Friday, April 20, 2012

Mikal Cronin Interview

Mikal Cronin's Self Titled Album

I hadn't heard of Mikal Cronin until he released his self-titled solo album on Trouble In Mind this last year.  It got a lot of great reviews from all kinds of websites and music journalism and he played a bunch of shows with Ty Segall, including one at the Duke Coffeehouse.  His music combines surf-rock, melodic pop, and lo-fi garage into some kicking tunage that you cannot help but love.  Simply put, it's rooted in good feelings and hip-shaking rock n' roll.

In 2011, aside from his self-titled album, he put out a 7" on Goner featuring "Tide" on the A-side.  It was a single with longer songs, but with that same hooky melody that Cronin fans look to.  In 2009, he released Reverse Shark Attack, an experimental album-like-thing with Ty Segall that featured a more than 10 minute song with a b-side that had a Pink Floyd cover on it.  Cronin talks about the upcoming reissue later in the interview.  He also put out an LP with his band The Moonhearts on Tic Tac Totally that is totally fuzzed out glory.

I basically loved his album and thought ("what the hell?") let's interview him. Turned out to be a great move because we had a great conversation including about how we were both from the same area in California (I've since moved all over the country).  But he was a very personable and fun guy who really had a passion for the friends that he and his friends were making.  He's working on the new Ty Segall Band LP that's coming out next month and his own solo LP and other projects, lending me to believe that he's really a genius about this whole music thing.
Mikal Cronin With Buddy Ty Segall

His bandcamp website can be found HERE

But he talks about it way better than I do, so without further ado...MIKAL CRONIN!

Jordan:  So, how do you know Ty Segall?  Have you all been buddies for a while?

Mikal:  Yeah, we grew up together.  We went to high school together and started hanging out then and played in our first band together in High School.  I guess it was then that we became very good friends.  So it’s been many years that we’ve been playing music together and hanging out.

Jordan:  What was your first band like?

Mikal:   It’s kind of funny.  Ty played drums and sang.  Our buddy Coleman played bass and sung and I played saxophone.  It was what we were really into back in 2002-2003.  Dance punk kind of stuff.  Really dancy beats with keyboards.  It was really silly.  It was called “The Love This” and it was noisy at points with dance beats and ultimately some somewhat catchy songs.  We just played house parties, basically: we didn’t play out of town.  It was fun.

Jordan:  Did you guys end up recording or releasing anything under that name?

Mikal:  We recorded a little bit by ourselves and handed them out as burnt CD’s but never got past that point.  Listening back to the recordings in many years is weird.  They’re pretty bad recording (laughs).  They don’t sound good.  But it’s funny looking back to where you started.

Jordan:  What happened when you all broke off?  It seems like you and Ty make different-sounding music.

Mikal:  I don’t know, it just came with time and a musical taste change.  Even Ty’s stuff started sounding more punk with more noise and now he’s focusing on more songwriter stuff.   Moonhearts is definitely one style of music rather than my solo stuff.  I guess it came organically in terms of what I was listening to music-wise.  I began to focus more on songwriting and melody rather than volume explosion on my solo record.  I still love loud sloppy punk bands and still play with them, but with my solo music, I was obsessed with making it as personal and honest as I can and that’s the form it took.  That’s where my headspace was when I was recording.  It’s still where my head is.
Mikal Cronin Playing The Music

Jordan:  So do you still record stuff and play with Moonhearts?  Do you have anything coming out?

Mikal:  Since we’ve started the band we’ve all lived in different cities, even through college and other things.  Since very recently, we all started living in San Francisco, as of a couple months ago.  We just started playing again and recording new songs.  We just started playing new shows again.  It took a pretty long hiatus, but we’re working on stuff. I don’t know when we’ll release something but we’re talking about writing a new record together.  It’ll be fun.

Jordan:  I was recently lucky enough to get my hands on a copy and I really liked it, but I hadn’t heard Moonhearts before I heard your solo stuff so I wasn’t expecting something as fuzzed out and punky.

Mikal:  (Laughs)  It was definitely the direction we decided to take with that band.  More Ramones style than, I don’t know, Beatles style.

Jordan:  Do you have something you’re more focused on right now?

Mikal:  I’ve definitely been more focused on solo stuff lately.  I’m writing a new record right now. That’s where my focus has been.  Most of my time has been touring with Ty’s band for the last 6 months or so, maybe even longer.  Spending a lot of time on the road with Ty’s band and a little less with mine, but as far as when I go home and start writing songs, I’m focused on my own solo stuff.

