Meet Stefan Forrest, the Creative Mind Behind some of Today's Top Hits [Q&A]
Multi-platinum, GRAMMY award-winning songwriter Stefan Forrest, aka Don Stefano, has written chart-topping singles for such artists as Lukas Graham, Selena Gomez and Julia Michaels, among others. His emotive songwriting features soaring uplifting melodies and relatable storytelling, striking a cord with audiences around the world. His collaborations have amassed over two billion streams, making him one of the most sought after songwriters and producers in the industry. Now, Stefano is ready to step out on his own with an elevated electro-pop project entitled Future Animals.
Future Animals' latest release, "Last Summer," features deep penetrating vocals over a synth driven ascending rhythm. Culminating in a full sensory overload, "Last Summer" is the indie electronic anthem for the season. I sat down with Future Animals to discuss his unique creative process, upcoming music, and his collaboration with other prominent artists.
OTW: So you've recently released your latest single "Last Summer." Can you tell me more about the creative process that took place when constructing this song?
Stefan: I just got my first vocoder, so I was just curious to see what this encryption device could bring to the table. I sat at home, started experimenting and found it incredibly entertaining. Within minutes my relationship with the vocoder developed into a brand-new chorus for "Last Summer." I rarely think: "now I have to make a song that sounds a certain way." In reality, I just go with the flow. When I hear a new sound, a new beat or a new voice, I just want to develop on it. I don't like to be absorbed in specific genres, I just produce and play the music that I like. If I like it, it doesn't matter whether it's country, electronic, jazz, rap or whatever.
OTW: What was your inspiration for the track and what kind of emotions does it evoke?
Stefan: Usually, I produce the melody first, and build a random skeleton of weird noises that makes no sense at all. I did the same with this song, but when I heard the first draft of "Last Summer," I was thrilled right away. I just thought "let's do that again!" We did it again and was caught by a vibe of summer. In my crew, we always talk about how dope last summer was, and that we would like next summer to be just as awesome. All great experiences flourish in the summer, so my new single is produced to cherish and honor great experiences.
OTW: What was your experience working with Lukas Graham and what was that connection like?
Stefan: I have been working with Lukas since we were around 15 or 16 years old. We have had an incomparable connection from the very beginning. Our relationship works exactly like a game of ping-pong. I make a serve with a wild swerve, Lukas manages to return the serve and puts me under pressure, which makes me leap into the air and catch the ball before it hits the surface. In many ways we are each other's opposites, but that dynamic is what makes our cooperation special and rewarding. If I think one way about something, he thinks the opposite, if I want to do something, he wants to do something else. But the amazing thing is, we always end up agreeing on how we should move forward. We inspire each other and our different mindsets enables us to constantly develop on our projects. Our different ways of thinking, and our respect for each other, ensure that no element will go unnoticed when we create music together. We always end up in a place where none of us would have ended if we didn't have each other. Lukas recently helped me write the lyrics for "Crazy Love," so we still work together, and I think we always will - in one way or the other."
OTW: You’ve worked with some phenomenal artists and songwriters, is there anyone in particular you feel creatively pushed you in a certain direction?
Stefan: I'm extremely inspired by JRM and NOVA Wav. When you hear the girls from NOVA Wav, as they are just jamming in the studio, you get literally blown away. Their music sounds like something you have never heard before. It's fresh and it represents the definition of originality. Both Blu and Chi are amazing songwriters, but they have exceptionally strong artists hidden inside of them as well. If you know Blu, you would know that DJ Khaled's new single "Just Us (feat. SZA)" is the brilliant work of hers. It feels like it is almost her singing it. I'm seriously a fan of NOVA Wav. The same is true for JRM. When I met him for the first time, I felt it right away. He is gifted and brings something new and genuine to the music industry. You know the feeling of just wanting more? That's exactly the feeling JRM and NOVA Wav gives me."
OTW: What challenges have arisen while navigating through this changing industry?
Stefan: To be frank, I find the rapid changing landscape of the music industry exciting. Of course, you had a shaky feeling in the beginning, where the sales of CD's plummeted, but I have mainly been a part of the new wave, so I haven't felt, seen or experienced the rise and fall of the good old CD. I have been feeling very opportunistic about the development in the music industry, because I think we will experience, discover and be met by even more great opportunities. Nowadays, we have the opportunity to be independent, we can release our music from our own record label and reach millions of people. You couldn't do that in the good old days. I embrace the changes of the industry. You just have to make sure that all parties in the puzzle gets their cut.
OTW: What advice would you give a rising artist/songwriter looking to find his or her voice in the music industry?
Stefan: My best advice is very simple. You have to give a lot without expecting to get anything in return. At least I did that a lot. If you love to play the piano, and someone calls you to come and play the piano, then you just go and play that piano. It's never the job you get asked to do that makes the difference, it's the situation that arises after and as a result of that job you want to seek. Do not expect or ask for money - play for free and play because you love it. If music is not something you just can't help playing, then a career in the music industry is just not cut out for you. Money can't be the driving force.
OTW: Lastly, who are your Ones to Watch?
Stefan: I know it's a bit boring, but I have to mention JRM and NOVA Vaw once again. JRM is a great songwriter and artist. He has helped me write "Ask For It," "Crazy Love" and "Love Someone" with Lukas. He hasn't released anything solo yet, but I know it's on its way. He really has some exciting things coming in the near future. JRM is without a doubt the definition of "One to Watch." I already told you about my admiration for NOVA Vaw, so I will let you off the hook and just cement that they will be a household name in the future.