photo by John Hanson
[Editor's Note: This interview previews Frontier Ruckus' performance at 2:05 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11 on the main stage at Maha Music Festival. Find more info here, and purchase tickets for the 13-band fest for $35 here.]
by Steven Ashford
It takes precision to successfully inject wide vocabulary into a tight verbal space. Frontier Ruckus singer Matthew Milia does it skillfully through his descriptive songwriting.
Witness the first four lines from the song "Nerves of the Nevermind," from the band's second full-length, Deadmalls & Nightfalls (hear it here):
All the vegetation in the settled world is stirring / I'm blurring into sun-burnt and heartbroken worrying / about how the day took such a long time to die / when it was reeking of women I once had on my side
Milia's ability to span such verbal vastness may be due to his writing and living in his own familiar sector of the world. A Michigan native, Milia has been living in the same house for nearly his whole life, which might be a key indicator of his ability to fully embrace every oncoming scenario. While many people hazily breeze through various temporary nests and roosts, Milia digs deeper into the world that sits at his doorstep.
Milia phoned into HN from Kalamazoo, Mich., Thursday, Aug. 8, to talk about writing new material, literary influences and trucking toward Omaha.
Hear Nebraska: So tell me a little bit about this anticipated album, Eternity of Dimming.
Matthew Milia: We've been hunkered down working hard on this 20-song double album, so it's a huge piece of work. A lot of people have been expecting it for a while now. We're hoping that it will come out this fall, but it probably won't be ready.
HN: Have you been playing these songs on the road?
MM: Yeah, and these songs have been inside of us for a long while now so I feel that they're now at their prime. We're going on tour all throughout September and October, so we will be playing a lot of the new material.
HN: How have your fans responded to these new songs?
MM: It's been really good. It's fun and interesting to let people hear these songs and get an attachment to it before the album even comes out. I mean, you can always get familiar with it through YouTube, because it just turns out those songs get leaked that way.
HN: Your songwriting is described as lyrically dense: Which songwriters give you your biggest inspiration?
MM: Yeah, there are tons of words and it's an abundance of language. And that's another thing, to see people singing along with these songs that haven't even been released. I mean, it's just mind boggling and I'm not quite sure how they could have processed that in that short of time.
As far as musical influences, I would definitely say Bob Dylan, but also poetry and literary influences like Walt Whitman — anyone who is not afraid to use verbosity or an abundance of language because it reveals a maximum expression.
HN: You seem more in tune with earlier Bob Dylan.
MM: I like all Bob Dylan and I think the diversity of his career makes him so singular. A lot of his recent albums are some of my favorite. There's this 10-15 minute song coming out about the Titanic, and those are the Dylan songs I love where he weaves in and out of this psychological waltz.
HN: What is it about Michigan that makes it so inspirational for you as a songwriter?
MM: It’s the specificity of being what I've known my entire life, and that specificity is interchangeable for all people. I mean, I've lived in the same house for 26 years — the intensity of knowing a place so well where it becomes an extension of your physical body. And there is a uniqueness that I have devoted my entire creative life to try and express. Just the minutia and the most intimate of specificities. As specific as my environment is, people tend to kind of relate to them because they can kind of change their own specificity.
HN: So, familiarity mixed with comfort levels play out in your songwriting?
MM: Yeah, those are probably two of the biggest themes. It's the familiarity and comfort of home mixed with the straining discomfort of home. It's like the disintegration of time and the falling apart or deconstruction of time. It combines nostalgia and sorrow that intertwines with beauty.
HN: Very well. So how is Frontier Ruckus' familiarity playing festivals?
MM: It's something that we've become increasingly familiar with throughout time. Especially in the summertime, you get to play with a bunch of bands and mix genres that you typically wouldn't play with on a typical evening. The crowd is usually pretty diverse, which generates a positive vibe.
HN: As a whole, what are your thoughts about the lineup at Maha?
MM: It looks like a superlative festival. It looks great. I'm excited to see Garbage. Frontier Ruckus are hugely appreciative of '90s alternative rock, so I'm anxious to see how their turnout is. It also seems very imperative of the Omaha scene so I'm looking forward to see all of the local bands it showcases.
HN: Having worked closely with Nebraska music culture already, what are your thoughts about or your interpretation of Nebraska?
MM: We've played Omaha probably three times now, and the support has always been great. I think the Hear Nebraska and the Love Drunk people exemplify what is heralded as a positive scene. It seems like a very tight-knit group of people that work really hard. They really seem to love music and they're very ambitious.
HN: How will playing the Maha Festival be different from a typical Frontier Ruckus show?
MM: Well, here's the thing about playing festivals: There's a certain outer-body charisma kind of takes me over. I'm really sensitive to heat and when it gets really hot and I just kind of get out of my skin. It's like a psychedelic experience that I don't even remember, so I just surrender myself to that energy. In my eyes, those are the best performances, so I'm hoping for that.
Steven Ashford is a Hear Nebraska contributor. He's currently signing a plethora of birthday cards for his coworkers, one of which includes a condom. Contact him at email@example.com.