Daniel Merriweather never brought the dessert. “Something came up, he’ll bring you cupcakes next time,” promised his publicist, explaining the 25-year-old Australian crooner’s failure to make our initial interview. “He never does this.”
Soulful, velvety, and nostalgic (“I love early, cheesy R&B. I can’t help it!”), Merriweather’s voice overtook airwaves last year with “Stop Me,” a cover of the Smiths, and the first single released from Mark Ronson’s smash album Version. Initially, Merriweather wasn’t so sure. “I thought it would be insulting and a stretch for me to sing it,” he admits. But the more he listened to it, the more he was convinced. “I love the way Morrissey paints pictures. His lyrics are always tiny segments of a story, like a collage.”
Merriweather arrives for our rescheduled interview, on time and weighted down with apologies. “I’m sorry, I get my wires crossed sometimes,” he confesses, charming in jeans, a plaid button-down, and fedora. It’s easy to overlook the missing cupcakes.
BLACKBOOK: How do you come up with material for your songs?
DANIEL MERRIWEATHER: I love interactions between people. I find it quite fascinating how certain things can affect a relationship. Sometimes I base my material on an actual incident that happened, like a breakup or a relationship that I’ve had. But sometimes writing a song about people is almost like a mathematical experiment.
BB: And where do you observe these interactions?
DM: The subway is always a fascinating place, because people are always coming and going. It’s the same with airports. People are sitting in a still position, but they’re thinking about where they’ve been and where they’re going. It’s a rare moment. If you’re anywhere else, you’re normally focused on right now. When you’re in travel, you’re sort of in two places. It’s interesting to see how people act in that situation.
BB: Let’s talk about your album.
DM: It’s called Love and War—a nice, fun title. I really like the idea of big things interacting with small things, and opposites interacting with each other.
BB: Do you have a favorite track?
DM: There’s one called “For Your Money,” which I really love. That’s one of the most recent ones I wrote. It’s kind of a sad song. It’s about someone who is running out of time, and watching people around them tick by as well. It’s about getting through a situation while watching everyone around you doing the exact same thing.
BB: If you hadn’t hooked up with Mark Ronson, what sort of experiences do you think you’d be learning from?
DM: Well, I used to work at KFC, and that was great. I just couldn’t work out why they made cooking so complicated. You have to put all the different parts of the chicken in this rack, and then you put them in the deep fryer. But they have to be in the right order. So I spent three months getting $4.60 an hour to learn whether the breast goes next to the drumstick or not, and at the end of it I felt as if I’d lost something. I quit after the training period, which was kind of stupid because I would have gotten an extra dollar an hour if I’d stayed on for another three months.
BB: So you never actually broke into the food service industry?
DM: Oh no, they kept me in the back.
BB: When your album comes out, people are going to take notice. Are you prepared?
DM: I sort of keep to myself. I make my music and I get on stage, and I love doing that. I was talking to this guy the other day who described touring as living in a submarine. And it kind of is. You’re on a tour bus and you’ve got fifteen people on it, all little bunk beds, and sometimes you don’t really get a hotel room. It’s kind of like living in a submarine, with very, very undisciplined alcoholics.
BB: Are there any specific shows you’d like to play?
DM: I really want to do Glastonbury. We did that last year and it was hilarious. There was, like, six inches of mud covering the whole place and it’s like a sea. Everyone was wearing rubber boots. And everyone’s okay with it because everyone’s sort of English and used to mud. I don’t understand it. I’m from a hot country. Wale-—my labelmate on Allido records—was on tour with us, and he’s a sneaker collector. And the look on his face when he got off that bus was like he had literally died. If you live for sneakers and you saw all the mud, this was the last place you’d want to be.
BB: Did you give your friend plastic bags to cover his shoes?
DM: He kept his sneakers on the bus. We got him some rubber boots. But it was weird because—everywhere else in the world—if it’s raining, you know, and there’s mud involved, most people would be like, “Let’s do an indoor activity. Let’s watch TV.” In England, because it rains so much, they’re kind of like, “Oh, let’s do it! It rains everywhere, so we may as well just go camping.” But not me. I’m definitely more into my outfits than my rain.