BRISBANE, Australia (Billboard) - Daniel Merriweather has no desire to be remembered as a runner-up.
Preparing for the U.S. release of his debut album, the soulful Australian has already enjoyed a British breakthrough -- but so far, the No. 1 spot has proved elusive.
Merriweather first climbed the Official Charts Co. (OCC) U.K. listings in April 2007, singing on Mark Ronson's "Stop Me" (his take on the Smiths' classic "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before"). That peaked at No. 2 -- as did Merriweather's debut album, "Love & War," in June 2009.
"Sure, it's frustrating to miss the top spot," he says from his apartment in New York's Harlem neighborhood. "But someone once told me the best songs go to No. 2. I can live with that."
The Melbourne-born singer now dreams of going one better with the album's February 23 U.S. release, on J Records/Allido, which includes a U.S.-only bonus track, "The Children."
Merriweather's life may be on track now, but his path easily could have taken him somewhere radically different. Raised in a tough part of Melbourne, he dropped out of school in his teen years and fell into bad company.
"I was young and stupid, had no money and ended up in and out of court every few months," he recalls.
But his situation changed -- first when he was picked up by local label Marlin Records, then again in 2002 when the then-relatively unknown Ronson heard his demo and invited Merriweather to record in New York.
He signed to Ronson's Allido Records outside Australia and sang on "She's Got Me" from Ronson's 2003 album, "Here Comes the Fuzz" (Elektra). That track won him the 2005 Australian Recording Industry Assn. (ARIA) Award for best urban release. Then came "Stop Me" -- and some death threats from disgruntled Smiths fans.
"Initially they directed their hate toward Mark through his MySpace page. But when they found out it was me singing, there was a hate transfer," he says with a laugh. "When the song became so ubiquitous on radio, I had a lot of Smiths fans come up to me and say, 'I used to hate it, but it grew on me.' I don't think anyone is too pissed about it now."
Merriweather also guested on U.K. grime star Wiley's top 20 hit "Cash in My Pocket," but his emotive vocals on tracks like "For Your Money" and "Change" have helped connect with his own audience for the Ronson-produced "Love & War," which has sold 255,000 copies in the United Kingdom, according to the OCC. The album has also gone top 40 in Austria, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland and Australia, where he won the 2009 ARIA Award for best male artist.
Now, RCA/Jive Label Group chairman/CEO Barry Weiss says, "We think Daniel's on the verge of a worldwide success story."
"He has the hits, no question," RCA Music Group senior vice president of marketing Aaron Borns says. "Daniel's success in Europe gives him a launch pad here, certainly for the media."
Merriweather delivered an intimate performance January 16 for noncommercial KCRW Los Angeles on the rooftop of the Paley Center for Media before a handful of theater dates, which started January 20 at the Troubadour in L.A. before moving on to the Florida Room in Miami (January 22) and New York's Gramercy Theater (January 26).
The lead track for the United States is the smoldering ballad "Red" -- a U.K. No. 5 hit in May 2009. It will go to radio in mid-February, and VH1 will feature Merriweather as a You Oughta Know artist beginning February 1. He is booked to appear on "Late Show With David Letterman" February 23 and "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" February 26.
"My dream is to be able to keep living here and making records until I'm 85," says Merriweather from his adopted New York home. "I live by the idea that 'if you build it, they will come.' If they don't come, then you didn't build it big enough."