Interview Series: Rocker Mikal Cronin

Mikal Cronin isn’t your typical weekend rocker practicing his lines in the bathroom before a show. He’s one of a few San Francisco musicians who’s been able to carefully craft a unique lo-fi sound that’s both exciting and raw. Cronin’s self-titled debut came as a huge surprise; a gritty, thirty-minute sonic wave of smartly arranged garage-punk that is full of inchoate angst and confusion.

The former Orange County multi-instrumentalist attracted attention in underground circles last year for his work in the surf-punk band Charlie and the Moonhearts and the Reverse Shark Attack EP, a collaboration with his high-school friend and local indie guru Ty Segall.

Musically, Cronin has opted to stay with a striped-down production that’s full of standard classic rock chords and blistering riffs. However, it’s his ear for inventive arrangements that sets him apart from rest of the pack. “Get Along” is an excellent example of Mikal’s ability to create snarky, yet witty lyrical arrangements that give the listener a deeper look at post-college life and his transition into adulthood. “I don’t know what to do / I’m stuck in my head like this / It’s how I deal with things that bring me down…”  Even though he seems lost – Mikal is on a path of self discovery – he’s living the only way he knows how, one lyric and note at a time.

Cronin at SXSW

LF: Can you tell me a little bit about your background, both musically and personally?

MC: I grew up in southern California. I started playing piano when I was really young…. my mom plays piano and harp, so she encouraged my siblings and me. At this point I’m the only of my three siblings who still plays music. I started playing saxophone when I was 10, and finally started playing in bands when I was in high school. Went to school and dropped out… finally went back to school to study music, and graduated in 2011. I then moved up to San Francisco and have been touring constantly in my band and playing bass in Ty Segall’s band.

LF: What’s the music scene like in San Francisco?

MC: Like I said, I moved up there just last year. But you immediately get the sense that the music scene is very tight and collaborative. Lots of people play in multiple bands, and the city is small enough that you get to know a lot of other musicians. There is usually a good show going on, and in my experience most people in the music scene are very friendly and willing to help each other out if need be. I love it a lot.

LF: When you’re not making music, what do you like to do?

MC: Oh man… I haven’t had much time to do anything but music for a long time, haha. But I like to relax, watch stupid movies or read books, see my friends, go to a bar and play pool or walk around San Francisco. I don’t know… ride a bike around? I’m really boring.

LF: What are your thoughts about the current state of independent music; do you feel services like Spotify are allowing more ‘lo-fi’ bands to get there name out there?

MC: I think it’s pretty amazing. Case in point: I’m touring Europe right now after one LP that was released less than a year ago. It’s really hard to get over there because it’s not distributed much outside of the U.S. But people have been singing along to my fucking songs!? In Holland!? All because of things like Spotify and the Internet in general. It’s amazing… I really don’t think I would be here unless a sharing tool like the Internet wasn’t around. So yeah, in general it seems that it’s much easier for any band anywhere to get heard wherever you want to be heard. There is no real dependency on big record labels like there was up through the 90s. It’s an exciting time to be a musician I guess… There are a lot of open doors right now.

LF: How did you hook up with Trouble in Mind Records?

MC: I met Bill and Lisa Roe in Chicago on my first U.S. tour back in… 2009? My band Moonhearts were playing with Ty Segall. We stayed at their house and we were all instantly good friends. That was right before they started the label, but they told us about the idea and asked both Moonhearts and Ty to do a single for them. We both did and since then Trouble In Mind is getting really well known, making LPs as well as just singles. We actually talked about them releasing my solo LP before I even recorded any of it, or knew what it was going to sound like in general. Bill and Lisa were really supportive and were basically there throughout the whole record working process, from conception to production. It’s great to see them doing such a great job because I love them, their daughter Ronnie Roe.

LF: Where are you currently touring?

MC: I am driving from Antwerp, Belgium to Paris, France!! Doing a pretty decent sized European tour. My first one ever, and it’s been great.

LF: What are you currently listening to?

MC: As I write this I’m listening to Kelley Stoltz’ record “To Dreamers.” In general I’ve been listening to a lot of Bill Fey, David Bowie, Scott Walker, Grass Widow, Neutral Milk Hotel, White Fence, Sharon Van Etten and, as usual, Thee fucking Oh Sees.

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