A few days before the release of her new song “Montana,” Daya says that she’s “beyond excited” for the world to hear it, since the song represents a full-circle moment for the 22-year-old. Best known for pop hits like “Hide Away” and the Chainsmokers smash “Don’t Let Me Down,” Daya has used “Montana” — a stripped-down acoustic song about wanting to escape the city for dirt roads and a sense of peace, which was released on Friday (Apr. 30) — as a means of re-centering, ahead of her first project in five years arriving next month.
“I hadn’t been working a lot with just an acoustic guitar — usually it’s been a producer with a track,” Daya tells Billboard. Instead, “Montana” showcases the contours of the singer-songwriter’s voice, which has deepened slightly since the hits she released in her mid-teens.
“It’s been cool to come back to that [sound], because when I first started writing, it was just me and a guitar, or just me and a piano,” she explains. “Even when we were going through the stages of production and trying to see how we wanted it to feel, we just kept coming back to the original — bare-bones, stripped-down, just an acoustic guitar and my voice. It feels right.”
“Montana” precedes the May 14 release of Daya’s new EP, The Difference, which will be her first body of work since 2016 debut album Sit Still, Look Pretty. Since then, the Pittsburgh native has released a handful of singles and collaborated with artists like RL Grime, Gryffin and Illennium, but The Difference represents a fresh start for a pop singer-songwriter who collected hits in “Hide Away” and “Sit Still, Look Pretty” upon her debut.
One of the EP’s tracks, “Bad Girl,” has already connected at top 40 radio: the song sits at No. 32 on this week’s Pop Airplay chart after previously peaking at No. 27, with 4 million total audience impressions. The sparkling pop track represents Daya’s first entry on the chart since 2017.
“It feels like this era of rebirth, and re-connecting with the world around me,” Daya says of the EP. “‘First Time’ is more of a dance track, ‘Bad Girl’ is a bit darker, ‘Montana’ is very stripped-down, and there are a few others that are more in the alternative world. It definitely covers a variety of sounds, of production [types], but it just feels thematically cohesive.”
The Difference is also Daya’s first release on J Kash’s new label, Sandlot Records, in partnership with AWAL Recordings. Daya says that the producer (real name: Jacob Kasher) reached out to her early last year about being one of the first artists attached to his new operation, and their working relationship compelled her to commit to the label after previously joining Interscope.
“This is someone that I trust, that I love working with, who has basically all of the resources that I need,” she says of J Kash. “I don’t need 10 million other people butting in and telling me what to do. It’s a very direct line to him — if I have an issue with something or if I really want to do something, I’ll go straight to Kash and we’ll talk it out, which is really cool, versus having all of these different outside opinions.”
The Difference will be released roughly five years after Daya’s The Chainsmokers team-up “Don’t Let Me Down” reached No. 3 on the Hot 100 chart; the singer-songwriter has had time to reflect on that chart success, as well the success of her solo hits, ahead of the launch of her next artistic statement. “They definitely changed my life and I wouldn’t take that back for anything,” she says. “Me having had no real following — ‘Hide Away’ was my very first song — I think that that was a really amazing stroke of luck for me, and I rode that out with ‘Sit Still, Look Pretty’ and ‘Don’t Let Me Down.’ Looking back, it’s really cool that so many people were so supportive of me, because I feel like I had none of my s–t together.
“There are obviously some things I wish I could change about some of the early releases and early years,” Daya continues, “but I don’t regret it, if that makes sense. It got me to where I am, and I’m grateful for that.”