Daniel Powter creates music the way most people breathe—it’s simply what he does as a way of getting along. “I write songs to make sense of the world around me,” says Powter, a native of British Columbia now living in Los Angeles with his two young children. “And that’s how I’ve been since I was 10 years old, long before anyone else was listening.”
People started listening—in the tens of millions—in 2006, when Powter’s song “Bad Day” became a worldwide smash, one that Billboard named the top Hot 100 song of that year. Today Powter uses any number of metaphors to describe the experience. “Obviously, it was incredible—a lightning-in-a-bottle moment,” says the singer-songwriter, whose major-label debut single impacted across Europe and in Australia before taking off in the United States thanks in part to its prominent placement on American Idol. “To have people all over the globe singing along to your music—it’s what every songwriter dreams of.”
Looking back, Powter can see that the weight of “Bad Day” eventually began to take its toll on his creative energy. “It was a double-edged sword,” he admits. “Kind of a blessing and a curse. I was touring the world and performing for thousands of people, but I felt like the song was starting to define me.” He laughs. “I actually found myself getting almost angry about it.” Powter even made a follow-up record that reflected some of those heavy feelings. “Then I realized that the only person my anger was affecting was me.”
The weight finally lifts on Powter’s new album, Turn on the Lights, an effervescent set of summer-ready pop songs about life, love and what happens in between. Produced by veteran hitmaker Howard Benson (Kelly Clarkson, Gavin DeGraw, All-American Rejects) at his Bay 7 Studios in Los Angeles, Turn on the Lights catches Powter in a soulful, irresistibly uplifting mood.
“Let’s get stupid dancing with Cupid tonight,” urges the Grammy-nominated singer over a strummy groove in lead single “Cupid,” “Don’t it feel all kind of right?” In “Crazy All My Life” he claims he’s done trying to be cool (“I want more!”), while the piano-based “The Day We Never Met” examines a relationship in reverse—“almost like a musical version of the movie Memento,” Powter explains.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, of course: “Come Home” ponders the necessity of friendship during hard times. But even in its darker moments, Turn on the Lights retains an essential optimism that Powter says reflects his newly positive mindset these days. “For the first time in a long time, I felt like I didn’t have anything to prove while I was writing this record,” he explains. “I was just writing music because that’s what I love to do. And I think in that process I kind of grew up a little bit.”
Powter composed many of the songs at home on piano, and as a result the music began flowing more freely than it had in years. “I was calling my friends, putting the phone to the speaker—like, ‘Listen to this!’” he remembers with a laugh. “They’d say, ‘Wow, how long has it been since Daniel did that?’”
Once he got the songs to his liking, Powter called in Benson, who proved to be an invaluable partner. The producer assembled a top-notch band (including drummer Josh Freese and guitarist Tim Pierce) and established an atmosphere in which the music could truly grow. “Howard totally got what I was trying to do,” Powter says. “So much of what’s out right now feels like it was made by computers. But we really wanted this to have an organic sound—like humans were playing the instruments.”
That’s the vibe he’ll continue to provide this year on the road, where Powter says he couldn’t be more excited to return. “I love making records, but what I really live to do is play concerts,” he notes. “And that’s kind of been a big life lesson for me—that the beauty of a ‘Bad Day’ or a ‘Cupid’ is that it gets people interested in what you’re doing, so that they come see you and find out what you’re all about.”
Until recently, Daniel Powter fans might’ve thought they knew what he was all about. With Turn on the Lights, he’s got a lot more to show.