Dan Croll is a fabulous new solo artist with enough facets for a whole band. He’s the electro boy with links to the folkie scene (Communion Records included one of his tracks on their recent New Faces compilation), a multi-instrumentalist whose songwriting prowess has impressed everyone from former Beatles to legends in the world of fashion and design. He started 2012 with one of his demos (Marion) as a Q Essential Download and another (Home) picked up by Steve Lamaq on 6 Music and ended it with his debut single From Nowhere being hammered by Radio 1.
Don’t be fooled by the Buddy Holly specs – he’s a one-time rugby fanatic whose career in the sport at the highest level was derailed by a broken leg – or by the sensitive acoustica: the 22-year-old is a former nightclub doorman who lives above a strip joint in Liverpool.
Dan was born in 1990 to a marketing consultant dad and nurse mum in Trentham, a suburb of Stoke-On-Trent, home of Robbie and Slash. He played rugby for his school, county and the Midlands, but a shin-on-shin collision aged 17 left him in a cast for a year and his hopes of ever playing for England about as up in the air as his leg.
Music was his other adolescent obsession, one 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, Dirty Projectors and Grizzly Bear.
“I just got back from Oslo where I played a gig and spent two days with Grizzly Bear,” he beams, ever the pop fan. “I had a wild time hanging out with them. Even better is that they have my Vinyl and ‘From Nowhere’ on their iPhones. They’re a massive inspiration for me.”
At school Dan straddled the hardnut rugby and cool skater cliques. By his teens he had learned to play guitar, bass, piano, the drums, even trumpet. Growing up, he spent most weekends in Liverpool because of family connections, and so it was perhaps inevitable that he would end up studying at the city’s Institute for Performing Arts, where he took a Music degree and his lecturers included local heroes Eddie Lundon of ‘80s synthpop duo China Crisis and Keith Mullen of baggy reprobates The Farm who used to regale him with tales of his mis-spent past.
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, a 40-minute session during which the former Beatle praised Dan’s songwriting and apparently said “groovy” a lot. He was grateful for the opportunity to spend time with the most revered pop composer of the 20th century, but admits he prefers Paul Simon and Burt Bacharach. “Being in Liverpool you can get caught up in the history of The Beatles, so you do try and go elsewhere and talk about other people,” he says, adding that, much as he admires the production on tracks such as Come Together, he feels that “Liverpool is just clinging onto The Beatles – I’d rather give someone new a lift.” Dan soon became frontman for a math rock, Mars Volta/At The Drive-In-inspired band called Dire Wolfe, but it was in his third year at LIPA that he pursued his solo career in earnest, supporting Maps and Atlases, Michael Kiwanuka and more. At first he was backed by a Beirut-style outfit with exotic influences and instruments including djembes, shakers, organs and double bass, before recruiting a smaller, more manageable four-piece. Dan’s music has become increasingly electronic as he has acquired more gadgetry, and now it offers a balance between the acoustic/organic side with tracks such as Home, Marion, Closer and Natives, and a more computer-generated approach as evidenced by his latest songs. And they’re brilliant, concise, smart pop tunes. From Nowhere is the exuberant single that announces Dan’s arrival in no uncertain terms. It has become a regular on Radio 1, XFM and 6 Music, and had well over 100,000 streams on SoundCloud, with blogs and websites clambering to feature it, to the extent that it made the #1 spot on the Hype Machine charts. The Prince-ishly funky Wanna Know is, says Dan, “a strange song written from the point of view of a stalker where the person is into someone, he’s become over-controlling, although not necessarily in a bad way! It can be interpreted creepily – I want listeners to have their own take on my songs.” Compliment Your Soul has a pan-cultural feel that reflects his love of the celebrated world music Ethiopiques compilations. “I worked on that track with Swedish Afrobeat producer Johan Karlberg of The Very Best, who themselves collaborated with Vampire Weekend,” Dan explains, “so I’m one step closer to working with Vampire Weekend!” Then there’s the equally Afro-tinged Always Like This, which depicts the highs and lows of Dan’s relationship with an ex-girlfriend.
Half troubadour, half techno whiz, Dan is a latterday Beck, and the missing link between Jake Bugg and Joe Mount. No wonder he’s becoming the prime mover of the city’s first movement of note since the heady days of The Coral and The Zutons, one that also includes the critically lauded Stealing Sheep, Outfit, Kankouran, Jethro Fox, The Staves, Eye Emma Jedi, Mikhael Paskalev, Vasco Da Gama, Ninetails, Neon Lights and many others, bands and singers with ambitions to break out nationally in 2013. Dan is at the forefront of this scene. He’s Twitter friends with rapper Azealia Banks and Mumford and Sons’ Ben Lovett is a big fan, as is designer Paul Smith.
You name it, from useless info to rugby, Dan could have made a career out of it. He could also have pursued his most recent employment as a part-time doorman (he worked at Liverpool’s Le Bateau, where he used to have to confiscate punters’ drugs – “Only for them to be kept under my desk,” he says) or as an extra – he had a walk-on part in Channel 4’s Shameless, in which he had to attend Frank Gallagher’s stag do at a strip club (it was a busman’s holiday, really, considering he currently lives above a bordello on Liverpool’s Broad Street), and another TV role as a Victorian gent involved in prostitution.
Instead, it’s going to be music all the way. Currently recording in an abandoned primary school gym in Toxteth, (turn right at the docks, past the crackheads) the unique rehearsal space / studio is equipped with an old badminton court and climbing ropes: who needs a £1000 a day residential studio? He’s continuing to work on his debut album for release early next year, and his debut single is being played on a radio station near you right now.
You could say he’s gone From Nowhere to, well, everywhere, in less than 12 months. “It’s been mind-blowing,” he says. “I had every bit of faith in the single doing well, but I never imagined getting daytime Radio 1 plays, some tremendous support from 6 Music, or breaking 100,000 SoundCloud streams in two weeks.”
Now, he says, his aim is to “get some real music out there”. “I want music with life and a bit of a story, that comes from genuine inspiration, to be in the mainstream,” he says. “Not just songs put together in a day by a bunch of anonymous writers chosen by a record label. Music from the heart, with meaning, that means something to me and will hopefully be meaningful to listeners.”
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