“I'm on top of the world. Period.”
This statement could not have been made by the Lucky Daye of one year ago. In the past 12 months, Lucky finished his debut album, 'Painted', signed to Keep Cool (RCA) and toured with Ella Mai, all of which are the culmination of many years working through the business. Raised by his mother in a religious cult in New Orleans, a city where “singing was like breathing”, but forced to leave after Hurricane Katrina, the family moved to Texas.
Kicked out for leading a secular life, he moved to Atlanta to pursue music: “Atlanta brought the sense of commercialism, but I feel like I strayed away from what I love the most. You’re trying to please someone, but by the time you figure it out, it’s changed.”
The hip-hop edge of Atlanta complemented the underworld of New Orleans: “I was doing hard stuff because where I was raised, you better be hard. I was cursing on songs for a long time.”
Imagining this of the R&B, emotion-laden Lucky of today is hard to conjure. Not content with this transactional side of music, Lucky headed to LA for artistic development. “I never thought about doing music in the business world. I always thought about just making music. LA brought the 'I don't give a fuck no more' back.”
This shift was pivotal for Lucky. Away from the hustle of Atlanta and the familial complexities of home, he found his outlet: “LA made me find me. Atlanta helped me find commercialism. So mixing the two with the foundation I came from brought a gumbo pot of this sound.”
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Lucky practiced patience and scrappiness to make chances for himself: “I made a Google Doc of any number I ever got from any producer. I called them, and next to that I put what they said and if I should work with them. I think there were 223.”
The willpower to continue after the 32nd rejection, the 88th rejection or even the 197th rejection, is admirable. He was actually rejected by all 223. An opportunity did then arise through writing for Mary J Blige to work with the esteemed Daryl 'DJ' Camper.
However, this was potentially more of a set-back than a break: “They got me and Camper in for one day and he left the session. When people do that it makes me feel like they don't want to be there, or like they care less. I stayed and made ‘Love You Too Much’ and ‘Misunderstood.’ He then said he lost the files to those songs.”
Although Lucky had made two tracks, he had no way of retrieving them, or making any more. He pursued one last producer with fervour: “I was in a desperate mode where I needed to convince somebody to help me finish this feeling before I went crazier than I already was. The most genuine person I knew was D'Mile, and some of the best music that I recorded before this, I recorded with D'Mile.”
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This was not a power play to work with someone who had produced for Usher and Diddy, this was an artistic partnership Lucky needed to help him translate his emotions. “I don't know what I was fueled up on but I was able to convince him. He started sending me ideas, I was sending him my ideas. We would go back and forth until we found a day to get in the studio.”
Lucky found his saviour, but with long gaps between sessions, he had to make the most of them. “I never was the homework type, but for this album I would bring everything I needed just to finish it. Once Camper lost all his files, D'Mile had to reproduce the songs. It made me know he was serious, he really remade them.”
After album completion came the inevitable label run-around. Less outright rejections but plenty of non-committals and vague gestures. Until Tunji, co-Founder of Keep Cool. It wasn’t fireworks, it was just a good fit: “I didn't know who he was at all. Tunji and the whole Keep Cool family made me feel like they really like felt me.”
More than finding a home for his music, Lucky was losing touch with humanity and needed a win: “I don't know if anybody ever felt like forgetting love. I almost forgot what love was. So, to feel that was nice.”
Lucky released his album in doses; EP ‘1’ in November 2018, EP ‘2’ in February 2019, and Painted in June, which includes both EPs plus added tracks. “The whole time I was like: Just put it all out. Why do I have to keep hearing it? It hurts me to listen to this album.”
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The project has an R&B backbone, laced with contemporary lyrics and production, so it’s not surprising Lucky keeps mentioning how much of an “emotional person” he is. What is surprising, is how he “doesn’t want to be emotional.”
There’s even a track he can’t bring himself to perform yet: “I cried on ‘Floods’ in the booth and D'Mile made me keep it. Every time I hear it my eyes get watery. I don't like it.”
He recognises this sensitivity has got him this far, but he’s simultaneously fighting it: “I've been trying to change it just to fix stuff. A lot of stuff is unfixable so you have to just write about it.”
With statements like, “I thought that everybody that acts like they love you actually loves you and they don’t,” Lucky implies there’s a store of unresolved experiences. It’s a cruel trap that writing is meant to heal, but Lucky retains these memories, and additionally a song to solidify them. Fresh from his Tiny Desk concert, it was the first time he had performed with a ten-piece band. But as Lucky was on tour in the run-up, playing at NPR was their very first performance all together.
Lucky said in a recent interview that performing live is the “only time I’m happy.” When asked, he doesn’t hesitate to explain why: “It's the most genuine time ever, because I know why these people came. It's the most pure moment in life for me. It's the most open communication I have with the world and it's my true feelings.”
For someone who has spent the best part of a decade trying to communicate said feelings, it makes sense that the stage is his sanctuary. “I don't know how to describe that type of feeling. This is what I was given and I want to give it to you. If I'm not sweating enough when I come off the stage I didn't do my job.”
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Watching his first headline, sold out show in London with a small band, he absolutely did sweat it out. You can feel his joy pouring into the crowd, with Lucky’s faultless voice (despite mic troubles) and effortless movements inducing fan screams, the type of noises you would expect at a 2001 Usher show. Sounding even better live than he does recorded, the fairly short set was graciously received by the audience.
Lucky Daye has beaten the odds. A talented musician from New Orleans, a place where that’s nothing special, succeeding as an artist was not predetermined. Currently building a visual album to accompany 'Painted', as well as working on his second project, Lucky Daye is moving fast. Deeply indebted to R&B, Lucky has no plans to stray from this long-awaited path: “The blues part is what people yearn to feel. They want to know that they are not the only ones blue, and the rhythm just helps it. It will never die as long as I'm here because I'm going to keep evolving it.”
Lucky has already begun this evolution, and he’s got a solid base of (loud) fans waiting to hear what’s next.
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'Painted' is out now.
Words: Nicola Davies
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