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How Daniel Luke’s reinventions led to music on his own terms

Words: Ellen Kenny
Images: Anthony O’Connor

Ahead of his debut single, ‘Heather’, Daniel Luke spoke to District about finding the sweet spot when reinventing a song and the moonlit night that inspired his first foray into solo music.

Taking cover

Most of us have pushed memories of lockdown to the back of our minds like a stack of unpaid bills. It’s a time we’d rather forget. However, in the negative space between existential crises, people found brief periods of peace indulging in hobbies. In the case of Daniel Luke aka Daniel Smith, he spent the past two years reimagining the contents of his Spotify playlists as classical piano music. It allowed him to engage with his varied taste of music in the absense of live shows whilst maintaining a love for classical sounds that has endured since the day he first heard “Clair de Lune”.

“I’d be into all kinds of contemporary music, ambient music and jazz… I was big into guitar bands and alternative rock and heavy metal and still am,” Daniel explains, “I have an eclectic music taste, I suppose.

Since I started writing music, I was trying to figure out how to get it out there. And then I just thought, actually, it might be cool to just arrange some different pieces.

If you have a song that you really like, it’s always nice to hear someone’s interpretation of it.”

Shot with a fish eye lens and shared on his Instagram, Daniel has covered acts ranging from Outkast to Gemma Dunleavy to Kate Bush. There’s no real rules to what he does, it’s more guided by feeling and imagination than any allegiance to the algorithm.

“You’re interpreting a song in a way you might not have pictured before. Like taking a piece like Fontaines’ [“Jackie Down the Line”], which is pretty heavy and big, and then bringing into a different world.” 

Finding a sound

For Dan, music runs in the family. He spent the best part of a decade touring as part of Gypsies on the Autobahn with his sibling James. Elsewhere, he’s written music alongside his other brother who is better known as Kojaque while his younger brother performs as part of Audible Chocolate. Unsurprisingly, their family home has seen a lot of practice and experimentation with sounds. “We’re all doing different things musically, it’s been good in that sense. I’ve gotten an insight into all these different sides musically.”

At their worst, covers are associated with train wreck attempts to emulate classic songs, but at their best, creatives minds can breath new life into timeless cuts. Dan brings a whole new perspective with his covers in a tasteful way that doesn’t compromise the original essence of the songs. He’s even had co-signs from the artists he’s covered like Villagers and Gemma Dunleavy. If anything, he zooms into the transitory moments and stretches them out with carefully selected progressions and chord changes. While the through line to the pieces is his style of play, each one is bespoke and made unlike any other.

“It’s based on each song itself and the kind of direction I go with it. I just play what comes naturally and then I kind of work a little bit more into the details of it” he explains.

“If the melody is interesting, or if the kind of chord changes in the piece are interesting or if it reused classical chord progressions, that can be easy. But some covers can be a bit more of a challenge.”

Fontaines D.C’s ‘Jackie Down the Line‘, for example, is one of Daniel’s favourite covers to date, but also one of the most challenging covers as such a “heavy” song that does not translate as easily to the soft and classical piano. In those situations, Daniel takes inspiration from existing classical pieces and applies those influences to his covers. 

“The Fontaines cover would be heavily influenced by Erik Satie and that kind of style. It’s a bit of a challenge but it’s really enjoyable.”

‘Jackie Down the Line‘ is also one of Daniel’s favourite covers because of how the piano transforms the tone and emotion of the song in an entirely new take from the original song, something he loves about covering popular music.

“I like [a cover] most when I can take a piece and change it up quite a lot, so that it still has everything the original but in a totally different tone.”

“As long as you’re keeping the melody quite close to what the original is, you can move the rest around quite a lot. The music can be really interesting when you get to see it in a different way and hear it in a different way.”

Producing original sounds

When Daniel isn’t reinventing other artists’ music, he is creating his own music. Daniel plans to release his debut album early next year, composed entirely of original instrumental tracks. Sure, creating music of your own brings its own unique set of challenges but it also comes with huge rewards. “There’s something more pure about it. I love taking a song and interpreting it, but my passion will be original music and composition.”

“It means a lot more to me. It’s coming from yourself and it’s coming from a place of your own emotional state, your own emotions. I think it’s more important for me to create something myself.”

Heather’ is the inaugural piece of his solo journey. Landing just last week, it was inspired by a trip to the Dublin mountains that was guided by a full moon in the sky and set against the backdrop of acres of purple heather.

“That stuffy kind of classical music is not what I’m looking for here at all”, he says. “I’m looking for something more modern, more fun and playful. I’m not imagining the music being played in traditional concert halls, but something more imaginative like gigs. I think it could be brought into the modern world very easily.”

Daniel’s debut single ‘Heather’ is out now. Listen below: