Marvin Gaye has influenced the R&B singer and songwriter Lucky Daye’s musical career in more ways than one. For starters, the 35-year-old Louisiana native born David Brown settled on his stage name—with the additional “e” at the end of Daye—after he peeped Gaye’s unique spelling. He listened to “Let’s Get It On” on a loop and dove deeply into the rest of Gaye’s catalogue at length. And he held another, fairly bizarre connection to the Prince of Soul—like Gaye, Daye’s early upbringing was spent in what he has described as a “religious cult,” a severe sect of Christianity that is now defunct (Daye has declined in past interviews to identify the name of the church). Gaye, too, was brought up in a strict Pentecostal set called The House of God; his relationship with his father was abusive from end to end—his father was eventually responsible for his death, fatally shooting Gaye in his chest. Daye received beatings from church members as a kid if he didn’t eat certain food, or spoke out of turn, and he has hinted at a rough relationship with his dad.
Reading this information pertaining to Daye’s life story caused me great anxiety and sadness. I formulated preconceived notions of how I thought he would be: dark, brooding, moody. His music, after all, is made up of heartbreaking and honest lyrics (“We keep our foot on the gas, running from the past,” he sings in a velvety baritone on “Fade Away,” his song featured on the soundtrack for the 2020 film The Photograph). In his melodies, listeners can find layers of nostalgia, the pain and pleasure of fleeting passion—and it’s clearly resonated with the millions of monthly Spotify listeners he’s racked up, not to mention fans of his first hit “Roll Some Mo,” which spent over 18 weeks at the top of Billboard’s charts.
When I meet Daye over Zoom on a recent afternoon, however, he is anything but dark, brooding, or moody. He’s energetic, bubbly, and has a goofy, boyish spirit. He laughs loudly at his own jokes and visibly plays coy when he makes what he considers to be controversial statements. He sends a text message poking fun at his friends who have smoked all his weed. “You high motherfuckers!” he cackles, sipping on a fruit smoothie infused with CBD through a straw.
Needless to say, the conversation did not go how I initially thought it might. But that’s the pleasantly delightful appeal behind Daye, who has been hailed as one of the most exciting new voices in R&B. He’s versatile, while staying true to a sound all his own. And after releasing his debut album Painted in the summer of 2019, Daye went on a worldwide tour, selling out venues in the U.K. and all over the United States. But by the end of the year, rising fears about Covid-19 abroad cut his winning streak short. Then the pandemic hit the U.S.
But as Daye recounts it, his shine wouldn’t be stopped—in fact, it was brightening by the day. At the time, Gaye had pervaded his thoughts once more, and his album “The Complete Duets” with Tammi Terrell inspired the idea behind Daye’s latest project—an EP comprised entirely of duets titled “Table for Two,” released today.
“I’ve been feeling like it’s time for women to take their rightful place in leadership roles,” Daye says. “It’s their time to shine. Women need to be seen and heard, and I want to be a part of that.”
Daye spent the better part of quarantine recording songs with the women featured on the EP, which includes Ari Lennox, Tiana Major9, and Mahalia. Most of the tracks were made in person—the only exception was Joyce Wrice, with whom Daye worked remotely (their song, it’s worth noting, was originally meant for Mary J. Blige).
To make “On Read,” the track that features East London talent Tiana Major9, Daye flew to New York. Surprisingly enough, it was part of an effort to capture what he calls “that European feel.”
“I wanted it to feel like when it rains in Europe,” he says. “It’s a whole different vibe—nobody in America can understand that. In Europe, when it rains, that’s the rain I saw in the movies. That’s romantic rain.”
The song, which is bookended by iMessage pings and a gnarly guitar lick, is a call-and-response conversation between Daye and Tiana Major9, who go back and forth about ignoring a new lover’s texts.
“I got a call from an old friend and they were talking about an artist from the U.K.,” Daye recalls of meeting Major. “So I was like, ‘Yeah, of course, I’m not going to ever turn down a session.’ We got in and I heard her voice. I became a fan immediately. I was like, ‘Yo, ain’t nobody singing like you.’ It turns out she liked my songs too.”
For his song with Lennox, Daye joined the D.C. native in Los Angeles at EastWest Studios. He played “half a song” that he’d been messing with, which eventually became their track “Access Denied.” They wrote the second half of the song in a fairly unconventional manner: he wrote half of her verse and she wrote half of his.
“We exchanged superpowers and did each other’s verses,” he says. “It was the most interactive song that I wrote on the EP.”
Table for Two is a prequel to Daye’s upcoming second album, release date TBD. But he also sees it as an ongoing thing—after all, he says, the album was nearly finished before he paused to start on the EP.
“The EP puts my message across simply,” he says. “They’re regular, digestible songs. I wanted to, I guess, fit in for a second before I go do my own thing again. I wanted to give my fans some cheesecake before I give them this kale.”
Inevitably, the conversation turns back to Marvin Gaye. “His father really shot him,” Daye says quietly, in the most hushed tone he’s uttered during our entire conversation. “It’s sad when these great people leave us and people just forget about what they were doing.” He pauses. The wistful mood doesn’t last long. He lets loose a wide grin. “I feel like I’m picking up where he left off.”