Mike Krol was in a fight.
He appears on the cover of his new album disheveled with a black eye and bruised lip. It’s an intentional graphic. Krol channeled a sea of disappointment and heartbreak into the writing of his latest and fourth album, ”Power Chords.” That pain settled into songs that mine the best attributes of punk/garage rock of the Ramones, Misfits and The Strokes with poignant clear lyrics, pop back-beats, fuzzed out vocals and lots of power chords.
Krol closes out the 2019 Savannah Stopover Music Festival with a midnight appearance at The Jinx on March 9.
The Los Angeles-based musician and graphic designer released “Power Chords” earlier this year, garnering national media attention and praise. It was his second on major indie label Merge Records. He thought his first album — 2015’s “Turkey” — on Merge would be the one that hit.
When he finished the album cycle for “Turkey” and read the critics remarks, he went through a bit of an existential crisis and became frustrated.
“The first one I did for Merge I thought was great,” Krol said. “I kind of naively thought people are going to hear this and it’s going to go over well. While it did go well, it was a short album, the cover art was not good for that time. I was dressed as a cop.
“There were some things that were going against me a little bit. Where it came out, I thought I was misunderstood a bit. I was feeling like maybe I missed my chance. I’d been wanting so long to be on a record label and get a little bit more exposure nationally. The cycle wrapped up and I looked at my life and said I am worse off than I was before.”
Juggling the end of two relationships and a questionable future, Krol decided to power through.
“It was a moment of feeling, like, well, you know, I want to do this thing, I just need to try again,” Krol said. “That sort of thought process leaked into the songs and then the execution of the songs, how they sound, I feel like my headspace, I don’t know if anyone is going to hear this or if it’s going to resonate with people, but I am trying my best. All I can do, is play these angry songs. It worked this time.”
“Turkey” was the first album for Krol that received a lot of media attention and reviews, which only helped feed his disappointments. But in that experience, Krol has learned a valuable lesson, and who Jay Reatard is — a common comparison from national media outlets.
“I would see a review that would talk about these things that kind of threw me off,” Krol said. “I was like hey, this is my life that you’re reviewing. While it’s just something you can write off like ‘these lyrics are naive,’ it was like dude, come on, that was personal.
“I’ve learned at this point, well, first of all I don’t read reviews. I probably won’t read this interview. Anyone who wants to give me attention, I am thrilled to provide for it, but I just get in my own head if I think why did I answer it like that or why did I say that.
“I think at this point in my career, I’ve accepted that people are going to — art is subjective — people are going to interpret it how they want to , and there’s nothing you can do about it, but be happy about it yourself. That’s what I try to do. I am happy with it, that’s all that matters with me.
“It is interesting to me also, because I didn’t know who he was until someone heard my music and said you sound like Jay Reatard. I said, who’s that? There’s nothing more frustrating than to make your own music and your own art and get excited about it and put it out into the world, have everyone be like oh it sounds like this other person you’ve never heard of and don’t care about. It’s so frustrating. It’s an example of bad journalism.”
All of Krol’s music is written and recorded by him. His first instrument was the drums, and so his songs take shape around a beat. He adds bass, then guitars and finally vocals and melodies. The process was born out of necessity.
Krol played drums in a band in high-school and was writing the songs. His older brother got into recording and engineering — and would later go to college for it — so there were always four-track recording devices laying around in his parent’s basement.
He decided to just start writing his songs himself, and the process he still uses began. Once the album is done, he hires musicians to bring his songs to a live audience.
“Writing songs started as a necessity,” Krol said. “I wanted to be in a band and play drums, but I didn’t know anybody who made music or wrote songs. I just decide I would learn guitar and write the songs. I’ll teach my friends how to play the song. That’s how it started.”
There is one exception to his current touring band of hired guns, bassist Allison Crutchfield. Crutchfield is an acclaimed songwriter and Merge artist who played solo at the 2017 Savannah Stopover Music Festival and co-fronts the great Waxahatchee with her twin sister Katie.
“Allison is now my girlfriend and we’re very happy and we’re doing great,” Krol said. “She’s playing bass with me on this tour. She’s been a big part of this process, as well with this album. Having someone like her to bounce songs and ideas off and she sings on it a little bit. She’s been great.”