UK Soul singer Daley defies convention. His appearance alone will tell you that. What it wont tell you is that his frame houses sultry smooth vocals reminiscent of eras past. His latest single, "Look Up," produced by Pharrell Williams is a heartfelt tune that peaked at #20 on the UK Singles Charts, and he's carrying that momentum into his official introduction. We chatted with him about his debut album, Days & Nights, his growth as an artist, working with Pharrell, and being the sole beacon of soul in Manchester.
EARMILK: So lets just jump right into it. I first caught wind of you a few years ago via BBC’s Sound of 2011, and I think a lot of folks did. How do you think you’ve grown and progressed to this point to get here?
Daley: it’s funny you know, with the BBC Sound of 2011, thinking about where I was at the time…that was so early in my career. I’d just been signed (in the UK) and I was literally…when I think about where I’m at as an artist now to where I was then I almost didn’t really know [laughs] what I was doing back then. It was kind of like, I’d just got signed and I was writing songs, you know, but I didn’t have an album ready I was just exploring myself as an artist and a writer. So, it was great recognition for me at that time, and I’d just done this song with the Gorillaz so it kind of came off the back of that, but I think since then I’ve been able to collaborate with a lot of people and worked on my own sound and I really feel like my identity has formed in that time, you know? I think now, having finished the album and gained a little more experience in doing so, and it’s kind of put me in a much better position. I don’t think I could’ve thrown an album out at that time ‘cause it wouldn’t have been an accurate representation of what I’m doing. So, yeah, you know I’ve had a lot of great experiences and I’ve traveled and I’ve been signed in the states and I’ve worked with some amazing people and I guess I’ve just grown in that time. Yeah. I’ve grown to a point where I’m ready to put my album out now.
EM: You talked a little bit about your process and how that has evolved. How would you say your writing has changed in that time? Where do you find inspiration now and how do songs come together for you now as opposed to when you were first starting out?
D: In between that time and now, I’ve really learned to listen to my purest thought or my purest feeling. I think when I first started writing there was this kind of scramble like, ‘what do I need to write about?’ and ‘what does it need to say about me?’ and ‘what do I need to portray here?’ and it was a bit too…I don’t know almost a bit too ambitious. When I first started the writing was too eager in some ways because I think I almost hindered myself, you know? But as I went and continued to write…you know, another important thing is letting people hear the music, so I put out my mixtape [Those Who Wait] and that was like a completely unofficial, you know, there wasn’t a label involved it was just like put the music out and see people’s reaction to it. So that also allowed me to see when I was writing the songs that people connected to the ones where I sat down and just wrote about exactly how I felt at that moment rather than try to construct a song in a nonlinear way so I think now when I sit down I’ll just try and think of the thing that’s on my mind the most and try to summarize it into a sentence and just write that down and then just put out the song from there because I think when I listen to a song I just want to relate. I just really want to feel like there’s something I can connect to in that song. So, I find that now rather than try and be too clever or try to overcomplicate things I stay true to the essence of the feeling.
EM: Yeah being relatable is absolutely a key to connecting to music and an artist. In that regard, can you tell the folks that don’t know you a little bit about your background? You’re from Manchester, right?
D: Yeah, yeah I am.
EM: Can you tell me a little bit about what led you to music and what led you to bring your art to the masses?
D: Yeah. I’m from Manchester in the UK which is kind of like the second biggest city, but it’s, I guess compared to London it’s a much smaller city, you know, so I come from a small town just outside of it. I kind of grew up in a really suburban, normal – almost like painfully normal – upbringing [both laugh] you know, and obviously I’m very grateful for my upbringing and my parents, but I didn’t have any particular hardships to kind of throw me into music and I didn’t have a musical family so it was just literally something I gravitated to to kind of take me away from the normality that was just… ‘cause, had I not, I feel like I would’ve just fallen into a very normal kind of boring life.
EM: The sort of cliché, “9 to 5” deal.
