phinehas Nyang’oro. The four-song EP opens with the single “Fire,” a catchy summer tune that had the crowd crooning along at the EP release show, and closes with the hype-y and defiant “This One Goes Out To The.”

Dating the frontman of DON means I’ve experienced much of the ups and downs of the EP production right alongside him. The months prior to its release have been a nonstop grind; I’m relieved Stefán and I have been able to escape to Portland for a few days and reflect on the EP together.

I’m going to ask what a lot of my friends ask me – what’s the story behind the name DON?

It's kind of a funny story, actually. Before DON was DON we rehearsed in the house of our then guitar player, David Salonen (shouts out to him). He had this neighbor that was very senile- he was probably in his late eighties. This guy used to wander over into David's house while we were rehearsing, without knocking, and just show up in the room where we were. He would just appear. He would demand to speak with us, even if we were right in the middle of a song. He would ramble on for twenty minutes-- about nothing. He definitely had dementia. He would start his sentence talking about the yard work he was doing and end it talking about how his wife bought him some blueberries. He would tell us to quit music and go into chemical engineering. We would always laugh and send him on his way. Eventually, it got to the point where he would show up every single rehearsal without fail. We came to love him so much that we named the band after him- his name was Don.

We kept the name, though, because it grew to have another meaning. DON as a group is about coming to accept who you are as a musician. We make music on our own terms. 'Don' in Spanish is an honorative title- basically the equivalent of 'lord' in English. Having the name of the group be a title given to distinguished people reminds us to keep our heads held high.

DON’s formation loosely traces back to spring 2014. But your current lineup, the one on the debut EP, diverges significantly from those early days. How has DON evolved? Have your influences changed?

The lineup has changed a fair bit. Of course with every personnel change, the sound differs a little bit-- but over the years, our focus has shifted more closely to R&B and neo-soul with influences from jazz-fusion. We love Erykah Badu, Hiatus Kaiyote, Michael Jackson, Herbie Hancock, Ahmad Jamal, Teddy Pendergrass, D'Angelo, Luther Vandross, Stevie [Wonder].

Hip Hop has always been integral to our sound, and our influences from that genre are pretty widespread. That hasn't really changed too much. We still like our West Coast Hip Hop and our J Dilla. Our G Funk and our Donuts. DJ Quik and Knxwledge.

We take influence from other genres too. But those are the main genres and artists, from my perspective anyway.

Why did you last minute decide to title your EP? Why “Thanks For All The Help”?

Projects kind of summate the meaning of a particular time in a band's life. In the past nine months we've really had a big explosion of support from people we know. We've played on stages with people who are some of our heroes, won competitions, and released a project that we crafted with one audio engineer in a 30-day studio session. All of these things are big opportunities that came from the kindness of others. People have really helped to build up DON this year-- whether by being fans, collaborators or otherwise. The title of the EP is a dedication to those that have helped us along. Thanks for all the help.

After attending a DON show or listening to your EP, what do you hope to leave listeners with?

The music fans in our generation have a taste that is shaped by all of these genres-- 90s R&B, Hip Hop, old school soul, neo-soul, electronic. We have been shaped by all of those genres too. We want to create a sound on stage that taps into that commonality. We want to celebrate our generation's musical taste. And eventually come to push the boundaries of their taste too.

The release of your first EP marks the closing of a pivotal chapter in DON’s career. What’s next?

We just finished our debut EP-- we put the sound that we've been developing these past couple years on a record. In a few months, we'd like to make another short project where we cement that sound while collaborating with other artists in the Seattle scene. We're big fans of a lot of folks in the scene. They’re some of our main inspirations. Then, after that's out, we'll work on evolving the sound into a new direction.

Until then, we're going to play as many shows as we can with as many groups as we can-- hopefully some more touring ones! It’s been great to play with D.R.A.M. and Sango and big names like that. We really look up to them.

And who do you want to collaborate with in the Seattle scene?

MistaDC, Kyo-Ken (he used to be a member of DON, actually—‘Elizabeth’ on the EP is co-written and produced by him), Dave B, Paris Alexa, Sol, Nyles Davis, Travis Thompson, Taylar Elizza Beth, Samurai Del, DoNormaal, and plenty more that I don’t have time to mention here!

This One Goes Out To The EP dropped 6/1 on Soundcloud, Spotify, and Apple Music. Catch them this Saturday at U District’s Sunday School, headlining The HeadLiner HeadBanger.