Melbourne-born crooner Daniel Merriweather is looking forward to coming home to Australia. Before touring with Kimbra, and playing his own solo shows, Merriweather spoke with Time Out about working with Mark Ronson, covering the Smiths and what we can expect from his forthcoming album.
You’re playing a bunch of smaller gigs as well as the Kimbra show. Do you prefer that to the big arena stuff?
I love it way more. In England, when I toured it was on a much larger scale, and as fun as it was to sell out like 3,000-people venues, and feel like you’re a rock star for a couple of weeks [laughs], it’s so much more intimate and fun to play smaller venues and be able to talk with the crowd. The other night in Melbourne at Phoenix Bar I felt like I was having a conversation, like, people were talking back and I could hear them and I was talking back to them, so it’s a different experience. I think a lot of my songs at the moment, especially my new stuff, comes across a lot better in a more intimate setting.
So what can we can we expect from this new material?
It’s definitely an evolutionary step forward, with a little more beat-centric production. For lack of a better term, I’m really an independent artist right now and I’m free of an A&R guy leering over my shoulder so it’s been nice to really get into the studio and just throw caution to the wind and get some good songs down.
Have you been working with Mark Ronson at all this time?
I haven’t. Last time I spoke to him was at his wedding which is a little while ago now and we said we were going to get up and work together but it’s just been kind of crazy for me at the moment because I’ve been touring and he’s been working with a bunch of different people. I think after Love & War came out every sentence with my name would be followed by all these artists that have contributed to what I do and people I work with, which obviously is lovely, but I just really wanted to step out from under that umbrella and showcase what I’ve been doing after that in my own right. Ronson’s sound had a stranglehold of pop music for a while in the UK with Amy [Winehouse]’s album and my album and then the Dap Kings. So now I feel like it’s almost a statement for me to step outside of that and do stuff that’s a little different, drawing on influences that come more from the '90s, from my teenage years, my formative years in music.
You have a pretty epic touring history: you’ve played Glastonbury and supported artists like Kanye West, Justin Timberlake and Biz Markie. You must have some great stories to come out of that.
Yeah actually it was really funny opening for Biz Markie because it was at this club that’s now closed down in Brooklyn called Southpaw and I was meant to be the opening spot for him and he was meant to go on at 11.30pm. I was meant to go on at 10.30pm and it all opened with a DJ set but Biz Markie, I guess he wanted to go out and do something earlier so he switched spots with me. Now these hardcore hip-hop fans from Brooklyn were all there just to see him, they had no idea who I was then here I am, this Australian r’n’b singer on stage. They saw him, and it was really nice because they actually all stuck around and payed me a little bit of attention.
Is there anyone that you would really love to have supporting you on tour?
I actually just did a show in Melbourne and these guys called City Calm Down opened for me and I really loved it, I’d love for them to do another show with me at some point. I also have Omar Musa who’s a brilliant poet from Melbourne doing some shows with me; he’ll be at my Sydney show as well. He’s got a song up on YouTube at the moment called “My Generation”. It’s definitely unconventional to have a poet get up halfway through your set but that’s the beauty of my fans is that they’ll stand there and really listen intently.
Are there any live surprises people will need to come to your shows to see?
I’m doing a cover of Nine Inch Nails’ 'Closer' at a lot of the shows which I’ve sorted re-interpreted as an r'n'b slow jam and that’s really fun to do.
Do you really enjoy the challenge of re-imagining something and giving it your own sound?
Yeah I do. I think with 'Closer' it’s such an angsty song and I love juxtaposition, I love opposites and I like the idea of making it almost like a romantic, sexy song, almost in an ironic way, so I’m enjoying that challenge.
I read an interview with you where you said that the worst reaction you’ve had to any release was all the hate from crazy Smiths fans [after you released 'Stop Me']. Is that an ongoing annoyance?
[Laughs] No, they’ve sort of calmed down. It was just such a big song in the UK that everyone knew it and I think it was just the Smiths’ fans, they’re so diehard and they’re like a cult, they all have shrines to Morrissey in their bedrooms so it was kind of blasphemous for this soul singer to come along and reinterpret this guy’s lyrics. But [Morrissey] liked it and it’s really weird how something can grow on people because I had diehard Smiths fans come up to me later on and be like “Oh you know what? I actually like your version of it now. I used to hate it but now I like it.” Covering Nine Inch Nails, I’m probably going to have the same response from people but there are covers that work and covers that don’t and if your heart’s in the right place I think you should do it.
What drew you to living overseas?
It really just convenience at the start. I got a record deal in New York and everyone that I was working with was living there. But there’s nothing stopping me from coming back and spending more time in Melbourne or Sydney because I really do love it down here but I have a feeling that I want to branch out a little bit so I may move to LA.
Is there anything that you’re really looking forward to doing in Sydney while you’re here?
Yeah, my girlfriend’s from LA and she’s never been to a Sydney beach before and I’m really looking forward to being like “See? We’ve got the best beaches in the world!” [laughs]. So I’m probably going to do a lot of tourist-y stuff to show her what we have to offer, because Sydney’s so beautiful you know? I’m from Melbourne and I love Melbourne but I love it for different reasons. Sydney has definitely got a paradise-type vibe to it.