On “Sirens,” the next to the last track on his excellent sophomore album Miles Nielsen Presents the Rusted Hearts, he sings, “I was just waiting on a rainbow.” It sounds a bit silly when taken out of context; however, Miles and his pinpoint focus brings it all right back into perspective.
“I think every day everyone should wait on that … I kid you not,” said Nielsen. “I just watched a movie today on child abduction and the selling of kids, basically. You mean to tell me the devil doesn’t exist, ’cause that’s some dark shit, man.”
And with that we were off.
Nielsen is not new to this game. He’s been kicking around the national music scene since the mid/late-’90s appearing alongside his brother Daxx in Harmony Riley and more recently with HMS and as a sideman to Corey Chisel & the Wandering Sons.
“This is an interesting business … there’s a lot of ups and downs and highs and lows, and your confidence can be shaken by the smallest of things,” said Nielsen. “Maybe you’re taking a backseat to someone you’re playing with. I was playing bass with Corey Chisel for a number of years, and I started to doubt myself as a songwriter.”
That confidence returned just as Nielsen found himself on his own and, as those that have the ability are wont to do, he released his first solo album, the critically acclaimed Miles. A year and a half ago, Nielsen started missing the camaraderie that came with being in a band. Thus, The Rusted Hearts were born.
Earlier this year, Nielsen and co. released Miles Nielsen Presents the Rusted Hearts, a true gem of an album which transcends typical singer-songwriter pop. Nielsen likes to describe his particular style as “where melody meets melancholy.”
Add to that Nielsen’s penchant for writing about very dark subject matter and dressing it up in a way that you’re happier for having heard, an art form all its own.
“There are some dark things on there, and to sing some of the lighter melodic parts on top of the really dark subject matter is fun for me,” laughed Nielsen. “If people really listened to the lyrics, they probably wouldn’t feel that great about it. It’s one of those things. I enjoy the journey of writing a song, and if a dark song ends up being dark, well, that’s sort of expected. But if you can take a dark song and make it light and happy, you’ve really accomplished something.”
His second release, first with the newly cemented Hearts, is an interesting collection of tunes which owe as much to The Beatles as they do the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Tom Waits or Harry Nilsson. Actually, there’s a lot of vaudeville in there, stringing together semi-alt country soon-to-be classics with outright rockers and mid-’60s type soul. And, it works.
“The vaudeville aspect was kind of my take on it,” enthused Nielsen. “You know, here I am the curator of this show … the vaudevillian, the guy at the podium … this sort of burlesque show, if you will. I’d been in bands where the group was not getting recognized. I feel like, if you were to take these guys away from my band at this very point it would be really detrimental to what we’re trying to do here and what our sound is, and I felt I needed to make it clear that I’m presenting these guys to the people. I wanted to give the band a voice, to give the band props and not be like, ‘Yeah, it’s just me.’ Without these guys it wouldn’t be what it is.”
Gracious, that’s how Nielsen comes across, and in the course of our conversation he makes it a point to present The Rusted Hearts in the best possible light.
“Our multi-instrumentalist, Adam Plume, comes from Appleton, Wisconsin,” said Nielsen. “I met him playing with Corey Chisel. Dan McMahon (guitarist) is the co-producer and sort of my right-hand-man, and he comes from right up the street from my folks’ house. His parents live less than two blocks away from my parents. We didn’t know each other growing up, so to speak. But, then you start realizing that, ‘Wow, we grew up within two blocks of one another – that’s kind of crazy.’
Mickey the drummer came from the music scene. I didn’t really know him and wasn’t exactly sure he’d be in the band. It was one of those things where he played on one track on the last record, and then suddenly he was the touring drummer, and in just sort of a natural progression he ended up being the drummer that played all the tracks on this record. “
Speaking of natural progression, the new album shows a renewed confidence that should put the band on the national map. It’s that good.
“You make records sometimes not knowing if anybody’s going to give too much of a care about it, you know,” said Nielsen. “Sometimes you’re like, ‘Ahhh, I like the songs. I think it’s good.’ But, you never know.”
Tracked live in studios in Wisconsin, the album flows almost flawlessly. Its organic nature is evident as the songs breathe and live within the sonic space.
“I think I’d be lying if I said we didn’t have some of the organic intentions,” Nielsen recalled. “But, that’s just naturally how we approach things. It’s a lot of push-pull. You can’t sync when you’re doing it by yourself, you know? The way that I’m counting four might be different than the way our bass player is counting to four or how our drummer is counting to four and within those increments … in between … the and-as … the ones-and-twos-threes … there’s space in there … push and pulls within those sections, and it’s kind of terrific to think that in those little, little moments – those seconds that go by – those milliseconds that go by – that everyone is giving a little bit different of a twist to it.”
Here you have it, folks – Miles Nielsen, a talented musician and songwriter and beyond that, someone focused on his craft, understanding of the process and interested in making honest music.
“I think the arc of the song is just finding new confidence as a songwriter, finding your place,” Nielsen said. “I feel like I’m at that place and I found that place over the last couple years. I’m not really concerned about labels and mass success and those kinds of things. Once I realized that, I sort of gave those things … not necessarily gave up on those things, but didn’t make them a priority and made the songs, the production and the shows a priority … everything just fell into place. And the music just feels way more honest.”
Oh, and by the way, Nielsen’s dad is Cheap Trick guitarist and founder Rick. Not that that should cloud or influence your opinion of Miles Nielsen’s music. He’s his own talent.