Mikal Cronin breaks down five songs from his new album, Seeker
The rocker goes deep on the instrumentation on his fourth studio album.
Image: Max Mendelsohn
Today, Mikal Cronin returns with the new record Seeker, an exciting document of change and reinvention. It notably breaks the California artist’s streak of self-titled albums, the last of which was 2015’s MCIII, and was also written when Cronin was at a fork in the road, personally and professionally. Staring down failed relationships, the working grind of being a musician and nagging writer’s block, he “needed to clean up, to stop leaning on external crutches to get through the anxiety,” Cronin says of that time. “I needed to grow the fuck up.”
To write Seeker, Cronin spent a month in a cabin in the mountains of Southern California with only his cat for company. The bucolic retreat, which Cronin describes to Guitar.com as “a dream for many creative types”, was cut short, though, by a forest fire set by an arsonist. Once safely back in Los Angeles, Cronin convened his friends – including Ty Segall’s Freedom Band, which he plays in – to record Seeker at Jason Quever’s Palmetto Studios.
Cronin broke down four songs from Seeker – and the track Arsonist, which appears on a bonus 12-inch as part of the album’s Peak Vinyl package – for Guitar.com. Read on for details of the intriguing instrumentation on the record and the poignant conditions in which it was created.
Shelter stars the roto-toms, which are the three tuned drums that are in from the beginning. With this one I wanted to work off a drum loop that I made, then playing off the polyrhythms. It’s also interesting writing a song without real chord changes – there are different challenges to making it interesting to listen to. My favourite part of the song is the string section.
This song is about forest fire: its destructive nature but also its role as a regenerative process. I wrote the majority of this album up in the mountains of Southern California, in a small town called Idyllwild. I rented a cabin for a month and worked constantly. I think this is a dream for many creative types, and when I saw a window in my schedule when I could make it work I jumped on it. It was an experiment in isolation and seeing how a rural environment would shape my music.
I actually wrote the bones of this song while on tour before my trip, which is interesting because my month in the cabin was cut short by a big forest fire that I had to evacuate for. I shaped the lyrics a bit after the evacuation, but it shows you where my head was at coming into my stay at the cabin. I was thinking about fire as a theme of this record, and it materialised.
I liked the piano in the studio. It wasn’t anything fancy, just an old upright, but it was a must-have because I knew I had a piano ballad to record. I thought this sound of a piano was a little more grounded than recording on a giant beautiful grand piano you would see in a lot of studios. We used some nice microphones but maybe not the most typical on a piano: a pair of Coles 4038, a little darker-sounding than a more traditional mic setup. This song is about feeling tired of living a destructive lifestyle, and I thought the band did a great job capturing the hazy, wobbly feeling I was looking for.
This song was written in my garage with whatever hodgepodge of instruments I had at the time. The demo has things like pots and pans for drums, a 5-string acoustic guitar (a beat-up 60s Kay that was missing a high E string at the time) and an out-of-tune portable piano that I have. I loved the sound of the out-of-tune piano so much that I later dragged it down to the studio to record on the final version. It reminded me of the guitar on Helter Skelter where the low E string is played so hard it drones out of tune. I think it adds a bit of odd intensity to the song.
This is my four-part suite about an arsonist. There are a few things about this song that make it special to me. It’s definitely the longest musical idea I’ve followed through on. It features my mother Susan Gardner on the harp, recorded on location in her home (moving a harp around is a pain). The saxophone section was me recording over myself, and very wobbly. I’d let myself play with a tired embouchure so the pitches are even more erratic.
The last section is Ty Segall’s Freedom Band, which I’m a part of, but with Ty on bass and me on guitar (a year 2000 Fender Jazzmaster reissue tuned down a full step, played through an old Fender Twin Reverb).