I don't quite remember how I came into possession of the Charlie & The Moonhearts tape, but I do remember being thrilled to hear a band playing in a surfed-up garage-punk spirit and doing it well. I think this particular micro-genre became stagnant and sort of maligned by the general populace after being pretty well run into the ground during the Nineties garage boom and the overflow of instrumental bands that coasted in the wake of heavies like the Phantom Surfers and Man or Astroman?...not like The Moonhearts are indebted to that particular style anyway (they don't really do too many instros), but you didn't hear too many (good) young bands treading in those waters for quite some time. At least that's how I'm choosing to remember it. These kids bring the surf aesthetic and attitude into a new decade, another generation of kids extending our beloved garage-punk lineage. I've enjoyed listening to their evolution, from the spectacular shit-fi stuff on the tape and Goodbye Boozy single, to the somehwhat psychedelic slant they put on the "Drop In, Drop Out" single, the endearing young punk of the Thunderbeast recordings to their current LP, which shows them maturing as much as a bunch of college kids can operating in a genre beholden to the past. The full length has moments of unabashed punk rock energy backed by some wonderful songs of just outright garage-rock beauty. Coming from the same scene that brought us "wunderkind" Ty Segall and a plethora of other related bands, I think they certainly have something special to provide to the discerning fan underground rock'n'roll. And they're still kids. Their future is bright. And as talented as young Segall is, I think Mikal Cronin is his equal, even if he hasn't received as much fanfare. I spoke with Mr. Cronin over e-mail in the waning months of 2010 and this is what he had to say...
TB: For starters, what is the band's current line-up and who does what? Is it still all the original members, or have there been some other players?
Mikal: Well there's me (Mikal) who plays bass and sings, Charlie drums, and Roland plays guitar. And yeah we are all original members.
TB: How old are all you guys and when did you meet and start playing together?
Mikal: Charlie is 21, Roland is 23 and I'm 24. We started playing together in this band a bit more than 4 years ago back in Laguna. Charlie was still in high school, Roland was living down there and I had just moved back down from Portland where I went to school for a bit. Charlie and Roland were playing in a band called Clerks with our friend Shaun. It was a strange really poppy keyboard band. Then I started playing with them too. I had just bought a bass but it was still up in Portland, so I played a second low keyboard. It was really funny music. We played one pretty bad show and then started writing more garage punk type stuff because it seemed like it would be more fun. Shaun stopped playing with us and we changed our name to Charlie & the Moonhearts.
TB: I guess I first heard of you guys from the Red Handed tape and second-hand info from the internet about this little scene based around the Cereal Factory, Wizard Mountain and including you guys and Ty Segall, Traditional Fools, Party Fowl and others...it seemed like there was this big bunch of kids doing all this stuff...was there a unified group/gang like I'm imagining? Did you guys all go to high school together or something like that?
Mikal: There is a gang of kids all playing music with each other and it's pretty close to how you described. Charlie, Roland, Ty and myself (along with a bunch of others friends playing music now) all grew up and went to high school together in Laguna. Ty Charlie and Roland (along with Mike Anderson who is in Culture Kids now) had a band called Epsilons that started back then, and we all had tons of different little bands together that would play house parties in town (mostly at my house). After high school we all became friends with kids from a town over, then formed bands with them like Traditional Fools and Party Fowl. Actually, the first ever Moonhearts show was at my house with Traditional Fools, Party Fowl and Mika Miko...(here's the Moonhearts first song [and first one we wrote] at that first show at my house, introduced by Mr. Segall. We hadn't even changed our name yet, hah! oohhhh memories...) and it was the first time I saw Traditional Fools and met the Party Fowl dudes. It was awesome and in retrospect that really brought a bunch of buddies and bandmates together for the first time. There are people up in San Francisco (like all the Wizard Mountain bands) and also people playing back in Southern California (me and Roland live down in the OC/LA area), but we see each other a lot and play shows and form new bands with shared members. So yeah, there is a whole complicated net of people and bands and it's all very incestuous and very healthy and fucking awesome!
TB: Who came up with the Charlie & The Moonhearts name? Not Charlie, I'm assuming. It sounds very sort of generically Sixties-garagey, I take it that's what you guys were going for?
