Several years ago Dan Croll emerged with his impressive debut album Sweet Disarray. After a couple of singles in the last year or so, Dan re-emerged this summer with his second album, Emerging Adulthood. I recently had the chance to sit down with him to chat about the making of this new record, plus he and his bandmates Jethro Fox and Andrew Hunt treated me to a private acoustic performance for another FMQB SubModern Session, which you can listen to here.
FMQB: So it’s been a little while since your first record… a little longer than the typical album cycle.
Dan Croll: Too long! Too long!
FMQB: But you let us know that you were still out there and doing stuff with some singles in the last year and half. So tell us what you were up to in the time since we last heard from you.
DC: It was a bit of a blur. But yeah, we finished the cycle of Sweet Disarray and then kind of stopped. I had to take a bit of a personal time out. I ended up getting dropped from my label and management and everything so it was quite a stumble really after that first album had finished. It took me a lot of time to pick myself up and find some new team members and get going. I think that’s what the main delay was. It was the brutalness of the industry, the dark side of the industry. And so then I thought I needed to get started otherwise it’s gonna be even longer than it was. I kind of took a big burden and big gamble and started self-funding it all and just going on my own and slowly but surely started to build it up. I took all of the demos to Atlanta and worked with Ben Allen over there and started to co-produce the album and finally started to get it together. Now, thank god, it’s out.
FMQB: I’m glad that label politics and industry dark side didn’t discourage you.
DC: No, not at all.
FMQB: I didn’t know about that and it’s kind of surprising to me because you had a lot of success with that first album.
DC: Well yeah, I would deem it very successful because I was very late to this game of music. I decide to pursue music at age eighteen. Got into a music school last minute at nineteen. Graduated, and did my first album. It was so new to me and I felt like quite an amateur, and I still do. There’s people who’ve been writing songs since they were four and releasing albums since they were twelve. I’m here, just like, “Yeah, it was a couple years ago, y’know.” It was all quite new to me and so for me the album did really well. In the U.K. it charted at like #18 of the Top 100. That for me was phenomenal, but I think maybe the big labels had the idea that it was gonna hit within the Top 10 so they were a little bit frustrated at that. So c’est la vie. That’s kind of the big expectations with a big label like that. I think it’s important to talk about. It’s a bit of a taboo subject I think for a lot of people. There’s so many artists out there who get dropped by labels and its important to know that it’s not the end of the world. Things keep going and things move on. Obviously it was a very good thing for me to be unshackled and to be able to get this album out now and move forward in the future with a bit more motivation than I had before because, y’know, you want to prove them wrong and you want to do better than before.
FMQB: Do you feel more creatively free?
DC: Massively, yeah! Especially now that the second album is out as well because that was a period of, let’s say, the divorce. I’m very proud of this album, but I guess part of it is a little bit tainted by the experience and some of the subject matters of the album cover that. I’m looking forward to the future to be producing albums that are feel good, positive, and y’know, me in a very creatively free atmosphere. It’s hopefully a very bright future.
DC: We’re out here on tour and it already feels like it’s paying off. We’ve been playing some great shows, meeting a lot of brilliant people who are really enjoying the album and I’m feeling good about it, feeling more confident. I’m seeing that they’re connecting to the songs and it means a lot to them. They may not have been dropped by a label, but they’ve have a similar experience of that feeling and those emotions. It’s that kind of connection that makes it all worthwhile.
FMQB: What brought you to the States to record, because it probably, economically, would’ve been easier under the circumstances to record back home?
DC: There’s two or three factors I think. One was that I mentally really needed to escape the U.K. I was really kind of claustrophobic at that point and needed some kind of adventure or just to get out for a bit. I don’t take holidays and so that idea of recording outside of the U.K. felt like a kind of holiday. I needed that excitement. The other thing is that it’s just me in this process, writing, recording, demoing it, playing all of the instruments, and stuff like that. So I didn’t have that financial responsibility of taking a whole band. So that opened up a bit more freedom to go elsewhere and it was possible to come over here and do it for two months. And thirdly, and the main important thing, was that the guy I wanted to work with, Ben, he was based over here and he just had a new kid so he was like, “If you want to do this album together, you’re gonna have to come to Atlanta,” and it was perfect. I’d never been there before and it’s a long way from home, so it sounded right up my street.
FMQB: It seems like you had so much fun with the instrumentation on this album. How did you expand your sonic palette?
DC: Where I was recording in Liverpool, before I took it to Atlanta, it was a very much an empty studio, so I kind of had to make do with what was around me. I start my songwriting process with the drums and with the rhythm, but I couldn’t really do that because I didn’t own a drum kit and didn’t have one in the studio. So I had to figure out how to get around that. I had that freedom and that time to explore a little bit more than I could have in the past when you’re up against the clock in the process, whereas I had as much time as I wanted. I started to delve a bit deeper into sampling, into the world of Hip-Hop, especially late 80’s, early 90’s Hip-Hop, like A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, The Pharcyde, and people like that, and the process they took to sample break beats and stuff like that. For me that was really fun to watch all of these documentaries and videos of how they did it using this kind of virtual instrument. I was really chuffed that actually ended up staying on “Swim,” and even though it’s not a Hip-Hop song it has got a certain break beat style that came through those influences and that process of sampling. And that was kind of infectious to be honest, and that actually led to the track “Away From Today,” which was taking it a step further, not just sampling drums, but finding horn samples and guitar samples. It was kind of nice to challenge myself in that respect.
By Josh T. Landow