D: Yeah, yeah exactly. I think I was a little bit scared of that because that’s what a lot of people around me were doing so I kind of got by for a couple of years, like I did some design jobs and things like that, and it was all just to sort of get me on my feet to pursue the music. And in terms of the music itself, I think Manchester…there was no scene for the music I made in Manchester. I was kind of a loner. Over there it’s very indie, kind of band, kind of like electronic music and there was nowhere for me to be soulful or do this kind of this vocal, heartfelt music that I was making at the time so it really forced me to just stay in my room and create that sound and that feeling I guess. So, that’s what I did. Then I eventually moved down to London and caught the attention of people who were doing live shows and just being able to get my music heard by more people, and it kind of led on from there really. I spent some time writing and then I put out this mixtape – as I was saying before [Those Who Wait], which I had no expectations for I just wanted people to hear me and what I do because I’d done the song with the Gorillaz before but that was really their thing even though I wrote the song it didn’t really say a lot about me as an artist I don’t think. So, I wanted Those Who Wait to really give people – you know, it’s almost an album really – just so they could know what I was doing. That kind of pushed things on quite quickly in my career in the sense of being signed, getting a record deal, and then doing some traveling, coming to the states, and it kind of led on from there, really. You know, it’s been a great couple of years. I released “Alone Together,” that I wrote with Marsha Ambrosius, and that allowed me to do some tours over in the states and things like that, and, yeah, now here I am with the album Days & Nights, which I kind of finished off at the end of last year.
EM: Yeah, you’re only a few days away from the release. That’s gotta be exciting and nerve racking all at the same time. All this work that you’ve put in and here it is.
D: Yup. Yeah, definitely.
EM: So let’s talk about Days & Nights a little bit, actually. Can you tell me about what went into making the record? What went into putting this album together? What was it like trying to cram everything you wanted to say into this complete package?
D: Yeah, definitely. It was kind of difficult because I’ve essentially been writing the album for about two years, maybe even a little longer if I’m honest, and obviously I’ve changed within that time so in some ways it was a disjointed way to write an album but that’s just the way it happened naturally. I worked with a lot of producers on the album – different producers, which also can be quite unusual. It’s not like I just went into the studio with one person or two people and wrote the whole thing, you know? It’s like, I kind of went around and picked and pulled pieces together and it was kind of like a puzzle in some ways I had to fit it together. But I knew, in terms of the songs and the things I wanted to speak about and the things I wanted to say, I kind of knew what they were so it was me kind of following that path and pulling in the songs that I felt made that work. So that’s kind of how I went about it, and then in terms of when it really started to feel like an album, ‘cause I’d been writing for a while but there comes a point where you’re like ‘okay, I know what this album is now’, you know, and it sort of started feeling like I was writing an album. I did some work with Bernard Butler in the UK and I wrote the title track, “Days & Nights,” and another song called “She Fades” and he did some work on a song called “Broken,” and I really felt like that was the most unique song sonically on the album. That gave the album its identity. So that’s when it felt like I was writing the album, and then I was really psyched to be able to go over to the states and write with Pharrell and Dre & Vidal and Illangelo and a couple of other people, you know, really talented producers who were just really good at bringing together the vision I had for the album. Days & Nights itself is kind of about…I found myself almost split into two personas on the album: this kind of really hopeful, blissful approach to love and life where it’s kind of optimistic and that kind of represents the days and then the nights are more your moments of despair where you kind of lose hope a little bit whether its with love or with your career or, you know, just the ups and downs that you go through in life and I really felt like it was kind of splitting off into those two lanes. And you know everybody has that, everyone has their light and dark persona: one where they’re kind of hopeful and one where they’re kind of at rock bottom, and I went through all of those things writing this album. So that’s kind of where the concept comes from.
EM: You mentioned Pharrell [who produced the latest single, “Look up”] can you talk to me a little bit about what it’s like working with Pharrell? He’s one of the more mythological producers out there – people hear a lot about working with him second hand and then to get to do that is a crazy experience – so can you talk about working with somebody like him?
