Would-Be Nuclear Engineer Spurns Big Money for Life of Reggae, Youth Mentoring

A former engineering student forms strong bonds in Seattle’s music scene.
Reggae musician and instructor Daniel Pak at his home studio in Leschi.

When Daniel Pak first stepped onto the University of Washington (UW) Quad as a prospective student nearly 20 years ago, he knew Seattle was the place for him. “It was a gut feeling,” says the UW alum, who graduated with a degree in metallurgical engineering and was quickly recruited for a job with a six-figure salary as a nuclear engineer in O‘ahu, where he grew up.

But he turned the job down to pursue his passion: reggae. He’d first grown to love the music during jam sessions on the beach in Kāne‘ohe, his hometown, and later, in the band he started after college, Kore Ionz (its name is a riff on atomic particles). Over time, as the band played festivals like Bumbershoot and Folklife, recorded albums and toured, the Kore Ionz name came to represent the bonds he nurtured within the music community. In a world with “oppositely charged sides,” he says, “I want my music to bring people together.”

Kore Ionz is now one of Pak’s many music-based endeavors. Chief among his others is Totem Star, the nonprofit, youth-powered recording label he started in 2010 and runs out of Youngstown Cultural Arts Center in West Seattle with music veteran Thaddeus Turner (of Thaddillac, Reggie Watts’ Maktub, Digable Planets and other bands). The free program, partnering with local schools and organizations like Arts Corps, offers instruction in every aspect of the music industry, from networking and gig booking to composition and performance. It focuses on “keeping kids off the streets, in the studio, and on the stage,” Pak says.

“It’s a transformative experience and a safe, encouraging environment,” says Pak, a Leschi resident and married father of two. One of his biggest inspirations, he says, is the spirit of Hawai‘i, with its laid-back culture and the creative opportunity he found there. 

“One thing I’ve learned is my role as an ambassador of aloha and a teacher of love, with music as my tool.” 

Vital Stats
Music-Motivated Multitasker

When he’s not coaching soccer or teaching his two young boys ukulele, Pak helps develop music-centric policies as one of the city’s music commissioners, and provides programming assistance and advocacy for events such as the Songwriter’s Summit and the Seattle Slack Key Guitar Festival as governor of the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Grammys.

Reggae Roll Call

Kore Ionz has shared the stage with many founding fathers of reggae, including Natural Vibrations, The Wailers, Toots and the Maytals
and Steel Pulse.

BONUS: Check out a video we did with Daniel Pak in 2014 here.

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