*Edited by Jake Starr
Tucked away in the pop genre on iTunes, Liverpudlian musician Dan Croll’s sound is far from your generic radio fare. Citing inspiration from Paul Simon to South African House and Swedish Metal, Dan Croll’s densely layered tracks are as charming as the man himself. Touring off the back of his latest album ‘Emerging Adulthood’, we had the chance to get comfy with Dan Croll as he stopped over in Sydney en route to play his first Indonesian show.
Kate – I’ve been a fan of yours since I was 14.
Dan – Oh wow, that makes me feel quite old.
Kate – I remember tweeting you in 2013! I asked when you would come to Australia and you replied with “when I save up enough pennies”. Now you’re here in Sydney but not playing any Australian shows. Why is that?
Dan – I still haven’t saved up enough pennies. The only reason we’re able to play in Jakarta this month is because it’s for UK/ID Festival, a funded British Council Collaboration. Thank you British Council. I only managed to gather enough pennies to bring myself to Australia let alone the other 6 guys who make up the band.
Kate – Is your band still comprised of the same people?
Dan – Most of them yeah. I think out of the 6, 4 have been with me from the start. The two who recently left, my keyboard player Jacob has joined Two Door Cinema Club which is a good gig and my bass player John, he’s moved to Norway and plays with a Norwegian artist called Dagny who’s doing very well at the moment.
Kate – So things have changed quite a bit for you. From the people you perform with to the places you play, and now even your music has taken a different direction from your previously acoustic work.
Dan – It’s been going more electronic which I really like but I think (it’s reaching) a point where I would like to progress further in that direction but also find a place for the old acoustic styled sound. So yeah, I’ve been writing the third album of kinda electronic stuff but I’ve also been doing a lot of writing on the road acoustically. So we’re going to find some kind of special way of separating me in two.
Kate – So you do have plans for a third album already?
Dan – Yes, hopefully another album and an EP soon.
Kate – When do you think we’ll get to hear them?
Dan – I hope a lot quicker than the second album, that’s for sure.
Kate – What made the production of your second album such a long winded process?
Dan – After the first album finished rotation and we came to the end with touring and stuff, I had kind of started writing the second album and was thinking cool, give me a year and this will be ready, but in the process I ended up getting dropped by my UK label. Being dropped from there, I lost management in a sort of knock on effect. For the next year or two I was quite down so I had to take a year off for myself and take the following year to find new management and a new label. It was a long process but now I’ve found a lovely group of people so hopefully we can make and release things as quickly as we’d like to. I still have a lot to do with the second album but I have already started on the third and hopefully things will be at a nicer pace.
Kate – What has it been like trying to maintain a public identity for your audience when you’re on hiatus?
Dan – It’s been really tough and that’s another reason why I struggled for those couple of years. It was difficult trying to maintain people’s excitement, you get super paranoid about fans losing interest and y’know you kind of fall behind. It was making me sort of ill sitting down at a computer for 6 hours responding to every message on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It became really tough to maintain and I wasn’t leaving the house, I wasn’t seeing friends all that much. Even when I was responding to fan’s messages I didn’t feel like I got to know them, I didn’t feel like we became any closer. So I was with my manager Rowan in the pub and they could see that it was having quite a negative impact on me. They were like, okay we need to fix this. So we had a few beers and started chatting loads of rubbish, throwing ideas out there. We went through so many ideas that we were exhausted but then someone was like “you should just give them your phone number” and we all agreed. We figured we’d buy another phone, get a burner and then maybe for one week every month, I could just turn on the phone. This meant that I didn’t have to keep myself locked down to a laptop for 6 hours a day and I could always just turn on this phone and chat when I had time off. So we did a hotline called Dial Dan. We did 3 where anyone could call and then we did an American edition when we were over there and hopefully we’ll do another international one next month.
Dan Croll’s venture into the world of burner phones.
Kate – How many calls did you get in the first session of Dial Dan?
Dan – During the first round which went for about a week, I took 246 calls which was crazy.
Kate – Were people easy to talk to?
Dan – I think there’s a lost art to the phone call, which makes me sound even older. I think we spend so much time texting where we can really think out what we’re about to say and it comes out quite scripted. With a phone call there’s about two sentences and then who knows where it’s going to go. It lead to some really interesting conversations about all kinds of stuff. Within the first day of doing Dial Dan, I felt that I knew my fans better than I did after spending a week on social media. It always starts with “how are you?” and “where are you from?” but then you get to these questions where you can really draw out people’s hobbies and inspirations. From there the conversation just starts to go wild.
