You may already be familiar with the powerhouse pipes of Daniel Merriweather, the 27-year-old Australian who lends his old-soul voice to ''Stop Me'' - an ingenious mash-up of The Smiths' "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before" and The Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On" that appears on DJ/producer Mark Ronson's eclectic album Version. The track soared to the top of the airplay charts in the UK in April 2007 and led the British press to tout Merriweather as an artist to watch. Now Merriweather is making good on that promise and establishing himself as a singer, songwriter, and performer in his own right by stepping out with his own debut album, Love & War, which has already been tipped by Rolling Stone in the magazine's Spring Music Preview as one of 2009 hottest albums.
"Working on 'Stop Me' planted this idea in my head that things don't have to fit in the same box that they originally came in," Merriweather says. "On Love & War, it's as if I took all of my influences, shook them up in a box, and came up with a bunch of songs that I think stand away from any one particular genre. I'm as inspired by Q-Tip and A Tribe Called Quest as I am by Vivaldi, Stevie Wonder, Jeff Buckley or D'Angelo. There are artists who are archivists—they make music directly derived from music they love. I make music by subconsciously blending things I've heard throughout my life."
Born and bred in a blue-collar area in Melbourne, Daniel Paul Merriweather was one of three boys born to teacher parents. "We lived in a town at the end of a train line. I spent quite a bit of time on my own as a kid," he says. Merriweather began singing at age 10 after hearing Elvis Presley's "Blue Suede Shoes." "I didn't know who he was, I just liked the sound of his voice," Merriweather recalls. By 1991, he had taught himself to sing by listening to Boyz II Men's Cooleyhighharmony album. "I could sing every single song, note for note," Merriweather says. "I could nail every inflection, every vocal acrobatic trick that they did. We didn't have any money so I never bought CDs—I had that album on repeat for two years. It was a big reason why I sang." Merriweather dropped out of high school and got into trouble, landing in court on assault charges and narrowly avoiding jail-time. He worked at KFC for a few months, but "it wasn't for me so I thought I'd try this music lark," he says with a laugh.
At age 20 after performing with various bands in Australia, Merriweather was about to sign a record deal with an independent label in Melbourne, when Ronson called and invited him to New York. The two kept in contact for the next several years and Merriweather sang on Ronson's 2003 debut album Here Comes The Fuzz. When Ronson formed his label Allido Records, Merriweather was one of his first signings. (Merriweather subsequently signed an exclusive recording agreement with J Records.) Merriweather relocated to New York and spent 18 months writing and recording the songs that appear on Love & War. "I've worked with a ton of producers over the years and have always been very pig-headed about what I want," Merriweather says. "The cool thing about working with Mark is that he let me write the songs and sing them and I let him produce and do what he does so well. Drawing that line in the sand and saying, 'This is what I do and this is what you do' is probably why things turned out as well as they did."
The recording process was punctuated by Merriweather spending months on the road with Ronson's Version Players, including touring the UK and performing at the MTV Video Music Awards, the Brit Awards, and at last year's Glastonbury Festival. "I was constantly around all these amazing musicians," Merriweather says of that time. "In a way it was humbling and put what I was doing in perspective. Now I'm really looking forward to travelling the world with my music. I love performing. Making an album is such a personal thing, so when you get up on stage, it's a whole different type of gratification."