In which Matthew Milia expounds on the merits of artistic indulgence.
BY MATTHEW MILIA
Upon my recent Netflix binge on the entire Frasier series, I came across this gem of an episode where the good doctor is commissioned to compose a theme song for his own radio show. Of course this becomes a perilously bombastic enterprise—resulting in a symphony with many movements, choir, orchestra, and even a rain stick or two. His stated justification for getting so carried away with himself could very well be adopted as my own aesthetic mantra: “If less is more, just think how much more ‘more’ will be!”
My band Frontier Ruckus is about to—or already has, depending on when you read this—release a 20-song double album called Eternity of Dimming which is roughly an hour and a half in duration. As people have caught wind of this, before even hearing it, they’ve asked me, “Why?” My most instinctual reply is “why not?”—and though I find that adequately does the matter justice, I suppose I could elaborate.
A lot of this comes down to medium and programming. I dig long, episodic novels that take you for a ride and utilize their breadth to portray things in complex ways, to contradict themselves, to be poetically ambiguous at times and severely particular at others, at their own leisure or frenzy. Lengthy films are afforded the same robust mélange of sparring contexts and unreliable characters, and they can be damned interesting, too. Short stories and short films can be perfect, of course—but tend to rely on a more monolithic tone that is hopefully blindingly intense for the glimpse in which you see them. And we all love the undeniably concise and cohesive album, the radio song, the pop hook. But can’t songs and records be really long and still deliver outrageous reward?
Of course they can. It just requires the acceptance that in the digestive system of present day, the majority of the people won’t find the time. You’d think this immediate reluctance would’ve been resolved when “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” took up the entire fourth side of Blonde on Blonde, but here we are. Albums are getting shorter and shorter and double-albums are strangely stigmatized. A lover of all sorts of records, I firmly stand also as a humble advocate for all art that is cumbersome, unwieldy, and verbose. This is America, after all. What would Walt Whitman do?
I wrote a long record and I continue to write long songs because they are more gratifying for me to write and sing—indulgent, selfish, and pure. That’s why I write—for me. The more triggers of memory, personal mythology, specific imagery, or self-affirmation (that is, ways in which I am able to remind myself that “everything was and is pretty okay, Matt”) that I can lodge into a single line, the better I often feel about it. Sometimes I do elicit gratification out of a manicured, finessed, nuanced, and verbally economic line, but it’s usually more an effort of formal artistry or homage to other writers I respect and not so much that visceral reward that propels me personally to write in the first place. It’s just being honest with why and how I like to do this. The bigger canvas I allow myself, the more I am able to clarify, the more connection I am able to illustrate. My obsessive nature imposes all of these neuroses, these urges to see something through all the way—why be subtle with an image when I can be hyperbolically, unsettlingly graphic?
Every record Frontier Ruckus has released thus far leans against the one before and after it—the themes, spaces, and characters are continuing, self-referential, intertextual. The more expansive of a landscape I am able to provide these entities to exist within, the more they are permitted to surprise me in their reactions and changing instincts or impossible physics. When I listen to Eternity of Dimming now, I have trouble recalling how this connected to that or by what means some wondrous revelation ever came to be.
A lot of the record was written about the 90s, and the realm of personal memory I was trying to access and reflect was just so nebulously profuse that I had to be somewhat grandiose about it without any consideration of detraction. Plus I find editing to be odious, boring, and too difficult. Maybe that’s a bit of indolence. But I do believe that if any transcendent things are to be found in Eternity, it’s because I roped off big enough of a space for my minivan of memory to just veer all over the place on the treacherous black-ice. It was playful and endlessly cathartic for me. And if others are able to enter it and have a good time in there as well—hallelujah!
People ask (paraphrasing): “Are you ever concerned that your exaggerated specificity of locality and self might make it hard for an audience to tap in and relate it to themselves?” This brings up a good point, and the answer is no. I firmly believe that the universal resides within the particular, so the more interesting or complex or challenging you can make the luggage, the more rewarded the opener should hopefully feel once and if he takes the time to pry it. Inside dwells the stuff we all know and concern ourselves with: continually disintegrating and rebuilding notions of family, love, home, memory.
So, when someone expresses to me that a song has really gotten through to them or they feel like it’s about them, it’s something I take very seriously and appreciate to no end. The time they took to access and explore is tacitly beautiful to me. That wasn’t my aim, but boy, does it ever bolster my perception of this contiguous human system that orbits my typewriter, every typewriter. And to conclude with some further words borrowed from the good Dr. Frasier Crane as he signed off: “…you’ve (always) heard me say, ‘I’m listening.’ Well, you were listening, too. And for that I am eternally grateful.
Photo Credit: Sean Cook. Frontier Ruckus’s Eternity of Dimming is out now on Quite Scientific Records. Visit the band at www.frontierruckus.com.
FRONTIER RUCKUS – “CAREENING CATALOG IMMEMORIAL”