Jordan:  What’s your writing process like for the solo stuff?

Mikal:  It’s really boring and cliché.  I’m sitting alone in my room with an acoustic guitar and plugging through it.  I always record demos of everything on my computer the easiest way I can, which is Garageband and end up writing the barebones.  From there I orchestrate for more instruments and end up trying everything.  From there, I just start figuring out what works.

Jordan:  Your self-titled LP was produced by Ty, wasn’t it?  Is that a staple or what happens?

Mikal:  That situation with me and Ty came through a really long working musical relationship.  I went and recorded at the same studio that Moonhearts used, which happened to be the same one that Ty recorded his last handful of records at.  I was living at San Francisco at the time and asked Ty for some help because we were on the same page musically and I wanted to make it sound as good as possible and he was really stoked to help out.  He didn’t have a classic producer’s role of a heavy hand, but he was a good advisor and a friend to ask if I thought something was or wasn’t working.  He was really helpful, so I just decided to give producer’s credit since he was hanging out and helping me record.  He played a lot of the drums while I was recording.

Jordan:  How do you end up deciding or choosing which labels to put records out on?

Tide 7" Cover
Mikal:  Well, Trouble In Mind happened because Bill and Lisa Roe, who run that label, had been good friends of mine and the Moonhearts.  During the first Moonhearts tour, we stayed at their house and we ended up seeing them every time we came through Chicago.  They’re awesome and great people.  One of the last times before I recorded my self-titled LP, I told Bill and he was really excited and basically offered to put it out before I even recorded anything.  They’re just good friends and really supportive.  I was even sending demos to them while writing and they gave me input.  Eventually they released it and I’m really grateful because they did such a good job.  Even promoting it and getting it out to people.  With my “Tide” 7” on Goner, it was a similar thing that happened after touring and knowing the guys from Goner.  I think I actually asked if they wanted to release the single that I had just recorded.  (Laughs).  It was a long-shot, just like “would you maybe want to release this?” and they said “sure.”  So it’s been a lot of happenstance of who I meet and who wants to work with me.  Both of those labels are great.

Jordan:  So what differentiates and influences each type of music that you play?

Mikal:  Moonhearts pretty much found our niche of what we wanted to do.  We were obsessed with early garage and punk music, just loud blown-out stuff.  For my solo stuff, I was listening to a lot of the Beatles and Del Shannon, even David Bowie: more on the pop side of the spectrum and that’s where my head was at.  When I wrote songs, I tried to focus on the melody with interesting chord changes, you know, like pop music.  Something like the Ty Segall band project comes from a bunch of places.  Ty wrote the majority of it, but we all worked on it together.  It’s a live recording of the whole band and it sounds like 70’s stoner metal, well, not metal, but rock.  It’s like longer songs that are a lot heavier and slower.  We were listening to a lot of Hawkwind and Black Sabbath and stuff like that.  We all listen to very different styles of music all the time and sometimes it’s more appropriate to apply it to a certain project.

Jordan:  Where did you record the Ty Segall band album, since you said it was live?

Mikal:  We recorded it in Sacramento at the Hangar.  That’s the name of the studio, with Chris Woodhouse who records a lot of Thee Oh Sees stuff and he was from the band the Mayors.  That studio is great.  It’s beautiful, it’s legit, it’s great.  It’s got a bunch of vintage equipment.

Oh My God, Would You Look At That Cleft Chin?
Jordan:  I’ve never been to San Francisco, but it seems like there’s this magical collaborative aspect to the scene there.  Could you describe it to an outsider, or at least how you all get to know each other?

Mikal:  I’m new to it.  I just moved up to San Francisco last summer, but I can say that it’s a small city geographically and a lot of people play music.  It’s a healthy environment.  Everyone seems willing to help everyone else.  There’s no negative competition.  People meet through playing local shows and become aware of what everyone else is doing.  It seems like an anomaly sometimes compared to somewhere like Los Angeles and New York.  There’s just a lack of negative competition with the bands we play with.  I’m still new to it, but that’s the sense that I’ve gotten.

Jordan:  So where all have you been living and playing since 2002 and has the area impacted your sound at the time?

Mikal:  I think so.  We grew up in Laguna Beach, which is a small town in Orange County, and there wasn’t any kind of music scene at all.  That place was really isolated.  If we wanted to go to a show, we would have to drive an hour North to Los Angeles just to see music.  You could say that a lot of our surf elements in our music came from growing up in a beach town where everyone surfed but it seems like the group of people I met and still play music with got together in a strangely cosmic way.  Almost like we found each other in a small community without much music going on and we had similar ideas with what we wanted to do with music.  It’s strange.  Hard to say what influences the music we’re playing except for our friendship and mutual love of the music we heard from other places.

