Frontier Ruckus’s frontman, Matthew Milia, says more in one song than many artists do in an entire album. The Michigander started Frontier Ruckus ten years ago and has released two EPs and three LPs since its founding. This past January, the roots/folk group released its new 20-track album Eternity of Dimming. With Milia’s quivering voice and the band’s clinking banjo strings, Frontier Ruckus has often been compared to Neutral Milk Hotel and Sufjan Stevens. In anticipation of the show tonight at Schubas Tavern, Milia sat down with Chicago to share some of his famously detail-laden thoughts.
Suburban upbringing is a common topic on albums such as Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs and arguably half of Radiohead’s material, but it’s usually colored with a negative tone. Your reaction is more positive than most. Why is that?
I think it has to do with how “naturally” or “unnaturally” you perceive the whole suburban system. None of my commentary is really from an economic or critical or qualitative vantage point. I simply try to chronicle, with obsessive detail, the world I was born into, which happens to be suburban; [a world] marked by these redundant corporate outposts and ubiquitous landscape. I am a product and extension of it, and I love it and celebrate it to no end.
What’s the biggest thing you did differently while making your new album, Eternity of Dimming?
We had more fun in the studio by going outside of our comfort zone a bit. I played a lot more electric guitar and so it was fun searching for different tones. Dave (Jones) doubled and tripled banjo parts, used delay effects. Zach (Nichols) played about a billion instruments—lots of little toy keyboards from the 80s and 90s through old amps from the 50s and 60s. Decades and fidelities make love and mingle all over the record in that sense. It was all just very open and mutually creative and one of the best times I’ve ever had.
Did you explore any new lyric-writing methods?
The overall theme of the record is the collision of idyllic childhood memories with abrupt punctuated adult tragedy and trauma. I wanted both tones to exist simultaneously throughout. So I reached for that via several methods—like tongue-in-cheek kooky images positioned directly next to terrible scenes or emergencies. Lots of weird juxtapositions. The heavy cut-up technique in “Careening Catalog Immemorial” [here’s the music video] is a good example.
Does the Chicago music scene seem different than Michigan’s?
I’m not as ensconced in the Chicago scene, as we’re not so much “of” it. But we love to visit and feel very welcomed when we do. From what I’ve experienced, Chicago bands seem to have formed a nice support system for each other, like to drink a lot with each other, and listen to each other’s music—proper qualities of any respectable “scene.”
Frontier Ruckus plays Schubas 2/21 at 9 p.m. (21+). Tickets are $10. schubastavern.com
Scott Standley is a contributing music critic for Chicago magazine.
Photograph: Courtesy of Frontier Ruckus