POETRY IN MOTION
Mia Dyson is jetlagged. The Daylesford-born singer, songwriter, guitarist and ARIA winner has just flown in from the States as she speaks to Australian-Guitar – and boy, are her arms tired! She’s just completed a tour supporting longtime friend Jen Cloher, and is hugely enthusiastic about the shows themselves.
“This was one of the most fun tours I can remember doing,” she says. “It ran like a dream.” She’s surprisingly tranquil for someone whose body is still running on a different timezone, but Dyson is adamant about getting through her interviews. “I need to stay awake until at least nine o’clock,” she laughs. “This is definitely helping.”
It helps that Dyson is excitedly discussing her sixth studio album. With the lavish title of
If I Only Said So Far I Take it Back( hence forth SoFar), the LP marks a few key changes and departures from her typical fare. For one, it marks a fully-fledged collaboration with her husband, Karl Linder. Linder co-wrote all of the lyrics for SoFar, leaving Dyson to focus on the particulars of the music surrounding them.
“It started out with me trying to put one of his poems to music,” Dyson says. “When that went well, we decided to see what would happen if we worked from scratch. Once we started, we never looked back.” She adds that having Linder onboard as a collaborator has completely expanded her horizons, and given her a greater confidence in working with others.
“I’ve tried to co-write with people in the past, but it never really resulted in anything I wanted to record,” she says. “I had kind of resolved that co-writing wasn’t really for me. With Karl, though, it’s become this weird, magical thing. For lack of a better term, he’s really poetic as a lyricist; whereas I’ve found that I write lyrics that are a lot more direct. When we come together, it’s a real contrast of ideas. When I’m not on the road, we try and write together every single day.”
SoFar was recorded at Portside Sound, a studio located in Muscle Shoals, which can be found in the north-east reaches of Alabama. The area has a rich history of music, having assisted in creating records by the likes of Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Aretha Franklin through its local community of musicians and its studios. The tradition is carried on today through people like John Paul White, formerly of The Civil Wars, as well as producer and Alabama Shakes keyboardist Ben Tanner. It was the latter that invited Dyson to the area, with hopes that she would consider working there when it came time to record.
“I met John through some mutual friends, and I found out about the whole area where he was living and working,” she says. “John, Ben and a bunch of other guys have a studio down there. They have a label. They make and produce records together. They have a fantastic community, and I was so drawn to Muscle Shoals. I felt the magic of that place – it’s an incredible wellspring of musical history. When I went down there, I felt that presence.”
Before long, Dyson was at work on the album. Although White could not commit to producing it due to ongoing commitments with his solo career, Tanner stepped up as a co-producer alongside Dyson’s long-serving American drummer, Erin Sydney. Having both a fresh face and an old companion to bounce ideas off was incredibly fruitful for Dyson, who attests to both of their abilities as collaborators and producers.
“I loved Ben from the second we met – we really hit it off,” she says. “I was in love with the sound Ben was getting as a producer, so to be able to explore that with him personally was a total joy. It was good to have both of them around. Sid and I have this great understanding that comes with our collaboration, but we’re also very open to outside ideas. We’d learned the songs for the record and we’d rehearsed them, but we also knew not too get too attached to any of the arrangements. We wanted to leave plenty of room for Ben, so that his perspective was able to be a part of the songs as well. The three of us collaborated really well together.”
Dyson also speaks fondly of the endless array of instruments and equipment that she found while working on the record. Although typically playing her handmade electric guitar, made by her father Jim Dyson, she found a joyful liberation in being able to experiment with a wide array of gear in the recording process.
“It’s so different to Australian studios,” she says. “In Australia, you pretty much just have the recording equipment set up in the room and that’s it. Over in the States, there’s a zillion guitars, pedals, keyboards and all these weird instruments I’ve never heard of. Especially in Muscle Shoals. For every song we had, we tried to find a different sound. Up until [2012 album]
The Moment, that would have been so foreign to me. I had my Jim Dyson guitar and my Goldentone amp, and that was it. I loved it, but I was very fortunate to go exploring.”