Rewind back to 2003, and at Brother Rice High School in Metro Detroit, two teens by the name of Matthew Millia and David Jones were busy forming the band who would go on to become Frontier Ruckus. In many ways Frontier Ruckus’ songwriting has remained in that place as in Matthew’s songwriting the band always seem to find a way back to that setting of troubled suburban youth.
Last month Frontier Ruckus, now a four piece, released Enter The Kingdom, the band’s fifth album. The record finds Matthew once more heading back to his childhood home, although not viewing it from a place of nostalgia, but more from a very real fear of the disintegration of a place he thought would always be with him. Discussing Enter The Kingdom Matthew has described the record as, “a rather literal depiction of his father losing his job and relying on disability checks to retain a tenuous grasp on his childhood home.” The record is littered with lyrical references to returning home, financial worries, the struggles of his parents and a place’s ability to drag you back into your most distant of memories.
Musically it’s as intriguing as Frontier Ruckus have ever sounded, taking in a vast array of instrumentation and musical ideas. There are moments where they tap into the acoustic strumming of the Mountain Goats, that segue into rich orchestrations with the flourish of Scott Walker, then elsewhere the band take on soaring 90’s power-pop.
Today marks the opening night of Frontier Ruckus’ UK tour, the bands biggest to date; and ahead of these dates the band have taken some time out to answer our questions. The interview takes in discussions on recording in Nashville, the debilitating power of nostalgia and inviting their listeners into their childhood kingdom.
FTR: Who/what are Frontier Ruckus?
Frontier Ruckus is Mathew Milia, Davey Jones, Anna Burch, and Zach Nichols.
FTR: We’re intrigued by the name, where does it come from?
The name existed before the band in a way, certainly long before this current iteration. It references a lyric from The Band.
FTR: You’re about to release your fifth album, Enter The Kingdom, what can you tell us about recording it? What was different about this record compared to your previous output?
This record we did pretty differently than our past records. For instance, we recorded out of state, in Nashville. Previously we recorded almost solely in Ann Arbor at Jim Roll’s excellent studio, Backseat.
Also, we recorded 11 songs in 10 days (which is really quick for us) using the song-a-day method, which was new to us but apparently popular in Nashville. Usually it’s more of an assembly line—all the drums & bass, all the guitar, vocals etc. for every song.
Also, strings! We put a string section on a few tunes.
FTR: You’re releasing it via Loose, how did that come about?
They just liked us! We sent them the record and they liked it. There’s not much to it.
FTR: Loose is primarily an Americana/alt-country label, do you consider yourself a part of that scene?
Not particularly, yet at one time we were steeped in those genres, even if we were coming at it from a different point of view. So that will always be part of us.
FTR: Who are your musical influences?
Bob Dylan, Teenage Fan Club, Paul Simon, Big Star, Joni Mitchell, Neil young, Neutral Milk Hotel, Elliot Smith, VGM, Wendy Carlos.
FTR: What were you listening to when you made this record?
Lucinda Williams, Grandaddy, Air, Weyes Blood.
FTR: What are your expectations for this album? Is music still a viable career option?
We expect some people to like it is all. Making bank from music while nice, is not our main goal. Making enough for self-sustainability is pretty important for reasons that are self explanatory.
FTR: What about influences outside of music?
Diane Wakoski is a poet that has had immeasurable influence.
FTR: You recorded this album with Ken Coomer (Wilco), what did he bring to the album?
It was his idea to record with the song-a-day method and we’d recommend it to anyone. He came to the project with a bunch of great ideas and his right-hand man, engineer, Patrick Miller. They made everything sound good. It was essentially in his house. And he did all of the drumming! In that sense he was like another band member.
FTR: What kingdom is it that you’re inviting the listener into?
We’re answering that question with our tune Enter the Kingdom, with the album, and with our back and future catalog. It’s a metaphor for many places. It’s a childhood memory of a safe locale, the neighborhood you trick-or-treated in, friends’ backyards, the suburbs of Detroit, a womb.
FTR: Why do you make music?
We make music to connect with other people. To share difficult feelings and ideas. It’s therapy.
FTR: A lot of your lyrics seem to hark back to your childhood, do you consider yourself nostalgic?
I am nostalgic to a near debilitating degree. But I like to think it’s a productive sort of retrospection most of the time, constantly trying to mine some kind of emotional understanding from the blurry patterns of the past. Trying to decode how and why the present tense is operating as it is. What has been lost, where it went, what compelled it to go.
FTR: What can you tell us about Detroit? How’s the music scene there?
As suburban Detroit kids who went off to university in Ann Arbor and Lansing, we really came up musically in those college town scenes which had much more emphasis on folk music and traditional songwriting mixed with literate lyricism. The scene in Detroit proper is much more visceral I’d say. Bands are more about energy and vibe. Currently there seem to be a bunch of bands with their own individual vibes rather than one similar sound dominating the landscape. Which I think is good. Two of my current favs are Bonny Doon (more on the slacker side) and Deadbeat Beat (more frenzied).
FTR: The videos for this album are excellent – do you enjoy the non-musical aspects of being in a band?
So glad you think so! We’re lucky to have a ton of talented friends that don’t mind working with us. When we work on the videos ourselves, it can be fun to stretch out of our ‘core competencies.’ Though we should mention that Anna went to school for film and she’s got a good eye.
FTR: You’re coming over to the UK in March, what can people expect from the live show?
In the past we’ve played stripped down sets in the UK because of the limitations of tour. This time, we’re going as a full band, ready to play the new tunes more-or-less the way they were recorded.
FTR: What’s next for Frontier Ruckus?
After Europe we have a few shows around home. Then we’ll tour our way out to the west coast, Texas, and back.
Enter The Kingdom is out now via Loose. Frontier Ruckus’ UK tour starts tonight, click HERE for live dates and more information.