Having grown up in the area, this correspondent can assure you, dear reader, that Melbourne’s Dandenong Ranges aren’t exactly a breeding ground for soul music greats.

How, then, to explain the diamond in the rough that is Daniel Merriweather? Born to working class parents in Sassafras, the 30-year-old has the sort of soulful croon that’s seen him compared to Al Green and Otis Redding. His debut album, 2009’s Love & War, was a platinum-selling smash in the UK – although he’s still something of a cult proposition back on home turf.

“I used to work at KFC – my dad drives a Datsun – so any success at all is a blessing. But there’s definitely that side of me that wants to have my music heard everywhere. I mean, I go to Germany and get recognised on the street – not that that’s what I’m doing it for – but sure, it’d be nice to have my music heard on the same level everywhere,” Merriweather told the Star Observer.

In truth, here at home we’ve barely gotten a chance to know him – the singer-songwriter’s spent much of the past decade away from our shores. When we spoke, he was getting settled in his new home of Los Angeles, juggling the recording of his long-awaited sophomore album with some writing sessions for other artists.

“It was all systems go on my own material for a while there, so it’s been nice to dip into writing songs for other artists. It helps you get out of your own head a bit. But there’s a level of integrity that’s still required – I don’t just want to be a factory worker churning out songs.”

As for how his own music was sounding three years on from his last release, Merriweather explained he was steering away from the slavishly retro sounds that dominated Love & War.

“The music is evolving – or de-evolving, I’m not sure which. It’s harking back to the sort of music I was making when I was 19 or 20, which was a bit more beat-orientated. I’m using contemporary references from the past 20 years of R&B and soul music.

But a lot’s changed since Merriweather last released an album, with vocoders, 4/4 house beats and frantic BPMs now the norm for a lot of quote-unquote ‘R&B’ as artists turn to producers like David Guetta and Calvin Harris for guaranteed hits. Thankfully, there are still those flying the flag for traditional R&B – Merriweather said he’d been particularly inspired by queer crooner Frank Ocean’s recent Channel Orange album.

“When I heard it, I was blown away at how similar it was to a lot of ideas I’ve been thinking of – of bringing great R&B back and not having to add too much to it. And of course it’s great, especially in the field of R&B, that he feels able to be open and honest about himself, and not feel any homophobic pressure from his contemporaries to keep silent.

“That kind of honesty has really been needed for a while.”

INFO: Daniel Merriweather @ Homebake, The Domain, Sydney, December 8. www.homebake.com

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