NEW YORK (Billboard) - U.S. audiences may not recognize Dan Black, but the British electronic artist has spent the last two years soaking up American pop music for his debut album, “UN.”
Seven months after Black’s sample-heavy soundscapes made a splash in the United Kingdom, the record will hit American stores February 16 via the Hours, a French label partly owned by ad agency Euro RSCG.
Although “UN” and its stylish singles amassed a following in the United Kingdom, the singer/songwriter/producer says that he’s a little worried about trying to translate the success to the United States.
“I‘m still an unknown quantity,” he says. “We’ve tried to do things at a slower level and focus on European audiences, but now we’re taking things up a few gears. I‘m nervous but amazingly excited.”
Black began experimenting with electronic music as the lead singer of London alt-rock group the Servant. After splitting from the band in 2007, he holed up with a laptop in his Paris apartment and toyed with disparate musical genres, from American hip-hop to English pop music.
Recording 70 songs during a two-month period in the winter of 2008, Black took inspiration from sample-heavy personal favorites like the Beastie Boys’ “Paul’s Boutique” while drawing upon modern mash-up acts like Girl Talk and 2 Many DJ‘s.
“These kinds of artists weren’t just being divisive and making songs out of others’ material,” Black says. “They were redefining what it means to be an artist.”
One of his earliest demos was “HYPNTZ,” a mash-up that molded pieces of the “Starman” soundtrack, Rihanna’s “Umbrella” and the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize” into a slick pop song. Although the self-released track had to be reworked because of copyright issues, the song generated Internet buzz for Black and eventually became his first single, “Symphonies.”
Released last July in the United Kingdom, “UN” was preceded by a performance at the 2009 Glastonbury Festival, while album track “U + Me =” was featured as an iTunes Single of the Week.
Along with the standard marketing tools used to promote the album, Black was given a larger platform as an artist on the Hours, which is distributed by Universal and operates through advertising conglomerate Euro RSCG Worldwide. The label allows artists to use existing songs in advertising campaigns while creating original music for other brands. Black contributed the “UN” track “Pump My Pumps” to French clothing company Lacoste’s winter 2009 campaign and wrote a Web-exclusive track for jeweler Cartier’s recent “How Far Would You Go for Love” promotion.
“We are the first record label to be integrated into a major advertising network,” Hours co-founder/A&R rep Leslie Dubest says of the label, whose roster includes the acts Elbow and Dada Life. “We have a unique setup where artists can work with cool brands but never have to change the artistic side of the equation.”
Dubest says that the label’s focus in 2010 will be on expanding Black’s presence in the United States. Black will make a brief North American trek this winter, culminating in a March 26 appearance at Miami’s Ultra Music Festival. A new version of “Symphonies” featuring rapper Kid Cudi will appear on the American version of the album.
The Hours also plans to involve Black’s music in more advertising campaigns this year, a decision that he supports. “The music industry’s not as financially viable as it used to be,” Black says. “As long as there’s no ethical issues with the advertising, I‘m up for it.”