As a singer-songwriter, Daniel Caesar’s style is honest, vivid, curious, and evocative. Since his 2014 debut, his lyrics have painted detailed, colourful pictures of his life through many lenses, sometimes rosy and technicolor, and sometimes greyscale. His taste in interiors doesn’t follow suit, though. To feel at home during a hotel stay, “I need everything to be as simple as possible,” he explains on phone call with Complex Canada. We broached the topic shortly after news broke of his new role as Chief Culture Officer for The Annex, a self-proclaimed “high-tech, low-touch” hotel nestled in its namesake Toronto neighbourhood.
So in an era where celebrities are gratuitously being appointed to Creative Director-adjacent seats at breakneck speed, what will Caesar actually do? “Daniel will be heavily involved with the curation of their spaces through the lens of design to ensure the Annex is a thought leader in what being a cultural hub looks like,” a rep for the hotel clarifies via email. As a longtime Torontonian and an aspiring hotelier, onboarding Caesar appears to be a good fit for The Annex’s attempt to morph into more of a culture emblem than a traditional hotel.
The new title is part of an entirely new era for Caesar, too. Over two years since releasing his sophomore LP Case Study 01, he’s working on new music with an enlivened sense of enthusiasm for his craft, he says. Albeit brief, our 15-minute conversation was a portrait of a singer-songwriter on the brink of his latest phase of evolution. The radical transparency that distinguishes his songwriting from the sea of contemporaries bleeds into his phone presence—he was open and surprisingly very easy to talk to.
Ahead, the Grammy-winner (who’s also up for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best R&B Performance at this year’s ceremony for “Peaches”) shares his outlook on the creative process, his run-in with Frank Ocean, and everything he’s been listening to while recording his new project.
Can we expect new music in 2022?
Yeah, for sure. The album is just about done, basically.
When you’re creating a new project, do you compare what you’re working on to your past work? Is that kind of creative graduation something that’s important to you?
Absolutely. I hate stagnation—I don’t believe in it. While comparison is the thief of joy, I find myself unable to not compare myself, most importantly to my past self, but then also to my peers, idols, everybody. But yeah, growth and change is what I’m all about.
So then do you ever worry about if fans will think that your new work is too different from past work? Or do you not allow that perspective to impede the process?
I think about that all the time, but I try my best to power through it. For the most part, I think I’m successful but I’m definitely not perfect.
“It’s mostly me. I’m not much of a ‘go outside and be social’ type of person and that was before the quarantine. So working on the album post-quarantine, you’re not really interacting with anybody else.”
Which albums, films, and other creative works did you keep coming back to when you were working on your album?
All Radiohead. Abbey Road by The Beatles—that was probably the biggest one. Supertramp’s Even in the Quietest Moments…, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West. I’ve been watching a lot of Michael Haneke films, most importantly Funny Games. That movie is crazy. I can’t believe I’ve lived my whole life without knowing about it. The White Ribbon, The Piano Teacher are great films of his, too. I’ve been watching a lot of Daniel Day Lewis’ movies with Paul Thomas Anderson, like Phantom Thread, I fucking love that movie so much—I’ve watched it like 10 times. Guy Ritchie movies, too.
On “Peaches,” how did your verse come together?
We were all out in France working on my album together and I just kind of sat down, mumbled out melodies and a few words came out. Then [my friends and I] all sat down and strung together a verse. That was the first time I had ever done something like that. It was so cool.
How did the partnership with The Annex come to be?
My friend Chief [Bosompra] has his burger shop (Aunty Lucy’s) based there, so he reached out and let me know that they were moving in another direction and looking for someone to help them: someone from the culture who understood the cultural currency and whatnot.
We had a meeting and it clicked. I’ve spent a lot of time in hotels over the past five years and I used to wash dishes in restaurants—I like the industry. One day I’m going to own my own hotel, so I figured I’d start out with this.
What was your most memorable hotel stay?
The craziest stories are the ones I can’t tell. But I met Frank Ocean at The Mercer in New York. That was pretty crazy.
What are the key elements that you have to have around you to feel at home?
I don’t like most hotels I go to. I need my sheets to be white with no designs and I need my walls to be white. There doesn’t really need to have a special scent, but my favourite scent has got to be Santal 33, like they have at The Fairmont. But honestly, I’m not that particular, it just has to be simple. I hate hotel art. It has to be removable.
Once when I stayed at the Sunset Marquis in L.A., they had a portrait of Robin Williams on the wall in my room, but it was stuck so I couldn’t take it down. They also had blackout curtains. I wasn’t in a good place at the time, so it was just weird being really depressed and having a picture of Robin Williams just staring at you. I just need to be able to reduce. It should be modular and simplified. Don’t do too much.
How collaboration-heavy is your new project? Who can we expect to hear on it?
It’s mostly me. I’m not much of a ‘go outside and be social’ type of person and that was before the quarantine. So working on the album post-quarantine, you’re not really interacting with anybody else.
In terms of producers, I’ve worked with quite a few. I’ve started working with one who’s fucking brilliant named Dylan Wiggins. If I wasn’t excited about music before—like if I had started to wane in my love for the artform—he definitely has re-inspired me and made me excited about things. But as far as other artists, there’s no one I would leak right now. But I have met a few people who have made me excited about making things again.