Mike Krol is one of the newest additions to the acclaimed Merge Records roster. Coming from Milwaukee (via New York via Los Angeles) it took an escape to New York to appreciate much about his hometown, most notably the power of the Violent Femmes self-titled debut. After a blistering performance in Ottawa earlier this month, Krol talked with us about the Femmes, collecting 45s and what’s to come.
Both you and Violent Femmes are from Milwaukee. Did this play a part in this record being your pick?
Absolutely. Violent Femmes were my first realization that you could “make it” on a national or global scale even if you didn’t live in New York or Los Angeles. In the same way the Ramones made me feel like I could play music even though I wasn’t the best musician, the Femmes taught me that if you put out a strong product that you believe in, the rest of the world will notice no matter where you call home. To the people of Wisconsin, they were regarded both as international rock stars and as three ordinary guys from Milwaukee who were just like us. I always thought that was cool that they lived in both worlds.
Is this one of those records that grew up with you or one that hit you later in life?
Definitely one that hit me later in life, and I’m glad that it happened that way. I needed that time and distance away from it being around in my childhood to fully appreciate it as a young adult. But once I heard the album in full, without interruptions on vinyl – I was hooked immediately. To me as an adult, it captures my childhood growing up in Wisconsin perfectly. I’m immediately transported back to being an angsty teenager who doesn’t fit in, but filled with hope and dreams about what the future can hold.
Has the record had an impact on you musically, do you think?
This record single-handedly provided the template for what I try to achieve when I make an album. The length is perfect, the flow from song to song is perfect, the range of emotions is perfect. The minimal approach on production, raw/dry sounds mixed with playing that explodes in attitude and confidence… I could go on and on. But all I know is that no matter what mood I’m in when I start the record, by the time it ends I feel like something was accomplished, a battle was fought and won, and I’m a better person because of it. This is what I hope people feel if they listen to one of my albums from start to finish.
Do you consider yourself a vinyl collector?
Yes, but mostly 45s. I have quite a large collection of 7″ records because I love collecting picture sleeves and the alternate artwork for singles of songs I like. Living in Los Angeles, I mostly listen to music in my car, so I also have a pretty massive collection of CDs (somewhere around two thousand last I checked). But don’t get me wrong, I LOVE vinyl records. And any record that I consider an all-time favorite, I definitely own as an LP. In the case of the Femmes first album, I inherited a vinyl copy from a friend who had an extra, before I ever owned it on CD. And now I have it on CD in three different versions!
I read in another interview you consider yourself a drummer more than being able to play any other instrument. How badly did you want to be Violent Femmes new drummer?
Really funny you ask, because when it was announced that the Femmes got a new drummer in the local Milwaukee paper, my Dad sent the article to my brother (also a drummer) and I as a way of showing us we missed our chance. Although, I don’t think I could do very well on the Femmes songs. I’ve never been very good at using brushes. I prefer sticks.
It’s coming on a year since Turkey was released. What are some of the accomplishments/milestones you’ve made in the last year? Anything you couldn’t have guessed at a year ago?
I think the biggest accomplishments have been the amazing concerts I’ve gotten to play with some of my heroes. I got to tour with Mac McCaughan for the first leg of the tour and that was something I’ll never forget. I’m a huge Superchunk fan and all-things-Mac, so those shows were very special for me. I also got to open for the Sonics in the Netherlands, which was pretty surreal. And I just finished up a West Coast run with Bob Mould! So yeah, if you would have told me any of this a few years ago I would have definitely thought you were talking to the wrong guy.
What’s coming up for you?
I’m playing a few one-off festivals this summer, and then touring the Netherlands in September. Hope to have a new record written and recorded sometime before the year is over so I have something to tour on in 2017. Maybe some 7″ records or a reissue of my first two records also. I’m just getting started though, so I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon!
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