Former rugby playing anti-jock skater turned genre jumping folk-tronic artist Dan Croll on Liverpool, stereotypes and music with meaning.

dan croll music interview new album release

When I meet Dan in New York’s Flatiron district I find a polite, well-mannered young man who is quick to laugh at the speed at which his prolific songwriting abilities have been making waves on America’s musical radar. Just on the verge of releasing his debut album, Sweet Disarray (pre-order the album, set for release April 1st, on iTunes), the fresh-faced Liverpudlian has already caught the attention of The GuardianThe Huffington Post, and TIME magazine, or “The Big Guns” as he jokingly refers to them when I begin to reel off a list of his accolades. And it’s a list that goes on. — interviewed & written by CORY MULRONEY

NME HAD PROCLAIMED YOU AS ONE OF TWENTY MUST-SEE ACTS. YOU WERE OUT HERE LAST YEAR FOR SXSW AND NOW YOU’RE BACK TOURING ACROSS AMERICAN, PLAYING 25 SHOWS IN APRIL. YOU’VE EVEN HUNG OUT WITH LIVERPOOL LEGEND AND FORMER BEATLE SIR PAUL MCCARTNEY. ALL OF THIS AT 23. I’D SAY 2014 IS LOOKING GOOD. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT IT? 

DC: [smiling] “Yeah. That was a good intro man. [Laughs]. Yep, cool. 2013 was incredible so if it’s the same as that, or better than incredible… I’m excited.

Not bad for a former rugby player/skater who once worked as a doorman at a local music venue, confiscating drugs off determined partygoers; an early point in his career that he describes as “action-packed.” It seems in Dan’s case, that particular stereotypes need not apply, but I am curious nonetheless.

ON THE ONE HAND PEOPLE MIGHT THINK OF A SPORTSMAN, JOCK-LIKE CHARACTER AND NOW YOU’RE A MUSICIAN WITH TIGHT JEANS AND GLASSES. WHAT HAPPENED HERE?

[Laughs] I think that’s always been there. Even though I was playing rugby and had the rugby friends I was bridging over to my skater mates and everything, I did a lot of skating when I was a kid. So I always had that side to me, I loved to listen to heavy music. I’ve never been the kind of stereotype, rugby jock type or anything like that. I’ve always had that foot in [the skating world].

It seems if the shoe fits, wear it. Or in Dan’s case, take it off when you sustain an injury that leads you to embrace an entirely new direction in life. It was a shin-on-shin collision playing rugby that left him in a cast for a year. 

Yeah it was at age 18. I was just suddenly like, “I can’t do that anymore.” Right, music, I’ll do that. I applied instantly for the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts. Managed to get in. Got in and did three years there. I graduated and spent about half a year on my own in the big bad world and then I got signed by a management company.

“In fact, five years sounds like a long time, but it really isn’t. It’s insanely quick considering three of those were studying, half of that was just downtime, in a way, for me trying to figure out what I wanted to do post-uni. And then it’s just been all go [from there].”

AND HERE WE ARE.

Here we are. In America. In New York. What the hell’s going on? [Laughs]

From Nowhere

Dan agrees the attention he’s receiving on this side of the Atlantic, and the accompanying buzz surrounding his yet-to-be-released debut album are primarily due to his success online through websites like The Hype Machine and SoundCloud, with a sum total of individual track “plays” reaching into the millions.

Yet in today’s Internet-centric world, this is certainly no new phenomenon. The number of Facebook likes and SoundCloud plays has long had the necessary structural capital to make or break emerging artists. Nor is Dan the first musician to come out of Liverpool to make waves in America. Let us not forget The Beatles, one of England’s most famous musical exports who arguably laid the foundations for Pop music and modern Rock and Roll as we know it today. When I tell him I’m not going to ask him about The Beatles he seems relieved, responding with a victorious fist pump and an excited “Yes!” And I can only imagine this comes from a desire to avoid being pigeonholed as it now seems stereotypes have come after him musically also, as critics desperately try to draw comparisons with those Liverpool legends.

So what is it that makes Dan Croll’s music so different?

Perhaps it’s that his sound is more a product of the modern Liverpool, and its eclectic, bourgeoning local music scene rather than the Beatle mania that many still desperately cling to. So I decide to ask him about that instead.