D: Yeah, I mean, it was definitely probably one of the moments in my career that was like, you know, I was getting to work with someone that I truly had always looked up to and whose music I had grown up with so, first of all, it was a massive honor to work with him, and then after I realized how honored I was I kind of got a bit scared because I was like, ‘well, what if we don’t write a good song?’ or ‘what if we don’t connect?’ or something. That would just be terrible because, you know, he’s someone who I respect so much. So then I went through this little period of worry where I was wondering what it was going to be like. But, we bumped into each other a couple of times before the session and we had a chance to talk about what we might want to do and things like that and then we managed to make it happen when I was in LA. He’s just…one thing that I’ve found and learned over my journey as well is that when you put two musicians in a room it doesn’t matter how successful one of them is or how famous or whatever, you know? He’s successful for a reason and that reason is that he’s a musician. So, we got in the room and it was just like playing music and getting into each other’s heads you know in terms of where I was at and where he was at and what we were going to create. We spent the first day just playing songs, just like songs that we liked, songs that we grew up listening to and things like that and he would play me some songs that he thought kind of reminded him of me, you know like stuff that he felt like was my thing. So that was kind of cool to see his perspective on me as an artist as well. Then the next day we just came in and we just started playing around with some kind of chords and put together the sonics. Then I just wrote the lyrics and it fell together really nicely so, you know, I can definitely understand why he’s successful and why he continues to be successful, you know? Because he’s serious about the music and…yeah we had fun, man.
EM: You talked about him being one of the guys you looked up to. Who would you say has had the biggest influence on your music?
D: I always say that if I had to pick one artist who has probably influenced me the most I would say Prince, and that’s because I discovered his music at a time where I was really looking for an artist to really get into, an artist that could really help me understand what it’s like to be an artist: to write your own songs, to have a vision for yourself in terms of the way you look the way you sound…the way you want to do the whole thing, and Prince definitely made me understand that whole thing. You know, listening to his music he kind of made me realize that there is no wrong way to do anything really. Like, as long as you have the confidence to do it and pull it off and you know that you have some form of talent to do it, then you can just do that. And obviously just musically he’s incredible. He’s covered so many genres and so much time. I’m trying to think of the first Prince album I was listening to…I mean, I guess it was probably Purple Rain when I really got into it, and then after that I just when everywhere through iTunes, through everything I could…through all my parents CD collections and just got as much Prince as I could and just soaked it up. So, yeah, I’d say Prince was the main artist that inspired me.
EM: Okay, so, tell me…what’s on your list of things to accomplish this year now? The album is done. It’s here. So what’s next for you?
D: I think the first thing I have to do, just take it step by step, I want to hold my album in my hands. I haven’t even had a physical copy of it yet. So, that’s my first goal.
D: Hopefully, I’ll achieve that next week. Hopefully that wont be too difficult – or maybe to go and actually buy my album in a store or something like that. Kind of a moment I’ve wanted to have all my life, so that will be the first thing.
EM: Is that going to be your “here I am” moment? When you officially walk into a store and your album’s sitting on the shelf and you can purchase it?
D: Yeah, I think so, man. I mean, that’s really something as a kid as well – I don’t really go into record stores as much anymore, but when I was a kid I did, so…obviously I’m going to make the effort for my own album I think. So, that’ll definitely be a moment for me, and then, in terms of the bigger picture, I just really want to take the album to as many people as I can, you know? I want to…while I was making it, with some of the touring that I was doing, playing the album to people…it’s kind of an addiction. It’s addictive in the sense that, having spent all the time writing these songs and putting my emotions into it, getting to share them with people is quite addictive, quite therapeutic. So I just want as many people as possible to hear the album, and I want to be able to travel the world doing it. There will be more singles and videos – I get really involved in the creative process so I want to push those elements as well. So…yeah, just all the usual good stuff. There will be a tour quite soon, maybe April, May. We’ll maybe do some festivals and we’ll see where we get to.
Daley’s debut album, Days & Nights, is out now. Get it on iTunes.