Sure, with his curly, ginger pompadour and pale, British presence, Gareth Daley (Daley, to his fans) looks more like a Chapel Hill hipster than an R&B singer. But the minute you hear his smooth, soulful, falsetto voice, you immediately assume the dude must have had Prince on heavy rotation throughout his childhood.
“Discovering Prince was a big moment for me,” confirms Daley, on the phone from his London home base.
Daley will perform at the Pour House Music Hall in Raleigh on Monday.
The Manchester-born Daley, 24, grew up listening to R&B here and there, including some by his fellow countryfolk (Sade, George Michael). But his musical tastes would expand in his later years.
“As I got older, just what I gravitated towards is R&B, and I really got into the kind of neo-soul thing of the late ’90s,” he says. “And, then, when I started writing my own songs, I mean I had other influences as well. It was slightly more experimental, like Radiohead and Imogen Heap… That kind of led up to a point where I was ready to write my own songs, and blending that with my own artistry is kind of what brought me to the point I’m at, really.”
‘Days & Nights’
You can hear most of these influences on his debut album, “Days & Nights,” released last month. Daley fans have been waiting for that debut after he dropped his “Those Who Wait” EP in 2012. That EP included his breakthrough single, “Alone Together,” a duet he did with fellow Brit soul singer Marsha Ambrosius.
“It happened pretty early on in my career, actually,” he says of the collaboration. “I just started going to New York to do some writing – just meet with some producers out there. And we heard that Marsha was in town and, literally, my manager just managed to hook it up.”
Daley’s still amazed Ambrosius (who will perform at Lincoln Theatre April 3) agreed to do it. At the time, the kid was just that, still fresh on the scene. “All I had was, like, a couple of performance videos on YouTube,” he remembers. “But she checked them out, and she liked it and just came down. So, it was kind of a strange, strange moment. We didn’t really know each other, so you never know what you’re gonna get. But, you know, it all just clicked into place.”
“Alone” appears again on “Days,” an album that has Daley collaborating with some top-notch producers. He got rock producer and former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler to produce two tracks. Despite Butler’s experience stirring up some blue-eyed soul when he produced U.K. singer Duffy’s “Rockferry” album in 2008, Daley was still skeptical.
“I knew his work from Suede, and stuff he’d done in the U.K. that was just amazing,” he says. “But it was just an unusual choice for me, because I wasn’t really sure how it was gonna work. What he’s known for is different from what I’m known for.” Regardless, they went to the studio and worked on a couple of tunes, including the title track. “Well, ‘Days & Nights’ is my favorite song on the album,” he says.
Daley also got man-of-the-moment Pharrell Williams to produce “Look Up,” the album’s first single. “It was towards the end of the album,” he recalls. “I had written most of the album, and I had bumped into Pharrell a couple of times at some festivals last year. And we both said we wanted to try to make it happen. So, he had a gap in his schedule the week after. So, we jumped straight in.”
Some collaborations didn’t make the final cut, like “Rainy Day,” a track Daley did with Roots drummer and “Tonight Show” bandleader Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson.
“It was a late addition to the album, but I really wanted it to be on the album,” he says. Unfortunately, his label restricted how many songs Daley could have on his debut, prompting the song’s dismissal. “I’m hoping, praying that we’ll be able to put it on, like, a deluxe version or something like that, because it’s a great song.”
On tour in the States, Daley will likely perform “Rainy” along with other tunes from “Days.” With Daley’s star on the rise, as he collaborates with one ultra-cool, co-signing artist after another, it should never be said that gingers don’t have soul.