How Mia Dyson lived out her Muscle Shoals dream
For her brilliant sixth album If I Said Only So Far I Take It Back, Australian-bred, US-based artist Mia Dyson looked deep into the bucket list.
Muscle Shoals is a pretty unassuming city in regional Alabama. It has a population of only around 13,000, but has been the birthplace of some of the most amazing music in history.
Sometimes I have to step into the unknown. I can fall on my face, but the attempt is worth it.Mia Dyson — Double J, 2018
Soul greats like Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding, folk legends like Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, and rock heroes The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart have all cut some of their best work in this small river city.
In 2018, Mia Dyson’s name has been added to the huge list of artists who’ve embraced the magic that this town and its studios provide. She recently told Double J's Zan Rowe all about it.
“My parents played me all these incredible records that were made in this tiny town,” Dyson recalled of her first interactions with the fabled Muscle Shoals studio where she made the album.
“I just loved it when I went there – it felt like exactly the right place to go and make this next record. To be inspired by the history… It was a huge reason why I moved to the States, I’ve always been drawn here because of the musical history and all of the genres that have been born in various parts.
“Places like Muscle Shoals and Memphis and Detroit that have spawned all of this beautiful music so I thought it was a great chance to record somewhere historic.”
Dyson’s record was recorded in the same space as such classics as ‘When A Man Loves A Woman’, ‘Respect’, ‘Mustang Sally’, ‘I’ll Take You There’ and even Bob Seger’s ‘Night Moves’.
“There’s a few famous studios down there we recorded in the one The Swampers built; they were the breakaway band that played on all those incredible early R’n’B and soul records.
“They built a studio very much with musicians in mind. A really big space with lots of little rooms that you can see each other through and a big comfortable control room and then all this space for playing games and stuff outside.
“It’s built into the shell of another building so it’s a building within a building. It’s right on the Tennessee river so you walk outside so there’s this giant river slowly moving by, so it’s quite a presence as well.”
It wasn’t just the historic space that brought a bit of that old soul authenticity to Dyson’s record,
“[I had] David Hood play bass with me, who was in The Swampers and who played on Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and Percy Sledge records, so I felt like I was tapping into that,” Dyson said.
“I love the way music connects people throughout time and space so being 10,000 miles away I was still affected by this music. As a kid and it drew me here and it’s a way that musicians connect all over the world.”
A new Mia Dyson record is never the same as the one that came before it. Charting her musical direction over the past decade and a half will show you an artist who is constantly experimenting and evolving, and that’s no different on If I Said Only So Far I Take It Back.
Dyson notes that she made a conscious decision to push herself into places she’s not necessarily comfortable being.
“The whole album is very much about finding more courage and strength and vulnerability,” she said. Using those, and knowing that it doesn’t always feel great.
“Sometimes I have to step into the unknown and, you know, I can fall on my face but the attempt is worth it.”
I grew up as one of very few women making music at the time in Melbourne. I guess I felt like I had to have a big voice to be heard and prove myself.Mia Dyson — Double J, 2018
Musically, this meant listening to and trusting some of her collaborators when they pushed her to let loose in some respects, and pull back in others.
“On guitar, it got more wild, and with the vocals I was able to tap into a more vulnerable and gentle side to my voice,” she said on her different approaches this time around.
“I grew up as one of very few women making music at the time in Melbourne and I guess I felt like I had to have a big voice to kind of be heard and prove myself. But I guess now I’m starting to feel a wider range and interest in discovering more of that vulnerable side.
“That’s something I’ve learned the last few years. I used to associate gentleness and vulnerability with weakness. When you’re confident enough to be vulnerable I think that’s a really great thing.”
Dyson also brought in a very close songwriting collaborator for the first time, her husband Karl Linder.
“This is the first full length album that we wrote all together,” she said.
“He’s a poet and he’s been writing poetry for a long time. So, we’ve met my plainspoken and more direct style with his esoteric and poetic style. We’re both interested in some of the themes I’ve been talking about so that’s been a really wonderful development in my songwriting.”
They’ve both relishes this rare opportunity to write with someone so close.
“He wasn’t writing when I met him,” Dyson said. “But he’d been writing a lot previous to that, and then a few years into our relationship he had a big burst of creativity and wrote a lot of poetry. So, it was an amazing discovery and particularly to discover that we could write together. I think it’s really difficult to find someone you can resonate with, and the chances of it being your partner is pretty remote.
“It’s certainly wonderful for our relationship because everything that’s happening has to come out somehow through the songs. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re writing about what’s going on in our relationship, but when we sit down and write, anything that’s going on between us is going to come through and we have to kind of reckon with it. Songwriting is kind of a great way to do that.”
Mia Dyson plays the following upcoming shows:
Thursday 29 March – Blenheim Festival, Adelaide
Friday 30 March – Byron Bay Bluesfest (Double J special outside broadcast)
Saturday 31 March – Byron Bay Bluesfest
Sunday 1 April – Byron Bay Bluesfest
Monday 2 April – Byron Bay Bluesfest