Feature: Jack Foley
DANIEL Powter refers to his music as a little 'different from
Sure, songs like Bad Day don't sound that different
when you listen casually at first.
If anything, it sounds like well-crafted, edgy pop, boasting
infectious rhythm, rock-solid chords and hooks that dig into your
brain and don't let go.
But listen again and you'll find that 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.
Daniel 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
And it's contained within the dance floor vibe of Hollywood,
which is about as nasty a depiction of showbiz sleaze as you've
All of these songs are mercilessly catchy. However, a minute
or two after listening, you'd be thinking, "Wait a minute.
Did he just sing what I thought he did?"
From the ages of four to 13, Powter spent a lot of time at home
practising violin, with his mother accompanying him on piano.
Powter 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 on 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.'"
There were other reasons why the violin lost its appeal.
"I was dyslexic," Powter says, "and my teacher
focused very much on being able to read. I remember her looking
over at me during one lesson and saying, 'You know, your music
is upside down.' That's when I realized I had to break off from
that structured idea of music and find my own way."
His parents' record collection lured him from the classics.
"I used to listen to their Beatles and Fleetwood Mac albums
until I'd absorbed them and it started to make sense.
"I heard a lot of the Motown stuff that my mom played. And
Duran Duran was massive for me; even now, I have to turn up the
radio when Hungry Like The Wolf comes on.
"More than that, though, I was into Prince. I even had Dirty
Mind as a kid; my parents had no problem with that."
Soon he was spending most of his time at his mother's piano,
picking out original tunes.
"I'd always messed around on it," he recalls, "but
when I made the shift from violin I realized that it was so great
to be able to play multiple notes at once in the bass, the midrange,
and the high range. Also, girls loved it; they'd never go out
with me if I were still playing a violin."
Powter’s first record, which he cut while still living
in the Okanogan Valley, won airplay in Rocktoria, a radio contest
held in Victoria, British Columbia.
And as his senior year wound down, he got himself admitted as
a music student to Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton.
There, the issues that had derailed
his career as a violinist resurfaced.
"I got A's all the time in ear training. But in theory I
got an F because I didn't read well. After a while I started to
hate school - and I realized it was better for me to create on
Dropping out after two years, Powter moved to Vancouver, where
he hooked up with a collaborator named Jeff Dawson.
"Jeff and I bunkered down in this apartment with a little
studio," he continued.
"I started writing songs, and he and I would come up with
these great production ideas. I got so addicted to it that I was
working on these songs all day and all night. It was like a door
opening. Everything became easy.
"Before, when I was making a record, one song would take
me a week. Now I would have the song written in just a day, and
Jeff and I would get all these bass parts down and start making
loops. It just encouraged me to keep going."
Over the next year, Powter wrote a body of songs, from which
the material on Daniel Powter would be drawn.
When he and Jeff started sending out demos, response was strong.
After getting Powter's demo to Tom Whalley, Chairman and CEO
of Warner Bros. Records, Powter’s manager set up a meeting
It was, as someone once said, the beginning of a beautiful friendship
- or two.
Like his search for the right label, Daniel’s choice of
Mitchell Froom to produce Daniel Powter owed more to hanging out
than to aggressive pitching.
"It was tense until I got together with Mitchell,"
he explains. "After two or three days, just before Christmas
a year ago, I knew that he was the guy I wanted. Tom asked us
to do three songs together, and when we turned them in he gave
us the green light."
Working with Froom is a special treat if, in addition to being
an idiosyncratic artist, you're a keyboard player.
Before earning production credits on projects with Elvis Costello,
Los Lobos, Crowded House, Paul McCartney, and other giants, Froom
made a name for himself through session work and a series of his
This partially explains the textures throughout Daniel Powter
- richly varied yet never, as keyboards can be, gloppy or superfluous.
"I got to play all of Mitchell's collection," Powter
enthuses, like a kid back from Halloween with a bagful of treats.
"That guy has got old Chamberlins, Wurlitzers, B-3s - it's
The connection between Powter, Froom, and Jeff Dawson strengthened
as the recording sessions began.
"Mitchell helped me arrange parts," Powter says. "For
instance, there's a part in the middle of 'Lost In The Stoop'
that's from the original demo; we changed the progression but
the vocals stayed the same. I just fell in love with this kind
"Most people are protective and territorial, but I was comfortable
from the start with Mitchell and the way he works."
Froom knows that the key for a producer is to stay out of the
way except when he can help the artist bring an idea to life.
Daniel Powter, then, is all about Daniel Powter: All
the idiosyncrasies, the bursts of brilliance and volatile collisions
of innocence and irony, mark this young man from the North Country
as an original, whose debut is only the first of what should be
many mini-masterpieces to come.
Read the album review