Mikal Cronin's self-titled debut arrived last year as part of a successful trio of thrashy rock releases from the Bay Area, which also included Thee Oh Sees' Carrion Crawler/The Dream and Ty Segall's Goodbye Bread. Maintaining a stark level of intimacy, Cronin's album is the most wholesome and engaging of the three.
The Moonhearts member and OC native's brash-yet-palatable brand of garage-rock is singular enough to shake most comparisons to other modern acts. Cronin talked to us about the blossoming San Francisco scene, his friendship with Ty Segall, and how you might hear the ghost of No Doubt peeking through on a couple of his songs.
I know you recorded most of your album in SF, but I read that you wrote most of it in Val Verde.
I'm from Orange County originally, but I was living in the Val Verde/Santa Clarita area going to school at Cal Arts for a year and I wrote all the songs in my last semester.
One of the things that stands out about the album is how personal the lyrics are. Was there any particular experience or feeling that sort of defined the album in that respect?
I was in kind of a transition period at the time where everything was up in the air and I wasn't sure what I was going to do in general. I was in and out of college for years and years and I was finally about to finish that without any clear-cut plans of what I was going to do with my life. There was also a relationship that went really south that kind of made me think about those things, like feeling lonely or isolated. So it was kind of a snapshot of my insecurities and anxieties at the time.
How long has your band The Moonhearts been together and what would you say is the biggest difference between the group and your solo work?
The Moonhearts have been around since 2006, but off and on and with people moving around, so we aren't constantly active. We've done a couple singles and one LP since then and a couple tours. The main difference is that the Moonhearts is a lot more collaborative songwriting-wise and definitely stylistically a bit rougher, faster, and more garage punk I guess. Our focus is to try and make it as simple as possible, just straightforward without a lot of elaboration. With my own music, it gets a lot more complex and there are a lot of different instruments.
So was it ever your intention to make your album a little more poppy and more accessible than the work from your other bands?
I wasn't thinking about what people wanted to hear. I just started listening to a lot more melodically based, well-written pop music. I got really interested in The Beatles and stuff, so it was just stirring in my head and there was no outlet in my other bands to make it happen. I see what you mean about it being more accessible though, and I'm glad that a wider range of people enjoy it. My mom really likes it and she didn't listen to a lot of the punk music that I made.
You mentioned being on a Beatles kick before recording the album, but as far as modern musicians or songwriters, is there anyone you look up to?
A lot of the bands I really love right now and listen to a lot are friends of mine — broke San Francisco bands and musicians are really great right now. I think probably the best live band right now is Thee Oh Sees and there's a band up here called Grass Widow that makes a lot of beautiful music, and my friend Ty Segall. A lot of inspiration just comes from the stuff my friends are doing. There's a lot of talent going around right now. I meet a lot of great bands on tour that are really inspiring too, but there's a lot to digest just in San Francisco.
How did you and Ty initially meet and when was the first time you played together?
We went to high school together in Laguna Beach and we started our first band when I was 17 and he was 16 I think. It was called the Love This and it was kind of a strange, almost dance-punk band. I played sax and he played drums. Our buddy Coleman switched off between synthesizer and bass guitar. It was really fun though and that's how we met. Ever since then we've been kind of feeding off that same vibration.
You've been playing bass on tour with him for the past couple years as well. In what capacity did help you with making the record?
He was kind of a producer in the loosest sense. He also played drums on most of the songs, and he was there for most of the recording process and just gave helpful advice or let me bounce ideas off of him. He's a friend I trust a lot and I think we're kind of on the same page with a lot of our ideas, but we also have different focuses and results we want to get to.
We've been locked in together playing music for so long, so he's definitely helpful with mixing and everything. We've also been working on another record together. The last one we did, Reverse Shark Attack, we finished in a week, so that was just a lot of fun. He and Eric Bauer, who owns the studio, really made the album sound the best it could though.
I read in another interview that you were quite the gear collector. What's your favorite instrument or piece of gear that you own?
It's kind of like a pump organ with a fan that automatically pumps air. An electric air organ is what it's officially called. I acquired it from my friend whose mom grew up with the members of No Doubt, so I'm pretty sure they owned it at one point. That was what we used for most of song “Slow Down.” There's a big No Doubt sticker slapped on the side, but I actually don't have it right now and I'm kind of missing it.
Mikal Cronin performs March 3rd at The Troubadour alongside Ty Segall, White Fence, and The Feeling of Love.