Some bands seem to be blessed from birth, predestined to pay minimal dues, and fated to ascend the local music scene with enviable ease. Which is not to imply no hard work or talent are involved; they surely are. But many hard-working, skilled musicians never make it beyond a cursed Tuesday night opening slot at a 100-capacity venue.

Forming in the plague-y spring of 2021, Seattle sextet Day Soul Exquisite appear to be among the city's Chosen Ones, and based on their new debut EP Sanguine & Cardamom and their dynamite performances at Freakout Fest, Timber Fest, Belltown Bloom, and many other large events, their rapid rise is richly deserved. Key connections with Artist Home director and KEXP DJ Kevin Sur and support from KEXP personalities Reverend Dollars and Kennady Quille also have assisted in their success.

With their flamboyant fusions of neo-soul, R&B, jazz, psych-rock, and Caribbean elements, Day Soul Exquisite create a sound as diverse as their queer, BIPOC lineup. Fronted by Congolese-American vocalist-guitarist-lyricist Francesca Eluhu, DSE include Zora Seboulisa, Lillian Minke Tahar, Xiomara Mills-DuPree, Thomas Arndt, and Josh Pehrson. They came together mainly through the persuasive powers of Eluhu's flyering of Central District businesses and libraries. The flyer—which contained a list of influences numbering nearly 100 names, including the Internet, Hiatus Kaiyote, Stevie Wonder, and Mos Def—lured in these excellent musicians, and they've been making stunning progress onstage and in the studio ever since.

“None of us knew each other at the beginning of this,” says percussionist/bassist Arndt in an interview conducted at the band's rehearsal space in Groovebox Studios. “We were coming out of the deepest part of the pandemic and this place became our new pod and we spent so much intimate time together. We became a crew and a family through this process of meeting each other musically.” Arndt and Eluhu bonded over their love of Brazilian music; the former briefly lived in that South American country and the latter was in the midst of a serious Arthur Verocai phase.

The week before DSE's first jam session with Eluhu and Pehrson, bassist/guitarist/vocalist Seboulisa had just undergone Achilles surgery. She was “high as fuck on pain meds” and in a walking cast, but she agreed to come to the session on less than a day's notice. Sometimes you just know that the sacrifice is going to be worth it. Eluhu met Tahar through a mutual friend who'd put them in a group chat that consisted of Seattle-based BIPOC artists. “I asked, 'Do you want to jam today?' and she said yes, and pulled up in my garage,” Eluhu says. “Xiomara I met at Karinyo's house at a jam.” That Xia, as they're known, played keys and sax was very appealing to Eluhu. Pehrson was mainly attracted by the Hiatus Kaiyote namedrop on Francesca's flyer. He plays drums and bass in three groups on the heavy-metal spectrum, including the “beatdown/grindcore” unit Groundfeeder, but DSE is his main priority.

Originally from Nashville, Eluhu went to Williams College in Massachusetts, where she studied math and economics. She moved to Seattle after getting a job as a business consultant. While she didn't know much about this city, she was drawn to it by its abundant weed, nature, and water. As a bonus, she found a welcoming music community, including kindred spirits Breaks and Swells and the RUB.

When the pandemic hit, Eluhu lost her job, and that spurred her to learn more about music. “I was always writing lyrics on the job, but then I really started to invest more time in it. I learned production and met a lot of awesome people, and that helped. I feel when you're playing with people all the time, it helps you to grow faster than you would otherwise.”

Eager to work in the music business, Eluhu started her own label, La fem Records, before she even thought to form DSE. “But then I realized I just wanted to be in the studio, as close to the creation of music as possible,” says Eluhu, who now works at Wa Na Wari. Her main motivation for creating music is to “make a platform for queer BIPOC narratives, because I felt like [they weren't] given a proper place in media.”

Arndt adds, “There's this organic way that both our lyrics and our music come together around breaking all barriers. We connect in a lot of ways musically, but we also have varied backgrounds, from jazz to Caribbean to metal to R&B to punk to classical. There was no point where we said, 'We want to create this kind of band.' It was just we want to express ourselves musically together and we want to talk about the issues that are important to us.”

"There's no space for something boring or usual." Lily Wenbao

It's interesting how dynamic DSE's songs are, replete with multiple movements. The songs seem complicated, but also relatively accessible. There's a lot more going on in the compositions than you typically hear in most R&B, soul, and funk. Things are pretty unpredictable. “That's how it feels,” Perhson says, to much laughter. “We like to experiment.”