Jordan:  Wait, so do you surf?

Mikal:  I did when I was a kid.  I kind of stopped.  But I was definitely a beach kid when I was young.  When I was like 10 I boogie-boarded a lot (laughs) and spent all my time at the beach.  There was a big skim-boarding community at Laguna Beach.  We all did that.  I wouldn’t call myself a surfer dude, but surfing’s a fun time in the ocean.

Jordan:  I was actually born at Hogue Hospital in Newport.  We lived there a couple years.  I feel this need to go back and get to know my, like, beach roots.

Mikal: (Laughs) Yeah, it’s an interesting way to grow up, right on the beach but it’s beautiful and it’s healthy to spend a lot of time by the ocean.

Jordan:  So what do you all do outside of music and stuff?  Do you all have hobbies or anything?
Mikal:  We all like to skate a bit.  We’re all pretty obsessed with music.  I spend most of my time playing music, but we do spend time outside of practicing and playing music (laughs).  We’ll all drink beers and listen to records and watch stupid movies.  I don’t feel like I have any interesting hobbies any more because I’ve become so obsessed with making music.  I guess I’ve become kind of boring in that aspect.  I like to ride bikes around and hang out.

Jordan:  Do you write anything other than music, like poetry or short stories?
Mikal:  I used to write more than I do now.  I never felt comfortable writing poetry but there was a time when I would explore writing music.  I’ve become interesting in writing a story or a comic and having a musical accompaniment, like a record with a comic book or short story.  When I was in school, I wrote a lot of music for short films, which was interesting.  I wish I had the skill to make my own films.  I’m really interested in film but have never had the means or know how to make them.  The idea of mixing music with other mediums is really interesting to me.

Jordan:  Do you draw too or would you focus on the writing?

Mikal:  I don’t know, I’m not good at that, but I have a lot of talented friends who would be able to help me out with that.  I’m definitely not a good artist or drawer.  Right now at this point in my life and for the last many years, my artistic output is all musical.

Jordan:  It seems like it’s been just a lot of stuff recently.  Just kind of blew up recently when you and Ty played the Duke Coffeehouse recently.  I had listened to Ty for a while but hadn’t heard your stuff and known you were thick with him, but was definitely happy to see that awesome show there.  I think there are a lot of people getting into you and Ty and stuff from San Francisco.

Reverse Shark Attack
Mikal:  That’s awesome.  That’s good news.  There’s a lot of music revolving around our group of friends.  We all started working with each other and having collaborations.  Even I have a hard time keeping up, so I can only imagine someone outside keeping up, but it’s fun.

Jordan:  So right now, what are you especially working on putting out? What can we expect this year from you in terms of releases?

Mikal:  Things are up in the air in terms of release dates for my stuff, but, like I said, I’m totally focused on writing a new LP right now, which, hopefully, I can get out by the end of the year.  There’s a reissue of an album me and Ty made together called “Reverse Shark Attack”   ::Jordan Breaks in like a Total Jerk::

Jordan:  Oh man!  I love that thing, but I haven’t been able to get my hands on it!

Mikal:  It’s coming soon.  I’m excited because they only pressed a limited amount of it and I know there are people who want to get a hold on it.  So, yeah, it’ll be coming very soon.  As far as stuff I’m associated with, the Ty Segall band project is coming out next month.  Right now, I’m just touring a lot and trying to write and hopefully by the end of the year, I’ll have another LP out.

Jordan:  Where all will you be touring?  I saw there were a bunch of European dates up this summer.

Mikal:  Yeah, I’m going to Europe for the first time, which is exciting.  I’m going in June.  In May, I’ll be touring in Ty Segall’s ban around the U.S.  In June, I’m going to Europe.  In July, Ty’s going to Europe.  In August, I think we’re doing another U.S. tour and then I might do some East Coast dates towards the end of the year in my band.  We’re still working it out.  After these next couple of tours, I will probably take a break until I have another record to tour with.  Yeah, but I’ve been working on Moonhearts stuff and Ty and I are about to work on something soon.

Jordan:  Well, anything else you want to say to your adoring fans?

Mikal:  I don’t know (laughs).  Come out to shows?  Thanks for the support.  This is all going way better than I thought it would as far as people and positive response to the record.  That’s awesome.  I’m really excited for the future.

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