Multi-musical and genre-hopping Mikal Cronin's self-titled debut was a hit amongst pop-rockers and rockers alike, and after releasing the follow-up, MCII, it seemed the logic behind the titles were fitting. Now with only two months until the release of his third (it's out May 4th on Merge), logically titled MCIII, it seems there is more than meets the eye for the third instalment.
He based the format for this LP on Kate Bush's Hounds of Love, something he said resonated with him - one side pop songs and the other, darker, melancholic melodies about death. "I really connected with that record, and liked that it allows you to listen in a few different kinds of ways. So I went with a similar outline," Mikal told us, noting the structure of his album.
Although for MCIII, the second half is more a coming of age story, a time that on reflection was key for him: "So I looked back to a time in my life that in retrospect was a turning point in my development and my path as a person." And thus side B was born.
Despite having grown up around music - his mum was a musician - it seems Mikal is forever pushing to develop his talent. If that means picking up a saxophone, learning how to write for a string quartet or taking a course in music theory, he's prepared to do it; though he doesn't believe the latter has impacted his attitude towards music: "My mind has opened up a bit more in terms of interesting arrangements. I think it's just due to focusing and playing music for years and years."
We spoke to Mikal about his achievements, new album MCIII and... MCing.
Well firstly, we've gotta talk about the hair - why the drastic cut?!
That's been my cycle lately - let it grow for a few years then chop it off. Starting fresh, no knots, rock and roll is dead.
So the album's in two parts, side A and side B, how did this come about?
I based the format off of an album by Kate Bush, The Hounds of Love. She had the same format - standalone hit pop songs on the first side, then the B side was this really dark crazy concept album about death. I really connected with that record, and liked that it allows you to listen in a few different kinds of ways. So I went with a similar outline.
Side B is your 'coming of age' story? Tell me more...
I had wanted to make some sort of concept album, or at least a set of songs with a through-line or a strong theme guiding the narration, for a while. Because my records have been and continue to be really focused on honest emotional themes, I thought it would be a bit jarring to just kind of make up a fictional story or concept and write about that. So I looked back to a time in my life that in retrospect was a turning point in my development and my path as a person. So I wrote the B side as kind of musical short-story version of that time.
The album seems to be very reflective and emotional. What do you get out of expressing emotions so publicly through music?
Music is my only outlet artistically, and I don't keep a journal or anything, so these few records will be interesting to look back on years down the road as a document of the things I was concerned about or dealing with through my 20s. I just think honest songwriting is what I connect with best when listening to music, so it only seems natural for my own music to go down the same path.
You didn't fancy taking a new title for the album then? Carry on with the MCs?
I stuck with the numbers because it became clear when writing this record that it pretty strongly relates to the first two albums, thematically. I think it's a bit more evolved musically, and hopefully generally a step up in an interesting direction, but it seemed clear that MCIII was the right title early on.
On that note are you any good at MCing?
I would be awful at MCing. I would never do that!
You played everything on the record yourself (including tzouras, French horn, saxophone, and trumpet) and also arranged parts for a string quartet, are there any you really had to practice at/with/still not good at?
I didn't play french horn or trumpet, that was just kind of a misconception based of the press release, but yes all the other stuff. The hardest part was definitely writing for the string quartet, because I'm by far the least experienced at that side of music making. It was also the most rewarding when it worked out in the end, but yeah, I very often felt way over my own head while arranging this record, and I feel like that's a good thing. If you feel like it's very possible you'll fail miserably because it's a little too ambitious for you, then you're probably on the right track.
You've studied music theory and performance, how has your attitude to music been since then? Did it change?
No my attitude in general didn't change much, but I did find new and exciting ways to look at and listen to music after studying formally. At the same time I was taking theory and musical history classes at school, I was still playing in a hardcore drum machine punk band in the basement with the art kids. I appreciate both sides of it.
Are you making any music videos for the album?
Yes, you'll see them soon and I'm really excited about them.
Do you feel you've progressed as an artist since the first and second albums, and how?
I think so. I'm getting more confident to head in musical directions that I would be too self-conscious to go in the past. Like a piano ballad. My mind has opened up a bit more in terms of interesting arrangements. I think it's just due to focusing and playing music for years and years and you slowly and naturally evolve in some way.
How did you first get into music?
I always had music around the house growing up. My mom is a musician. So it just always seemed like a natural thing to do. Then just dozens of bands later, we're talking today.
Do you prefer playing with the Ty Segall Band or your own?
Both are good for different reasons. I like playing my own music of course, though you have the pressure of being the "front man" and leading a band, which can get a bit overwhelming at times. Ty Segall band can also be overwhelming, but I like being the sideman and just making loud awesome music with my best friends. Both are important to me, it feels like a good balance.
What are you doing until your tour that's starting in April?
Where's been your favourite place on tour?
There are lots, it's hard to say. Australia is an awesome place to tour, I've done so twice, both in their summertime. Went surfing, played with kangaroos, etc. Melbourne is awesome.
Who will you be listening to on tour?
Lots of music I guess. Neil Young is always good driving music. Listening to the audio book of Henry Rollins/ "Get in the Van" has become something we do maybe once a tour. I like podcasts too. Sometimes on tour I like listening to non-musical things better, to give your mind a break from music.
What's the best fun fact you know?
Penguins can jump 6 feet high.
Favourite new artist?
Favourite old artist?
What's the best thing you've ever learnt?
Penguins can jump 6 feet high!
MCII is out on May 4th via Merge Records. Head here to listen to 'Made Up'.