Mikal: Haha, yeah that was exactly what we were going for, in a really tongue-in-cheek way. We're of course really influenced by 60's garage and early rock'n'roll bands so it made sense. Charlie's real name is Charlie Moothart, which sounds like Moonheart (duh), and we were sitting in his basement where we formed/practiced thinking of band names, and I threw it out there. We thought it was kind of stupid and funny so we went with it. Then we shortened it lately for a couple of reasons...the humor aspect of it kind of rubbed off. It was a long name and annoying to tell people, and our friends and us always called it Moonhearts anyway. And mostly because it implies that there is a leader in the band, a person named Charlie, although everything is so colaborative that there really is no central figure. People would assume that because I am the singer my name is Charlie and it's weird. Yeah.
TB: I guess before we get too far, we should tie up what other bands you guys all play in...
Mikal: Right now Charlie plays in Culture Kids and Scumby. I play in Okie Dokie, record stuff on my own, sometimes stuff with Ty Segall, and also play in some other bands. Roland's not playing in other bands right now. He used to play in Party Fowl with Ty and me, Roland and Charlie were in Epsilons (I kind of played sax with them for a second), and we've all played in a lot of other bands.
TB: How did you end up having shows at your house in high school? I take it you have some cool parents. Or parents that were on vacation a lot. Did it always work out well or ever get out of hand?
Mikal: I definitely have some cool parents. We wouldn't have shows there all the time, a couple times a year, usually based around some occasion, like a birthday or St. Patricks Day or something. There would be bands that would form just to play a few songs at one of the shows. It always worked out really well, I think mostly because it was usually just our friends bands and most everyone who would show up we would know personally, so everyone had respect and kept everyone else in line. But it got pretty ridiculous every time...a lot of beer and excited kids dancing around enough that it felt like the floor was going to cave in. A few of us were in this jokey thrash metal band that only played shows at my house, first called Mothra and then Goatherder (actually, there's a really funny/awful video of Goatherder. It sounds terrible and we were wasted, so fun. Ty and I switched off on drums, and Mike from Culture Kids is playing keyboards...), and literally every single time we played somebody was sure to get accidentally thrown through this floor-to-ceiling-human-sized window next to the front door, and it would break, and the kid would be totally fine. Well, I think Billy got cut once, but it wasn't bad. My parents were cool with everything as long as we were respectful, ended reasonably early, and if I paid for the window that broke. Haha!
TB: So how did you guys get into surf music? Its not exactly the hip thing for kids to be into...
Mikal: Well it definitely seems pretty hip these days... it seems like lately anytime a band has reverby guitars they're called "surfy ____". Sorry, kind of a pet peeve of mine. But anyways, I'm not sure how we all got into surf music. I could say that it's because we're all from the beach and grew up surrounded by surf culture, but that would kind of be a lie. I mean, we did grow up on the beach and around surfing, but there's definitely a disconnect between "surf culture" and "surf music". I've found that most people surfing, at least in our town, listened to much more rap or Sublime or Bob Marley or whatever. It's not like all the bars and restaurants were jamming the Ventures all the time... although that would have been great. I feel like surf music is less about surfing and more about a fantasy of surfing. Most of my favorite surf groups are geographically nowhere near the beach: the Trashmen were from Minnesota...The Tornados from England... and most of the influences that Dick Dale introduced were from Lebanese folk music, which really has nothing to do with surfing. Sorry, kind of ranting. That all being said: I think we just really love the sounds the attitude and the atmosphere it creates. I could get really dorky and say I love the scales and the typical chord progressions and overall structures, and I guess I just did, but I'll stop there.
TB: What are the best and worst things about growing up in Laguna Beach? And how has living there influenced your music?
Mikal: Growing up in Laguna was mostly great, it's beautiful, there's a beach, some great people (and awful people). But it's just like any small town in the sense where there's "not much to do" and everybody knows everything about everyone. Really touristy, especially in the summer. But it's pretty close to LA so that's where we always went to shows and stuff in high school, then there were waves of show spaces around Orange County. It's really hard to complain about Laguna in retrospect. We did have the whole TV show thing. We grew up with all those people and that first group of kids that got really famous were in my graduating class and that really represented Laguna in an awful way that was completely counter to reality, or mine and my friend's high school experience. But who cares, anyone with any brain knows that it's just a dumb fucking television show. So it wasn't really like that, in case anyone was unclear, haha.
TB: Are you guys all in college now? What are you studying?
Mikal: We've all done some college. Charlie went to school in Boston and then some up in San Francisco. Roland went to a recording school and has a certificate for that, then some community college and I went to school in Portland for a while, then some community college (Psychology and General Ed stuff). I'm the only one in school right now, finishing up my last year at Cal Arts (north of LA) studying music.
