Neo-soul songwriter and producer Rhys Daniel recently released his debut collaborations album The Journey, a 14-track project including input from such as Zulema Nakinda Cheek, MJ Baker, Lina, Roszunn, Carlos Budd Ford and Alisha Glover.
Rhys was born in Hammersmith, West London to Welsh parents. At the age of 10, after making a full recovery from heart surgery, Rhys’ passion for music became obvious so his mum and dad bought him a piano. Thereafter he did some basic classical training and taught himself how to compose and write songs. He left school at the age of 15 to devote his time to music, counting Amy Winehouse, Donny Hathaway, Missy Elliott, Marvin Gaye, India.Arie, Esther Phillips, D’Angelo and Bill Withers as major creative influences. Subsequently he began producing tracks for artists he’d met through social media platforms.
Echoes: When did the material for The Journey come together? Did it take a long time to assemble, bearing in mind all the guest vocalists on it?
“Earlier on this year I realised I had enough material for an album, including some instrumental music with no vocals. So that would be roughly around March/April time. Yes, 14 tracks did take a long time to assemble, because I was either waiting for vocals, mastering or art work to be done and then waiting for the right time to distribute them. I can’t recall the exact day I started the project but these songs mean a lot to me so I want people to hear them.
“The Journey is my first album with my face on it -shout out to Roger Williams for art work! He is seriously good at what he does. The guest vocalists are all writers, performers and singers, so it was a joy when they agreed to work with me! I had a few little dramas and disagreements with some artists [mentioning no names], so had to re-shuffle the playlist all the time. I even changed my artist name, to Rhys Daniel, which is a giveaway when you search for me on Spotify and iTunes! However, I’m pleased with the final sound and image.”
Echoes: We’re assuming you did most of it via hook-ups over the net? Was any of it done face-to-face in-studio? Are you happy doing things remotely or do you dream of being in a big room with a full band?
“I’m a freelance musician and producer, so I can’t live without the net. As for a recording studio… it is far too expensive these days to do it face-to-face, unless there is a major label behind the project. And there’s something magical about working via the net. When you receive a demo that blows you away like I have just done now from Carlos Budd Ford and Zulema Nakinda Cheek on our new material… I play them loudly in my parent’s car and I get excited!
“I’ve had lots of stops and starts. Is it worth it? Will I find anyone to work with? Now I have found relationships with artists I’m totally investing my all into them. It is my music, obviously, so it does not bother me at all that it is done via the net.
“Actually, I’ve got performance anxiety, anyway. When I was in college, we had to form a college band, and the tutors we’re really strict and rude. I had to play piano and keyboard on three songs. When the day of the performance came, my body totally froze and I had an anxiety attack and forgot the notation/theory of the songs. It put fear into my bones for performing live to this day. I remember feeling like a failure and it shaped me into who I am today as an artist. I don’t mind performing in front of singers, though, if we are in a song writing session with someone I trust… but I will never be seen on stage.”
Echoes: You seem to have a knack of finding really good, previously unheard American singers: how do you manage that?
“Carlos discovered me on Facebook, and it’s been cool since. He’s got a lovely, soft, soulful voice, and I have produced lots of new songs. He used to be part of the ‘90s R&B boy band Four Sure – as the lead singer – who were signed to Ruff House/Columbia Records. I’ve had a really good run of networking with brilliant voices – artists who complement my tracks/sound/vibe. So yes, Alisha Glover, Lina, Yvette Meadows, Zulema Nakinda Cheek and Roszunn are all on The Journey.”
Echoes: What’s the typical set-up: do you write the music and begin the track and they write lyrics/melody to that?
“I don’t sing. I sound terrible! But with the help of jazz/pop chords I can find a melody and write lyrics to it, and arrange an entire track from start to finish. A long time ago I couldn’t even put the drums in time with the chords… so I have come far!
“Nine times out of 10 the artist wants to take the publishing credit and write the lyrics. Saying that, Better Each Day, the first track on the album, is all written, composed and produced by me.”
Echoes: Have any of the artists on your album asked you to produce more tracks for their own projects?
“Yes, Carlos Budd Ford. I’ve produced quite a lot of material for him in a professional studio and also my home studio. It’s all a work in progress so I can’t say for sure how it will turn out… but it will happen. I produced Zulema Nakinda Cheek’s project Love Again, too – that project is out now. It’s got some of my favourite songs that I’ve done on it. She has a really soulful, gospel style, Mary J Blige vibey voice and is a gifted songwriter too. We also have a soulful house track hidden in the vaults… more on that later!”
Echoes: Tell us about the album of instrumentals you have been working on?
“Well, I am known for changing my mind last minute… so I turned the instrumental album into an instrumental EP called When Will I Smile. It’s an experimental jazz EP with songs like Nova Spirit Nothing Can Hold Us Down. I play some classical parts that fuse into the jazz side; it’s pretty chilled music at a slow pace because I like the nuances and intricacies you can hear when music is slowed down. I’ve never been a fan of fast-tempo music: I tend to like the more mellow neo-soul [even though that term is not likeable]. A new genre I have discovered that I think my sound fits into is ‘Chill-Hop’, a mixture of Chill Out music and Hip-Hop. It doesn’t really matter, to be fair, as long as the music is mastered to a high quality, and the recording has some kind of meaning to it. Genre isn’t that important.”
The Journey is out now.