Mike Krol truly doesn’t give a fuck. The L.A.-via-NYC-via-Wisconsin garage-punk outsider is, put bluntly, anti-everything, but certainly not lacking in the shits ’n’ giggles department. In Krol’s wacky world, nothing is sacred. The harmless provocateur has self-released junk-fi slabs with titles like I Hate Jazz and Trust Fund. On the just-dropped Turkey — his Merge Records debut — this School of Visual Arts grad isn’t softening up on the shtick or dialing down the catchy-assed DIY raunch.
There’s the goofy album art (Krol graces the cover in full-on cop garb, with Seventies-styled mustache to boot), hilarious low-budget vids, a bowling reference in the title (three strikes in a row!), and, on insanely melodic yet simplistic rippers such as the pointed “Left Out (ATTN: SoCal Garage Rockers),” lyrics like “I’m so bored/With the stereotype/Even though if I tried/I couldn’t do that right.” Krol embraces his being part of just one scene: his own. In spite of that, Krol is still finding himself lumped into a group, having drawn comparisons to Thee Oh Sees and King Tuff.
“I thought I was being pretty obvious that I’m saying I don’t really like that scene and those bands that call themselves garage bands,” says Krol on the phone from a gas station in Tucson, where he played a gig the night before. “Living in Southern California and being interested in garage music is just kind of hard because there’s so many bands and it’s such a scene and it’s incestuous. The bands that are hot are like the hottest bands, and they are hyped by everyone — without naming any names and a record label, in particular, that is named after a food item.” He laughs.
While Krol won’t single out that label, the proud outcast has no problem recounting how he hooked up with the legendary Merge imprint. His tale of inking a record deal with the famed label — home to major players like Arcade Fire, Titus Andronicus, Bob Mould, and his beloved Superchunk — is that of having scored one for the underdog. By Krol’s account: Fledgling, scuzzball rocker home-records and self-releases two lo-fi records. He then shops them to labels like Merge. Nothing happens. That is, until he sends them to a particular radio station: New Jersey’s staunchly independent WFMU. Enter Tom Scharpling, mastermind of The Best Show.
“It wasn’t until Tom Scharpling started playing them and liking them that I got a chance to meet him kind of randomly at WFMU one night,” Krol recalls. “I was helping my friend Pat, who DJ’s there on Wednesday nights. I met Tom because he happened to come back to the studio because he left something there from earlier in the day. We hit it off, and he told me he liked the record and if I got him some new material he would help shop it around to some labels. I took that as my opportunity to go and record something as quickly as possible.” Krol then hit the studio to put down the tracks that would ultimately become Turkey — even before the Merge deal went down.
“The time that Tom told me, ‘You get me a record, I will help shop it around and see if any labels are interested’ was in December of 2013,” Krol says. “I immediately booked studio time in March of 2014. Then I just wrote songs. I then recorded it all on two-inch tape in a studio that is all analog and all old-school technology. That’s why it sounds messed up, in a charming way. There’s a lot of happy accidents, and it’s loud and kind of not perfect.”
At a miracle nineteen minutes, Turkey is snotty power-pop and sludge-bathed rock ‘n’ roll perfection, with Krol going off the rails on feeling left out of every scene and wasting away in suburbia. Fuzzy ragers like “Neighborhood Watch,” “This Is the News,” and “La La La” channel Krol’s heroes — Cheap Trick, Superchunk, Descendents — while his affinity for pop hooks reaches Bob Pollard levels.
“That’s my thing,” says Krol of his songwriting technique. “I like to make short songs and short records just so that they require more listening, so that they become more embedded in the listener’s brain. It’s a concept, if you will, of trying to trick people subliminally.”
This coming Monday and Tuesday, Krol returns to New York, where he lived for four years, to rock the Cake Shop and Baby’s All Right. Krol and his band of misfits may be sporting matching cop uniforms, and the smoke machine will be on full blast. He talks glowingly about shooting the shit over a slice like the good ol’ days with his SVA teacher, graphic design mentor, and swissted mastermind Mike Joyce, and credits his time here for driving his music mission.
“The most important thing I was doing when I was living in Brooklyn and Manhattan was I got a four-track recorder, so I was making a lot of little short demos and songs that I would do for fun in my apartment,” says Krol. “It was those years in New York that got me into the home-recording thing, which is what I did for my first two records.”
While Krol traded in home recording for a legit studio on Turkey, the end result is just as scuzzy, and his m.o. remains solidly anti-. “I’m just trying to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing,” he says. “If everyone is gonna draw an alien head, a peace sign, and a weed leaf on their cover, I’m gonna wear a police outfit and say, ‘Fuck you. I’m a cop.’ That’s a joke, but in a sense, the idea is, whatever is cool, I want to do the opposite. Maybe I’ll find a different crowd that understands and appreciates that.”