Liverpool may be a battered port city, but it can proudly lay claim to being the birthplace of the Beatles. In fact, the city has a rich musical tradition that goes beyond the Fab Four. The beat music of the 1960s became widely known as the Merseybeat —a nod to the local River Mersey. Other famed Liverpudlians include Billy Fury, Echo and the Bunnyman and Frankie Goes to Hollywood (whose t-shirt we still wear). The city has been home to so many artists behind number-one singles that it’s been recognized by Guinness World Records as the “World Capital of Pop.” And Liverpool may have found its next breakout music act in 22-year-old folk-cum-electro-pop crooner Dan Croll.
Croll, a recent alumnus of the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA), began turning heads in 2011 after he was awarded Songwriter of the Year by the Musicians Benevolent Fund and was plucked for a one-on-one session with Sir Paul.
“The night before, I’d just won this songwriting award in London and had to drive back on a bus that night. I think I arrived back at about 6 in the morning to Liverpool and had a quick three or four hour nap,” Croll tells TIME. “I went into my university and sat down for a bit next to the piano—and in walks Paul McCartney. I was very tired and it all felt like a bit of a dream, really.”
He played two songs for Macca, who lauded Croll and called his demos “groovy.”
“He suggested a couple of harmonies, but he felt like they were very strong songs and, obviously, to have Paul McCartney say that to you is just incredible.”
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Behind his boyish charm and egghead Buddy Holly frames, Croll—formerly a frontman for the At The Drive-In-inspired band Dire Wolfe—is a serious musician. His debut single “From Nowhere” has hit BBC’s Radio 1, he’s just wrapped up his first U.S. tour, which included a stint at South By Southwest, and he’s back in the U.K. working on his debut album.
Croll grew up in Trentham, a suburb of Stoke-On-Trent in North Staffordshire and hometown to Robbie Williams and Guns’N’Roses guitarist Slash—his music shows no influence of those fellow Stoke-On-Trentians. In high school, Croll focused on rugby, envisioning a future playing at the highest level of the sport before a turn-of-fate collision left him with a toe-to-groin cast on his leg at age 17. “Music really got me through that [period],” he says, “I definitely realized I loved music more than I loved rugby.”
While at university, the less-than-intimidating Croll tried his hand as a nightclub doorman at Liverpool’s Le Bateau. “I was more like the second wave of defense,” he modestly explains when TIME asks of his brief career as paid muscle. Other odd jobs include a brush with television fame in roles as a Victorian gentleman involved in prostitution and a walk-on part on U.K.’s Shameless. It wasn’t too much of a stretch for the musician, who lived above a strip joint attached to a karaoke bar. “I kind of felt like I couldn’t go to sleep at night unless I had the sound of karaoke and the noise of strip clubs outside,” he recalls. Though he recently moved, Croll’s penchant for karaoke is obvious. A few weeks ago, while performing at Brooklyn’s Glasslands Gallery, Croll encored with an audience sing-along rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”
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As much as it means to receive a thumbs-up from one of the 20th century’s greatest frontmen, the multi-instrumentalist attributes his influences to Americana artists like Paul Simon, Burt Bacharach and Brian Wilson. He counts Kendrick Lamar, Grizzly Bear (he spent two days playing a gig with them in Oslo), Dirty Projectors and Deer Hoof as his current favorites, but it’s his early influences that seem to inform his soft and breezy cadence. Croll even channels Simon in his songwriting process—creating songs with a rhythm in mind before layering words over them. “I spend a lot of time building the structure of the song first,” he explains, “I can relax, knowing I’ve got a strong structure and a strong sound, and I can take my time on the lyrics.”
Folk-y songs “Always Like This” and “Home” invoke the melodic crooning of Simon’s Graceland, while his falsetto on “Wanna Know” channels the funky, electro-pop textures of Passion Pit. No two songs are alike, leaving his idiosyncratic sound almost themeless, if not schizophrenic. His sound is polyrhythmic, blending folk, electronic, African beats with even a hint of the typical guitar solos that reigned late 1990s alt-rock.
“Over the years I’ve been building a collection of instruments and I think it’s just a natural progression of blending that acoustic, unplugged upbringing I had with this new equipment and sound I’m playing with.”
His fascination with instruments is evident in his evolution of sound. He includes piano, trumpet, guitar, bass, drums—and, more recently, the organ and accordion—as a part of his repertoire. “Home” and “Marion” are indicative of his humble acoustic beginnings while his latest tracks like “Compliment Your Soul” takes on a completely different sound. “I love to just buy instruments off of eBay and learn to play them,” he says. But don’t expect more of the same on his album, due this summer . He says he’s not stressing over a consistent theme on his debut album, with different tracks inspired by different genres – a zeitgeist-y sampler for a digital generation.
But perhaps what’s more interesting is Croll’s resistance to transition to the London music scene, staying put despite radio success in the U.K. “It’s all just a myth, really,” he says of moving to the capital. Rather, Croll is a proponent of reviving Liverpool’s former sobriquet. Included in that revival scene are Croll’s LIPA classmates, the Staves, an Atlantic-signed folk-rock trio of three sisters from Watford, England, who also made an appearance at SXSW this year. “There is an amazing scene in Liverpool at this moment, of bands escaping the Beatles link that are really starting to separate the Beatles from any other scene in Liverpool,” Croll says. “A lot of people seem to think you’ve got to go [to London] if you want to make it. I say to them, ‘don’t cave into that pressure.’”
“The past five years have been incredibly fast and incredibly mental, really,” he recounts of his swift rise to LIPA’s elite. His growing number of fans, no doubt, will be looking forward to the next five.
Dates for Dan Croll’s upcoming North American tour have just been announced and include:
6/15 Montauk NY @ The Surf Lodge
6/16 Washington, DC @ Sixth & I Historic Synagogue
6/17 New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge
6/20 Toronto, ON @ The Drake
6/21 Columbus, OH @ The Summit
6/22 Chicago, IL @ Schubas Tavern
6/23 Minneapolis, MN @ Triple Rock Social Club
6/27 San Francisco, CA @ Popscene
6/29 Los Angeles, CA @ Troubadour
7/1 Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
7/2 Seattle, WA @ The Crocodile
7/3 Vancouver, BC @ Electric Owl