Daya Talks Debut Album and 'Changing the Game' as an Independent Pop Star

In 2015, Daya was a junior in high school. In the span of roughly six months this year, she transformed into a hitmaker: following the success of "Hide Away," which reached No. 23 on the Hot 100 in March, she climbed to No. 3 with "Don't Let Me Down" -- a collaboration with The Chainsmokers -- and followed that with another top 30 entry, "Sit Still, Look Pretty." That self-sufficient anthem also lent its name to her debut album, which hits shelves on October 7th. 

To work on the full-length, Daya reconvened with many of the same musicians who contributed to her initial success, a group that includes the songwriter Gino "Farrago" Barletta and the writer/producer Scott "Noisecastle III" Bruzenak. Billboard caught up with Daya to discuss her work with The Chainsmokers, what it's like to blanket pop radio, and achieving success on an independent label. These are excerpts from the conversation. 

When you finished "Sit Still, Look Pretty" did you feel like it was going to be a hit?

I was just a junior in high school, so I had no clue what the hell I was getting myself into. I couldn't have asked for a better turnout for "Hide Away" and "Sit Still, Look Pretty" -- "Sit Still, Look Pretty" especially. It was my first time writing in L.A., or with other collaborators. We wrote six songs; it was a weekend thing. They were all different genres, and we were gonna pitch them to other artists, that was the original plan -- just to focus on my writing and possibly get that going as a career. It turned out that people loved my voice on "Hideaway." It clicked. "Sit Still, Look Pretty" is my favorite from the EP. I feel like it describes me the most. 

Are you used to hearing yourself on the radio now?

I feel like it's weird for me to say that I'm used to it, but I kind of am. When "Don't Let Me Down" reached No. 1, it was on all the time -- every single cab ride, every single Uber ride -- which was incredible and more than I could ever ask for. Such a wild, crazy moment. It's never not crazy when I hear myself on the radio in an Uber. 

How did the collaboration with Chainsmokers come about?

They got in touch with me I want to say October or November of last year. We were trying to push "Hide Away" to radio, get my name out there, do all these gigs. No one knew who I was; no one knew what the song was. The Chainsmokers reached out to me through Sony -- I'm independent, but I work with Sony Red for promotion and distribution. When I heard the song, I fell in love with it. I was so excited about the prospect of working with other people, because I'd never done that before, and I only had six songs out at the time. 

I was super stoked, but my mom was not into the idea. She was like, "who are these Chainsmokers? I don't know how I feel about them." She only knew their name at that point -- "Chainsmokers, really?" I was like, "trust me, they're great." Then she watched one of their videos, and it was like a threesome video. She's like, "we have to meet them." So I went to a show and met them and automatically clicked with them. My mom met them eventually and turned her mindset around -- she loves them now. 

Are you looking to do more collaborations?

Down the line, for sure. After "Don't Let Me Down," I was ready to focus on myself and getting my album out there. I want the world to know who Daya really is. That's No. 1, to build a foundation for yourself. In the future, for sure -- I would love to collaborate with different producers, different artists. I'm always down for that. It makes the experience so much more fun to share it with other people. With the Chainsmokers, it was so fun -- to perform it with them, go on Good Morning America with them, everything. It makes it a party.

When did you start working on the new songs on the album?

Probably last November, right after the EP was out. I worked with the same co-writers that I worked with on the EP. We took it week by week, month by month -- my schedule is so crazy, I basically have a show every day in different cities. It's hard to find time to get in the studio, but I made it a priority. I really wanted my debut album to be great. We worked November through May, found pockets to go to L.A. to do sessions with these people and create some songs. We had basically all of it done by July. I think everything turned out really well given the short amount of time we have to create it. 

Do you feel like playing all those shows has helped you figure out what works well and what doesn't when it comes to songwriting?

When we worked on my EP, I wasn't doing the shows, so I didn't really think about performing them live. But we wrote a couple songs in there -- literally during "Sit Still Look Pretty" I cannot breathe the entire time during my performances. There's so many words and no breaks! I love the song, it's a great song, and I love performing it. But I didn't realize you have to take into consideration performing the song when you're writing it. So I didn't do that again. 

You're working with the producer Noisecastle III again -- what do you like about his production?

I really like the driving beats. He's really good at enhancing the songs that way, adding a little bit of meat. He was the first producer that I worked with and we just have a really good relationship. 

There's one song on the album, "Love Of My Life," that's almost like a reggae track.

I actually have two of those -- "Got The Feeling" and "Love Of My Life" are sort of similar in that they're kind of reggae, kind of island-y. They were fun to make, two of the most fun on the record to write. I had a blast coming up with simple and meaningful catch phrases for the hooks. Those will be the summer jams -- driving your car, windows down, blasting it with your friends. 

Will this album also be an independent release like the EP?

Yeah this will also be on my independent label called Artbeatz. The thing about being independent is that we're kind of the underdog in the situation. We're always working hard, pushing, persevering and wouldn't really back down. We're changing the game on that. We all had no idea what we were doing -- it was a very small team of us, and it still is. It's like five of us, literally. But we get everything done and we work really hard. Other people are jaded; they'll switch on to another project or move on. We were determined to get this. We really can get shit done. 


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