DC: I’ve got a massive amount of love for that city and everyone in it. It’s such a small city that everyone knows everyone. I think with bigger cities you’ve got clear groups of genres whereas I find with Liverpool, because it’s so small, there’s a huge amount of collaborations and you end up with a lot of really cool music there. It kind of blends a lot of different genres and influences.

There’s a really good scene for psychedelic music in Liverpool and heavier music as well. [There is] a big thrash, Punk scene. There [are] all sorts coming out of such a small place, you know. The two guys I use on bass and guitar, John and Jethro, everyone’s so versatile they’ll play with me and play my music and go off and play a post hardcore band in Norway. That for me describes Liverpool. Everyone is very talented and up for completely trying out everything.

It makes sense that he has been accused of “genre jumping,” with a style that has drawn comparisons to Paul Simon, Beck, Prince, Passion Pit and Beirut. Phrases like folk-tronica, indie j-pop synth’n’b and prince-ish funk becoming the ingredients for an appropriate description. North America’s own Under the Radar magazine simply describes him as: “an electronic folkie with a penchant for vocal harmonies and a pocket full of tropical beats.”

Interesting…

dan-croll-sweet-disarry-interview-about-listen-debut-album

get the album here.

But it’s really up to us to decide what we might call it, and why we like it. It’s certainly fun if anything. Listen to Dan Croll and you may feel his motivations stem from a good place, and that his songs may prove to be another example of how good Pop music can be lyrically deeper and more heartfelt [Lorde anyone?] than what we often hear on commercial radio. Take the title track of the album Sweet Disarray, which is peculiar in that it deals with the bitter sweetness of a sad subject; the onset of Alzheimer’s in his grandmother. 

DC: It’s quite a recent song, something that happened kind of recently with no history of it in the family whatsoever. So it was completely new to every member of the family and she’s very much on her own.

SO IT WAS A TESTAMENT TO HER?

DC: Yeah it is. Sweet disarray. “Disarray” meaning “chaos,” which is what it brings emotionally and financially. People don’t realize how much it costs to put these people in homes because it’s not safe for them to stay in their own house. It got to a point where she was getting lost in the town center and didn’t know where she lived, so it gets very dangerous. 

…So unfortunately, you’ve got to make that bad choice to put your mother or your grandmother in a home, but these things cost so much money. It has really brought the family together to help out with all of that and that’s the nice side of it in a very weird way. That’s why I put “sweet” and “disarray” together. On one hand it’s completely chaotic and mad, on the other hand it’s really nice because you’re seeing family that you haven’t seen in a long time. They’ve heard and they’re like, “We want to help out, we want to come down, we’ll move closer.” And it all comes together. So it’s a sad song in a way, but it’s kind of got the uplifting end.

Home

In any case, be they happy or sad, Dan Croll’s songs do flood with meaning. And maybe that explains the critical acclaim… Dan’s Croll’s locally homegrown breed of Pop music may have the ability to reach audiences — large, accessible audiences — below surface level. Either way, Sweet Disarray is back-to-back bits of relatable amusement, in the best possible way.

SHOULD WE HAVE MEANINGFUL MUSIC IN THE MAINSTREAM? 

Yeah. Definitely. 100%.

YOU DON’T THINK IT SHOULD ALL BE GARBAGE? 

No. Not at all, no. I can’t stand that. It’s something that I mentally battle with. Obviously I want to get the support of big radio stations and I want my music to be played on the mainstream stations and I’m competing with songs that have probably been written by five or six producers, that have just got the same old lyrics and the same old synths lines. So it’s a constant battle.

I do feel everything should be more heartfelt. My songs are all personal topics that I’m willing to share because I want people to connect with them. Like say, dealing with dimension and Alzheimer’s. There are people out there who are dealing with the same and hopefully they connect with that song. I don’t know how much they can connect with a song that says; “Oh Baby” about a million times for two and a half minutes.

Sounds legit…

WHEN WOULD BE THE BEST TIME TO LISTEN TO SWEET DISSARAY? 

I feel there’s a song for every occasion. But it does jump around, due to my influences and love of many genres. There are downbeat tracks, there’s “hopefully” inspiring tracks, there’s hard-hitting ones, motivational ones… So hopefully people will find a song for anytime really.

 

SWEET DISSARAY IS OUT APRIL 1st // DAN PLAYS AT BOWERY BALLROOM APRIL 17TH and additional U.S. dates available here x

[featured image photographed by Lasse Fløde ]

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