July 26, 2006
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SJP


Frenchman makes Sony BMG Cda home
By -- For JAM! Music


There is already a giant poster of dbClifford on the outside of the Sony BMG Music Canada building in Toronto. The Victoria, BC-based soul-pop singer and multi-instrumentalist, whose self-recorded debut album, "Recyclable," is due out in late January, came to the label via a new scouting agreement with Vancouver's Nettwerk Productions.

"To me, it's Maroon 5, it's Ben Folds, it's a little bit of Jamiroquai, it's a lot of Lewis Taylor. He lives in that kind of world. It doesn't do it justice to compare it to any one of those," says Sony BMG's A&R director Jonathan Ramos.

The first single, the sprightly piano-pop track "Simple Things," will be serviced to Canadian radio next month, the format still to be determined, likely Hot AC, and the plan between now and the new year is to build Clifford's fanbase through touring and the Internet.

"It's just taken a while to get the arrangement with Sony BMG sorted out, but more importantly we wanted Daniel to start to find some roots on the west coast and then on the east coast by starting to play out a lot more," explains Nettwerk's head of A&R Mark Jowett, who co-manages Clifford with Peter Leak in Nettwerk's Los Angeles office and also signed him to a publishing deal with Nettwerk One Music. His Canadian booking agent is Colin Lewis in the Toronto office of The Agency Group.

"I think we as a company, Nettwerk, working in conjunction with Daniel, also need to spread the word on the 'net. We use the 'net as a huge tool in building community for our artists now and it's in early stages for Daniel and we need more time to spread the word before we suddenly go, 'Here's the single,'" says Jowett. "It's about being very very patient and not putting pressure on the project and letting it grow more organically."

Clifford's web sites are MySpace.com/dbclifford and the soon to be re-launched dbclifford.com.

The 26-year-old musician, who was born and raised in Bergerac, France but now lives in Victoria with his wife, came to Nettwerk and Sony BMG through a circuitous route. He once had a recording contract with Nu America/Interscope.

Clifford was 20-years-old and still living in France when he and friend William Cartwright sent a demo they made in his barn to Cartwright's brother, Joby Baker, in Victoria, BC -- who, in turn, sent it out to some industry contacts.

"To cut a long story short, we got all this attention from a bunch of record labels and got flown out to New York, L.A. and all that and ended up signing with Babyface's label, through Interscope," says Clifford, who speaks with a distinct English accent, not French (perhaps because his mother was British). He was signed by Nu America president Andre Harrell, and moved to Los Angeles, but a year-and-a-half later things went sour.

"Basically, for artistic reasons, we decided to get out of the deal because we weren't happy with what was going on," says Clifford, describing his sound back then as "a bit more Jamiroquai" than what can be heard on "Recyclable." "We did a demo which now, thinking about it, was actually the finished album and they wanted us to redo everything in a much more hip sort of way. It just didn't work out."

In the summer of 2003, Clifford decided to join Baker in Victoria and fell in love with the Canadian culture, lifestyle and landscape. But not soon after, his mother passed away and he flew back to France for the funeral. While back home, he decided to make his own album.

"I got some money together, sold what I had and managed to get a bit of money from my previous advance," recounts Clifford. "My dad said, 'I can't give you any money, but you can live here as long as you want and do the album.' So I moved into what used to be my bedroom. It's an attic and recorded the album in six months completely by myself.

"I had a little Pro Tools rig and obviously I had a trumpet, bass, drum kit. I play drums. I recorded it on the piano my dad bought when I wasn't even born yet, the one I learnt to play piano on. So I recorded it, came back to Victoria, found an investor literally within a week who paid for the mixing."

The investor, Murray Tildesley, has points on the final version of "Recyclable" but "he's been more than a supporter and a friend than anything," says Clifford. "I met him over coffee and told my story."

Baker and Clifford then mixed the demo in Victoria.

"Once it was finished, I heard about Nettwerk," begins Clifford, entering into the final phase of his tale. "I didn't really know who they were but I'd heard about Mark Jowett, so I sent him the CD, gave him a call and told him the exact same story I'm telling you. A couple of weeks later he got back to me and said 'I really like the album. I don't know if it's right for Nettwerk, so thanks but no.' And I said, 'Actually, I think you need to listen to it again,' and we had this weird conversation and at the end he said, 'Alright, I'll give it another listen.'

"So he did and two weeks later, he called me back again and said, 'I still don't think it's right for Nettwerk, but I really love it. We've got this new thing going on with Sony BMG. Let me send it to them and see what happens.'"

Perhaps because the A&R consultant agreement was so new, Jowett says he hadn't originally thought of Clifford for Sony BMG when he first played the demo.

"I liked it, but it wasn't your traditional kind of Nettwerk demo which is more electronic or alternatively more roots oriented. It was actually a lot more commercial than most things that we listen to.

"So when I first listened to it, I'm like, 'Hmm,' so when he asked me to go back, quite strongly and assertively -- not in an arrogant way but in a passionate way -- I took note of that, so I did. And when I started listening to it, the depth and the strength of the songwriting and the playing struck me, as well as the message behind what he was saying," explains Jowett. "I just started getting a lot more interested in it.

"I thought, it might not be right for the Nettwerk label because we do tend to focus on material which tends to be a little bit more niche-oriented, particularly outside of Canada, but I thought it was really really good and deserved to come out and deserved to garner an audience and maybe Sony BMG, working with them, might be the right opportunity for it."

Ramos says that Nettwerk founders Jowett, Terry McBride and Ric Arboit physically brought Clifford's demo to the Sony BMG Music Canada headquarters last spring and played "Simple Things; "Don't Wanna" and "About A Girl" to him and company president Lisa Zbitnew.

"We sat in the studio upstairs and they're all looking at me because they're playing the music and I was like, 'Oh they're going to bring me stuff that maybe shouldn't be on the label. I didn't know what to expect,' Ramos laughs. "They didn't set it up. Terry was adamant they just play it. So they played it and I was like, 'Wow, this is great.' So that started the whole ball rolling. But I only really got it two months later," he adds.

"I tried a couple of times to go to Vancouver to see him play and I couldn't for a bunch of different reasons and it was just getting long and I got him on the phone and I said, 'You're gonna come here.' He said, 'Well, what about my band?' and I said, 'No, not for a gig. Come here, you and me are going to hang out for two or three days, and over those two or three days I got the whole thing.'"

Which is?

"Which is his vision. He -- more so than any other artist I know of -- has this vision for everything he does. He had an idea and there's a crazy road he went down, a crazy unlikely story of how he got here, and then there's this vision he had for this record and how he went about it and how focused he was and everything has significance."

"It was instant," says Clifford of his connection with Ramos. "The minute we spoke on the phone, I was like, 'Wow, this guy is exactly on the same wavelength as I am.' And it turned out when we met, we have the exact same (taste). He's a big fan of Lewis Taylor, which I am. 'Did you just say Lewis Taylor?' 'Did you just say...' so at that point, this guy gets it. He gets what I'm trying to do, so I explained the whole vision and how I did the vision."

Those songs on that demo were recorded in Victoria, with Clifford at the production helm again, playing every instrument and writing and arranging all the songs, then joining Baker to mix it. He also assembled a band with drummer Johnny 5 (Tegan And Sara) and bassist Rick May (Michael Jackson, Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones).

"It's a really impressive show," says Jowett. "He's trying to find a balance because they are musicians with such prowess musically, but sometimes that can go too far, so they've been trying to reign that in a little bit and create that perfect balance between really getting the songs across as him as an artist, but also making it a very musically powerful show. And I think they've found that balance now."


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