Spirituality has always swirled around Daniel Caesar. The 21-year-old musician, son of famed gospel singer Norwill Simmonds, grew up in a strict Seventh-day Adventist household. Though Caesar had little access to secular records as a kid, what he did hear—Stevie Wonder’s Greatest Hits, The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band—helped cultivate an interest in music that stretched well beyond the church choir. “Some of my earliest memories are just me around the house singing things to myself,” he offers. “My family used to do this thing called family worship, where my dad would play guitar, and we’d all get together and sing. I always liked how it felt when I sang.”
In conversation, Daniel speaks with the measured consideration of someone not altogether comfortable with being the center of attention, but when he sings, he’s absolutely commanding. “Growing up, my mom always told me I had a sweet voice,” he recalls shyly. Today, Caesar’s voice is still sweet, but also soulful, strong, and supple. Thanks in part to his choir training, he can effortlessly hit falsetto highs and tenor lows—a skill he uses often in his songs, which straddle the lines between funk, soul, R&B, and something slightly more divine.
Last year, Caesar released a slinky hit featuring Kali Uchis—“Get You” grooved low and slow, calling to mind his near-contemporary D’Angelo. Caesar’s newest tracks, however, seem to reach to the heavens for inspiration. Take “We Find Love,” a striking hymnal about the fairytale start and crushing end of a romantic relationship. It’s a love song, but one that finds Caesar singing about heartbreak the way most sing about God. “I tend to write music to comfort myself,” Caesar tells us. “I want my music to feel like it feels when you’re down and you get a hug from a good friend.”
In many ways, “We Find Love” and its B-side, “Blessed,” are logical steps in a new direction. Caesar’s 2014 debut, Praise Break, loosely chronicled his life after high school, when he fled small-town Ottawa for Toronto to link up with some of the city’s musical elite. The songs were vibey and sample-filled, and most revolved around unrequited love, youth, and Daniel’s crumbling relationship with his faith. On 2015’s Pilgrim’s Paradise, the young singer pushed things in a more candid, soulful direction—many of the songs directly tackled his struggles with the religion he was raised in.
Personal experiences are at the heart of Caesar’s songs. “I try to keep the music as honest as possible,” he says. It’s a sentiment that runs throughout his art, and one he believes even trickles down to how he presents himself offstage. “I like to be simple,” he says. “I used to be into extravagant things, but now, I don’t like the idea of my clothes saying more than I say myself. Sometimes you put on a certain uniform and it says to people that you’re this or you’re that, and sometimes, that thing is bigger than you actually are.”
It’s a grounded outlook from someone with the kind of buzz Caesar is currently experiencing, but given the amount of soul searching he’s done to get here, it’s also not all that surprising. “I always knew I wanted to do this, and I always felt like I could,” he says. “Around high school, music became the most important thing in my life, and when things like my schoolwork or my faith went to the wayside, my parents were a little distressed. Being in this position is a one-in-a-million opportunity, so I appreciate that they tried to encourage me to pursue other things, but I also know that if you want anything badly enough, regardless of what anyone says, you’ll go for it.”