"From Nowhere," the lead track off of Dan Croll's new EP of the same title, seemingly comes out of nowhere, with a simple keyboard jingle suddenly careening into an instant organ-fueled anthem of love (or love lost). The same could be said about the British singer-songwriter: After an ill-timed sports accident ruled out a career in rugby, the lanky Croll enrolled in the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, and before long was winning accolades and having one-on-one meetings with Paul McCartney. Now, with a hit single back home and his very first tour through the US almost finished (New York and Philadelphia, get your tickets now!), it seems that he just may come out of nowhere to take America by storm, too. We met the genre-jumping musician (Paul Simon, Prince, and Beirut have all been thrown around in reference to his sound) in his temporary Brooklyn digs to find out why he's not afraid of Spotify--and how he'd like to one-up Arctic Monkeys' Alex Turner.
What's the one thing someone needs to know going into your music?
It can jump around a lot; I think my style of writing can be a bit all over the place. There's definitely a thread through the EP, but there's a mix of genres and production techniques in there. Each track is unique and sounds different from the next, so hopefully it's an EP that will keep people on their toes, and hopefully it's a good impression of what's to come on the album.
How far back do the tracks on From Nowhere go?
Not too far! The one that goes furthest back is "From Nowhere," [written in] January 2012. Very shortly after there was "Only Ghost" and then a bit later, maybe March or April, "Want to Know" came about--I think that's one of my favorite tracks on the EP, i really like that.
What is it about that track that you love?
I listen to so many different genres--I try and include them in my music, so I listen to a lot of metal, a lot of rock, a lot of math rock--so time signatures I like to play about with. But then I also like to listen to hip-hop and R&B, and "Want to Know" shows that. It's my smooth R&B track; we kind of jokingly played on that, and then found ourselves going, Well actually this sounds good, we can do this! So yeah, I have a bit of a giggle when I listen to that track because I laughed at first but actually it's come off really well. A lot of songs are coming through that have elements of hip-hop, breakbeat grooves, or R&B vocal harmonies and stuff like that, which is nice.
It's funny because most musicians I've spoken with don't listen to anything else while they're writing and recording because they don't want to be unduly influenced.
Oh, the total opposite! When we're in the studio, Spotify has been a blessing. Every element of recording--the bass line, the drum sound, the vocals, every individual element has got its own reference, so it's very important for us [to be listening to other music]. These are bands and songs that we admire, and they do a really good job, so we want to aim for that but better, and the only way we can better that is to put more influences in there and really mash things up.
What's the songwriting process like for you?
Usually I come up with a melody--before I came to America I was having a run around my local park, had an idea in my head, ran home, recorded on my iPhone, and then later that day built on it. For me it's incredibly important that the groove fits and the drumbeat fits. Every track has a very different groove, there's no straight beats; there's got to be something to it that separates it apart from other beats and stuff. The song "Compliment Your Soul" is in 6/8, and I can't remember the last time i heard a song in 6/8 on [BBC's] Radio 1; for me that was a huge achievement, because every track is 4/4, bang bang bang. That's my big aim: to break traditional things like that.
Your knowledge of music obviously goes deeper than the average garage band. Did you always want to be making music?
I was always listening to music in my house, and was brought up listening to jazz and folk, and then indie bands from my older sister. But music wasn't my aim, i haven't always wanted career in music--I was pursuing a career in being a professional rugby player until i was 17, and then i broke my leg and it put me out of rugby and then i found my love of music quite late, not too along ago. Suddenly I started wiring and then it all happened very fast: got into LIPA, and it's been a very fast six years.
Is a full-length album in the works?
I feel that bands can stress about a full length or think too much out it; there's a pressure to have this theme that runs throughout. So many artists in bands have a concept behind this album and a theme, and for me that just creates an album where every track sounds the same. I just want an album with solid individual tracks, so I've been writing, in a way, for a long time because I concentrate song by song by song. I try to just block everything out of my head and just think, I want to make this single song as best as possible, and [incorporate] the ideas that I have and the references that I have that are available around me. I've got a good collection of about 38 songs that I'm starting to think, All right, which songs compliment each other? Like a puzzle, just trying to lock them into place. If I can get it down to 15, I'll be happy.
What will you do with the 23 tracks that don't make the cut?
It's a massive aim of mine to get my songs in films; I would love to write for a soundtrack. I think it's great to have those extra songs in the back of your head, because I could go back to them and think, This can be remade into that. I love Wes Anderson. he's my favorite director, and I know he pulls very old songs into his films but hopefully I'd be able to change that! [Laughs] There are some beautiful films out there and I can't help but watch the films sometimes and think, Could I do a better job of that The main one for me was a film called Submarine, Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys did the soundtrack and I was enjoying the film, but I started to think to myself, Could I have done better than that? I think I could.
Any other major goals?
Success to me is always maintaining a living financially from music, which I do now just about, and traveling whilst playing my music and getting my music to a wider audience, so I'm very content right now. Anything that gets better is just incredible for me, I'm really happy where I'm at in my life!
REBECCA WILLA DAVIS