Interview with Dan Croll: Removing the Safety Net and Settling In

Dan Croll © 2020
Dan Croll © 2020
Dan Croll has jumped headfirst into unfamiliarity, and has done so with eloquent and commendable panache.

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“Iwas just alone in a studio; it was depressing,” Singer/songwriter Dan Croll explains of his previous experiences working on music in Liverpool versus in Los Angeles. “So it might be still depressing over here, but at least it’s with other people with experiences, you know?”

Dan Croll
Dan Croll

Croll, a native Liverpudlian, moved to the City of Angels around two years ago, purchasing a one-way ticket and taking a leap of faith. It has ostensibly paid off for the musician, whose new collection of songs tackle more honest themes and feel more sonically redolent. “Rain,” “Actor with a Loaded Gun,” “Yesterday” and “Stay in LA,” all showcase Croll’s inherent knack for creating beautiful narratives in his songs, allowing listeners to feel invested in the singer’s thoughts and emotions.

Nearly three years have passed since Croll had previously released any new music, yet his material still feels fresh and inspired. Each new song feels uniquely personal its own way, sparing no emotion and providing pure poignance. His honesty and charm shine not only in his music, but in the man himself as well. Dan Croll has jumped headfirst into unfamiliarity, and has done so with eloquent and commendable panache.

“I feel like this is a good start for the kind of new me,” Croll notes. “I definitely want to just keep building on this now. I think I’ve found a sound that I can see myself kind of really settling on.”

Stream: ‘Rain / Actor with a Loaded Gun’ – Dan Croll


Atwood Magazine: So you've obviously made some big changes in the last two-plus years. And by the way, congrats on the new songs. They are fantastic.

Dan Croll: Thank you very much, thank you.

And how are you feeling now that you've made this move (to LA), and you're now sort of coming back into music with this new life that you live?

Dan: Ah, well, I feel all right. I mean, it’s so weird, you know, I really didn’t make any big plans. You know, I wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m gonna move to America next year, I’m gonna do this or do that,” it was very much just like, I had a little bit of a personal kind of lull one day and was just like, “Wow, something really needs to change.” And I kind of just booked a ticket for the following week. And so it was very kind of like, in the moment, and it kind of still feels that way to be honest. I weirdly — the first time, I think it was about two days ago, I was driving around LA and I kind of weirdly managed to find my way home without any Sat Nav or anything. I was pretty far away. And I felt pretty proud of myself. And you know, I think, to me, that’s when you kind of know a city and when you’ve kind of become a little bit settled is when, I think, you’re able to kind of just find your way around a bit more. And so I think I definitely feel better than I did two years ago, that’s for sure. I’m still very much like an absolute newbie in this town, and still don’t really know what I’m doing. I know I’m putting out music. But, you know, still trying to figure out what the kind of the grand plan of it all really is.

I thought if I go really far away from home, then I’ll be forced to kind of not have that kind of safety net around me, of my friends and my band.

I mean, that's great. And it's great that you become like a local now, basically. I think you are officially a local if you don't need to use your phone map to get places.

Dan: Yeah, that’s how I kind of feel about it. And I know there’s definitely people who’ve been here a long time, friends I’ve made who’ve been like — I think you hit kind of like, two to three years and then you’re okay. You start to feel pretty good. And then if you make it past five years you’re never leaving. So that’s the, do I make it to five? Who knows?

And how has living in the States, but especially a place like LA, how has that sort of affected the way that you're approaching your music now? Because it sounds very different from your first two albums. The new singles are different in a great way, but just seems like there's been a growth or a change.

Dan: Yeah, I mean, the way it was, to be honest — it was like, two years ago, I kind of just had a really embarrassing moment, which kind of sparked it all. I had a really embarrassing moment where I got asked to play a solo show. And that was something I just never did. You know, I played with the guys. I love the guys so much. They were my best mates, and my band. And I just, you know, I wrote songs for them, almost, you know, because I wanted to have them on tour. And so I layered up all of these songs with all of this production and all of these instrument parts and all of that just so — I guess it kind of gave me an excuse to have them with me. And I got asked to play this solo gig with some friends; it was only like a 25 minutes set. And I was like, “Yeah, no problem.And then as I was about to go on stage, I got a piece of paper and I was like, “Cool. All right, what songs shall I play? And even though I had like, two whole albums out, I couldn’t piece together a 25 minute set. And I found it so sad and embarrassing, because I’ve just written so many songs for like, a band, and for radio and for pop, that I couldn’t really play well stripped back; it didn’t sound the same or I missed parts or I was, you know, I relied too much on production and stuff. And I just kind of embarrassingly struggled my way through this 25 minute set and I was like, I felt like I couldn’t even call myself a songwriter, like a solo artist, because I couldn’t do that, you know, after two albums, and many years doing it. And so, you know, I came out here because then I knew — I thought if I go really far away from home, then I’ll be forced to kind of not have that kind of safety net around me, of my friends and my band. You know, LA is an expensive city. I can’t afford to find a new band, and all of that, and so it’s kind of just forced me to be a bit more independent. And plus, I think for me growing up, the music that I loved and my biggest influences have always been these kind of like — if they’ve not been from California, they’ve definitely, you know, found themselves in California — people like Joni Mitchell and James Taylor, Bacharach and stuff like that. So, I think this was, you know, it was almost like, a lot of my influences were from here, and there’s a lot more of like a songwriting culture, and a lot more solo-wise kind of stuff, and that kind of like folk. So, yeah, I guess that that’s how it kind of impacted me. You know, it’s kind of like taking the safety net from underneath me, and also kind of trying to find those original kinds of 70s kind of songwriting influences there.

