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Frontier Ruckus interview

Recently finishing their second European tour and first appearance at the Bonnaroo Music Festival (June 10 to 13) in Manchester, Tenn., the Michigan folk band, Frontier Ruckus, is getting ready to release their second full-length album “Deadmalls and Nightfalls” this July.

Although originating from the northern states, the boys of Frontier Ruckus bring a southern soulful tune to the stage with barnyard tools for instruments and the haunting, folk voice of Matthew Milia.

The State Press recently spoke with Matthew over the phone to discuss his new album and (then) upcoming Bonnaroo performance.

STATE PRESS: I see that you guys have been pretty busy lately. You just got back from your European tour. That has to be really exciting. Did you have any crazy stories from your free time overseas or the shows themselves?

MATTHEW MILIA: (speaking to his consulting group) Guys, can you think of any crazy stories from Europe? We played at the probably most unique environment for a show called Christiana in Denmark in Copenhagen, which is like a [self-proposing autonomous] community of anarchists. It was a really interesting third-world marketplace-looking area that we played in. This is our second time over there so we're still experiencing culture shock every time we go, because we spend a lot of time in America traveling and we've gotten to know America pretty well. In comparison to that, everything is just so crazy and everyone we meet is really different than what we're used to but so nice and welcoming. So we had a great time over there and every stop along the way was really interesting and adventurous. I wish we had some default stories. (Consulting group again) Can you guys think of anything? This is the second time we've returned to this really tiny village in Holland that we've accidentally turned into our surrogate hometown over there. They had us over last summer and we played in this 14th century medieval church for the entire community, which was older people, but the whole village saw us, and this time we played in a 200-year-old barn. I don't really know why we keep going back to this little small town, but they took us in as like their villagers. They feed us warm milk before bed... They're very motherly. (laughs)

SP: Well it sounds like you're meeting some interesting characters, which you'll end up seeing in Bonnaroo as well. So are you guys rookies to the festival scene or is this an experience you have done before?

MM: This is by far the biggest festival we've ever done. I've never even been to a festival of this magnitude. So, I'm extremely excited and anxious to see what it's like. I'm just expecting it to be exceedingly overwhelming. I just love the vibe of festivals. It's a great chance to get in front of a lot of people who have never even heard of you before. I like that. It's kind of a challenge. It's kind of a very fun and exciting challenge. It's just to have fun for yourself and play for all these people and see their reaction.

SP: I've actually been listening to your sound a lot more lately. I love it. You guys are definitely living in a mainstream of synthesized beats, while your band, in opposing, includes a musical saw. What attracted you to the bluegrass and folk music?

MM: Well, the bluegrass element really came from David who plays the banjo. His family's from Georgia so if there's any bluegrass element that is noticeable, it’s really because of the banjo. It's just such a bluegrass instrument. The song structure and such is really Americana folk rock. We've always just been really drawn to acoustic instruments. They have a really raw and organic quality. We just love the rawness of that and how natural it sounds. And we love combining and clashing a lot of different sounds and textures via acoustic instruments. Like the [musical saw]: the perfect example. It almost sounds like feramin [an electronic instrument], but it’s just like an acoustic feramin. It's just a trick in the tool. It's a barnyard tool. Zach plays it really well and it makes a great sound.

SP: You guys have a new CD coming out in July, and from your blog I see that you guys have related it to experiences from youth and your hometown. Your excerpt that dives into the “deadmalls” of your album, “Deadmalls and Nightfalls,” seems very dark. And you're pretty known for a haunting voice on the tracks. It gives the music such a serious feel. Is that tone what you were shooting for in the upcoming album?

MM: Well, that outlook is really derived from our obsession with memories. So if there's a haunting or dark quality, it's just about the overwhelming obsession with memories. And the malls are kind of like a theme for the album due to just my personal memory of metropolitan Detroit, like suburban area where I grew up where my mom worked in this big mall that is now abandoned and evacuated. It's really just about how things change over time gradually and how, even though all the life can be sucked out of an area or a building like a huge mall, this huge monument still remains: this huge empty vessel that still contains all the memory.

SP: So is “deadmall” in your album cover actually the mall you just referred to?

MM: Yup. Actually, the cover is a movie theater that was in the middle of the mall that was one of the first parts of the mall to go out of business. It was where I used to go see movies as a little kid. And then the mall still went on for a couple years, but that just leaves an abandoned core in the middle of it. And yeah, it was the mall where my mom worked.

SP: I also read that Rolling Stone, in preparation for the festival, tagged you guys as a “Band Not to Miss” and labeled your sound “Gothic Americana.” So, insult or term of endearment?

MM: I think southern Gothic literature like McCarthy is a compliment. It's nice literature, but we're not a southern band at all. We're completely northern. All of our experiences were rooted in the north and northern-ness. It's one of the huge themes that we sing about and write about. We definitely understand, and we're never offended by the comparison of the relation of us to southern music, because there are definitely undeniable aspects, again, especially with the banjo. It's not offensive at all, we understand it, but its not like we personally coin it for ourselves.

SP: On your Myspace, you filled in next to the “Sounds Like” section with a Huckleberry Finn quote. I found that very interesting as you talk about the American landscape in other blurbs you post. Do you identify with the landscape, along with your obsession with memories?

MM: Yeah, there's so many different ways I could answer that. That just a very probing, thought provoking idea. Literature is what I went to school for so it's one of my biggest influences so I try as a songwriter to kind of practice at a literary stand point with the possibilities and things to write about. They hopefully exceed conventional songwriting. It is what inspires me to continue writing songs. Specifically with “Huckleberry Finn” and the American landscape, we're traveling nonstop so it's something we can relate to. The journey of Huckleberry Finn particularly is one. It's just a series of experiences and obstacles and challenges and is a linear path down the river, and you're just leaving a wake of experiences and memories that are like very consistent defining chapters. That path or course that's leaving behind anecdotes and stories is something that we really like and relate to. I tend to really ramble...

SP: Not a problem! It's your passion. So you guys have literary studies, have two full lengths, EPs, two European tours, and soon Bonnaroo under your belt. After this, what's in store?

MM: We really have a lot of work still to do. We have so many songs that are continuing to be written and arranged so we just wanna keep touring as much as possible to continue to get our music out to as many people as possible because we love sharing music and we love this kind of experiment to see how different people react in different places. We just want to continue to do that and keep playing for people and we just wanna keep recording music. We want to get a new album out a lot sooner than this one in relation to the one that came before it. We just wanna be very prolific and write a lot of music and keep the momentum going. This is what we love to do.

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