On Tuesday (May 5), Mikal Cronin will release his third album, MCIII, on Merge Records. As previously noted, MCIII's second side comprises a conceptual, six-song mini-album that represents Cronin's "coming-of-age story," and in an interview with Exclaim!, the California songwriter and bandleader shed more light on the troubled time in his life that inspired the ambitious new full-length.
"When I had the idea to make a concept record, or a mini-concept record, I wanted it to still be personal, in a way, and not be fantasy-based, or fictional, like a lot of concept records are," Cronin explains from the road in L.A. "Those are fine, but based on my musical output, I was trying to think, 'How can I make this personal? Can I find a short story within my life to write about?'"
He finally settled on "a moment about 10 years ago. I moved out my hometown for the first time. I was living in Portland, OR, going to school, and things started happening, sort of a chain of events, where life got really difficult for me. I was starting to have emotional problems and sleeping problems for the first time; I was taken out of my bubble; I had this pretty intense back problem. I had a chronic pain issue, so I was medicated for that and I was getting depressed. I had a breaking point where I realized, 'I have no idea what I'm doing here.' I wasn't playing music, and not because I had pressure from my family or anything, but it was just like, 'I'm not going to play in bands because I need to get a degree and get a well-playing job so I can start a family.' And then all these things coalesced into this psychological breaking point."
Cronin rushed home for emergency back surgery, dropped out of school to recover and was forced to reconsider his life.
"I had to figure out what to do. I was really confused, upset and anxious. It was really difficult, but what came out of it after recovering from back surgery was that I embraced having dropped out of college and just started playing music with friends; I formed my first real band."
Asked whether there was a specific moment that it seemed he was on the upturn, Cronin points to the first song he wrote, a moment in which he realized that music was the right career path for him.
"It was the first song in my friend's garage that we recorded for the new band we started. That was a first. We needed a singer for the band, and I was like, 'I've never tried this, but I'll give it a shot,' so I wrote some lyrics and sang them, and then I'd written a song all of a sudden! I was like, 'This is awesome! Let's do this again!'
"In retrospect," he says, "it all seems normal and natural, but if I hadn't had this crazy time that was really hard, emotionally and physically, I might not have moved home, started a band, and started putting out records and touring. I have no idea where I'd be now if that semi-tragic thing hadn't happened to me. So it's not tragic to me anymore; I'm so glad it happened."
Listen to all of MCIII below.