Daniel Powter knows a little something about being bounced off of a talent competition.
As a kid, before the piano became his instrument of choice, he would compete in violin contests — and wouldn’t make it very far. So he finds it quite ironic that his first hit, “Bad Day,” would become the signature song for booted contestants on “American Idol” — which the Canadian singer-songwriter still hasn’t seen.
But Powter is glad for the exposure, which helped make “Bad Day” the No. l song in the United States for five weeks and made a star out of Powter, 35, after years and years of struggle.
Powter talked to The Associated Press recently about those lean years, comparisons to fellow singer-songwriter James Blunt and why you never see him without a hat in public.
AP: This success was a long time coming. When you were working on this album, what were your hopes?
Powter: I was making it for myself. For me it was mostly about trying to get on some sort of distribution, being able to get in front of people and play music and tour. If it was 40 people, that would have been fine every night, or 1,000 people would have been fine too. I was chasing it for so long. I was visiting labels and had been sent packing, so to speak. I realized the more I made the music for myself, the more successful I was becoming. I gave up that idea of trying to make music that I thought other people would want. I just made music for myself and music for people that I knew.
AP: What is the closest you came to success before you got this contract?
Powter: I wouldn’t know whether or not I was going to get signed by a certain label. I did get flown up to New York for a label I won’t mention. I put on a big showcase for them and they took good care of us. It didn’t happen. That happened with a lot of labels. I was doing stuff that for me was sort of more about playing real music.
AP: Critics have said you sound like James Blunt. Are you annoyed by this?
Powter: James and I have talked about it. Our music is very different from each other. It doesn’t annoy me. I think people want to put you in a box and close it away so that it makes them feel better. A lot of musicians get that. They say as an interviewer, ‘I need to put you in a box. I’ve got to close the lid and put you in some sort of category and file you.’ James would agree that our music doesn’t sound alike. I think the similarity is more about that fact that we are both male songwriters and our songs are successful.
AP: Before your record deal, what were you doing to keep yourself in the game?
Powter: I stayed involved with music my whole life. I was always playing with other people. Chris Isaak had a show in Vancouver and I played the keyboard with him for a while. I just did whatever it took to keep making music — slept on couches. You would be amazed at how far $20 can go if you stretch it out.
AP: You recorded your self-titled album in your apartment. What impact did it have on the result?
Powter: It was done in a way that was organic. I didn’t have to see this big clock on the wall and worry. Most of the record I made was experimental. If you have a lot of time to do that you don’t have to worry about the money, plus, I had no money. It was more out of necessity than choice. That environment, being in an apartment or in a home is really comforting.
AP: Is your success all that you thought it would be?
Powter: It was everything I hoped for. It was a lot of work. For me there is a reluctance to be in front of cameras. I love making music but with that comes a lot of responsibility and you have to put yourself out there more. I’m learning as I go. The music has drawn me out of my shell. It’s made me open my door a little more and be able to look at people in the eye. In that sense of the word, it has been helpful to me so I am happy now.
AP: Finally, you always seem to be wearing a hat — what’s up with that?
Powter: Actually it’s funny. It’s like a security blanket. I can keep my head down and it feels like a buffer. Someone asked me if I play piano because I feel like I have a protective wall around me. Maybe. I am really messed up (laughs). I need to get on a couch and see a shrink!