Kate – The music video for ‘Home’ was a very candid peek into your personal life featuring your parents, siblings and even your grandmother. There’s something very sweet in the spectacle of you and your gran jamming out in her kitchen.
Dan – Yes, my grandmother is kind of a figure in the Liverpudlian community and so she’s already quite famous.
Kate – How did she managed to reach her famed status?
Dan – Just from being quite a character. We have this big theatre in Liverpool called the Everyman Theatre. They redesigned the front décor of the building and decided to pick 100 influential people from the Liverpool community to be rendered in these cast iron shutters and she was one of the hundred. I walk past it every day and she’s always right there. Everything that I accomplish she’s like, “that’s great Dan but you’re not on the front of the Everyman are you?” She’s the one who keeps me very much grounded.
Kate – Your Rugby days were drawn short after your leg was shattered by an opposing player. That fateful illegal tackle birthed your decision to go down a musical route. How did your family respond to this change in direction?
Dan – I’m the only musician to come out of my family so it’s quite a bizarre thing for them. My mum was very much hoping for it though. I played rugby up until the age of 18 but my mum and dad very much believed that a child should learn an instrument. I think a child having an instrument in their life is brilliant. Even if they don’t go on to use it, it’s great to have a thing to focus on, learn from and enjoy. It introduces you to all these musical genres which is very important. When I was in primary school, my parents got me to join the primary school orchestra and so I picked the trumpet. I played that for 3 or 4 years through primary school.
Kate – And you’ve incorporated a lot of brass backing into your recent work.
Dan – Yes, I still absolutely love brass. There’s something amazing about the brass ensemble but I went on into high school where I was introduced to the world of rock and got into emo.
Kate – Did you have a ‘rawr XD’ phase with the side fringe and edgy Myspace account?
Dan – Oh yeah, I had that, yeah. At the time I loved hardcore music like Avenged Sevenfold.
Kate – What’s the type of music that people would be most surprised to hear you enjoy these days?
Dan – Having to listen to my own music and similar genres, I get the need to take a break from it. When I’m not on the road, I listen to as far opposite to that as I can go. I actually listen to a lot of metal. There’s a Swedish band called Meshuggah who I absolutely adore. They’re quite brutal. It’s very far detached from what I do, so it’s a welcome sonic break. I think it came from that part of my life when I went from playing trumpet to selling it on to buy an electric guitar and then selling the guitar to buy a drum kit and so forth. I self-taught for a lot of them and then when I was 17 I decided to take music as a GCSE.
Kate – Were you always a solo act, or did you spend some time playing with bands?
Dan – I’ve been in bands, yeah. When I lived in Norway I played in a pop rock band which had an awful name, I didn’t name it. It was called ‘Eye Emma Jedi’. The name was awful but the music was great. Then I was in a math rock band called ‘Direwolfe’. For some reason at the end of ‘wolf’ we decided to put an ‘e’ because we thought it was cool. So every time we’d introduce ourselves like, “Hey, we’re Direwolfe… with an e”. So yeah, I’ve been in bands but I think it’s always been the case that I’ve ended up doing a lot of the song writing and management. So I began to think, I could just do this solo and see what I can accomplish on my own.
Croll cosy in bed with his Eye Emma Jedi band mates
Kate – The tracks off your most recent album, ‘Emerging Adulthood’ feature some very dense musical textures. I can imagine that it would be difficult refining these tracks. Do you find it hard recording music and then having to step back to view it objectively?
Dan – I do, and I think that’s where the magic of a producer comes in. Recording the first and second album, I came to realise that having a good producer is key because beforehand it would be me for months going mad in a room adding layers and layers to these tracks. It comes to a point where there is too much going on and I don’t as a musician have the ability to step back when I’m sort of stuck in full on recording mode. I think I needed my producers to be very bullish. The producer for my second album, Ben Allen was very tough on me. A lot of people probably wouldn’t want to work like that but I need to be sat down and told off. So you start actually enjoying the process of coming into the studio and loading up these sessions as the producer says, “we don’t need that, delete that”. They are very ruthless in taking apart a track and bringing it back to its core, but that is what makes a good song.
Kate – Do you think you’ll be back in Australia to play gigs in the foreseeable future?
Dan – Yeah for sure! I’ve got an Australian manager and all that now. So that is definitely on my list of priorities.