It seems there’s no rest for the weary for some Bay Area musicians who are working hard to make their dreams come true. MCII, Mikal Cronin’s second album (his debut on Merge Records), comes out tomorrow, May 7th. As soon as it’s released he’ll be off for another European tour (his second with his own band), starting in Denmark before moving on to conquer Germany. With his heart in his music and a humble demeanor, Cronin at least had time to chat over the phone.
The album itself is full of emotion, lushly layered with a saturation of sound (a formula that sounded distinctively familiar to my ear. I eerily pegged him on at least one influence) on all 24 tracks of the two-inch tape it was recorded on. It was mostly recorded in San Francisco’s Chinatown at the prestigious “Bauer Mansion,” which is actually a comfortable basement or “hobby studio” where Eric Bauer tends to capture friends of friends exclusively on tape.
“It’s nice to have slight limitations,” as opposed to working with Pro Tools, which Cronin says can be overwhelming (although he admits to demoing pretty extensively on GarageBand). But you better believe he’s going to fill every track available with an instrument. “It’s best sounding jamming the tape full of shit.”
With exceptions like Petey Dammit of Thee Oh Sees’ slide guitar on “Peace of Mind” and guest appearances by his buds and bandmates Ty Segall and Charlie Moothart, it is a ton of Cronin playing multiple instruments. Even K. Dylan Edrich’s viola parts are composed by Cronin. “I graduated in music school, so that was helpful,” he says about the first time he actually composed music on his own project. Edrich, he says, added her own flares.
“If I ask someone to come down, I’ll have a pretty clear idea of what I want them to play. I try to keep it fun and creative, because they’re all extremely talented people,” he says about his collaborators.
“Turn Away” is a particularly beautiful example of a rich-melodic hook, layered vocals, combined with a lyrical delivery that reminded me of Elliot Smith. “It’s funny you should mention that,” he said. “When I was 17 or 18 I went through a phase.” He admitted to recently revisiting Smith’s “brilliant” arrangements, but concluded the tragic singer-songwriter’s works could be a bit much for him and a little “too dark.”
In contrast to his softer side and tightly-structured music, is the influence of more free-form, spacey-art jams by legendary band Hawkwind that get played while he’s on tour with the band. He says touring can be an intense drain, both physically and emotionally, but he’s grateful for the opportunity. “I never, ever guessed I’d be able to tour Europe.”
His attitude is equally modest when talking about signing a contract he calls as “artist friendly” as possible with Merge. “We split everything down the middle.” Getting signed by them wasn’t even something on his radar. “I couldn't believe it when they emailed me and showed up at one of my shows. I’ve loved them for a long time.”
He lists Neutral Milk Hotel, Superchunk and Magnetic Fields as his favorites from the label. “They’re friendly people who love putting out music.”
And now he joins that pantheon with a record he says he’s proud of, despite being self-conscious about his own music. He comes back to the U.S. later this month and plays his official record release party at San Francisco’s Rickshaw Stop May 25th with Audacity and Michael Stasis.