Interview: Getting to know rising Brooklyn R&B artist, Adrian Daniel

One showcase at SXSW clearly wasn’t enough to spread the word about Brooklyn R&B artist Adrian Daniel. The relative newcomer, fresh off releasing his excellent sophomore album Flawd, flew under the radar at last month’s quintessential showcase event but there’s little doubt the music world will be hearing more from him as people start picking up on his latest project. Spinning tales of love, both inward and outward, with a distinctly Brooklyn rawness, Daniel’s brand of soulful R&B should easily melt into the hearts and minds of those who are already big on artists like The Weeknd, 6LACK, and Ro James. Daniel is undoubtedly poised to join that distinguished group of new-gen R&B crooners so before the inevitable success comes charging towards him, we thought it’d be a good idea to grab some time with him pre-performance in Austin, Texas.

In the following transcript, Adrian Daniel discusses the making of Flaw’d, his live shows, the state of R&B and more.

Tell me a bit about yourself and how you got started.

I’m Adrian Daniel from Brooklyn, New York. I got started in music…my brother was the one who pushed me to really do it. I didn’t really want to make music at first. I was writing poetry at the time and I could already sing, he was like, “You should really think about writing songs ,bro”. He had like a mic – he used to rap so he had a mic set up and was like, “Come do this hook”. I did it but it was terrible, it was trash. Though from doing that I got kind of a bug for it and I wanted to keep doing it. That’s kind of how I got into music, really by accident I guess.

Who influenced you when you were growing up and who’s influencing you now?

Growing up – Michael, Prince, Stevie, Sade, Queen, Journey, Maxwell, D’Angelo, Usher…there’s a lot of people. Now it’s like… Kanye West is one of my biggest inspirations, Tame Impala, Kid Cudi, there’s some MGMT in there, and Frank Ocean – I love him a lot too.

And how do you feel you channel that inspiration?

When I’m making the music it just ends up sounding like that because I have so many things in my head. It might just be a mood that comes out that way and so I’ll be like, “Oh I’ll playing with my guitar, and I just feel like telling a story right now, I’m not really trying to make people dance or be hard right now, I just want to talk. So the mood of the song will come out that way.

I listened to a lot of John Mayer growing up. I love him. So sometimes I just want to speak, and don’t want to make it all about how sonically dope it all is. Sometimes I’m really purposeful in making it sonically crazy, but there’s other times when I just want to tell a story and talk about what I’m going through. That’s why the music sounds the way it does, because there’s just so much in there that’s been poured into the stew. For me it’s like, “What’s coming out today?” I don’t know what’s going to come out. I open the faucet, and it might be some rock and roll, it might be some folk, it might be some super R&B sex music, I don’t know, depends on what the mood is that day.

What stories are you trying to get out there? What are you going through that you’re trying to carry on through to your music?

For me, when I was making Flaw’d it was really about telling the specific story that it’s okay to not be perfect. At that point in my life, I was realising that I had this overwhelming need to make everyone happy and that people should be returning that to me. I wasn’t getting that back; whether people were using me or not appreciating me. I didn’t understand why, if I was giving someone so much love, why I wasn’t getting that back. But then I started realising it’s because people are hurting, so they don’t know how to give that back. In that process I realised that it’s happening all around the world, everyday, like I talk to my friends, it’s happening to them. They might be the ones doing it. I’ve done it. But no one wants to talk about it, and so that’s how Flaw’d came to be like, “I’m gon’ talk about it”. I’m not going to be ashamed to talk about it either, it’s like, “It’s okay, we’re messed up, and that’s cool, that makes us human beings, it’s the fact that we notice it – that makes us better because now we’re actively trying to be better”.

Letting these people know like, “It’s okay, people can still love you and care about you, even though you messed up”. It’s like your momma. Your momma never gonna stop loving you, even though you come home with a bad grade or you’ve done something stupid. She gon’ still love you either way. So I’m trying to teach people to do that. That’s the message I guess I’m trying to get out there.

Tell me a bit about the process of putting Flaw’d together. How long did it take?

About a year and a half. I mean to make the music… the music was done pretty quickly, I write the music pretty fast. Right when I finished Disillusions I started on Flaw’d. Writing the songs happened very fast for me because I already knew what I wanted to do, what I wanted to talk about. Most of the songs were already written, and then it was just about making the sonic beds for it, so I was sitting with producers and people who inspire me at the moment, They were challenging me to make these sonic landscapes that I might not have done before. So really creating that from scratch, producing it all together was really the most beautiful part of making the record.

