Daniel Merriweather - Don't stop me now

Singer Daniel Merriweather has found his voice, says Chris Mugan, and it's a survivor's
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The Independent Culture

When he strides into Sony's plush west London offices, you realise Mark Ronson clearly found the right man to take on The Smiths' "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before". Not only is Daniel Merriweather's strident delivery very different to Morrissey's arch rendering, but the Aussie vocalist is anonymous enough to avoid any brickbats directed at him by die-hard Mozza fans.

Merriweather is happy to discuss the track that made him a global name, though its also earned its producer notoriety. "Mark had a few death threats via MySpace," he chuckles, "But I only ever got positive feedback. A lot of guys come up to me saying, 'I'm a huge Smiths fan and hated it when it first came out, but now I love it'."

It is five years since Ronson plucked the singer from down-under obscurity, phoning Merriweather out of the blue after he got hold of his demo. For months he slept on the English-born New Yorker's floor and helped carry his record crates to gigs, as well as appearing on Ronson's debut album, Here Comes the Fuzz. He also managed to release a low-key single, "City Rules". Then Ronson's 2007 LP Version intervened.

Now 26, Merriweather spent the best part of two years on tour. The spectacular success of the album meant his own material was put on hold, though he gained much from the experience. "I got my first record deal when I was 19, so if anyone's paid their dues, it's me. But touring with Ronson was fun and a great learning experience. Early on, we were both the white boys that liked hip-hop and adored great soul music. Then, in the studio, there was a certain chemistry that developed. I don't listen to a lot of people, I'm quite pig-headed at times, and he's one of the only people that can make me shut up."

Merriweather is unsure if Ronson's transatlantic roots chime with his own upbringing. "I get along with people who don't really know where their base is. I always find myself talking to Canadian backpackers."

This budding vocalist and songwriter first had to escape the Dandenong Ranges, on Melbourne's green fringes and a continual bush fire risk.

"I grew up in the middle of a forest and the whole mountain range could go up in flames. We escaped a couple of times." The culture of the city centre was a compelling draw.

"When I was 14 or 15 I wouldn't come home a lot. I would stay in the city. I got into a lot of trouble, selling a bit of drugs to make money." The petty criminals he hung round with were all into pub rock, though, having performed at school, Merriweather was inspired by classic soul and the vocal groups of the late Eighties, at least until his voice broke. "Whenever I get the chance, I'll still play a Stevie Wonder tune or a Boys II Men song."

Having dropped out of school, Merriwas signed by a local label, recording the demo that eventually found its way to Ronson. Now he is set to unveil his own album Love & War, based on his past year's experiences in the Big Apple, now his home. "I've always been fascinated by opposites, massive forces coming together, whether that's in politics or relationships." Or as he more succinctly puts it during his examination of inner-city strife, "For Your Money": "I'm infatuated by the human mind". "That song's really about me moving to New York and trying to survive."

Ronson has produced the album and is releasing it on his own Allido Records, which cushions his protégé from machinations on the part of major labels. Merriweather also returned to the Daptone Studio, the retro set-up that gives his mentor's music that distinctive soul revue feel. For this record, they have shied away from heavy use of the jaunty brass that became so insistent a couple of summers ago thanks to Version and Amy Winehouse's Back to Black. Instead, they came up with a subtle sound that maintains that trademark warmth.

Merriweather may still feel lost in New York, but musically he has found his feet.

Daniel Merriweather's single "Red" is out 4 May on Allido/Columbia Records. 'Love & War' is out on 25 May

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