TB: Talk to us a bit about the choice of cover songs on the LP and what inspired you to pick them. "Eat My Shorts" and "I Can Go On" couldn't be two more different songs...have you ever heard the Cheater Slicks' version of "I Can Go On"?
Mikal: Well I guess I'll just drop the joke now and say that "Eat My Shorts" isn't actually a cover song.... it's one of ours. I came up the band name El Barto & the Krusty-O's and thought that it would be a really awesome name for a Simpsons themed punk band, their hit single being "Eat My Shorts". Led by Bart and backed by the bullies... maybe with Milhouse or Ralph Wiggum on drums. So yeah, that song is Bart singing about his anger and pre-teenage angst, which he deals with by skating and pulling pranks and breaking shit at the Kwik-E Mart. Saxophone solo is credited to "Lisa S(impson)" but is actually just me. I still want to make a music video for this one with Simpsons masks and skateboards and debauchery. If anyone wants to put out a 7-inch of us as El Barto, we're so so down. It'll be stupid and great I promise!
I had no idea that Cheater Slicks covered that song! This is the first time I heard of that. I don't listen to them all that much (though I love everything I've heard). That kind of bums me out... oh well. None of us had heard their version so we weren't influenced by that. Charlie suggested we cover it, he played me a tape of the comp that it's on, Garage Punk Unknowns #8...or #7 or so? (ed. correct, #8) We talked about doing it faster, but once we started thinking in terms of a well-rounded album we decided to keep it pretty true to the original and a little more psyched out. We just love the song and I'm glad we decided to play it like we did because it rounds the record off pretty well I think.
TB: "...Of Robbing Banks" was the first Moonhearts track I really fell in love with. Tell me about that song and how it came to be...
Mikal: Thanks man! That was one of our first songs. We just came up with it practicing one day. I like how the surfy riff stays the same throughout and the bass kind of outlines the chords. I came up with the lyrics after we recorded an instrumental demo... I had just watched "Point Break" for the first time, haha, and wrote about us as a group of surfers botching a bank robbery. We go in there all freaked out, Charlie gets shot and bleeds everywhere, Roland bails and I'm stuck holding a little girl hostage, then I go outside and a bunch of cops are there and then it ends. Pretty dumb. We count it off by all yelling "UP THE SURF PUNX!" because we're dumb. On our first tape we have an instrumental "Part One" and then that song is "Part Two". We have a demo of a part three somewhere, another instrumental called "The Getaway" that's just mellow surfy garage. Never followed through on it...I remember it being kind of boring.
TB: You guys have already done some extensive touring around the US (and Canada, I just missed you guys in Toronto...) at a pretty young age. What were your road experiences like and how did it affect the band? Good/bad times?
Mikal: I'm so fucking grateful that we've gotten to tour a bit recently. Before we did our US tours we had only done a bunch of local shows, San Francisco shows and up in Portland years ago (with a very drunken Mean Jeans in a basement somewhere, it was amazing.) Our first US tour was "in support of" Ty Segall, which was a really positive first experience because we were all buddies for a long time and get along extremely well, there was no drama or really negative experiences. We didn't even get financially destroyed, which was so surprising. So after that we all just wanted to do it again and again as soon as possible. Our last tour this summer almost fell through because we were working with a booker that flaked out late in the game. So it came together last minute, in like a month, mostly due to really really awesome people like Marcos (from Rock'n'Roll Adventure Kids and he was with Nobunny for awhile) and Zach (from Thomas Function) who helped us book it. It's so fun and exhausting and exciting and it's really fun meeting a whole bunch of people scattered around who are doing the same kind of shit you are. It's easy traveling in Moonhearts because we've been friends for a long time but we're not totally sick of each other. Yet. Haha.
TB: Mikal, who would win in a fight, you or Ty?
Mikal: I would bring Ty down like a big soggy bag of fucking dead cats. No...I think the only fight we would ever have is maybe a guitar solo battle, and he would destroy me.
TB: Explain the recording/writing process between you and Ty, especially on the "Reverse Shark..." LP, which I think is a very creative album...did you guys do it in one shot, or would each of you write stuff and build on each other's ideas? I'm interested in the ideas surrounding the title track/suite in particular...
Mikal: That record came together when we had about a week before our US tour in summer of '09 where we would both be in the same place at the same time (in Laguna, we were both visiting our parents). So that week consisted of me learning the bass parts for his stuff (I played bass for him on that tour) and recording that record, all in my bedroom at my folks house. Our process was like this: Ty would come over around noon, and we'd jam on something that one of us had in our head or made up together, then we would sloppily record it immediately. Even if there was a riff or a song that we had thought of independently, it would get much better after playing it and working it through with each other. We did that and recorded a few songs a day for maybe four days or something. We'd burn rough mixes to a CD and listen to it in the car while we got slurpies or burritos. The first thing was that Ty came over with a mostly completed "High School" and we worked on it and recorded it. Then that kind of set the ball rolling and we made the other ones.
