Insightful, unabashedly honest, and elegantly layered, Dan Croll’s latest album ‘Grand Plan’ is an enticing and reflective piece that captures the highs and lows of a year spent in flux.
Compelling, delicate, and captivatingly intimate Dan Croll’s third studio album Grand Plan is an absorbing and sympathetic examination of the millennial experience.
Following a chronological narrative from February 2018 to 2019, Croll documents a period of great transition in his life. Particularly, his spontaneous decision to move across the Atlantic from his hometown of Liverpool to the bright lights and rolling hills of Los Angeles.
As one listens to the twelve-track album, the listener is able to follow Croll through the ups and downs of his year. Starting with a retrospective apology for a previous meeting with Sir Paul McCartney in “Yesterday,” Croll resumes guiding the listener through the trials and tribulations of LA life, homesickness, and paranoia all the way up until his eventual conclusion, “Together,” a heartfelt commemoration of the band Her’s who tragically lost their lives in early 2019. Packed full of universal themes, the album seems to transcend our current global atmosphere due to its universal resonance. Indeed, Croll explores topics we all can relate to including the difficulty of navigating friendships and relationships, the urgent nature of self-discovery, and the unnerving tension felt so often when it seems as if everybody else has it all figured out.
Recorded in collaboration with the brilliant Matthew E White and the Spacebomb band in Richmond Virginia in Spring 2019, Grand Plan sees Croll add a new level of musicianship to his output. The incredible band opened their doors for collaboration and so, with Croll and White directing from the engine room, the result is a gorgeously layered and at times impressively experimental sonic landscape.
In conversation with Atwood Magazine, Croll himself takes us through the album track by track, delving into the context that fueled his latest release.
Listen: ‘Grand Plan’ – Dan Croll
A CONVERSATION WITH DAN CROLL
Atwood Magazine: Let me just start by saying I absolutely love the album, it’s so relatable that I have been pestering everyone I know to give it a listen!
Dan Croll: Thank-you! It’s a strange time to be releasing an album so that means a lot.
You take a very narrative, chronological approach to the album. Was this a conscious choice or did it just seem to play out that way?
Dan Croll: Kind of in between I guess. I didn’t set out to do it like that but when I did start writing, I quite quickly realised that that would be a good idea. Basically, when I moved here it was completely on a whim. I just bought a one-way ticket for like a week later with the idea of not doing any music and just actually taking a year off. Then when I moved I realised that I was very much alone, didn’t know anyone, and would have to go through the hoops of everything. Making friends, finding places to live, all of this kind of stuff.
I realised that the only real way that I could document these things was through song because that’s the only way I knew how to, so there was no escaping music really. Then as I was having these experiences I was like, I should document them in narrative order so that if I did release it as an album, people could follow the process from start to finish. This album was very much about me having an experience and then immediately afterward sitting down that night or the morning I got back and writing it there and then on a guitar or a piano. Making a full song there and then that could stand on its own two feet without any additional production. It was huge for me to just focus on my song-writing and for it to be about my song-writing.
Watch: “Stay In LA” – Dan Croll
Starting with the opening tracks ‘’Yesterday’’ and ‘’Stay in LA,’’ these are obviously from the beginning of your LA experience. How and why did you open with these songs?
Dan Croll: For “Yesterday,” When I got to LA and realised that I wanted to document these experiences, I felt like to start that journey I had to look back and face up to some frustrations previously and I think one of them was that moment of meeting Sir Paul McCartney. Obviously, an incredible opportunity and moment in my life but was a little bit of a sour note.
I missed the last train home the night before from London so I had to get the night bus, I think I got into Liverpool at about half-seven in the morning and went to meet Paul McCartney at like eight. I ran through Liverpool with my bags and just made the meeting and obviously I was just out of breath, on the back foot, not prepared. Whilst it was an incredible time of my life and a great memory, it was also a bit frustrating. I felt that I had to address that at least first through song to progress with the rest of the album and my song-writing.
For “Stay in LA,” I was just coming to the end of a US Tour for the second album and I think for the first time ever, I didn’t want to go home. Usually, at the end of a tour, I’m ready to go home, absolutely exhausted after months on the road but, weirdly, I just didn’t want to go.
