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A Couple Power Chords Go A Long Way: Mike Krol On Going Back To Basics

Wednesday, 23 January 2019 Written by Huw Baines

“With a couple power chords, I’m gonna let you know...”

One line. Five decades of music history.

But Mike Krol, lo-fi midwest troubadour turned L.A. transplant, isn’t trying to make a grand, sweeping point about the nature of art or anything like that. He’s trying to make a personal point about how hope, passion and naivety—all building blocks of pop music—can sell you short sometimes.

Once he was done with road work for 2015’s ‘Turkey’ Krol took stock. Following a couple of self-releases, his first record for a big label—the North Carolina indie institution Merge—had done OK. But when the dust settled he found he was still walking in the same shoes he was prior to it hitting shelves.

“After the first two records I did DIY touring, and I had a naive idea of what I thought would happen in my career if I had the exposure a label like Merge could give me,” he says over the phone, catching his breath after jogging up a flight of stairs.

“‘Turkey’ was a short album, it was a hard album to fully catch on with people, and I was still new and unheard of. There was a little bit of a learning curve. After touring it and feeling a little bit like I’m in the same spot as I was before—not the label’s fault or anybody’s—I was like, ‘well, now what?’”

Krol’s new album is his answer to that question. ‘Power Chords’ is out on January 25, again through Merge, and it’s a loud attempt to reconnect with the very basics of what he loves about music: the clamour of punk, melodies glommed from rough and ready garage-pop and a generous layer of fuzz.

“I put all this thought and hope into what the future could hold and I felt like I was starting over in a way,” he says. “That was how I started working on the album. I wanted to approach it differently; take the feedback or the criticism that I heard and work on that, build on it to make a more solid album. It was more about feeling like I was ready to try again and revisit what got me excited about music in the first place.”

After working with his friend Elliott Kozel—formerly of the weirdo Twin Cities pop-rockers Sleeping in the Aviary—on his first three LPs, plus engineer Beau Sorenson on ‘Turkey’, Krol turned to someone else to help make ‘Power Chords’ a reality.

Mike McCarthy, a veteran of several Spoon records and therefore someone who knows their way around a wavy, odd indie-rock song, stepped in and recorded the bulk of the thing, with sessions spanning a couple of years and stops in Nashville, Los Angeles, and Krol's native Wisconsin.

By Krol’s standards, ‘Power Chords’ takes its time. Where ‘Turkey’ was in and out in 16 minutes, it gives you half an hour to get on board. It’s far more confrontational in its presentation, emerging from a squall of feedback and refusing to get back in its box. Its hooks are more refined. Back to front it works, like a proper album.

“Mike is an old school guy recording on tape and he’s got a strong gut, strong opinion,” Krol says. “If he doesn’t like something he’ll tell you, and you’ll be very aware of it. You can fight him on it, but you’ll probably lose or he’ll be angry about it. He was the exact type of person I was looking to work with.

“I felt I was working a little bit in a vacuum on the other three albums, being with my friends and people that I trusted. I had only met Mike once before and I wanted someone who’s going to listen to the songs and, not knowing me as a person very well, and not knowing my song history very well, be like, ‘Well, this isn’t working,’ and fix it.”

Next, Krol must face the music in a different sense. After you make a record, you release a record and tour a record. Them’s the rules. Discussing ‘Power Chords’ he sounds hopeful again. He’s hopeful someone will listen to it. He’s hopeful someone will come to a show. He’s hopeful that somewhere along the line it finds its people.

“I strongly believe that if you put out music or any art that you are confident in and feel good about that it’ll find the right audience in time,” he says. “‘Turkey’ came out in 2015 and I just did a little tour last year and the shows were much more well attended than the shows that I played for the album. Things just take a little time.

“I’d much rather be an artist that has a slow burn. If people aren’t hip to it right away, or it’s not the most hyped album the week it comes out, then a couple months later it’ll cross people’s paths. That’s what I strive for every time: an album that becomes a cult classic. The world’s a different place to late ‘90s indie-rock. Things come in cycles, you know? I have hope that at some point when the music I make is in fashion again people revisit it and find something special there.”

'Power Chords' is out on January 25 through Merge Records.

Mike Krol Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Mon April 22 2019 - LONDON Social
Tue April 23 2019 - BRISTOL Crofters Rights
Wed April 24 2019 - MANCHESTER Castle Hotel
Thu April 25 2019 - GLASGOW Hug And Pint
Fri April 26 2019 - LEEDS Brudenell Social Club

Click here to compare & buy Mike Krol Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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