Dan Croll could be on the verge of something big. And he knows it.
The 23-year-old British singer-songwriter touched down in California at the start of April for his first U.S. headlining tour, and the crowds are growing by the show. By the time Croll hits The Southern Café and Music Hall on April 23, you’re likely to have heard his name in more than just this article.
“The crowds have been fantastic,” Croll said in a telephone interview. “We’re coming straight off the U.K. leg, and the energy has been maintained.”
Croll isn’t what Americans usually think of when they think of “singer-songwriters.” Sure, he’s got the Elvis Costello glasses thing going, but his music is infused with enough electronica to make sure no one forgets he’s from across the pond—think David Byrne or Brian Eno-style singer-songwriter.
“For me, it is an essence of fun. I think that is what I want it to be at the end of the day,” Croll said. “It’s not worth doing if it’s not fun.”
That sense of having a good time comes leaping out of the speakers on Croll’s Passion Pit-esque walk-in-the-park “Wanna Know,” the third track on his debut full-length record Sweet Disarray. But the British sensation knows how to lay down an acoustic warbler in addition to dance-y rump shakers, as he demonstrates in “Home,” the album’s final song. The tune’s lactose-sweet vocals and rolling guitars are enough to take the listener’s ears off the somewhat sophomoric, heavy-handed lyrics: “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 floors.”
If Croll is missing the depth of lyrical content that more traditional singer-songwriters strive for, he can probably be forgiven—at least for now. The young man from near-Liverpool only started writing “proper songs” five years ago, when an injury derailed his hopes of a professional sports career and pointed him toward music. Croll seems to think he had a good shot at making it in sports (he lacks nothing in confidence), but he said the injury was the best thing that could have happened to him.
“It’s not so much that I was badly injured,” he said. “I realize that music was just the thing I had the most amount of passion for.”
Croll gained entrance to the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA) after the injury at age 18, and that’s when things really got moving. By the end of his four years at the institute, he had met the guys he now tours with—“four of my best mates,” he said—won a U.K. songwriting award, signed with his label Turn First Records, and had the opportunity to meet LIPA founder Sir Paul McCartney.
One of only eight students who were awarded the sit-down, Croll spent about 45 minutes with McCartney in 2012, chatting about Liverpool, dissecting how his career was getting along, playing his songs, and just jamming.
“It was a pretty mind-blowing experience,” Croll said. “He seemed confident in me and my songwriting and kind of displayed that. He seemed to say that I’d be alright. It gave me a nice bit of confidence.”
His current tour is built on that confidence, with him and his four mates trading instruments on stage and coming together for multi-part harmonies. Where the songwriter’s tracks are clean and tightly produced on his records, he said he looks to generate a more raw sound on the road, an attempt to treat audiences to a more genuine experience.
Croll said he and his backing band tend to do best among “people like him.” Presumably, he means young post-hipsters who are open to different types of music. He said one of the things he enjoys most about being on the road is the ability to introduce audiences to a unique range of influences.
To be sure, Croll’s not reinventing the wheel by fusing electronica with folk vibes. But he said the combination does tend to bring crowds to shows that aren’t sure whether they should break into a frenzy or sway gently.
“There is a different reception in each place,” Croll said. “Our last gig in the U.K., people didn’t move. They chose to stand still and appreciate it. At other shows, people are going mad.”
Going mad and letting go might be the preferred course. Croll is at his best when his beats and melodies are otherworldly and his lyrics drift dreamily over the top. On Sweet Disarray, Croll sounds as if he’s calling to his listener from down a well. The words of the song are softly saccharine, indistinct. And that seems to be the point.
As for Croll, he doesn’t go in for all this “music critic” stuff.
“I tend not to get too involved in reviews because they can take it to all kinds of weird emotional places,” he said. “Some reviewers take one listen to the album and write a piece that is not very accurate really.”
And why not ignore the din and enjoy the ride? The past few years, essentially since that sit-down with Paul McCartney, Croll has been going non-stop, seeing where that wave of confidence can take him.