It has been three long years since 26 year old Daniel Merriweather swapped the streets of Melbourne and his native Australia for the cosmopolitan bustle of Manhattan, downtown NYC. The road to the release of his debut album Love & War however, stretches back even further, across continents, decades, relationships, moods and struggles. A few of you may know Daniel as the emotive voice on his producer Mark Ronson’s chart-busting cover of The Smiths Stop Me.
He is however, anything but a set of rent-a-pipes and Love & War will rapidly tear up any pre-conceived ideas of what and who he is, as will five minutes in his company. Born and bred in a blue-collar area in Melbourne's outer east, Daniel Paul Merriweather was one of three boys born to teacher parents. “It was a humble sort of lifestyle. I spent quite a bit of time on my own as a kid, I used to travel long distances on my own and over think things." Indeed thinking and over thinking is a running theme in the youth & young manhood of Merriweather.
As a teen, Daniel was distracted a lot, and ended up getting himself into trouble. “I was fighting against something…”, he explains... It was at this point he found himself in often tricky and sometimes violent situations. Daniel may have avoided jail, but he did end up dropping out of high school. “There weren’t a lot of options for me at that point” he says, “I’m not stupid so I could have made more options for myself I guess, but at the time it was hard because you have to make money and survive. I worked at KFC for a couple of months and it wasn’t for me so in the end I thought I’ll try this music lark,” he laughs. Music thankfully had always been part of Daniel’s life. “I started playing violin when I was four, the Suzuki violin; where basically you learn to play by ear without reading music. You begin with a ruler and a tissue box, you learn posture first and foot stance, and then step by step you learn more and more technique. By 13 I was playing Vivaldi concertos I’d learnt by ear even though I couldn’t read music." "I’ve always sung, and in many ways my voice was always my first real instrument, from singing Elvis Presley songs in the shower, to falling in love with r&b and hip hop in the 90s. I was always into anything that meant something vocally or if someone made a good sound with their voice, whether it was D’angelo, Boyz II Men, Nas, Thom Yorke, Otis Redding, Jeff Buckley or whatever. To summon emotion it doesn’t always have to be complicated. You can say more with just a few words. I've realised now you don’t have to spend ages over explaining things, you end up chasing your own tail”.
A philosophy he has subsequently applied to his own work. Having quickly garnered industry attention in Australia, signing with indie-label Marlin, he begun work on tracks for his debut album that he would later shelve before release because the label just "wasn't ready and that’s not how I wanted it to be." Thankfully nature intervened and his demos came to the attention of Mark Ronson who instantly fell in love with his voice. What followed was not only the birth of a unique working partnership but also a great friendship. After a couple painstaking years of commuting to and fro from Australia, Mark and partner Rich Kleinman's embryonic label Allido Records with its new found relationship with J Records was ready to begin work on bringing Daniel to the masses.
But the road to Love & War doesn’t end there; 18 months of writing and recording, months on the road touring with Ronson’s Version Players band and one nasty incident with a polyp on his vocal chords and its subsequent recovery period later leads you to the record that you are hearing now. “I just felt something had changed. I went back into the studio after I’d recovered. You think I’d be more cautious with it but it actually freed me up. You could die tomorrow and so I might as well go and sing the fuck out of these songs. Singing is an emotional thing; you’re giving a lot – a month or two off and getting back into the studio felt really good.” “Every song started with me sitting down with a guitar but they all ended up somewhere totally different.
That is why working with Mark was a real blessing, he works a lot with the Dap Kings. I brought them a whole bunch of songs that they wouldn’t naturally play on and their amazing musicianship really helped these songs evolve. I wanted to let go of genres and make an album of just songs being played by good people. I wanted it to be a natural one, to innocently maybe naively find its own place...These days there is too much thinking and not enough singing songs, whatever happened to singing songs?" It is every bit the classic debut one would have hoped & more, filled from start to finish with thrilling hit singles to boot, and is a long, long way from busking on a street corner in Melbourne, just to earn a buck.