Words by Andrew R. Fetter
Many artists talk about going into isolation in order to help the creative process. Some do it to cut themselves off from the distractions of everyday life, others to block out outside influences so that ideas can flow more organically. For Mikal Cronin, it was about something much more personal.
Relationship struggles, combined with writer’s block (partially caused by the same personal turmoil), caused him to do some soul searching. He needed to, in his own words, “grow the fuck up”.
So he went to the woods of Idyllwild in southern California with his instruments and his cat Ernie. The time he spent there was good for him. Ideas started to form and soon he was creating again. And he was able to confront the personal roadblocks in his life.
The trip was abruptly cut short when an arsonist started multiple fires in the area. Cronin quickly gathered up his instruments and evacuated just in time. But when he returned, he was ready to finish what he started in the woods.
The end result is Seeker. It takes the listener on a journey through his struggles and tells how he faced them head on. I recently talked with him about what the time he spent in isolation did for him as a writer, but also just as a person looking for answers and meaning.
Off Shelf: You mentioned needing a change in scenery in order to write/create. What was it about this specific area that appealed to you?
Mikal Cronin: I’ve always liked the woods, I like the smell and the air quality. Idyllwild was a good town to go to because it was far enough, a few hours, from my home in LA to keep me from coming home, but close enough that I could head back if I needed to. The forest has a dark energy that I like. I really just wanted space and time to work.
OS: What did you expect would happen creatively while there and did your actual experience differ from that?
MC: I didn’t know what to expect, really. I was hoping that the isolation and being away from home would lead to some interesting ideas. It allowed me to work with a clear head, without distractions of every day home life. I was also able to make noise without disturbing neighbors, which is a luxury when you live in a big city. There would still be days where I couldn’t get anything done, but even on those days I would sit with a guitar or piano for hours.
OS: Besides being able to fight through the writer’s block, what were some of the other significant changes you went through personally while in isolation?
MC: I came up against myself a lot within the month of writing. With no-one to bounce ideas off of, you’re kind of on your own and have to trust yourself. Having so much time to myself allowed for a lot of thinking. I wouldn’t say the month in the woods completely changed my life, but it definitely produced a lot of work.
OS: Have you ever experienced writer’s block before? What are some of the ways you’ve worked through it in the past?
MC: I feel like a lot of it has to do with whatever else is going on emotionally in your life. At least for me, I can’t finish a song if I don’t feel some confidence in myself… I’m too fast to dismiss something as a shit idea before I even follow through with it. But I find it important to just show up, just to try something every day even if you’re not feeling like it that day. It helps to be in a good headspace, because then I can actually finish a draft of something after expanding on the initial idea. Ways to practically work through it is just going through old notes, my phone’s voice memos, or demos… sometimes allowing a few months or years between the initial idea and following through can give you some clarity on what direction to take the work.
OS: You recruited The Freedom Band, Ty Segall’s touring band, of which you are also a member, to play on the record. Beyond it being in a live setting, was there a significant difference in playing with them on the record with your own music vs. playing with them with Ty?
MC: The music itself is a lot mellower in general. The live Ty shows have become very intense, in volume and length specifically. The biggest difference is my role in the band. I enjoy playing a supporting role with the bass in Ty’s band… I put all my energy into both situations, but there’s less pressure in Ty’s band. I put more pressure on myself when I’m leading the group. But in either setting, it’s easy to play with the Freedom Band because we’ve been doing it for years and have developed some chemistry.