"I never really know what I'm playing. I just follow what sounds good in my head and keep going." -- Daniel Powter
That's a good word to begin with as you get into Daniel Powter , the debut release from this singularly unique talent. Sure, it doesn't sound "different" -- i.e. , weird, spooky, bizarre -- when you listen casually at first. If anything, it sounds like superbly crafted, edgy pop: The songs are catchy, the rhythms infectious, the chords rock-solid beneath hooks that dig into your brain and don't let go. It's upbeat, though Powter does pound those changes aggressively. ("It's keyboard music on steroids," he explains.)
Ah, but listen again, a little closer. Dark lyrics thread through those happy melodies, some of which he sings with a hint of sarcasm and anger tightening the quiver in his falsetto. He focuses on everyday life, though he doesn't miss the dirt swept under society's rug. It surfaces on "Free Loop," in which a low-life jerk suggests to a girl that they both cheat on their partners. It lurks beneath the elegant flow of "Styrofoam," in a bleak self-portrait that even asks, "Isn't this an ordinary song?" (Answer: No.) It's wrapped in polyester and spun out onto the dance floor on "Hollywood," about as nasty a depiction of showbiz sleaze as you've ever heard.
All of these songs are mercilessly catchy. If you didn't understand English, you'd be left with a grin on your face and a hum-along riff in your head. And if you do, your response will be the same -- except a minute or two later, you'd be thinking, "Wait a minute. Did he just sing what I thought he did?" (Answer: Yes.)
If you break Daniel Powter down to the basics, the key elements are two: brilliant musical skills and wicked candor. Maybe this comes from the contradiction of being raised in the pastoral splendor of the Okanagan Valley (British Columbia), yet coming to believe that as an artist he has nothing to lose. The lesson began sinking in between ages four to thirteen, when he spent a lot of time at home, practicing violin, as his mother accompanied on piano. Daniel never joined a youth hockey team in order to bash into a bunch of other kids. He didn't have to: other kids, spotting him with his violin case, would bash into him instead.
"I had played at this talent show at my school," he remembers, "probably in grade five or six. I was walking across a field with my violin case when a couple of bullies from the school just beat n me. That was my turning point. I went back home with a black eye and announced, 'You know what? I'm not doing this anymore.'"
"I'm a realist. All I really want is to connect with an audience that feels the way I feel. Of course, if that happens on a bigger scale and I'm massively successful, that's okay too."
-- Daniel Powter