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Q&A: Mikal Cronin

By Andy Downing

RedEye special contributor

May 30, 2013

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From the outside, at least, it appears as though Mikal Cronin is living the dream. In addition to his ongoing gig as tour bassist in the Ty Segall Band, the Los Angeles-born musician recently released his sophomore album, "MCII," to universally rave reviews.

Reached at home in San Francisco, however, the 27-year-old said much of his latest was inspired by lingering doubts about his current career path.

"A lot of people [my age] wear fancy clothes ... and buy condos and have kids, and meanwhile I'm in Berlin drinking a beer," said Cronin, who plays two solo shows at Empty Bottle June 11 before returning July 19 for the Pitchfork Music Fest. "Touring full-time between the first and second record really raised a lot of questions, like, 'What am I doing? Is this really the right thing to do?'"

Many of these questions surface in some form or another on "MCII," an album that finds Cronin slowly coming to terms with encroaching adulthood atop a musical backdrop that swings from tender asides (the aptly titled "Piano Mantra") to moments of full-on garage-rock warfare.

The fast-rising musician opened up about his busy schedule, the reason he's drawn to confessional songwriting and the one promise he hopes to keep to himself this summer.

There are all sorts of questions on this album: "Is it my fault?"; "Do I shout it out?"; "Am I wrong?" Are you an inquisitive person?

Yeah, I think so. There's a lot of self-inquiry and self-reflection and anxiety and worrying about things going on in my own life, for sure. I'm definitely not the kind of person to shrug things off and let them ride out. I'm always asking questions.

Did you grow up admiring people who asked a lot of questions, like investigative reporters or scientists?

You know what? When I was younger I always wanted to invent things and solve simple, stupid problems. So, yeah, I guess so.

Is the title "MCII" some kind of veiled nod to Einstein then?

[Laughs] No, but that's pretty funny. I kind of wanted to call it "Two," and when I was demoing the songs on my computer I started writing "MCII." I really just liked the way it looked, so it kind of stuck.

Considering the Ty Segall Band's hectic tour schedule, how did you find time to record another solo album?

It was definitely a challenge. I'd be on tour with Ty, then get home and record for a week or two, then go back on the road. There were really no breaks, and it spread the project out over a few extra months. It worked out for the best, though, because it gave me a chance to step back and really reflect on the work. I'd finish a song, then bring it on the road to listen to it in the van. So even on tour, I couldn't get out of my own headspace.

Did you learn anything on the road with Ty that you were able to apply to recording?

I guess just appreciating that wall of sound. Ty Segall live shows are so loud and so heavy, and experiencing the kind of power that has over people really pushed me to try and make the heavy sections of the record as heavy as possible.

Even so, the first instrument you hear on the album is a piano. Was that a conscious decision to try and distance yourself from some of your contemporaries?

I guess it was a conscious decision, but it wasn't like, "Oh man, how am I going to set myself apart?" It just seemed right at the time.

How much of the uncertainty expressed on the record is a byproduct of being in your late 20s and struggling to make that transition into adulthood?

It has to be most of it. All the things I worry about in the lyrics are very real fears right now. Life keeps coming at you, and you make mistakes and you find solutions and you go through relationships and people and places.

Why do you think you're so drawn to confessional songwriting?

It's what comes out naturally when I sit down to write. My main mission statement with this project has always been to maintain complete honesty with myself both musically and lyrically.

Were you painfully honest growing up? Like if you got drunk in high school, would you have to tell your parents first thing the next day?

[Laughs] Yes and no. I've always been an extremely self-critical person, but I wouldn't admit to everything right away. Still, I don't like to lie to people, so I come clean if I do something [bleepy]. It would weigh heavily on me if I didn't.

You've got a song on here called "I'm Done Running from You." Do you do much jogging?

I used to back in high school when I was better at taking care of myself. I've been meaning to start up again because I feel like a tired old man and I'm all sore all the time these days. I bought some running shoes a couple months ago, but I've yet to do it. I should put it in print now that I'm going to start jogging again.

If it turns up in print, you have no choice but to keep your word.

[Laughs] Yeah, that's good. Maybe I'll even stick to it now.

Mikal Cronin, 6 p.m. ($10) and 9 p.m. (sold out) June 11 at Empty Bottle.