Dan Croll is a solo artist making earworm-laden pop music with an ambitiously genre-hopping set of influences. He balances bountiful hooks with the kind of densely rewarding production that you’d expect from someone who spends half the year tweaking and testing in their home studio. Dan was born in 1990 to a marketing consultant dad and nurse mum in Trentham, a suburb of Stoke-On-Trent in England, home of Robbie Williams and Slash. Being caught on the wrong end of a nasty challenge at 17 cut short a career at rugby’s highest level, leaving him with his other adolescent obsession, music, partly acquired from his mother, a jazz, blues and folk fan who used to sing in brass bands. His first love was the nu metal of Blink 182 and Sum 41 followed by – via his older sister – the indie rock of The Strokes and The Libertines. He would later discover the varied pleasures of everyone from The Beach Boys to Beirut, Grizzly Bear and A Tribe Called Quest.
Dan attended Liverpool’s prestigious Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA), and began his first year gigging in math rock bands on the city’s live circuit, sharing many a stage with some of the talented musicians who now make up his live band. During his final year there he won the Songwriter of the Year award from the Musicians Benevolent Fund and was one of eight students picked to have a one-to-one with LIPA founder Sir Paul McCartney, a session during which the former Beatle praised Dan’s songwriting and apparently said “groovy” a lot.
Dan signed to Turn First Records soon after he graduated and began releasing singles on his own Racquet Records imprint, working on his debut album, Sweet Disarray, throughout 2013. That album, released internationally in 2014, was greeted with critical acclaim (NPR praised it as “full of cheeky pop and infectious harmonies,” and the BBC exclaimed, “More ideas in one or two songs than most people come up with in one album.”), and was followed by sold-out nationwide tours on both sides of the Atlantic along with a collaboration with South African choir Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
Meanwhile, he has picked up fans far and wide in the fashion, sport and entertainment worlds, ranging from British labels Burberry (who took Dan to Taipei in 2014 to launch of their new Trench collection) and Paul Smith (who personally hosted Dan’s album release party in his Soho store), to US TV stalwart Jimmy Kimmel (Dan made his US TV debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live), to the British Embassy inviting Dan to be a cultural ambassador during the World Cup in 2013, performing his first show in Brazil ahead of the opening England match.
But the jetsetting glamour of those trips belies a determined work ethic. After a short Christmas break last year Dan was back to writing, spending the first five months of 2015 cooped up in “the dark cave” of his Liverpool home studio. That time’s been dedicated to working on the new album, with morning repeats of Frasier and evenings watching cult documentaries (on obscure religions and vegan restaurants-turned-sinister) as his only company. Two months in Atlanta with producer Ben Allen followed, whose impressively diverse credits (CeeLo Green, Deerhunter, Animal Collective) were a perfect match for Dan’s equal appreciation for sampled drum breaks and riff-driven technicality.
His other escape over those months has been through the likes of sci-fi films such as Moon. In his own self-imposed creative exile, he saw a figure of himself in its isolated astronaut protagonist; as well as finding that sci-fi-inspired, futuristic synths began to drift into his music as a result, it says a lot about him as an artist. Tame Impala’s solo mastermind, Kevin Parker, is one of his longstanding heroes because of his drive to push himself musically, something that’s always been crucial to Dan too. He says:
“For me this album was all about challenging my self, from the time frame, to writing it, and to seeing if I could play all of the instruments on the album. I wanted to see how well I’d cope under the pressure.”
“I want to provide a more alternative sound to the current mainstream idea of what a ‘modern’ singer-songwriter is and can be.”