Song-by-Song: ‘On Top’ by Dan Croll
“Trapped” in the US, the homesick British songwriter was inspired to write his new four-track EP, as he explains here
Last August we were lucky enough to have Dan Croll deconstruct his Paul McCartney-inspired Yesterday for us. Much of the song’s parent album Grand Plan documented Croll’s decision to leave his Liverpool home and move to Los Angeles and out of that same fertile soil comes his new EP, On Top, also recorded at Spacebomb Studios in Richmond, Virginia with Matthew E. White and his team.
The EP is something of a coda to Grand Plan, continuing to detail his time since moving Stateside, coinciding with some of the country’s most turbulent moments in recent history. By mixing his classic songwriting chops with contemporary concerns it’s a welcome companion piece to Grand Plan and the latest example of his developing craft.
Here, he takes us on a tour through each of On Top’s four songs…
“After we had finished recording my album, Grand Plan, I felt like I was on a roll creatively and wanted to keep writing. I had these chords for what would be On Top but no clue of what I wanted to write about lyrically. I felt like the chords I had were pretty feel-good/positive in sound, so I wanted to build on that with some sort of affirmative message.
“After some rooting around in the back of my mind, I realized that all that I could really think about at that time was just how excited I was to be releasing an album (especially getting out on the road to perform it), and how that could be the foundation of this track.
“The job of touring a record can be a real love/hate rollercoaster. You get to see the world, experience other cultures, meet incredible people, but often it comes at the expense of being away from loved ones and the comforts of home for quite some time. I know that those closest to me worry about this and so I decided that I wanted On Top to be this message of reassurance to those closest to me. That whilst I was so far away from them, they were the very thing helping me through it.
“Sadly, not long after I finished this track Covid hit and cancelled all of the touring plans. I’ve been trapped here in the US now for about a year and a half, the longest I’ve ever been away from my family and I’ve been feeling incredibly homesick. I think about this track quite a bit, and whilst it was about being on the road and touring it’s now just a basic message of reassurance to my family that I’m doing ok over here.”
WHY ARE YOU HIDING AWAY?
“This song is about the only good thing to happen during the pandemic, the end of Trump’s presidency. Living in America the past three years has felt like a front row seat to it all, especially after the murder of George Floyd and the public outcry worldwide that followed.
“One of the defining moments for me was when Trump hid in the White House bunker during the protests, it truly exposed what a coward he really was. That’s when the line, ‘Why are you hiding away?’ came to me and became the anchor for this song.
“With the chorus I wanted to get across the hypocrisy of preaching law and order whilst behind a security fence and bunker, and the verses centred more around the marches and moment he forcibly cleared the church steps for a bible photo opportunity, a book I can quite confidently say he’s never opened.
“In the studio we wanted to capture the feelings of unity I felt during the marches, the group backing vocals were added to try and highlight all of those voices out on the street, and the middle eight section was an instrumental moment to try and get across the whole mind fuck of the situation.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever written a song with a political subject, and it’s something I’ve never felt the need to do despite the many messes of this and other incompetent governments, but this time it felt like something I really needed to do.”
“At the end of 2019 I’d moved into a new apartment. I had a few hesitations about it, but due to the demand for housing over here we had to take the leap and hope for the best. The first day we moved in we greeted one of the neighbours above us, only to be met by Valerie, one of the most miserable and discourteous people you could encounter. Not a great start to a 12-month lease.
“As time moved on the cracks quite literally started to show, and after a couple of small earthquakes the downward slope of the apartment started to fill me with dread. I wasn’t sleeping well and despite buying all of the emergency survivalist bags on the internet I was still filled with anxiety.
“Like with any anxiety of mine, it usually ends up in song form, and so Big One was born. The demo was quite basic and didn’t really get across that feeling of anxiety, so in the studio we added more of a distorted bass, a more driven beat and some off kilter guitars to really give it that feel.”
ANOTHER WAY IN
“I feel confident in saying that 2020 tested every relationship and pushed every cohabitant to the edge at some point. A lot of us went from working in offices to suddenly working from home with loved ones or family members.
“Having personally worked from home for the past 10 years I know first-hand how tough it can be. The distractions, the lack of drive, and the feeling of being trapped at times. Whilst I’ve come to grips with it and found a way of working through it, for others it wasn’t simple.
“Having my partner come work from home in our tiny apartment and have to adjust to each other’s working styles was tough. The space I needed to be creative suddenly wasn’t there anymore and there was a need to find a new balance in our lives we’ve never needed before. At the end of the day it all came down to communication and teamwork, and this song was a way of documenting and reassuring each-other through it.”