When people discuss soul music, they mention the greats like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Barry White, Teddy Pendergrass. However, naming those who have risen to prominence in recent years is a harder task.
Maybe it's just soul music isn't as popular as it once, or is often blended with various other genres and therefore isn't as recognisable. Whatever the reason one thing's for sure – there are still artists out there fighting for soul music and its place on the popularity spectrum. Daley is one of them.
If you haven't heard the Manchester singer's music by now then you've been sleeping on one of Britain's most gifted exports. Whether it's his effortless range that at times channels a young Prince, or his ability to write songs that pierce the sternum and puncture the heart, he's someone who could sing the contents of the phonebook and you'd be gripped. Getting his start with the Gorillaz, writing and featuring on their 2010 song Doncamatic, he's since worked with other big names such as Pharrell, Marsha Ambrosius and Jill Scott. But while he's held in high regard by his peers, he's often forgotten about when it comes to the conversation of today's best vocalists.
With his second album, The Spectrum, out, IBTimes UK caught up with LA-based Daley while he was in the UK to promote his latest project. Discussing the inspiration behind his new record, as well as the losses of Prince, George Michael and his own manager, Daley opens up and reintroduces himself to the world.
Going from Johnny Cash, the man in black, to Biggie rocking a Coogi sweater in '96, Daley is in a transitional mood. Leaving behind what he calls his "funeral attire", he felt it was time to embrace the spectrum of what he does, vibrant colours and all.
"It's just me breaking out into all the colours that I wanna express. So that's musically, visually and sonically," he says of his new album. "I started off wanting to make a certain kind of album. I thought it was going to be dark and moody and then as I started making it I was thinking that I'm not going to be able to stand on stage and perform those types of songs for an hour and a half. So it's just about embracing that part of me.
"Essentially I had a little realisation – and I think it applies to other areas of life, you know? Don't pigeonhole yourself. It's about just embracing everything wherever along the path it lies. Then musically there are just different vibes on this album. So it felt like the word 'spectrum' was the right way to describe it."
Some artists go into creating something new with a vision of how they want the end product to be right from the off. Daley admits he made a mistake by doing this with The Spectrum, revealing it was a personal rebirth that actually inspired the sound and direction of the album. "Whatever I'd been dealing with over the past two years, that's what inspired it," he explains. "It was like I had a little spiritual awakening in some way. This album is not so much of a heartbreak album like my last."
Gone but not forgotten
Early in 2016, the UK music industry was rocked by the sad news that Richard Antwi, the celebrated music lawyer/executive, had passed away. Antwi had worked closely with the likes of Wretch 32, Estelle and Lethal Bizzle, but was also Daley's manager. Discussing his favourite moments on his new album, Daley points to a song about his late mentor and explains that while he is no longer here in physical form, he is still ever-present.
"There's a song on there called The Fabric, which is basically about Richard. It's pretty much about him and about loss and experiencing that for the first time," he says. "I didn't really intend to make a song about it but it just kinda happened. It's me talking about it and dealing with it. I needed to summarise it and get my head around it all and it was a nice way to do that."
Watch Daley perform live at Essence Fest:
Daley goes on to explain that the title was just as significant because "there's the fabric of life and when we lose people they're still woven into the fabric of our lives. He's still a big part of this album.
"He lives on through it, but not just that, he also lives on through the people he's influenced. So it's a nice feeling for me to feel like he's still a big part of the fabric. It's so nice to feel like he's on the album, or in the album."
Continuing to discuss important influences who have now passed away the conversation moves to Prince and George Michael. A fan of both, Daley was especially influenced by the purple one. "Prince's whole first album was all him. Every bit of music, every instrument, every song was written by him – I don't know whether or not it was mixed and mastered by him but I wouldn't be surprised if it was," he gushes. "It was the vision he had for himself and his music that inspired me, as well as the music itself."
Admitting he might have underplayed how much George Michael influenced him, Daley does remember him from early on in his life. "He was one of the first artists that I really got into. I think my dad had a couple of his albums – Older and Listen Without Prejudice. He actually shaped the way I sing," he explains. "He's the kinda standard that I hold myself up to as a vocalist – that's not to say I'm as good as him or anything like that. The way in which he approached vocals and vocal performances was classy. It was good quality, he took pride in the way he recorded his vocals.
"I actually met him when I was at the studio working with some of his collaborators. They would tell me about his process and how he would record and I was like, 'Yeah, that's how I do it and how I want to do it.' I would spend half an hour on just a line to get it perfect, you know? Apparently just like him."
"I just listen to the artists that inspire me and the music that makes me feel nostalgic – not like old music but music that makes me feel nostalgic about my childhood or teenage years," Daley says when asked about the music he listens to today. Agreeing that there aren't too many artists now from the soul music genre who are inspiring the masses, he does recommend one artist in particular: "I like Ro James, he's really good. He's just doing the right things and he's worked really hard for it. He's been grinding for quite some time."
Ending the interview by addressing the fact that you don't need to really be able to sing to be considered a singer today, Daley simply says: "I think it's been like that long before me. I mean there were artists in the 80s who couldn't sing but still have big tunes. I don't even really analyse the music industry because I don't care in a lot of ways. It is what it is. I'm just gonna do what I do. I have such amazing fans."
Daley's new album The Spectrum is out now via BMG and iTunes.
Will Lavin is a hip-hop music and lifestyle Specialist of 10 years. A 2015 IMC Award winner, he's written for publications such as VIBE, XXL, Complex and Blues & Soul. He's worked with artists such as Chaka Khan, Timbaland, will.i.am. and Chris Brown. He also runs illwill.co.uk.