Yeah, and it totally comes through as well with the new stuff, and what listening to the songs feels like. The lyrics are a lot more personal, but also a lot more visual as well. Like “Actor with a Loaded Gun,” I think, has such great visual narratives in it. And do you feel like you are kind of pulling from -- I mean, obviously that song especially -- but do you think you you find yourself like walking around LA, and seeing something happening and you're like, I'm gonna take inspiration from that, or do you feel like you are approaching songwriting similarly to how you had been on the first two records?

Dan: I mean, no, definitely not for the previous two records, because I think again, that was just — I think my lyrics suffered, because there was too much focus on production and I spent so much time on production, and kind of like, making things sound big that I just kind of, I didn’t spend enough time on lyrics and I wasn’t really — also, I wasn’t really having any experiences. I mean, that first album was like — oh my god, I can’t even remember what that was about you know, so long ago it feels like a different lifetime. But the second album, you know, I was going through a lot of struggles with like, mental health and stuff like that. And that was probably because I was just rotting in a studio in Liverpool for years. I wasn’t having any kind of adventures, and I think lyrically I suffered from that. And I think with this, again, it’s just like, I’ve had no option but to focus on lyrics, because once you take away all that production and everything like, one of the songs — actually to be honest, all these songs — are the first time really that I’ve written a song from start to finish on one instrument, in a room. I’ve not done that since I was like 16 and writing like, shitty teenage angst songs. And so you know, there’s got to be — there’s only two instruments, the vocals and then the guitar, and so you’ve got to kind of make them count. And then again, like taking that safety net away from me, it’s all become about these experiences because this whole album is kind of like — tells the narrative of this of that first year, last year in LA. And so, you know, they were direct experiences to talk about because I was having this kind of adventure and I was putting myself in these comfortable and uncomfortable scenarios. I think like, “Actor” especially, is like a prime example of that, you know, just not knowing anyone in LA and being invited by a friend of a friend of a friend to some kind of social gathering. And it just being about me having a bit of a kind of social anxiety meltdown and all these thoughts going through my head and yeah, dealing with these very typical kind of LA people and personalities and all of that; you know, that was such a terrifying but kind of like invigorating experience that I kind of just got home and then the next day just could directly, just literally tell the story of the people I met, what they were like, all of this kind of stuff. Whereas back in Liverpool, like on that second album, I was having none of that. I was just alone in a studio; it was depressing. So it might be still depressing over here, but at least it’s with other people with experiences, you know?

Stream: “Actor with a Loaded Gun” – Dan Croll

So does it feel really freeing now that you get to sort of do whatever you want with your music, and have all these new experiences, and is it -- do you feel like you've kind of like unleashed the ‘real you,’ if I could be cliche?

Dan: Yeah, super cliche, but I agree. I think it is invigorating, you know, to kind of — I do wish I’d figured that out earlier. I do. I think because I came up through the kind of pop machine, with previous management and previous labels and all of that kind of stuff, I was definitely like — I think it’s just the typical musician story of going off on a major label in the pop world, and into radio and trying to please so many people. And then by the third album, you kind of figure it out. Hopefully it’s not too late, you know? And, you know, it’s nice to know that I can kind of just write honest music and I can hopefully play, now, a 25 minute set on my own, and be comfortable. So I think, yeah, it’s nice, you know, it’s still — in terms of like, you know, being in LA, it still feels, it’s still scary; it’s still a stressful kind of environment and obviously it’s, it’s like a hotbed for creative people. And so it’s still, as great as it is to be around, as invigorating as it is to be around creative people that I kind of bounce off it’s also a bit of a, you know, it can be a bit of a tough thing as well to see to see people just kind of just just nailing it and just killing it so much. And so, I feel like this is a good start for the kind of new me. I definitely want to just keep building on this now. I think I’ve found a sound that I can see myself kind of really settling on.

I’ve got this absolute phobia of embarrassing myself.

Nice! Do you feel like you have new goals now, with your musical career? I mean, you said that you used to just make music for the pop machine and for the labels and for your bandmates. Do you feel like you have, like, personal goals now?

