Jamaica born, Stratford-raised, Denai Moore has gone through a telling transition since first uploading an early recording of her 2012 demo ‘Flaws’. It was a beautifully sung, folk and R’n’B-informed track that deservedly brought Denai quick attention, and gave an indication that this songwriter had broad ideas; there belied grit to her songwriting that was fresh and unique. It was this simple track brimming with invention that came to form the blueprint for her future recordings.
Things moved quickly – Denai signed to London independent label, Because Music (Metronomy, Little Dragon, Django Django…) and then Ben Drew was in touch; he’d heard a couple of Denai’s songs and wanted to work with her on production, eventually producing The Lake EP in 2013 (he’s since signed her to his publishing company). A much-vaunted solo spot on the BBC’s Later… with Jools Holland followed, Denai commanding a grand piano under the studio spotlight.
To discuss influences is to give very little indication of what route Denai was to take or indeed, has ultimately taken. She’s as passionate about the music of Joey Bada$$ and Tinashe as she is of Bon Iver, Kendrick Lamar, and Foals. Raury’s music excites her, whilst James Vincent McMorrow contributed to a track on her ‘I Swore’ EP. Denai’s cover of Band of Horses’ ‘Part One’ was heard by the band and her version re-recorded by them. At the tail-end of last year, it came as little surprise that Denai’s distinctive soul voice could be heard on SBTRKT’s acclaimed 2014 album, on the track ‘The Light’, which she co-wrote with him. Denai recently completed a UK and European tour in support of and in collaboration with him.
‘Elsewhere’ will undoubtedly surprise the early-birds that had Denai pigeon-holed from her early recordings. Yes, soul, folk, and indie are genres that Denai winds through, and indeed, if you take the songs back to their skeleton-frame, it’s still very much about her startling, vulnerable voice, but there is a sparseness and atmosphere on the LP that recalls something deeper and decidedly more left of centre.
The production of this record alongside Rodaidh McDonald was a masterstroke. McDonald’s sparseness, upfront vocals and icy-dark atmospherics have almost become as synonymous as Spector’s Wall of Sound (almost..). His work with The XX, King Krule, and Sampha was a vision that matched that of Denai’s own. The songs were fast-moving beyond those acoustic beginnings, and McDonald (with contributions from the likes of Royce Wood Jr and Mocky) was the man to digest her new ideas and filter them through his own via the XL Studios.
Fresh from those album sessions, the captivating ‘I Swore EP’ drew 2014 to a melodic close and gave a hint as to what’s to come. Denai (aided solely by piano) performed a live session on Huw Stephens Radio 1 show at the tail end of the year, whilst the EP’s title track was lauded as BBC Introducing Track of the Week on 1Xtra.
These songs at their rawest in subject matter find themselves united by heartbreak, testing times, and impending opportunity, all written and performed by a young woman with the world at her feet and her expectations looking up to the stars.
Barely into her twenty-second year, Denai has achieved plenty, but in real terms, has barely begun in reaching an audience that could realistically crossover any makeshift divide or genre specifics; drawing in further sessions with Dermot O’Leary and Jo Whiley and accumulating over 50 BBC Radio 1 plays.
The critical acclaim received for Elsewhere brought due attention to a record brimming with invention and a deft of touch from this hugely gifted young British songwriter who has already begun writing her next. Since ‘Elsewhere’s release, Denai has featured on tracks with Mura Masa and Astronomyy. More recently, Denai has found her series of headline shows well received, with a highlight of 2 performances at the Glastonbury Festival.
Her latest endeavors saw Denai play an intimate secret show at The Hospital Club, London with Deezer and an exclusive recording opportunity at Abbey Road Studios with Converse. Denai now concedes ‘Elsewhere’s debut in the States, accompanied by a US and EU tour and also the single release for ‘Detonate’ – an album highlight, that has been newly mixed by London’s Jeremy Wheatley (Dizzee Rascal, John Newman) with additional production from Fiasco (Duke Dumont). It features on a new EP alongside a rework by acclaimed South London producer Kwes and a remixes by Manchester’s DJ Keeno and William Arcane.