“Part of that comes from our band composition,” Seboulisa says. “Obviously, it comes from our personalities and background and all of that. Also, the fact that we have six members and, especially when I'm on guitar, I'm often weaving between the keys and Francesca's vocals and guitar and I end up doing something weird because there's no space otherwise. There's no space for something boring or usual.”

When I first caught DSE at Freakout Fest, the lineup struck me as an interesting mutation of Sly & the Family Stone: multiracial and multi-gendered, but the leader wasn't an alpha-male peacock, but rather a part of a democratic collective. So, it makes sense that they covered “If You Want Me to Stay” over the summer, with Arndt adding a samba beat and playing a shaker that they obtained in Brazil. Let's hope that song makes it to a record someday.

The title of Day Soul's EP, Sanguine & Cardamom, derives from a poem by Seboulisa in the pensive, acoustic-guitar interlude “Sum of Our Parts.” She says, “It's from the lyric 'They taste me and navigate to my consumption/Feast on the sanguine and cardamom.' It was this idea of being a Black queer person and being so rejected by the world and society, but then also so desired in secret in certain ways. The idea of being wanted only when it's convenient or only when people feel like they can get something from you.

“I was trying to contrast to this sweet taste that you might imagine in tea or something like that with blood and viscera. That ended up summing up a lot of the songs in that they're kind of about self-actualization in the face of adversity, in the face of oppression and fucking capitalist hellscapes.”

Eluhu notes that “there's a vulnerability to it that's beautiful and captures a lot of what the album's about. [It's] super-introspective about healing, but also commenting on where the harm was coming from. I think our music is also shifting to more retrospection and political commentary on what's going on in the world.”

The EP abounds with highlights. The first single, “Disentangle,” is a luxuriously languorous ballad that would make fans of Minnie Riperton and Syreeta swoon. About five minutes into its seven-minute running time, the song accelerates and soars, spurred on by Mills-DuPree's euphoric sax solo, galloping to the vanishing point with a foxy flourish. The melodically and rhythmically sophisticated soul-jazz of “Yonic” animates what seems to be a paean to lesbian sex, buoyed by Tahar's deliriously joyful piano solo. “Mosaic” is a spectral, unconventionally beautiful ballad in the Stevie Wonder vein, but it unexpectedly revs up into a rousing jazz-rock coda with a wickedly distorted guitar solo. Sanguine's longest cut, “Abattoir,” begins as a lovestruck ballad, but gradually morphs into a frenzied, free-jazz blowout that recalls UK post-punk-jazz ensemble Rip Rig + Panic (Neneh Cherry's pre-fame band). It's a helluva climax.

I posit that with six people equally contributing in the band, writing songs seems like it could be a pretty complicated process, to which everyone laughs and agrees. So, it probably takes a while for tracks to come together?

“At the beginning,” Eluhu says, “I was bringing a melody or something, and then everyone would expound on that and it would turn into this beautiful thing that I could have never anticipated it would become. But we're diving into more just playing in the moment. We just jam, and from there we'll take pieces... We record our rehearsals, so we'll take snippets from that and be like, 'Oh, I really loved minute 48. Let's come back to that.' Zora and I will write lyrics to that.”

“We're all so open to so many different ideas,” Arndt says. “We also have a lo-fi hip-hop love, so there's a lot of openness to quick cuts and production. At any moment, there's a million different directions we could go. 'Let's go double time. What if we went half time? What if we pitch-shifted it?'”

“Our creative process flows quite naturally and easily,” Eluhu says. “It's the editing that's super-hard.” Seboulisa quips, “We squeeze out 70% of a song, and then that last 30% takes six months.” 

This year is looking momentous for DSE. Their EP comes out January 19 on CD via La fem and on cassette through Den Tapes, with a sold out release party a day later at Clock-Out Lounge. On January 21, they air a mix on KEXP's Midnight in a Perfect World program and two days later they record an Audioasis in-studio set for KEXP. April brings a Pacific Northwest tour and the summer will see them returning to Timber Fest on July 27. And it's still only January.

“We're always growing and experimenting,” Eluhu says in response to a question about their post-Sanguine music. “Change is inevitable and we embrace it. But also, we've learned so much from the EP, so I think we're really honing in our sound. We're still leaving room for the unknown.”

Day Soul Exquisite's Sanguine & Cardamom EP Release Party happens January 20 at Clock-Out Lounge, with La Fonda and Breaks & Swells opening. $15 adv/ $18 DOS, 21+. Tickets were sold out at press time.