His father, whose love of The Gap Band Daye says sparked his own affinity for music, eventually left the church. A few years later, his mother left too. "The only reason we got out was because the pastor dude… He put me on his lap or whatever, and was telling me when my dad dies, he was going to bring me to the park," he tells me. "I didn't know what that meant, but I was excited." When the singer was older, he says, his mother told him the pastor's invitation to the park is what convinced her to depart from the church. "She explained the 'take me to the park' situation, and I was like, 'That's crazy,'" he says. (The pastor, now deceased, later pleaded “no contest” to molestation charges after being accused by multiple children.)
After his mother left the organization, she explored other spiritual avenues. "I feel like she was looking for something," he tells me. "She had us in a bunch of different organizations trying to find what she calls a 'home.' We just went with her." Looking back at his non-traditional upbringing, Daye has complicated feelings about religion ("It's funny how people can use religion to do what they want to do," he says), though he credits these early experiences with teaching him how to be resourceful. "The only thing I did love about [the organization] was learning how to make music from nothing," he says. "I didn't need a beat, a guitar, or anything."
The singer's voice became his refuge, until a stint singing in the choir at his uncle's church became exhausting, and he began to question if he wanted to continue. "They'd always be like, 'When you get to heaven, you're going to sing and praise forever,'" he recalls of the speeches from his family. "I remember telling my mama, ‘I don't think I want to go to heaven,’" he continues, laughing at his younger self. "Forever is a long time. I sing now. I don't want to do this after I die too."
Daye never quite fit in with his peers. Cafeteria table conversations at school felt foreign to him. Although he'd left the organization when he was eight, it would be almost five years until his mother allowed him to watch television. In the ninth grade, he started using his voice for pocket money, singing to girls at school in exchange for the cost of his cafeteria lunch. "I'd sing their name, and my homie would charge 50 cents," he says. "I'd give him a nickel or just buy both of our fries. I didn't think my voice was nothing special; I just knew I could eat from it, so I started using it as a tool." (He even appeared on season four ofAmerican Idol in 2005, singing a spirited rendition of "All is Fair in Love," among other songs.)
By the time Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, the singer was inching into adulthood and attempting to abandon his family’s rigid lifestyle. The storm ravaged New Orleans, killing more than 1,800 people and destroying 134,000 homes. In its aftermath, predominantly Black neighborhoods like the Seventh Ward have been the slowest to bounce back. In the decade since Katrina, almost 15,000 housing units in that neighborhood have been demolished, with many residents receiving less funding from housing recovery programs like Road Home. Black residents made up two-thirds of the city's population; five years after the storm, 118,000 of those residents had left. Daye's family was one of them.
Tyler, Texas, where his family moved after Hurricane Katrina, was a new beginning of sorts. Daye, his grandmother, mother, two uncles, and two of his brothers migrated the 400 miles together, only to separate when they arrived. His brothers made lives for themselves in neighboring cities, and Daye prepared for a life on his own. Before relocating, he’d started reconsidering his relationship to Christianity, and says his relationship with his family had become strained as a result.
"I went [to church] and said, 'I know I'm supposed to sing, but God is telling me that this is not what I'm supposed to be doing," he says. Religion had once held him captive, but now he was using the higher power he believed in to set himself free. "I left and never went back to [that] church," he says. "They never talked to me again. My grandma, my mama, my uncle—none of them. Nobody talked to me. Nobody supported me and at that moment, I realized it was just me."
The singer relocated to Atlanta, looking to find his footing as a solo artist under his given name, David Brown. He landed a songwriting gig with fellow New Orleans native August Alsina, before eventually making the 36-hour drive from Atlanta to Los Angeles, looking for new opportunities. "I came to LA and I realized I didn't know shit," he recalls. "There were a lot of deals I was in that I didn't know I was in that I had to get out of. I was sitting in lobbies like I was Ice Cube and shit, thinking, 'Somebody gon' talk to me!'" he jokes. "I'm going through it, and I'm realizing it's just a bunch of people listening to a bunch of people. Nobody wants to hear me say, 'I'm tight'; they want to hear somebody else say it." Eventually, he started wondering if he was going to be able to make it work."It got to a point where I ran out of friends, money, and hope," he says. "Ever since I was a kid, people have always said, 'You've got a gift.' I realized maybe music ain't for me, and it hurt because I swore this is my thing. This is all I've got."
Just when it seemed like the singer was running low on his luck, he created his own. He’d read that being "lucky" was the result of preparation and opportunitycolliding, so he changed his name to reflect the life he hoped for. He added the “e” to “Lucky Day” in an homage to Marvin Gaye, who also had a complicated relationship with his devout Christian family. For both men, the name change signified a break with a difficult past.
After meeting Neff-U, a producer in LA, he started going to church again—this time, one of his own choosing. "All [Neff-U] would talk about is Jesus and God," he tells me. "I don't know if it was something inside of me, but I was like, 'Let me go back to church.' He got baptized and re-read the Bible from beginning to end. "I literally read it like nobody told me anything—like it was a book I found. If this is supposed to be what life's about, then let me read it with a clean slate.”