The B side was kind of like that too, though we took slightly more time to think it out. We recorded an instrumental surf song we called "Reverse Shark Attack" because our friend Josh drew a picture of a scuba dude killing a shark and gave it to Ty's mom (that same picture ended up on the center label). Then the next day we decided it would be a good idea to expand it into a really long song including that instrumental. If I remember, Ty mostly came up with the very first funky part, and I mostly wrote the folky and the operatic part...then we figured out a good way to tie them all together transitionally and lyrically and recorded it that day. I feel really good about that song, not to toot our own horns, but in retrospect it felt like we were really "on it" and worked quickly and creatively with a good amount of "fuck it let's just do it this way" while still pretty level headed and everything. I love writing songs with Ty. We have pretty similar ideas about music in general, but also have pretty different views about certain things musically but without any negative tension, just creative push-and-pull. Ty is great and someday we'll live in the same place and start another band together and it's going to rule.
TB: What are some recurring themes for lyrics in Moonhearts songs? Who writes them?
Mikal: I've written the lyrics most all of the time, at least so far. On the LP most of the lyrics revolved around feelings of anxiety or depression or panic...and then a few of them are just dumb love songs. "Deathstar" was written after friends of ours took acid and got lost in the basement of a hospital, the lyrics are about paranoia and feeling like a big-brother type figure is taking control. So I don't know...overall lyrically the songs switch between tongue-in-cheek topics like surfing, cheesy throw-back love songs, or feeling like shit. Some are pretty serious and some are very very far from serious. Or a combination of all those things.
TB Talk to me about the "Drop In Drop Out" EP - what was going on with the band at that point, what influenced it, what are the songs about and why does it sound like it does? I think it's your best group of songs...
Mikal: Thanks a lot! Ty recorded it in my room on New Years Day, so of course we were all really hung over, but it was one of those situations where we really wanted to get it done before people left town, so that was the day. We were in a mindset then where we wanted it loud and fast and really aggressive while trying find a middle ground where that could coexist with catchy melodies and things... like what I want pop-punk to be or something. So yeah, recording that was fun because it was loud as shit and we were really sloppy and barely holding on to it. We had an extra guitar amp so we miked the snare and turned the volume and reverb way up and set that behind the drums. Ty would run around and smash the amps to make the reverb crash. "Drop In Drop Out" is a pretty tongue-in-cheek song encouraging kids to drop out of school and spend all day surfing or skating instead. "Drop in/ drop out/ fuck life/ you'll never die". We wanted to make a surf punk anthem. "Obliteration" is from the perspective of some asshole sleazeball dude who creeps on women at parties and is so delusional that he doesn't understand why they won't sleep with him. Chorus is: "Why am I alone? Well I don't know". I fucking hate sleazy guys... scum of the fucking earth. I consider this song a "fuck you" to every one of them. "Stoney Jam" is probably one of my favorite recordings we've done just because of the process and how weird it turned out. The lyrics were written all together in a couple of minutes right before we recorded it: "I'm a stoney jammer/ I'm gonna take my hammer/ let's go to Taco Bell/ I'm going to smash your face and punch your mouth common", then the chorus is just: "Son of a Bitch". We were having trouble getting it down but that take was awesome because we were frustrated but party-jamming out and Ty was running around headbanging, smashing the guitar amps, and yelling. The backwards part in the beginning was a happy accident... the tape machine was being weird and when we listened to it after recording it started playing it backwards, so we just recorded that and threw it on the beginning. We screw up a lot but it kind of sums up our whole band philosophy, haha! We all listen to a lot of Black Sabbath and that's where the heavy slow parts come from. I think Charlie's drumming on this record is incredible, he fucking rules. The drum track got wiped out of "Drop In Drop Out" and he somehow managed to re-record it just listening to the guitars on the first try. Champion.
TB: What is your favorite Moonhearts song and why?
Mikal: Wow, it's hard to pick a favorite song of a band you're in. I like a lot of songs for different reasons. Like I mentioned earlier I really like "Stoney Jam" because of the process of recording it and how weird it ended up. I think "Real Hot Breakers" is pretty good in a poppy hit-single sort of way...same with "Shine" or "I Said". I also really like songs like "Animals" and "Eat My Shorts" for how shitty and sloppy they are. "Charlie Moon Style Tycoon" is awesome because it's about a fictional Charlie wearing cool clothes and getting ladies to swoon all over him. I think I'm the wrong person to ask because I really both hate and love every song we ever made.
