Q&A: Mikal Cronin Talks to Knockdown Alley

Posted on Thursday September 17th in

Over the years, bassist Mikal Cronin has been a vital cog in a variety of bands, perhaps best known as the McCartney to Ty Segall’s garage-rocking Lennon. But he’s also made a name for himself with three excellent self-titled solo albums, including this year’s terrific MCIII (stream it below). Out on the road in support of it, Cronin (below, performing “Made My Mind Up” for KEXP FM) comes to Brooklyn Bowl on Saturday night. And before getting here, he answered some questions for Knockdown Alley.

Which band have you seen play live the most often (excluding bands you’ve toured with)? I did tour with them, but before I did I would
go see Thee Oh Sees any time I could. Same with White Fence.
I never toured with Grass Widow but saw them every chance I got when they were around, so I’ll go with them.

Which bands that you listened to growing up do you still listen to? Nirvana, the Beatles, early Metallica, just came back to Offspring’s Smash and that’s pretty cool.

What’s the best part of playing New York City? And what’s the toughest part of playing New York City? It’s always fun and usually the biggest crowd in the country for us. Great food and lots of friends there. Driving a van around and parking isn’t fun.

What music or song always makes you dance?
“Hocus Pocus” by Focus always makes me headbang
Beavis & Butt-head style.

Do you notice if your music is received any differently in
New York City than it is elsewhere? And does performing live here have any special significance?
I couldn’t say that I notice a
different reaction, but I will say that the first time I played a show in NYC, it seemed like a huge deal that our little band traveled all the way
across the country to play in the cultural hub of the U.S. I think my first show was at Death by Audio (RIP).

Is touring in support of one of your own albums any different than when you go on the road for someone else’s? (Like for Ty Segall?) Yeah, it is. It’s nice to alleviate some of the pressure when you’re playing in your friend’s band and not taking lead duties. It’s also satisfying to spread my music around. Both have their advantages, yeah.

Your most recent studio album came out earlier this year. How often do you come up with new material? Do you already have any new music in the pipeline? And do you ever road-test new music live before recording it? It takes me a while to finish music because I have the bad habit of abandoning ideas that I think won’t work before I follow through and complete the song. So, yeah, songs can come pretty quickly or I’ll work on them slowly for months. I’d say I started formally writing the songs for this record a handful of months before I started recording. I’ve got some stuff I’m excited to work on after all the touring this year. Have more big ideas than actual music at this point. I don’t think I’ve road-tested material before recording it with this band ever … because I typically teach my live band the songs with my recordings.

Do you have any crutches when writing a song — are there certain words or styles you feel you lean on too much? I absolutely do,
but I’m not going to list them out just in case nobody has actually noticed before, haha. Both lyrically and musically, it’s frustrating and
I try to catch them before I commit to them. But at the same time I’ve found that most musicians and artists in general have their particular crutches, and those crutches over time turn into a distinctive style. Or maybe I just bullshitted that. Cool.

Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Is a song better when it really happened to you?
I’ve noticed a lot of the time it’s the opposite actually; I’d write depressing songs when I’m OK and upbeat songs when I’m depressed. I think it has something to do with having enough distance from the thing you’re writing about to fully contextualize it and think about it critically. I’ve written dark songs when I’m down, definitely, and some work out well … but then others seem narrow-minded and unintelligent because I’m too deep in the hole to fully understand what’s going on. Maybe it’s just me. —R. Zizmor | @Hand_Dog


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