I vented that to a friend who was with us at the time in LA and he was quite blunt about it and was just like ‘don’t go home then’. I laughed at that because a little bit OCD about those things and the idea of not going home, to me was very funny. I was like ‘don’t be daft’ and then he laid it out for me like, ‘well you don’t have to. You would just have to put someone in your house to cover rent and that’s easily enough done, then find a place out here’.
Even though I did get that plane and go home, that definitely stuck in my mind over December whilst I went home for Christmas and I was just like, ‘yeah, I’ve got nothing in the diary for the next year really so I can do that’. So, I did and that was the start of the album! That friend who put it in my head that I could just stay.
Moving into ‘’Rain’’ and ‘’Actor with a Loaded Gun,’’ these were written at a time when you were initially struggling to fit into your new LA home right?
Dan Croll: Yeah, with “Rain” I found it hard to just get my head around living in that weather and the climate of LA and it still takes getting used to especially now with everything that’s going on. I was quite quickly burning and was overpowered by the sun. I miss wearing a jumper and a coat and the climate. It’s tough, I could definitely go for some rain right now!
For “Actor with a Loaded Gun,” I really missed everything at that point, everything was feeling very sickly sweet over here. I missed the roughness of Liverpool, that rawness and bluntness and dark humour.
There was one specific party, the first social gathering that I had been invited to and I just immediately did not feel comfortable there, didn’t enjoy the company of any of the people there. It was a very stereotypical dark side of LA and yeah, I got back from that party and immediately wrote Actor, so it was very much about that exact moment.
I found the following two songs ‘’Grand Plan’’ and ‘’Work’’ to be two of the most universally relatable in terms of lyrical content. That sense of observing those around you and trying to assess your own situation. How did these tracks develop?
Dan Croll: “Grand Plan” was quite quick to follow Actor, at least off of the back of the feelings of not belonging. I guess with Actor and with that party, I didn’t feel as if I fitted in so that was on my mind, but a little bit after that I’d started to meet people who I enjoyed the company of, made a few friends, and felt like maybe I do belong here. But it was kind of bittersweet because they were having success and that’s tough.
It’s tough to have everyone around you really succeeding when you feel that you’re not. I also come from a very competitive background as well so it was a little bit of frustration. “Grand Plan” was definitely towards the middle of the year where it really started to dip for me. This was the point where I was thinking that I couldn’t really do the whole year. Started to get really homesick and then also quite lonely. It was a whole mix of feelings that I think everyone could relate to.
I think it’s something that everyone constantly feels. You know, there are dips in the year- there is that point where everyone feels that Grand Plan moment so this just happened to be that time. Just very important to me to acknowledge that moment.
“Work,” I think, it was just that feeling of belonging finally in LA. I had met more people here, I had made more friends and I think even though that song was directly about my girlfriend, it was also about a lot of people. Now that I was having a social life and that mental stimulation I didn’t want it to stop. It was that fearful moment of it ending, them finding other friends or meeting other people. I think there is a slight paranoia in there of almost begging someone not to go to work or not to do stuff.
I was on this kind of adventure and I had lost all kinds of structure. I didn’t have any ‘work’ and so I was just hanging around all day at a loose end. It was tough in the days because I was seeing people at night, trying to socialise and go to a bar, but in the day I still felt very lonely, still wanted people around.
Then with ‘’So Dark’’ and ‘’Honeymoon’’ you clearly were starting to find your feet in LA and find your people.
Dan Croll: Yeah totally! “So Dark” was very much about that dark sense of humour. Those were the people that I surrounded myself with so it was just a fun song, where I started to really realise that I had made some good friends here and there was very much that connection that I hadn’t had in a long time. You know I have employed the same band members for the decade, they are my closest friends back in Liverpool and I haven’t had to make friends since I was probably, like, eighteen.
“Honeymoon” was when I was going back home for some shows and some promo and just to see family. I think I was going back for maybe a month or two and that’s always been the crux of relationships in the past. It’s very tough to have friendships and romantic relationships when you’re leaving so often.
I think always in the past I have met someone or made friends and then a few months down the line I’ve had to go away for like five or six months. This is my job and it’s my passion but for a lot of people that’s really hard to understand and it’s hard to deal with understandably. It’s tough to have someone just leave your life for that amount of time.
So that was “Honeymoon” really, it was the fear of those people not being there when I returned. Although, I actually didn’t end up going away for that long so they were all still there when I got back! It was just that paranoia because I knew how things had failed in the past.
