Frontier Ruckus thrives on Michigan
Indie-folk band Frontier Ruckus has become a busy international touring act in recent years. But frontman Matthew Milia says that's only strengthened the group's commitment to maintaining its home base in Detroit.
The band, which will play the Loving Touch Saturday night, counts four Detroit residents among its six members, including Milia; the remaining two band members live in Ypsilanti. Most recently, the band's tour has hit major U.S. music cities like Nashville and Los Angeles.
"I love those places, but I love them in a visiting sense by the time we're done," Milia says. "If we spend three days there, I'm like, 'Wow, that was really great, but I'm excited to go back to Detroit.' It's just because it's where the bulk of my existence has happened. It's just what I know as home."
Frontier Ruckus' geography is a constant, but the group has proven itself much more willing to stake its flag in unfamiliar territory musically. The band's new record, "Sitcom Afterlife," puts a notably poppier spin on the rustic, banjo-inflected sound it developed over six previous LPs and EPs. Milia says he drew upon the sound of '90s alternative pop, like the music of Teenage Fanclub and Matthew Sweet, as a "melodic escape" from the darker lyrics he was writing.
"The subject matter I'm dealing with is the dissolution of a relationship," he says. "So it was cool to kind of juxtapose that dark, emotional concept with some stuff that was more fun to write and sing and play."
Known for his densely written lyrics and often lengthy songs, Milia says he embraced the "discipline" of crafting more economical tunes this time around. He found an additional creative challenge in experiencing, and then writing about, a very different kind of breakup. While he says he's written songs about losing love before, he'd grown used to addressing it as "a very gradual, mutual kind of sadness."
"This situation was different in its abruptness, and the way it was truncated very painfully, kind of unceremoniously, if you will," Milia says. "It wasn't necessarily more profound than the old kind I was talking about. It might have been more petty. It was just different, and there was a different kind of pain attached to it."
One thing that has remained constant in Milia's lyrics is, again, his Michigan connection. The new album drops references to Pontiac and Ann Arbor, among other metro-area locales. The group now plays major festivals and venues across the U.S. and overseas on a regular basis, and Milia says he's "stunned" at how fans cotton to the Mitten State references in his songs, even when he's playing an ocean away from home.
"I'm singing about Waterford or Sylvan Lake — just very obscure, awesome little Michigan towns," Milia says. "But I think what happens is the translation occurs, where it doesn't matter exactly what town I'm speaking about. The description still applies to a million other towns in the United States and even across Europe."
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.
8 p.m. Saturday
The Loving Touch
22634 Woodward, Ferndale