Reporting Shannon Carlin
Dorothy once said, “There’s no place like home,” and Dan Croll, well, he clearly agrees.
The British singer/songwriter’s song “Home” is an ode to the place where he rests his head with cutesy lines like “So if you ever come ’round to my house take your shoes off at the door/’Cause it’s impolite not to; you’ll be damaging my floor” and a video that is set in the same adorable universe Wes Anderson frequents. The clip even features Croll’s tea-drinking grandma. “My nan,” Croll said with delight. “Yea, she’s incredible. She’s 87 and still looking good.”
Croll wrote the song nearly three years ago after a trip to Berlin that he had taken with his now ex-girlfriend in the middle of winter. ”I can just remember the trip being great, but just very cold and quite gray and it was just the feeling of flying back home,” Croll said. His dad picked him up from the airport and brought him back to Stoke, England, where his parents still live. He just remembers walking through the door and seeing his whole family sitting by the fire and it just being so nice. He wanted the song to emulate that same warm and fuzzy feeling.
Home for Croll is Liverpool, where he grew up and still lives now. It also happens to be the birthplace of a little band called the Beatles. And as one might imagine, it’s a hard act to follow.
“They’re such a historic band and we’re very proud of that history and we made the most of it with all the tourist trips,” Croll said, admitting that he, like so many artists from the city, can’t escape the Fab Four comparisons. “It’s a tough one because they are such a great band and they’re still such an inspiration for so many amazing historic bands…so you have to just take it on the chin. I do like the Beatles, they’re good, but now there’s a really good scene that really needs that attention.”
It’s a scene that has flourished thanks to the Liverpool Institute of the Performing Arts (LIPA) where Croll learned all aspects of the music business, from music law to production to music theory. “I struggled with that massively,” Croll said. “I just want to play.” While there he also got a little one-on-one time with the school’s founder, Paul McCartney who gave him some feedback on a few of his songs and said “groovy” a lot.
It’s a hard program to get into with over 2000 applicants each year and only 24 spaces to fill. When Croll first told his family he wanted to apply, they were surprised to say the least, mostly because the Brit was never one to play his songs for the general public. “You know, I was very focused on doing sports and that kind of ended quite abruptly and then there was a quick transaction to music,” Croll explained. “And I think it was such a quick transaction that I think my mom especially was like, ‘You sure you want to go for a career in music? Can you do that?’”
Looking at Croll in his Buddy Holly frames, you might not believe he originally planned on becoming a rugby star before an injury when he was 17 dashed his hopes of going pro. It was only in the last five or six years that music became his focus. Though the switch wasn’t that much of a surprise.
As a kid, Croll had played the cornet, a small trumpet that made a lot of noise. “I think my family hated that,” he said with a laugh. He then switched to the drums, which he says was even worse noise-wise for his parents, before picking up the guitar. His mom always had the radio on, playing a lot of her favorites like Ella Fitzgerald, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Michael Jackson and Paul Simon, whose album Graceland is still a favorite of his. “I think it was my first ever experience hearing an African male choir singing with this acoustic sounding guy,” Croll said.
The singer says knowing what a risk Simon took with Graceland, which back in 1986 caused waves for its use of African musicians, makes him want to take more chances with his own music. Croll’s hope is that he’s always surprising his listeners by changing things up and not sticking too much to one genre.
While “Home” is a mostly acoustic folk song, the title track on his recently released remix EP, In/Out–his second of the year, the first being his 5-song From Nowhere EP–has Croll crooning over a jumpy Afro beat that incorporates a little guitar picking, a drum machine and a keytar.
Croll takes a lot of influence from what he listens to, which ranges from indie rock like Grizzly Bear and Dirty Projectors to punk and metal. ”My dad every week bought me a Kerang magazine and it always came with a free CD,” he said. That was how he discovered bands like Blink 182, the Mars Volta and the Swedish metal band, Meshuggah, which has more of an influence on his music then you might ever hear. “It’s just this mind-blowing style of metal that you don’t know where it’s going to go next,” Croll explained. “I love that, it gives you quite a buzz listening to it like, ‘I need to write a tune like this.’”
While Croll’s far-ranging taste certainly helps him to keep things interesting, he chalks up his schizophrenic musical style up to just wanting to have a little fun. ”I think with fun comes spontaneity of choices that you can make. The routes that you can take these songs down,” he said.
Croll certainly had fun making his upcoming debut, which will be out this February. The album, a mix of new and old songs, some of which he’s been working on for five years, was recorded in an abandoned school gym not too far from where he lives. “We had a badminton net next to the recording gear,” he said. “We’d go from serious recording to listening back to it while playing badminton. While you’re playing you kind of go, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if we do this and kind of try it?’ I try not to be afraid to try things and if it doesn’t work it doesn’t work, but at least you know you’ve tried and gone through it.”