Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The secret world of Frontier Ruckus
As hinted about in my recent Midwestern Roundup feature, I became aware of Michigan band Frontier Ruckus.
So I wanted to ask them a few questions about their process of songwriting and the process of creating music that weighs so heavily on words.
It's a complete opposite direction from what I have been seeing in the Midwest. Most bands are becoming more focused on intricate song structure and there even seems to be a rise of instrumental bands again. I won't even mention all the voiceless noise bands.
I described Frontier Ruckus lyrics as "dream-like" before, but I'm not trying to say they sound ethereal or something incredibly lame like that. I just mean, the songs they write unfold like a dream might. I had a dream once where I was lying on the floor of my childhood home and I can still remember the feel of the beige carpet and the smell of the kitchen nearby. That was a weird dream. No, I wasn't being raped, and I swear I wasn't even drunk sleeping.
So Frontier Ruckus singer/songwriter Matthew Milia delved into his thought process for us.
"Imagistic writing is the most important kind to me, so I suppose my concentration on that might lead songs to turn out somewhat 'dream-like' in that dreams are the most purely image-driven landscape of all. I can't really say what they end up meaning to other people; I've heard such a wide range of surprising things. I engage in song-writing, and I think I have since I started, as a way to process and purge memory in a way healthier than just being swallowed by the tumult of its accumulation. I strongly endorse the creative development of a personal mythology - a set of images that, however vaguely, represent memory in a recognizable and retrievable fashion.
Milia said his version of this has been dubbed “Orion Town," which led to the title of the band's first LP to be released this Spring called "The Orion Songbook."
"'Orion Town' means the borders I have set in attempt to organize memory and love and family and home and the North. These are horribly amorphous things that I believe to be less painful through creative organization and catharsis. Orion Town is images - a night smoky winter landfill, the fairgrounds at the gate of dilapidated Detroit, the bearded upstates of Michigan and New York, the oily moving slab of the St. Lawrence River, a quiet still bathroom at night where bodily scents cling to the air and mingle with the outside through a window-screen. Christian images are abundant in that mythology due to the fire-hearted girl I was in love with while I resided within the space of Orion Town. I have since attempted and felt it necessary to abandon Orion Town, with great difficulty and confusion, to develop a new mythology. Before this is to happen, however, The Orion Songbook has to be released from my back before it cripples me or swallows me whole."
Milia also talked about his influences. I said I think of them as a more Americana version of Nuetral Milk Hotel, because of the lyrical focus. Much like Jeff Mangum had his wintery Christmas images, full of domestic violence and faceless sexual visuals, he has his Orion Town aspects.
But there are also the deeply rooted undertones of folk music.
"I consider Stephen Foster as the first American songwriter of which I know - he’s the earliest songwriter I’ve heard that wrote the type of song that I want to write. He’s into memory in a haunting way: “Thou wilt come no more, gentle Annie!” He makes death beautiful - beautiful like the death of a mythology in which you had faith," he said. "I want our sound to be imagistic experimental traditional melodic music with lots of harmony centered around mythologized memory/place/love/backyard/home. We were initially formed as the synthesis of a bluegrass banjo player (David) and a kid with recurring nightmares about memories and being chased endlessly through the backyards of one-story-carport-houses in a really pitch black nighttime by faceless robbers. We love the existence of harmony and shrill sounds."
Milia also commented on their upcoming tour dates with Misra's Southeast Engine.
"We met Southeast Engine on our first tour ever this past summer in Muncie, Indiana while we were playing a string of shows with Arrah and the Ferns from Muncie. Both of those bands were our two favorite bands from the tour. Southeast Engine is a really superlative band. Leo from the group suggested us to do a set of shows together with them in Ohio and for them to come up for a set with us in Michigan. It looks like it’ll work out," he said
As I said before, Frontier Ruckus has been accepted to South by Southwest in 2008, so they will be making the trek for the first time.
"We’re driving down to SXSW and back as quickly and directly as possible, I think, due to us all being in school and most of us having jobs," Milia said. "It’s our first time playing that far south and we’re happy to temporarily abandon the North. Our friends in the band Canada mentioned touring down together, something we’d absolutely love to do, but I don’t think we have the time."
I also spoke with Southeast Engine singer/songwriter Adam Remnant about SXSW and Frontier Ruckus.
"Frontier Ruckus is great. We played with them at a club in Muncie, Indiana last summer. We've stayed in contact with them since, and we've recently set up some shows in Ohio with them in order to bring them to our home state. We're also currently working on a few Michigan dates to go play in their home state as well," he said.
Remnant also pointed toward a spot on SXSW as well, via the Misra showcase.
"SXSW is in the works - we're definitely playing the Misra showcase, and we're looking into some other performance opportunities," he said.