One of my most pleasant musical surprises of 2014 was when Michigan’s Frontier Ruckus took the stage of Boot & Saddle this August… The band has been together for slightly over a decade now, churning out folksy, bluegrassy, country-shaded Americana roots rock… something I’ve become quite a fan of in recent years… However, they’re quite a bit more than that and something that could’ve even appealed to my teenage self…As a live entity they proved to be exceptionally eclectic and a nearly perfect barroom, stripped-down Rock’N’Roll spectacle.
Frontier Ruckus are about to release their fourth album, Sitcom Afterlife, next Tuesday, November 11th. The album sees the band fully realizing their sonic potential, at times resembling an ‘80s jangle pop outfit, at times a heavy-hitter on the second stage of Lollapalooza in 1993, and, at times, those very same stars of Lollapalooza and 120 Minutes channeling early ‘70s sunshine pop… It’s both quite eloquently badass and poetically poignant… and kind of the perfect summertime record for any student [or professor] of the humanities or the fine arts. Their folk roots are still audible, but their current palette is far less restricted to such a conservative characterization.
I recently got a chant to chat with Frontier Ruckus founder, mainman, and songwriter Matthew Milia, whom, I must admit, is my favorite musician I’ve met in recent history, but who also confirmed that his outfit is, indeed, much more than a folk band. I ask him about the evolution of Frontier Ruckus’ sound and the kind of music that he’s actually listening to and he confirms that while the band was originally, essentially, a folk band, that they are actually much more than that.
“Artistically, it’s all blended into one project. I see it, all of our music, as a continuation and this album is my favorite thing we’ve done yet. Our first album was really folksy and very natural. I almost cringe at how raw it is when I listen to it now. It sounds really naïve. It has a certain innocence, which I think it what some people like so much about it.
He goes on to explain to me that the band’s more recent comparisons to ‘90s alt rock certainly aren’t unfounded, but that that’s certainly not his only creative inspiration.
“Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of ‘70s pop music and shimmery stuff, which I think you can hear on our new record. And I’m obsessed with ‘90s alt rock. I have a bordering-on unhealthy obsession with Oasis. There’s just something about that swagger. Recently when I’ve had trouble sleeping I’ll just have these nights of staying up and watching interviews with them on YouTube.”
However, when I ask Matthew about the music that has most excited him in 2014 he laughs and admits, “I’m shamefully stuck in my musical past. I’m still trying to find the hidden gems from ’94.” I tell him that, as a music critic, I often revert to a similar attitude and have my CD player discard anything aside from The Smiths and Belle & Sebastian for months at a time. And, to my shockingly delighted surprise, he tells me that he and his band are actually quite the fans of Belle & Sebastian, the Glasgow-based kings of Twee: “We shared the stage with them in England last fall and they’re probably Zack, in our band’s, favorite band and the whole experience was really funny. We were in the dressing room next to them and we were too nervous to talk to them, so we waited in line at the meet + greet and we were drunk and we were like, ‘We shared the stage with you,’ and they were confused as to why we were in line at the meet + greet and it was super awkward… But we’re definitely into exploring the poppier sounds of Belle & Sebastian.”
Frontier Ruckus just kicked off a lengthy string of tour dates that take them through the end of December and then pick up in January and has them returning to our very own Boot & Saddle on January 31st of 2015. I ask Matthew what can be expected of the live experience that impressed me so much earlier this year and he tells me, “We’re gonna try to play a healthy balance from each album. I mean, I realize I have like upwards of 80 songs now. I do wanna play a healthy dose of the new album, which is what I’m most excited about, which makes for a slightly more upbeat and energetic experience.” He also tells me that, in addition to their live dates, that Frontier Ruckus has relatively ambitious plans for 2015: “I write quickly and I want to start writing for the fifth record and, I don’t know if I should say this but, I’d like to put out two albums in 2015.”