It’s been said many a time before, but Dan Croll is definitely one of the most genuine artists you’ll ever have the pleasure of chatting with. “I’m just a real human” he declares in our Wednesday morning chat. “I’m not a big fan of artists who put themselves out there as something who can’t be touched, or connected to. It’s all very honest and direct with me.” Croll’s rise to fame has been nothing short of astronomical– particularly for a Newcastle-under-Lyme resident whose passions once lay in rugby. A career swap saw him attend the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA), where he won a Songwriter of the Year Award that earned him a prized one-on-one session with Sir Paul McCartney. His colourful debut Sweet Disarray was one of the biggest of 2014, with tracks featured on both FIFA and Grand Theft Auto – and his sophomore album, Emerging Adulthood, is scheduled for release just next month. Yet despite all of his accomplishments, Croll’s humble attitude is one of the first things that strikes you about him.
A phone interview feels appropriate after Croll has just reopened his ‘Dial Dan’ hotline – a scheme where fans can contact him via calls, texts and video chats for a private conversation. “The idea came from when I was getting ready to release the first few singles from the new album” Croll explains. “You get into the mind-set of being as active as you can on social media. I spent days sat a laptop, on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, just trying to connect with as many people as possible – but I felt like I was getting no more closer to my fans. So I just started to think about what could be a better way to be more direct as I could – and that ended up being buying a burner phone, and just talking to my fans. We all kind of laughed about the idea, but then thought, ‘well actually, we could just do that!’”.
“I’ve been very busy. It’s amazing how you can be so direct, you know, and actually feel like you’re making a bit of a difference in terms of just getting to know these people who support your music. The first single from the new album is called ‘Away From Today’, and it fell together quite perfectly with people literally just wanting to escape. People were having bad days with school, work, relationships and they just wanted to tell someone random about it and let it out.”
‘Dial Dan’ seems to be a form of escapism for Croll’s fans; is it also a form of escapism for himself? “Definitely” he agrees. “It makes them feel good, and it started becoming therapeutic for me. A lot of my fans were stressed about exams and kind of needed someone else, as well as their parents or teachers, to tell them everything is going to be okay. It turned into a lot of people just wanting to get away – to chat, bitch or moan. I was kind of turning into a bit of an agony uncle, I guess.”
With Croll possessing such a genuine persona, it’s clear that he prioritises a strong relationship with his fan base. “Something for me that’s very important is mental health” he says, “and I think we’re part of the last generation who can remember what it was like before the internet. Yet now, for a lot of my younger fans, the internet has always existed for them – and it’s such a huge part of their life. People think they’re missing out because they spend so much time watching others have these fake, brilliant lives on Instagram. It constantly feels like everyone else is succeeding apart from you. There are a lot of people out there who maybe feel a little lonely, sad, or unconfident that they’re not doing these ‘amazing’ things. For those fans who struggle with mental health issues, I think it’s really important for musicians, who kids listen to and sometimes look up to, to be there for them. It works both ways. You’re there to support each other.”
Social media may have its negatives, but being so active online has allowed Croll to delve into other areas besides music. He was vocal with his Labour support in the election just gone, frequently tweeting pro-Jeremy Corbyn messages to his audience. Does he consider himself a political person? “I’ve only started being political in the past, I don’t know, maybe three or four years? It was something that I never really thought about. But in that time, I’ve really felt the sudden effects of political choices. The city that I live in, Liverpool, has been hit so heavily by government cuts, and it’s really affected every aspect of the community – particularly the musical one, with venue closures and no support for young musicians.”
“When we opted out of Europe, it had an instant impact on me. I had to cancel part of a tour, and get rid of part of my band. The fall of the pound made everything so expensive. It was devastating to tell two of my band members that they couldn’t tour with us simply because I couldn’t afford it due to Brexit. So now, I’m completely open to being as politically active as possible – because never before have I felt like it’s impacted people so much. It’s incredibly important for people to be engaged politically and again, as a musician, you’ve got a real opportunity to get in touch and reach out to young voters to try and engage them.”
After Theresa May’s infamous “fields of wheat” comment – and with Croll’s newest single aptly titled ‘Bad Boy’ – it’s only necessary to ask what the naughtiest thing the artist has ever done would be. Croll laughs. “I haven’t run through any fields of wheat! We were chatting about this in the van and we had such a laugh on tour asking each other ‘how would you answer that?’! It’s such a loaded question for someone like the Prime Minister. I can remember on the first day of school accidentally breaking a girl’s arm because I pulled her down by the strap of her bag. Everyone was pulling each other’s bags, looking like turtles on the ground because you can’t get up. I thought that’d be really a really cool and bad-boyish thing to do? It backfired – really quite dramatically!”
It’s been a little while away from the industry for Croll, whose first and only album has just celebrated its third birthday. But being back on the road for the past couple of weeks has given him the chance to return with material both old and new. “The UK tour just gone was really good, being back with my mates, playing new songs and trying to get them right, meeting previous fans and new fans, and just being able to test the water with the new album. How well it was received was an amazing confidence boost. We’ve already got festivals under way to kick off summer – we just had an amazing week in France, Spain and Germany. It was great to be gigging again. It’s one of the most fun parts of the job”.
Looking ahead to the latter half of 2017, Croll has an upcoming North American tour too – somewhere he’s already conquered before. Is he excited to return? “Massively” he agrees. “I love heading over to the States. There’s a definite difference between British and American personalities. I think the British are a lot more reserved and polite, I guess, whereas Americans are all out crazy in a very lovely way. They are loud and proud! It’s funny to go from UK festivals straight to America. It’s always a dramatic jump!”
With Emerging Adulthood out this July, Croll discusses how there’s been some major differences in production between its 2014 predecessor. “I think there’s instantly an improvement in audio quality. The first album was slightly DIY in its approach; we begged and borrowed equipment from friends. We were trying a lot of things out, learning how to self-sufficiently record music. It was a little bit rough and ready. With this album, it was a lot more clinical. I had three goals: to write it in six months, record it in two months outside the UK, and play every instrument. I think the quality of both the studio and Ben [Allen, producer] was brilliant. This new album is a lot more immediate and to the point. I knew what I wanted to write about this time. I wanted to get my teeth stuck into it. It’s a lot harder hitting, I think.
There’s always some nerves before an album release, but Croll is more than prepared to handle them. “It’s been a rough couple of years, and it’s been so long since Sweet Disarray that I’ve gone past nerves. I just feel pure relief. I came close a couple of times to putting the new album up on SoundCloud for free – so it’s nice to get a proper campaign behind it again with a new team and a new label. I’m relieved but excited! I really just want people to hear it”.
The hype for Dan Croll’s long-awaited second album is as huge as you’d expect it to be. One thing he’d like you to know about him? That his music is “personal and real” – and that he’s an approachable character. After having the delight of sharing such a down to earth conversation, it’s hard to imagine anyone viewing him in any other light.