A CHAT WITH: FRONTIER RUCKUS
aaamusic | On 25, Mar 2013
American folk-rock band Frontier Ruckus has just released their third album, once again receiving positive reviews. Songwriter Matthew Milia draws his inspiration from his hometown in Michigan, taking the listener on a nostalgic journey through his childhood. AAAmusic interviewer Kjersti Westeng chatted to them halfway through their UK tour in March 2013.
AAAmusic: You’ve got a new album out called Eternity of Dimming, congratulations! How would you describe this album?
Frontier Ruckus: Thank you! It’s a purposefully dense and enormous record of many tangential worlds and memories. It is our most intensive effort to date at reflecting the density and richness that is the infinite universe of personal memory and mythology residing within each person. All of our records are very intertextual and self-referential. The places mentioned develop almost as characters themselves, and there are many connections and hidden relationships between loves and parents and ex-soccer coaches and this mall or that mall laced all throughout, from song to song and album to album, in surprising ways, the way memory and place tend to function surprisingly in actuality.
AAAmusic: What is the inspiration behind the title of the album?
Frontier Ruckus: That image of eternal dimming pertains to the sort of dying dusk at the end of a summer day where the light seems to be on this sliding unending gradient towards nothingness. Inky figures flying overhead and you can’t make out if its a bat or a bird. That fading day is figurative for memory and the inevitable distancing of every experience in the wake behind you, growing grainier, dimmer, less defined each second in the dying light.
AAAmusic: Your previous albums both received positive critical reviews. Were you nervous before releasing Eternity of Dimming?
Frontier Ruckus: It being our third record, we’ve luckily grown a tad more impervious regarding criticism, whether negative or positive. That’s not to say that the odd write-off can’t totally taint our day, or that a glowing review doesn’t lend some brief affirmation. But we rely on a certain insularity to attain any hopeful singularity of vision with what we’re trying to say, for better or worse. Also, the fact remains that we just spent 2 years producing a double-record that means more to me than any critic could understand. What he or she has to say about it, after listening to it hopefully thoroughly (but most likely incompletely or distractedly, if at all) doesn’t really affect me in a lasting way at this point. They’re not gonna miraculously sum up a 5,600-word, 1.5 hr.-long record in a 50-word blurb or arbitrary rating system. There’s nothing they can tell me about it that approaches my understanding or its meaning to me as the creator. Everything else is byproduct. That may sound self-absorbed. But I really believe that self-absorption is the necessary mode for decent art and the production of it. If anything, I care about what it means to our invested listeners that have enjoyed us in the past will hopefully continue to as in the future as we veer off into different directions.
AAAmusic: It is incredibly hard to make it in today’s music industry and there are so many talented bands and artists out there. Do you guys sometimes have one of those moments on stage when you look at each other and feel like it’s all a bit too good to be true?
Frontier Ruckus: Every night is still a battle of impossible attainment—and that really is the way it should be and the way I hope it always remains. Especially live, I feel one of the most engaging emotions for the audience to sense is a sort of desperation, but preferably understated and natural rather than overwrought and contrived. Every night is a new challenge to express ourselves more clearly, more distilled. And also to work together more sublimely with one another on stage. We’ve played plenty of shows to almost no one, and lots of shows to lots of people, at this point. It can be surprising which type of show gratifies more sometimes. Our criterion for success is how closely we can near that vague goal of existential interaction. We’re like pizza delivery drivers of the weird internal world we’ve concocted.
AAAmusic: A lot of your songs are about Michigan and what it was like to grow up there. What makes Michigan such an inspiring place?
Frontier Ruckus: I’ve lived in Michigan my entire life, in a very localized world of suburban Detroit, and for that merit alone it is interesting to me—as that it is the specific landscape that happened to form me. Many wouldn’t find it so special—lots of strip malls and car dealerships and tanning salons. But I’ve memorized it all so specifically and the way that all the locales are situated and connect. That’s what’s holy to me—the specificity of each person’s particular version of a universal condition we are all made to learn in distinct ways. All homes are different but the same. Environmental psyche is so interesting to me, and I believe that everyone has a catalog of physical places in which their body is a physical extension—all the places they have memorized and that they contain within forever. Conflicted notions of “home” and “memory” and “family” are what I write about, and mine happen to be totally of Michigan.
AAAmusic: If you could choose one person (and this could be anyone, dead or alive) to be in the audience at one of your gigs, who would that be?
Neil Young. Zach says, “My middle-school band instructor, just to let her know she was right.”
AAAmusic: Which band/artist would you like to be compared to?
Frontier Ruckus: Neutral Milk Hotel, perhaps. Comparisons in general can be tough to stomach. But I’d rather it be something like that—with an intensity of language and honest emotion. There are certain acts in the mainstream that can really throw people for a loop in the way that they approach other music. People are hungry to compare as a shortcut to the filtering of new music, maybe? It makes sense, I guess. But it typically quite cursory and extremely misguided or superficial. The fact that banjo is instrumental to our band and always has been, since 2003—you wouldn’t believe the number of times we’ve heard the word “Mumford”, though I’ve never listened to that band and therefore have nothing to say about it one way or the other. I just don’t see how it applies. I urge folks to listen to our record 3 times and tell me how it connects to anything outside whatever world it creates for itself. I believe there is a rich self-contained world inside there if you look hard enough. Of course, loads of bands have influenced greatly, but you can bet it’s a pool of reference deeper than what’s hot at the moment. 90s radio, for example, had infinitely more of an impact on my melodic sensibilities and structural ideas of a good pop song than anything on the radio today.
AAAmusic: Do you do have any good luck rituals that you have to do before going on stage?
Frontier Ruckus: Before we go onstage I like to do jumping jacks and scream like a banshee in arbitrary intervals for a full minute to warm the voice. We drink as much espresso as possible—here in York we’ve each had quadruple shots, about to go on. Then we have a nip or two of bourbon.
AAAmusic: You have been touring the UK for a few weeks now. Don’t you wish you could stay forever and eat fish and chips every evening?
Frontier Ruckus: We just got back from Scotland and grew quite attached to haggis. I don’t know how people can eat so much salty goodness on this island so regularly and stay alive and relatively fit. Maybe it’s salty goodness vs. salty badness. We love the UK so, so much. We’re excited to have a day off on a Sunday and get a proper roast.
AAAmusic: I know you are going back to the United States in April for another month of touring. What happens after that?
Frontier Ruckus: After this month of European madness I plan to lie in bed for about a week, watching every episode of Cheers on Netflix. I have our 4th record already written, so we plan to do some full-band demos for that pretty immediately. It’ll be a much shorter record of about 10 songs. We’ll be touring a lot this spring and summer, festivals and such. We may return to Europe in the late summer!
Author: Kjersti Westeng