Daye's life has been a series of new starts, but he says his baptism marked the first time he allowed himself to begin again. "[Returning to church] symbolized me wiping out everything that I ever learned," he says. "I wanted to forget all this religion shit everybody talked to me about. I wanted to forget what they say I'm supposed to do, who they say I'm supposed to be."
Couch-hopping was routine for Daye, and by the time his cousin invited him to crash with him in San Pedro, he knew he had two options: give singing his all, or go back to New Orleans. He moved to San Pedro and started writing in his journal. "My mama used to hate when I talked to her," he says. "I don't know what she wanted me to say or how she wanted me to say it, but she always said, 'Don't talk to me. Write it down.'" He says he’d channeled that urge to express himself into the love letters he wrote girls in high school, but now, the act of writing his thoughts out provided fodder for his songwriting. "Nobody called me for two months,” he says. “I literally didn't talk. I wrote my whole life as if it were some fantasy in my journal. I even told God what kind of woman I want," he says.
In Los Angeles, Daye reconnected with DJ Camper and Dernst "D'Mile" Emile, two engineers he’d met in Atlanta. Before moving to San Pedro, he'd already recorded two songs with Camper under the moniker Lucky Daye—and when it came time to find a producer who could help him realize his vision for a debut album, he chose D'Mile. "I knew that's what I wanted my album to sound like, but Camper lost all his files," he tells me. "I'm like 'Okay, I gotta start over, but I like these. This is the truth.'"
Whenever D'Mile was available, so was Daye—even if it meant he needed to take the hour- and-a-half bus ride from San Pedro to Los Angeles. For seven months, the duo worked tirelessly to refine Daye’s sound, which included reworking the original versions of "Misunderstood" and "Love You Too Much" from scratch. D'Mile granted Daye 15 sessions in his studio; twelve of the resulting songs appear on Painted.
"The only thing I thought about when I was in San Pedro was pain," he says, reminiscing on the time he spent writing journal entries on the first girl he loved. "I was loving her and she was loving her, but nobody was loving me." Still, the process felt cathartic: "These songs came from my blank canvas, and this is the first color strip I put on it,” Daye says.
Painted includes ten tracks that Daye has already released, and three new ones. By releasing an already-finished album in chunks, the singer said he hoped to create a more substantial listening experience for his fans. “We are bringing [the album] out in pieces, so people can live with it,” he told Rolling Stone last November.
The album is a natural progression of a practice Daye has been returning to since childhood—the writing enforced by his mother, the love letters he penned as a teen, and the freestyle journaling he practiced in his adulthood. Painted is colored in so many iterations of love it can, at moments, feel smothering. But it’s a heartfelt reflection of Daye's efforts (now and throughout his life) at human connection during some of life’s most isolating moments.
Much of the album is warm, like butterflies during a first date or that heart-in-your-stomach feeling after the first "I love you." His tone is as tender as a kiss to the temple—sexual, but not raunchy; naive, but heavy-hearted. "Concentrate" finds Daye in choppy waters, struggling to accept that his feelings may be stronger than he anticipated. "I been riding through the streets two weeks / Fighting calling you baby / Know you get a kick out of kicking it / Then stalling me crazy," he sings. If his partner doesn't want to fall, the song suggests, he's willing to have her in any capacity.
As the center of the album, "Paint It" is the only song that references Daye's life before his reinvention. Drizzled with weeping electric guitar lines and synths, the mid-tempo song is about the first example of love he witnessed—the love between his parents. "You ain't gon lay me away / For a rainy day / Can't wait around for it / Gave you life like flowers in bloom," he sings, recalling how their separation left his mother raising five sons alone. During the song, he manipulates his voice into different octaves, shifting registers in a way that seems to convey the pain of watching his parents drift apart as a child.
According to Daye, "Paint It" grew out of a realization that he was beginning to emulate his father’s behavior in his own relationships. "What scared me was thinking about all of the girls I'd talked to—I saw a little bit of [my dad] in me," he tells me. "So I started using a lot of [the song] to talk to myself, because I didn't want to be like my pops."
According to Daye, the last four songs on Painted hold his deepest wounds. "[Those songs are] about the pain that hurt the worst when I was in love," he says. "I didn't want [her] to think I thought I was the victim, but this pain was not leaving." He considers moments like the deleted voicemail on "Call" and the raw emotion of "Floods" to be a dose of realism, or "sarcastic honesty." "Floods" likens a woman's wrath to Mother Nature, with seasons changing at the blink of an eye and Daye a casualty of the storm. Daye says it was one of the hardest songs to write, and it evokes a familiar pain, one not unlike watching his hometown submerged in 10 feet of water. Daye is examining what giving someone the power to hurt you feels like.
These days, the singer says he is redefining the role religion plays in his life—and that what was once something that constrained him is guiding his relationships as an adult. "The only thing that's the most real to me in [the Bible] is love," he says, referencing 1 Corinthians 13. For Daye, making an album that's a celebration of love in all its forms is about turning life's hardships into hope.