Matthew Milia, the frontman for Michigan folk rock group Frontier Ruckus, is verbose. His words tumble out of his mouth, one after the other after the other, in song, and as I found out Wednesday, in interviews.
It's often difficult to stay on track during a phone interview - artists have given the same versions of answers to questions so many times in so many slightly different ways that disjointed pieces of former thoughts can come together in odd ways. But Milia's tumbling words make sense; no, they more than make sense. They're pretty beautiful - and they should be, I guess. That is, after all, what he's known for.
We spoke last Wednesday, the day after the release of his band's brand new double album, Eternity of Dimming. It was a day spent monitoring online chatter and charts, and Milia was forthcoming about the strangeness of releasing art into the world to see it deconstructed in a million little ways all over the web.
It's probably more personal for Milia to see that deconstruction than for some others. He's very open about the fact that inspiration for most of his songs comes directly from his life, from his home, his family, his room. Enternity of Dimming is a collection of tales from Milia's life in the suburban outposts of Detroit: icy cold winters and green, green summers, freckles and drug stores and black ice and parking lots.
Frontier Ruckus will perform at the Bishop in Bloomington this evening with locals Rodeo Ruby Love and Cincinnati's Pomegranates.
NUVO: You just released Eternity of Dimming yesterday! Is it a relief to have those songs out of your brain and into other people's brains?
Milia: It really, really is. It's been done for about a year, so I've already written another record. But this is such a huge record; it's 20 songs. It's like a weight lifted to have people hear it.
But then I remember all the insecurities that come with putting art into the world. It's been overwhelmingly very positive, but it's the weird kind of things that take you by surprise. But it's been great.
NUVO: What's the day of releasing a double album like? Is anything that different? Do you eat a special breakfast?
Milia: You find yourself on the Internet a lot. More than usual (laughs). There's this whole side to it - the music business side - seeing how it's doing, how people are reacting to it. I wish I could remove myself from that. But I'm an only child though, so I'm really in tune to attention and what kind of attention I'm receiving. But I'm very open and honest about it - I can be an insecure person.
NUVO: It's hard to expose yourself like that. I have to say, I've read about a lot of albums, and this is the first one that I've ever seen a word count listed in the notes. 5,500 words in lyrical length - which is amazing.
Milia: Nobody can take that away from me. If the quality of the words isn't great, at least there's a lot of them.
NUVO: There are a lot of words. I am a huge fan of your music, and I love Okkervil River and prose poetry folk - you could read your songbook like a book, honestly, and get a lot from it. Can you tell me a few memories from writing this? I really love "If The Summer" and "Black Ice World."
Milia: "Black Ice World" is actually one of the more verbally economic tracks. There isn't that much verbosity going on, but that's kind of why I like it. It's kind of a refreshment in the midst of all this verbosity. That was very inspired by being locked up and lonely in a Michigan household in a very intense winter, where the outside world was just bitter, bitterly aggressively cold and inhospitable. So you're locked inside of this warm, glowing house at night, and outside is so cold that the windowpanes and doorknobs are dripping with condensation. It's kind of that internal, locked-up feeling. That was a very seasonal kind of song.
"If the Summer" is one of the few songs I wrote on a piano instead of a guitar. It's a young love kind of song. That was probably written in the winter, but remembering summer. Specifically, remembering a younger summer with a younger love, and regretting. It's very much a song about regret for the way something happens, and a fear that the next summer won't have the same kind of purity or innocence. Purity of love, goodness of love. It's a fear, "If the summer won't return in the same way," and it will just be full of adulthood and sunburns.
NUVO: Are you still playing that old '70s Epiphone that was your first instrument?
Milia: Yeah, yup. That was my dad's guitar that he got in the '70s.
NUVO: Do you think you'll ever let go of it, or will it be your main guitar forever?
Milia: No, no! (sounding scandalized). That's my guitar. I wrote the majority of my songs on it -
NUVO: You sounded so mad when I asked that!
Milia: You can't have it! (laughing) No matter how much you offer me, you can't have it. It's my most sentimental and prized attachment.
"Nerves of the Nevermind" by Frontier Ruckus
NUVO: Tell me about nostalgia. You're a collector of things - literally - and of memories, turning them into songs. What types of things do you collect?
Milia: Collector is a nice way of putting it. Hoarder is what other people call it. I'm on the road a lot, and what do you do when you have a couple hours to fill in the town? I go to record shops, I go to bookshops and I go to vintage clothing stores. I come home with way more shit than I left with. I just luckily moved in Detroit and I have more space to keep my hoarding stuff. But I have more books than I could ever read, way more records than I could ever listen to. Something about just having volumes of other people's verbosity just comforts me. Having those objects to me is inspiring. The history of art and creations and people's creativity.
NUVO: I also read you say that you have a compulsion to be a tour guide - to show off the things you know in your hometown. Could you create a songbook tour of places that have inspired you to write certain songs and then offer it to super fans? (laughs)
Milia: I've had people ask me to do that, actually, in letters and stuff. The thing is, I live in a very typical - I'm a product of a very typical, banal, suburban landscape. In all my music and writing, I've romanticized it and mythologized it as this extreme kingdom of memory and beauty. Really, it's just ugly strip malls that most people hate. But that's the kind of message in all the music. These are the specific and particular places that, just by the merit of them being what I know and where I come from, they're beautiful. And everybody has that exact thing catalogue of place, even if it's not suburban. Everyone comes from similar places, but everyone has a different system of locales that are beautiful [to them] just because they are physical extensions of those places - those parking lots, those drug stores and movie theaters.
I've chronicled mine very specifically, to gratify myself and release those kinds of memories. But I've found that other people can relate because they have a similar specific system of place.
NUVO: Do you collect maps?
Milia: I do. I wallpaper with maps a lot.
NUVO: I do too, actually. Have you ever felt - and I think this is a particular nostalgic feeling that I can't exactly describe; there's probably a German word for it - a sense of home in a place that you've never been before? That enough things are the same and familiar that it provokes nostalgia even though it's completely new?
Milia: I think there is probably a German word for that. Luckily, the place I'm describing that I come from is a very abundant and redundant landscape throughout America. Wherever I go there are strip malls and parking lots. Fortunately, what I'm trying to describe and express is reiterated in all of America's landscapes.
One time I was driving through South Dakota and it was dead of winter. Very inhospitable in the outside world - and I was driving through a system of malls and hotel chains that I swear to god look like exact replica of the mall where my mom worked growing up that I write about a lot. It was really eerie. Literally, the way it was laid out was exactly the same in South Dakota.
NUVO: What did you grow up listening to? What's your musical home?
Milia: I always say Bob Dylan and Neil Young because those are the things that my dad introduced me to that probably had the biggest impact on me as a songwriter. Those were my first experience with really idiosyncratic songwriters.
But, honestly, I grew up listening to the radio. I played travel soccer growing up, and on the way to soccer practice or a soccer game, I listened to '90s alternative rock. Gin Blossoms, Goo Goo Dolls, Third Eye Blind and Oasis. And a lot of that seeped in. I'm a sucker for the first time where we're honest with ourselves as products of the '90s, because that's what was everywhere. Some of the electric guitar tones and some of the chord changes reflect that.
NUVO: All right, I think I have time for one more question, and it's going to be about crafts. Is that white-out on a lot of your covers?
Milia: It's just white paint. And sometimes it's not always white paint, it's just paint. I do all the paint graphics because I like writing in paint like a child. But sometimes that person who lays it all out will change the color. But I like white paint. And it looks like white-out, which is a nice household tool. I'm all about domestic appliances, just things in junk drawers.