Welcome back to Untapped Cities’ Listen series. Today, we profile San Francisco based Mikal Cronin, who has been getting widespread recognition for his skillfully crafted, smart, catchy power pop. Here, he shares about his dream music venue, feeling overwhelmed in the city, and where to get the best piece of Ninja Turtle style pizza in San Francisco.
UC: How does San Francisco influence your music?
MC: I feel like San Francisco is a very interesting place culturally and artistically, and obviously has a lot of history of creative people. Now, there is so much of everything in a relatively small area and it feels like the environment changes almost from street to street. It’s a beautiful place and I think that even its major downside, which is an increasingly high cost of living, pushes creative people to get things done quickly and efficiently, especially if you’re trying to do that creative thing for a living.
UC: What songs of yours best reflect San Francisco and why?
MC: It’s hard to say with my songs because they’re all very directly personal and internal… but I do have a song “Green & Blue” which is about walking around a big overwhelming city and feeling very insignificantly small. I feel that way sometimes in San Francisco or other major cities.
UC: What songs of other artists you like best reflect San Francisco and why?
MC: Have you heard Frank Zappa’s album “We’re Only In It For the Money”? The song “Flower Punk” specifically is a pretty great criticism of the ’60s hippy culture. Awesome.
UC: If you designed a building or public space, what would you do?
MC: Being a touring musician, there is nothing better than playing at a venue that is run by musicians or former touring musicians, where they know how you’re probably feeling mid-tour (tired, sick, overwhelmed) and do their best to make it comfortable and easy for you. It’d be great to open a place like that, with an apartment upstairs available to touring musicians and stuff like that.
UC: What’s an Untapped secret in your city?
MC: As far as venues, I really love the Rickshaw Stop, the Great American Music Hall, and a newer one, The Chapel. For smaller shows, there’s a lot of fun stuff at The Knockout and The Hemlock. For a great slice of sloppy Ninja Turtle style pizza, I love Arinell’s (at 16th and Valencia). For a great Vietnamese sandwich, there’s Saigon Sandwich in the Tenderloin. For fancy vegan food, I like Herbivore in the Mission.
With a trained ear, San Francisco-based musician Mikal Cronin creates pop songs that are as light as air, but that stick with you. Excellent pop music transcends kitsch when it is honed with craft and imbued with soul. Like falling in love, the best pop music is universally recognizable and yet feels intensely personal—both as creation and experience. And, like falling in love, pop can be insincere, saccharine, and just plain schmaltzy. The worst pop gives you a toothache. The best pop gives you a heartache.
From its opening chords, his album MCII resonates with sincerity, as beautiful, gentle piano riffs glimmer underneath pop beats and upbeat guitars that occasionally give way to fuzz. The songs are compellingly constructed so as to never dwell too long in sentimentality. Seen live, Cronin’s garage rock roots come to the forefront, as he amps up the pace and distortion. There’s much headbanging, a lot of dancing, and the occasional mosh pit.
Untapped Cities’ music series “Listen” highlights artists both big and small who we think you should know about, and explores how they influence and are influenced by their urban environments.