Dan: Yeah, I think there are a few personal goals. I think, you know, collaboration isn’t something that I’ve done that much of, and I would like to do that. There’s definitely a lot of great musicians and artists here in LA that I would really love to work with. So you know, there’s a few of those on my wish list. And then also, I think a big goal of mine is, too — because of like I said earlier about, like, writing songs for the band and having to tour with the band and all of that kind of stuff. The amount of stuff, the amount of opportunities, and I don’t know, — I don’t blame this on the boys at all — but the amount of opportunities that I had previously turned down, because I couldn’t take the band with me. Maybe it was like touring offers, or festival offers, all of this stuff; and I could have just gone and done them on my own, and it would have been financially viable and, you know, physically viable and all of that. But I didn’t, because I wanted to take the band and all that kind of stuff. And so I took different options and different routes, and I think like now, the main goal is to just get really confident of, you know, putting on a show on my own or even just a smaller band and be able to kind of like, jump at those opportunities, should they reappear. Or if new ones do, you know, I would absolutely love to just get in a car with my guitar and a keyboard and just drive around America. You know, all the small towns, for months and just play small shows and all of that kind of stuff because I’ve never got to do that before. So I think I definitely want to just get on the road and I want to get playing gigs. I want to travel, I want to have more of these adventures, and get more confident as a songwriter and as a performer.

You do have some shows coming up (now postponed to September). Are you excited? Are you nervous? Or both? Are you playing by yourself?

Dan: Yeah, it’s just me, and, yeah, dead nervous, but I’ve got to do it at some point. I’ve got to just like — I’m bound to have a few shitty shows, and it’s just getting used to not having those guys there. You know, because whenever things went wrong and previous gigs, I could rely on them to take control, or kind of distract people or work through it; whereas, you know, I know it’s just going to be me and if something goes wrong, it goes wrong. And so I’ve just gotta get my — weirdly, I’ve got this absolute phobia of embarrassing myself. And so, I’ve just gotta get through that, you know? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m excited. I’m excited to kind of go back to these places that I haven’t been for a while, places like New York and Paris and stuff. And so, I think that’ll be fun. You know, it’s gonna be more than a 25 minutes set now. I’ve got to try and become like a, you know, an hour long set, headliner, that kind of thing. So I’ve just got to really just enjoy it, and go for it.

It'll be great. Yeah, I have faith in it. I've seen you perform live, and you put on an excellent show. So, do you feel like your idea of success is different now? I mean, we talked a little bit about the goals earlier, but do you feel like what you believed to be success, is it the same now?

Dan: Yeah, I think — yeah, it’s a really good question. I’d kind of be traveling, trying to think about this recently, because I had — I feel like I’ve had success. I’ve been very lucky to kind of have things like radio play and, you know, big kind of support tours with big artists and a few syncs to help financially with things. And so I feel like I’ve kind of like ticked these boxes of success. And I think now, they’re still the same; I kind of just feel like, I know it’s going to be a bit tougher. I think it’s really strange to step away from that world that I was in because, you know, especially back home, this music that I now make is not for those kinds of outlets anymore. I don’t really see it being Radio One playlists and stuff like that. I don’t see myself matching with any of the big artists that I would go on tour with and stuff like that. So it’s kind of still the same, but I think I’ve got to find like these, you know, different avenues; and I think that was why I kind of also realized that it might be good to move over to a country like America. Because, you know, I still consider being like, played on the radio a success in my head. And whilst I think it’s less likely that’ll be played in the UK now because of the change in kind of music, I do think that America has a brilliant kind of radio system, you know, the kind of genres that American radio spans, and they kind of college radio and all of that kind of stuff. So, I think that is still — that kind of stuff is a goal as well. And that’s like, kind of still the same ideas of success, you know, I would love to be played on the radio, I would still love to go do some shows, you know, big shows, with big artists, and still be able to kind of get maybe some kind of syncs, or like a commercial kind of outlet for my music. So, I think it’s still the same as it was, but it’s had to kind of slightly adjust to a more realistic approach, maybe like a bit more of a grassroots approach as opposed to like the big pop, kind of commercial approach.

Dan Croll © 2020
Dan Croll © 2020

Absolutely. I mean, like you've just mentioned, the radio system in the US is so broad and expansive. And it really isn't an issue, you could find anything that you would want in on a US radio station.

Dan: Yeah, yeah. I absolutely love it. I love just driving. I’ll just drive around in circles and just listen, I love it.

And what do you hope people will take away from your music, and especially the new stuff?

Dan: Yeah, I think with the new stuff, I put myself in like a very kind of vulnerable position, just moving to an entirely new country without knowing anyone. And I know I’m not the first person to do that. And I know there’s a lot of people who probably found themselves in very similar positions, either they’ve done it or want to do it. And so I kind of hope that, you know, this record kind of shows my experience of that first year, and either people can relate to it, or people can kind of maybe learn off it, and not be afraid to make make big moves in life, or they can find some kind of enjoyment in reflecting on perhaps, you know, a big change they’ve personally made.

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