I’m leaning against the counter of the promotions table at the back of the 9:30 Club being serenaded by Daley and his band. They play Mint Condition’s “Breakin’ My Heart,” Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin Bout You” and Usher’s “Nice & Slow.” He doesn’t know he’s singing to me, in fact probably can’t see me in my little corner— I’m just sitting in on sound check.
Despite the men in sweaty t-shirts rolling trashcans around and the tinkering lights, it feels like I’m witnessing a manifestation of his destiny. At one point Daley was waiting for people to hear his songs; now they’re lined up outside waiting for him to sing them.
In many ways things have come full circle for the UK singer since he made “Those Who Wait”— an inspirational ballad chronicling his mental process of being an aspiring musician— a few years ago. He’s about to play a sold out show in DC on his first headlining tour following his debut album “Days & Nights,” he’s been in the top five on the Adult R&B Songs Billboard chart and is associated with the likes of Maxwell. It’s hard to believe that he doesn’t think he’s made it yet.
“I don’t know if I’ve had my moment, but I’ve definitely had moments,” he says after recounting a conversation he had on the topic with a friend not too long before ours. Being in the early parts of his career and constantly evolving his definition of success, it’s hard for him to pinpoint an exact moment that led to an overwhelming feeling that his ascendance was complete. He still acknowledges the highlights, among them is working with Pharrell on “Look Up,” the second single from his album.
“I would see the stuff he’d done with Justin Timberlake when I was 11 or whatever and I’d be like ‘wow I wonder if I could ever…’ you know, so it’s like a nice full circle feeling,” he said. Despite his wide-eyed reverence for the musical genius, the collaboration happened organically. He’d created a genial image of Pharrell in his mind and was quite surprised when the real Pharrell lived up to it.
Daley’s got a comparable demureness to his idol. Legs crossed sitting on the couch, he gives off the air that he’s trying to make a new friend. The black glasses that shielded his eyes during sound check have found themselves on the coffee table, revealing an amiable face. As he talks about the authentic interaction between he and Pharrell, and then between he and Marsha Ambrosius while making “Alone Together,” it’s evident that a true representation of who he is as an artist and as a man is what he wants people to take away from him. It’s led to a transparency in his work that even surprises himself.
“It wasn’t a conscious thing ‘like okay I want to let people in,'” he said. “It actually almost scared me a little when I lined all the songs up, because it is actually kind of like a diary, and at that point I had to be like, am I comfortable with letting people in this much?”
While keeping in line with the soul baring characteristics of his genre, he’s also trying to redefine it. “It’s almost kind of my worst nightmare to be perceived as an old soul artist,” he said. “I want to be of my time. I don’t want to be trying to do things that have already been done.” He’s coined the term future “throwback”— a nostalgic tune that makes you feel like you’re sitting in a spaceship instead of your mom’s 1970 Buick.
A prime example of a future throwback is “Time Travel”— ironically titled— on “Days & Nights,” where the romantic crooning is supported by a deep, surging bass line that abruptly picks up at the second verse with a rapid ticking noise.
The conversation of his musical evolution leads to what he’s waiting for at the point in his career. He says the usual like playing larger venues like Madison Square Garden and winning awards, but quirks up at making an album and doing shows with a live orchestra “but that’d probably be much later in my career.”
Whether or not he plays at MSG isn’t his focus right now. It’s rare that everything falls together so well when he’s arrive at a venue and he’s excited to for tonight’s show.
Two hours later, the people who were waiting in line have filled the venue and are being rewarded with a serenade of their own, solidifying that good things do come to those who wait.