Dan Croll, a Liverpool-bred, indie-pop songwriter, didn’t exactly have a grand plan when he made a tumultuous trek from his U.K. home to Los Angeles. Having just finished up an exciting tour, he had an epiphany. He didn’t want to go back to Liverpool. He enjoyed the nomadic life of touring and the lifestyle he had created in the United States. Just the following week after returning to Liverpool, he purchased a one-way to ticket to Los Angeles and started a new life. But such a drastic change brought with it a degree of uncertainty, anxiety, and dread.
Part of his method of adjustment was his Dial Dan service, through which fans can call Croll and talk about whatever is on their minds. This sense of human connection aided Croll in developing a new life, and his burgeoning awareness of his mental health led him to create his third album, Grand Plan, which releases Aug. 21.
Thematic material aside, Croll wanted to explore a new side of himself on a musical level, as well. Although he garnered copious alternative radio-play from songs like “From Nowhere” and “Compliment Your Soul,” even going so far as to land placements in video games such as FIFA 14 and Grand Theft Auto V, he ultimately realized he was discontent with his pop-centric sound. Consequently, he bought a four-track recorder after moving to L.A., and started fresh both musically and personally.
Ahead of his new LP, I had the chance to talk to Croll about his move from Liverpool to L.A., his Dial Dan service, finding creativity in restrictions, and his forthcoming record, Grand Plan.
I’m now making the music that I started to make when I first started out, even before my first album and that first EP. It’s been nice I guess, the circle of self-discovery. I was chasing the commercial pop dream, and then I realized that’s not what I want to be and not what I want to do. Those weren’t the influences, the people that got me into my music and my songwriting. So it was nice, after the second album, taking a year off and moving to an entirely new city where I don’t know anybody. I was trying to rediscover what I enjoyed about music and songwriting, trying to capture that again.
I was strict in a way, a bit. I spent a lot of time worrying a lot about things, going over things in my head a lot. I reflect on things. When I first went to America, I was thinking about why I wanted to do that and was beating myself up a little bit. I think it was because of layering and because of production. I spent too much time worrying about production and layering on elements such as synths and instruments, which I think comes from chasing the pop dream. That is the pop production way. So I realized that I could put together the actual songs first as opposed to the sound and production.
I bought a four-track recorder, and because I only had four tracks, it really limited me. It wouldn’t even allow me to layer up, and it was just that in my bed with a four-track recorder. I would write songs start to finish on the guitar or start to finish on the keyboard and try and get back into the way I used to do it and the way a lot of my influences and inspirations did it, as well.
Absolutely, that’s exactly it. If I don’t have structure and I don’t have limitations, I know I’ll just go on forever, and I’ll never put a pin in things. I’ll never finish things to the end. It’s a discipline kind of thing.
Absolutely, I think it comes with advances in technology as we go on, as well. Everything’s so easy with virtual instruments, and everything’s available with the click of a button. It’s about really trying not to give in to all of that.
Some of the songs on the first album took years, and the production took months, and it all dragged on. I’m still very proud of that first album, but we should have really been done in a month, not like, eight. And the second album, I was trying to match a song like “From Nowhere” because that song got me a lot of attention and a lot of success. The pressure of matching that led me to keep layering and keep going for this big, sonic sound. After that second album, I was like, “I can’t chase this radio dream. I think I don’t belong in this pop world,” so I just stepped back for a little bit.
Pretty terrifying, I haven’t really done anything like that in my life. I’ve always stayed very close to home, stayed very close to family. I think it was in November 2018, we finished a U.S. tour, and I’ve always loved touring the U.S. It’s just incredible. Touring’s amazing, and I’m very lucky to be able to do that. Basically, we played the last show of the tour, and I drove to the airport to fly home, and I just really didn’t want to go home. I’ve never really had that feeling before. So, I had to go home, and I got on the flight, and I started thinking, “I don’t really have any commitments here. I haven’t got a child or anything really keeping me in the U.K. And I’m really worried I’m going to settle.”
I originally bought a one-way ticket to New York, switched it to L.A. at the last minute, and moved within the following week. I didn’t know anybody. It was weird, like the first day of school where you don’t know anybody. It was very strange, very scary actually.
The new songs focus on mental health, which is something I’ve always been quite passionate about. The move kicked all of that back up again. I wouldn’t be able to do any of this if it weren’t for those fans, and it’s very important to give back. It did fill a bit of a void for human interaction, just being on the phone while still trying to get back up on my feet. There’s a lot of people going through a lot of stress, going through a lot of worry, so I wanted to make myself available.
The main thing was that I wanted to get away from the U.K., so I made this move. When I got here, I took a bit of time off, just to focus on myself for a few months. Then I started to think, “Well, I need to document this first year, and I obviously need to use this first year to dial myself in and feel comfortable.” It was almost like a diary. I wanted to be able to go “this song is about shitty L.A. people, this song is about loneliness in a new country, this song is about starting a relationship in a different country.” Each song is its own kind of backstory.
It’s because documenting that year felt important. I feel like a lot of people will move cities, and a lot of people will move countries. Yeah, that’s going to inspire, but I would want to experience that in a new way. If someone taught me “this song is influenced by a move in a country,” or something like that, then I’d really want to understand them. It’s important to have them in that order so people can go through it with me and the reflection of it. It’s just songwriting is my story, basically, and I put them all together on an album in the order that it happened.
A song like “Yesterday,” which started the whole thing, is a song I’m really proud of. It’s a kind of song I had not written before. I remember writing it, and I remember playing the guitar in a new tuning, and it all felt very new. I was actually proud of myself in the way that I wrote that song. I kind of challenged myself. I really pushed myself to do that, so I enjoyed that one.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot. It’s weird because this first time, I was like “I’m going to spend these first two years here. I’d like to have a year of experiences and writing songs, and maybe the second year I’ll go to the studio.” So I’ve done all of that now, but I’m definitely not ready to leave yet. I’ve been thinking that I’d really like to hit five years, spend another three years and see how it goes, maybe another album. I’ll see where I go then.
Well, it’s weird. It’s such a strange feeling for me; I’m about to put an album out, and I’m not able to tour it. When you release an album, you tour it. It’s part of the promotion, but that’s not going on, and it’s strange to put out an album. I think I’m just going to keep releasing more music. I think I’ve finally found my sound. It’s come full circle, and I’m very happy with where I am right now musically. So I just want to keep putting out music like this, and we’ll see what happens in the future with all the COVID stuff.
Yeah, you’re running a business, and it’s so strange for people. The campaign is a part of that business, and the campaign can last a year because you tour and you have festival season. But that campaign has gone from being a year to almost a couple of weeks now. It’s so strange. A lot of people have to think on their feet, which is kind of exciting, as well. I guess we’ll just have to see what happens, but for the most part, I’m just going to keep doing music and keep it all going.