TB: What important lessons have you learned from the start of the band until now? Anything you'd like to go back and do over?
Mikal: Eh, I don't think we've made any unforgivable mistakes yet. For a while we thought it was funny to dress up in white collared shirts, skinny ties and sunglasses at every show. Kind of in homage to Fifties rock'n'roll, and at the same time making fun of bands that really depended on their "image" to be interesting. Well, I don't regret that, but I'm glad we don't do it anymore. There are records and songs I wish we recorded better or spent more time on, because they sound shitty (not in the good way) but they're pretty alright songs. But that's all part of the process of growing up as a band I think. Hmm...I definitely wish we were better at being a band that really actively plays a ton of shows and tours all the time...I'm no good at keeping up with people asking us in person or in e-mails if we'll play this or that show and stuff. We're not a good band "professionally". I don't know, overall I think we've done alright considering that we're just dudes playing music when and where we want to. Hopefully we'll have some big mistakes in our future like not letting McDonalds use our song in a shitty fucking commercial and living off the paychecks for the rest of our lives.
TB: What would you like to accomplish with the Moonhearts before/if you do ever break up?
Mikal: Well I still think that we have a lot of ground to cover before we'd think of ending it. Thankfully I don't think we're not really stuck in one small subgenre that will go out of style or anything, so I'd like to think that we can keep going in whatever direction we'd like and maybe someone will still like it. I'd definitely like to keep recording and making records. It would be great to tour to places we haven't played, there are a ton more places in the US we'd like to play and of course it would be amazing to get over to Europe. I don't know... I can't foresee breaking up or running ourselves into the ground creatively or anything like that. We're just going to try to get better and better at whatever we want to do.
TB: What does the future hold for the Moonhearts? Any recording sessions, records, tours, plans coming up?
Mikal: I'm not totally sure what's going to happen next, everything is really up in the air but I know we're going to try to keep our recent momentum up. There are some talks of recording some records (maybe a 10", we've been talking about wanting to try to do a live tape, and of course eventually another LP). Would love to do some more touring, though it's hard right now with our different schedules, especially school taking up most of my time... but there's always breaks and hopefully by next summer I'll have graduated and will be able to figure out a way to travel more. We have a spattering of shows in LA or SF, but nothing big planned. So yeah, a whole lot of stuff in the air, and while it's really difficult to be consistent while living hundreds of miles away from each other, we're going to keep going until we self destruct or something.
As a bonus, here's a Moonhearts/Ty Segall split live tape available for download. For free. You're welcome. Right click and "save target as..." for artwork and for the tracks.
"Charlie & The Moonhearts" cassette ( Red Handed Recordings - 2007)
"Fuck California Dreaming" comp CD (Bubca Records - 2007)
"I Think You're Swell" 7" (Goodbye Boozy - 2007)
"Thunderbeast" cassette/CD (Telephone Explosion - 2008)
split LP w/Teenanger (Telephone Explosion - 2009)
"Drop In, Drop Out" 7" (Tic Tac Totally - 2009)
"Real Hot Breakers" 7" (Trouble In Mind - 2009)
"Our Boy Roy" comp LP (Telephone Explosion - 2010)
4-way Record Store Day comp 7" (Trouble In Mind - 2010)
s/t LP (Tic Tac Totally - 2010)
"Under the Covers Vol. 2" Nerves tribute cassette (Volar Records)
MIKAL CRONIN ADDITIONAL DISCOGRAPHY
Party Fowl "STDs" 7" (Goodbye Boozy - 2008)
Party Fowl s/t 7" (Post Present Medium - 2008)
Ty Segall & Mikal Cronin "Pop Song" 7" (Goodbye Boozy - 2009)
Okie Dokie "Badhammer" 7" (Goodbye Boozy - 2009)
Okie Dokie s/t 10" (Aagoo Records - 2009)
Ty Segall & Mikal Cronin "Reverse Shark Attack" LP (Kill Shaman - 2009)
Mikal Cronin "Gone" 7" (Goodbye Boozy - 2010)
Okie Dokie/Nu Sensae split 7" (Swill Children - 2010)
The Moonhearts on the web here and Mikal here.
Pics provided by the interweb and Mikal, if anyone would like a credit please contact the editor.
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