Watch: “So Dark” – Dan Croll
The album takes a slight dip again emotionally once we get to ‘’Hit Your Limit’’ and ‘’Coldblooded.’’ What was going on at this time and with the current Covid situation, do they have a new resonance at all?
Dan Croll: For “Hit Your Limit,” a couple of the people, including my girlfriend, we had arrived in LA around the same time. I think that’s why we were very close because we were in it together. We were finding things at the same time and there was this excitement and a little bit of fear, but we had each other and were going through these things together but also separately.
I think with “Hit Your Limit” we were each separately feeling fatigue. The friends I had made, they weren’t in the music industry so they had more the fatigue of the nine-to-five, the rat race of LA, and how that worked. I’m definitely drawn to people who just really graft and hustle. Those are the kinds of people I surround myself with to hopefully get me to do the same so we were all going through that at the same time. It was about reminding yourself and others that everyone goes through it.
With Covid, I think for the most part I was absolutely fine, I’m very used to living a life of solitude. I work from home every day as it is and so nothing felt different at all. I had the album to keep me busy. But now that that has been released I would say the past month or so I have found it really tough.
Yeah, not creative in the slightest, lacking all drive and have had a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to the economy and took on a bunch of extra jobs so haven’t been doing music for the first time in about ten years so that song is probably even more relevant to me now.
“Coldblooded” was when I arrived in LA and I didn’t know where I wanted to live. I didn’t want to sign a year-long lease for a one-bedroom flat that cost a fortune and so I had no choice but to live in Craiglist sublets, which are dodgy at the best of times.
This was probably the fifth or sixth Craigslist sublet that I had found and I absolutely loved the place. It was a beautiful place, it was relatively affordable, it was around the corner from my girlfriend and a few other friends and I felt like me and the guy really clicked. It was going great and I was in like three/four months, I had really committed to it you know, bought a lot of furniture and all of this kind of stuff and we were having a great time. Then one morning we were having breakfast at the dining table and it was very blunt ‘I need you out by the end of the month because a relative is moving to LA and I would like them to live with me’.
It was just cold, something that I would never do. It’s just not in me to do that kind of thing and it was a real down point. At the time I felt that I had progressed forward in the year and something would happen like that, that was a big kick that one. It was a punch to the gut in many ways.
The final two tracks ‘’Surreal’’ and ‘’Together’’ feel almost as if they could have been positioned the opposite way around. What was your thinking behind ending the album this way?
Dan Croll: I wrote “Surreal” first out of the last two tracks and I was so happy with it. I remember writing and recording the demo at home and being like, ‘great, that’s the end of the album! That’s that cool end song that I wanted and expected from an album.’ You get that feeling when you write a song and you think that’s the last track so it felt good. Naturally, you want to end this experience on a high, on a positive note, even though I didn’t really go through Surreal. It was just this imaginary thing of reaching the end of the year. So, I kind of stepped back after writing Surreal and I probably had a month left in the year but I had already hung up my hat and coat and definitely felt like ‘I’ve got my final song so that’s done’.
For “Together,” I started sending it to the label and my manager, and then it was that month or two later, right towards the end of the year that we had the horrible news that we had lost Her’s in the car crash. I was just so shaken by that and as with any experience, I get through it by writing about it. That one took me a while but thankfully with a bit of help from my Mum and some of my friends, got through it and then put it into song.
My mum was desperately trying to help me out of it and the one thing that she kept saying was ‘at least they were together’. They were having the time of their lives, riding a very successful wave across America, they’d been doing so well. I’d seen them in LA a few months earlier playing the Echo, an incredible show, and having seen them start in Liverpool playing to no-one and then coming to LA seeing them play to a sold-out Echo-plex was incredible. That’s the way I got through it, thinking about that thanks to my mum and that’s obviously the message in the song.
We didn’t take it to Spacebomb, we just used the raw demo that I did at the time. I didn’t want to mess with it, it felt like that was it, that was the moment in time, that was the experience. There was a bit of umming and erring about whether it should be included but it got on there and I’m glad that it did. Even though it was very sad and dark, it was something I was proud of writing about and capturing. It wouldn’t be a truthful, honest representation of the year and the album if I didn’t have this on. It’s a dark ending to an album but that’s the year that I had, that’s life.
? © Max Knight
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