After that it was me just nit picking about the sounds and the mix. When I’m doing mixing I’d do like a mix test. So I’d play like my favourite albums at the moment and think like,”Can this stand next to this?” I didn’t do that this time with this record. Which I think is why it sounds the way it does; it sounds very unique.

And with Brooklyn… R&B seems to mostly come out L.A and places like that lately. Is there a certain uniqueness to Brooklyn’s sound right now, especially with R&B. Is it grittier like it is with hip hop? How does that environment influence your sound?

It’s a hip hop place. You gotta be real; you can’t come phony, you can’t even be speaking in a way where people think that you lying because then they’ll call you out on it. And they’ll know; New Yorkers know really quickly. That’s the thing separating me: there is this grittiness, there is this ugliness to it that makes it unique. The sad part about it today is that no one looks to New York now for that at all.

Maxwell is from New York though…

Yeah, Maxwell. It’s funny though, you know how many times I tell people that and they’ll be like, “I never knew that”? They just don’t know. You’re talking about New York they say Hov, Biggie, Mobb Deep, Wu Tang – all the rappers, they don’t mention…maybe Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga…no one else from the last ten years. So for me there’s a lot of pressure because I gotta be as good as possible to let people know it’s here, stop looking everywhere else, look here too, it’s gritty, it’s New York soul so that’s how it’s going to come off.

Brooklyn has always had that raw feeling to it.

You know what it is? I still gotta go back there. So they’re like a test for me, so when I make my music I’ma go back to the block and play the songs and be like, “How you feel about this”? That’s how I know that I’m making something that can be for the super, super artsy people and the people that listen to straight Murda Mook, 50 Cent, Meek Mill – all of that. They can listen to all of that and can still enjoy. That’s how I knew that that’s where I can live happily.

And taking it to your live performances; how do you approach those?

Same way. It’s like I’m giving you all the things that you love as a storyteller and as a musician. But I’m also giving you that raw. I wouldn’t say bring your 10 year old to my show, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea, but there’s an honesty, a rawness to it. It’s funny, I did a Sofar Sounds show when I was in London.

I didn’t know but one of these guys brought his daughter, she was about 12, and after the show she said to me, “Your music, there’s so much pain in it,” and I’m like, “Well thank you, how you know about that?” She’s like, “I’ve got pain too”. That’s like the best part to me. When people come to my shows they gonna get all that. And they gonna have a good time. I was a dancer so I can entertain people, that’s the one thing I love to do.

And how long have you been dancing?

Since I was six. For a long time man. It was a job at some point, I was 18 and teaching at dance schools around New York, paying for college that way. It was a job, it stopped being something I was doing as an outlet and it became a job.

Do you feel choreography bleeds into your music?

Oh yeah. There’s always a rhythm I’m looking for. Even if it’s slow there’s gotta be a groove that hits you. They say my music is mid-tempo or whatever, but I have faster songs people haven’t heard yet. There has to be this groove, this vibe…this unspoken groove that you can get lost in, it has to be in the music, in the vocal and the cadence, the way the drums feel. I’m always looking for that, even when I’m doing ballads. It keeps like a tug-and-pull, ebbs and flows that just like rock you back and forth. Dance is so incorporated in the music because hip hop itself was birthed from that.

What’s your wider vision? What do you hope to achieve within the next 12 months?

I want to do what Michael did for me when I was a kid. I want to inspire and impact people the way Kanye West impacts people. I want to change peoples outlook on Brooklyn, on soul music and singers.

You have people that don’t even want to sing anymore. Like you come to SXSW and people tell you like, “Oh we want trap rap”. Where is that coming from? It feels like it’s dying. Even in R&B it feels like the singers become outdated because everyone is singing now, and you don’t even need to sound good, you just need the melody and the autotune way up. That’s just teaching us to be mediocre in a way. Unless you’re using it in a way that’s really innovative, not as a crutch. There’s a difference between being innovative and using it as a crutch – Travis Scott is an innovator, Future is an innovator. There’s a difference in that. But if you say “I’m a singer,” and you’re using shortcuts as a crutch, that’s not the same thing.

You’ve got to be careful the way you label these things. Like you can’t put Jazmine Sullivan and Future in the same conversation as artists. That’s not even fair to put them both in R&B and say they are both R&B artists. It’s like, what are you saying about Jazmine Sullivan then? Someone that spends their whole life trying to hit these notes and hit these super crazy ranges – that’s so technical. For someone to come with autotune, you can’t put them in the same conversation. Not taking anything away from Future though, but how would you feel if you spent your whole life working on something and someone can come and shortcut and they put them in the same conversation with you?

Adrian Daniel’s Flaw’d is out right now. You can give the album a listen over on his official website HERE.

Feature image: Ryan Jay.