PARIS (Reuters) - Dan Black is keeping his fingers crossed. The British born but Paris-based musician has been touring North America all winter and from the response, it looks like this could finally be his big break.
Originally a member of British alternative rock act The Servant, the 34 year-old songwriter, singer, sampler, arranger, and producer struck out last year with the release in Britain of a solo album “Un” — which means “one” in French.
The album, which mixed a wide range of musical genres from American hip-hop to English pop, won Black a cult following on both sides of the English Channel but somehow eluded mainstream success.
Its lead track “Symphonies,” which molded pieces of the “Starman” movie soundtrack, Rihanna’s song “Umbrella” and U.S. rapper the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize,” had been an Internet sensation as a self-released demo track in 2008.
The album was launched last month in the United States. The American version, featured a remix of “Symphonies” by rapper Kid Cudi and U.S. radio started to pick up the song.
“Touch wood, so far it’s been going amazingly well,” Black told Reuters while relaxing in a Parisian cafe.
In the interview, the lanky dark-haired musician discussed his influences and ambitions. He will be back in America this week to perform at the high-profile SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas.
Q: How would you describe your music ?
A: It’s an amalgamation of all the things I have been particularly in love with. Unusual hip-hop R&B productions of the late 90s-early 2000. Early Missy Elliott and Neptunes but also The Cocteau Twins, Sigur Ros and something very giving and immediate like Prince or The Smiths. People in America have been using this expression ‘alternative pop’ which I can live with.
Q: Why call your album “Un?”
A: Obviously it’s my first record and I made it in France, totally on my own. So “Un” or “One.” At the same time I was trying to do something that was un-rock, un-hip-hop, un-pop, sort of floating in-between. I also wanted it to be un-boring, un-rubbish, unpredictable, an album of avoidance in a way.
Q: Was music a big part of your life when growing up ?
A: I grew up in a little village, northwest of London, in Buckinghamshire. My dad was a crazy, passionate music fan. He had broad tastes. The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Stones, lots of classical music, jazz, soul, Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin. I got into The Smiths because my dad would play it when driving me to school.
Q: You spent a winter holed up with a laptop in a Paris cellar doing the album. How do you manage to translate that music into these very intense live shows ?
A: Before I could even make music, I was jumping around with a walking stick, pretending I was Jimmy Hendrix. So that was always in me. Artists that got me excited were artists that were physical manifestation of their music, like Prince, Iggy Pop, David Bowie. I am very aware of the audience, it’s like a conversation. The audience makes the show. It has all the power.
Q: So how has it been going in America ?
A: We got lots of radio support and the kids on the streets coming and connecting with the shows. Having people connecting with what I do, it’s a big deal. Having been around and being a bit older than some artists, I am able to really savor it.
Q: So America could be your big break?
A: It could be. It does seem to be. But whenever I predict things, I’m always wrong, it being good or bad. So this time next year I could be working at McDonald’s...
Q: Are you already thinking about a second album ?
A: Massively. On my first record, if I use the analogy of painting, I kind of felt I had on my palette 20 colors. On the next record I want to go with 3-4 colors. What those 4 colors are, I am not too sure yet. I would also like it to be much more collaborative.
Q: Any artist you would like to work with ?
A: I’d like to work with lots of hip-hop artists like Lupe Fiasco and also women like Love Foxxx, the singer of CSS.
Q: You moved to Paris over two years ago. Has living in Paris influenced your music ?
A: I do not write songs about Paris. It’s more to do with not being in London and being locked in my own world. I can see myself more clearly. Here everything is quite alien, it’s made me more focused.
Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, editing by Paul Casciato