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For Miles Nielsen, Home Is His Rock

Miles Nielsen and the Rusted Hearts
Miles Nielsen and the Rusted Hearts return to the Castle Theatre in Bloomington on Friday night as the opener for good friend Chicago Farmer.

Miles Nielsen is a homebody. Despite (or perhaps because of) heavy touring with his own band The Rusted Hearts and spending his youth traveling the world with his father's band Cheap Trick, he continues to make Rockford his home.

Nielsen returns to the Twin Cities on Friday night for a billing with Chicago Farmer. He said via Skype that despite its hard scrabble blue collar image, Rockford has always had a really artistic side.

“I don’t know if that’s a push back to the blue-collar thing … when you’re a creative the last thing you want to do is go work a blue-collar job because somehow that’s considered failure. Whatever it is, it could be based on affordability. You can get big warehouse spaces to do big art for a pretty reasonable price, as long as you’re not worried about the aesthetic … or even heat for that matter,” said Nielsen.

For a musician, not living in music hubs like Nashville, Austin, New York City or Los Angeles can be problematic. Those cities are where top songwriters, record labels and music industry heavyweights reside, collaborate and make deals.

But family, friends and the bond developed over six years with bandmates keep him in his hometown.

“For a band that does a lot of touring, it’s really centrally located,” said Nielsen, referring to recurring engagements in Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Madison, Chicago, and Indianapolis that are mostly just a couple hours’ drive.

Is that a different thought process than perhaps 10 or 15 years ago?

“I think technology really helps connect those dots for musicians these days in that you don’t necessarily need to be there (music hubs). But it’s hard to say because I have children, and that is definitely an anchoring for staying put. Though I have friends my age that don’t have kids that have moved to California and they’re doing great in the industry,” said Nielsen, who added that may change in four years once his children finish high school.

That same technology can also complicate life and relationships. He hinted at it on “Simple Times” from his 2016 album “Heavy Metal.”

I live too hard and feel like I’m drowning My trigger hand it was shaking fast as lightning You take the high road, I’ll take the long Oh baby, where have the simple times gone From “Simple Times” by Miles Nielsen

Nielsen defines simple times as days fishing at the lake or pond, a day on the golf course, or being completely engaged with another couple over dinner.

“Things are complicated because there is so much around you to take you away from anything at any point. The simple times become way less simple and few and far between if you allow it,” said Nielsen.

Conversely, because his children split time between him and their mother, Nielsen said technology is the bonding agent.

“It’s every morning before they go to school or as they’re going to school, or even in school,” said Nielsen. “I’ve already written four times today, talking about what we’re going to do after school. Or if I’m out of town we’ll do FaceTime. I show them what part of the country I’m in, the hotel or green room or even what the inside of the van looks like. But I also have a policy of ‘phones away’ when I’m with them.”

He hinted at some struggles that led to that time splitting on the song “Strangers,” also from “Heavy Metal.”

Why did I not talk to you? I can tell strangers the truth And why would you not sing along? Radio plays your favorite song From “Strangers” by Miles Nielsen

“I was going through some changes in life and thought, ‘Here I am sitting at a pub with a complete stranger, and I’m able to let my whole life spill out to them.’ But I can’t discuss the very problems that caused me to be in this situation with someone I’ve known for 20 years,” said Nielsen.

He said that extends to other situations.

“You’re afraid because you love somebody you’re going to hurt their feelings, or maybe open up something you can’t put back together. It’s a bizarre concept to me and that’s why I wrote about it,” said Nielsen.

Miles Nielsen and the Rusted Hearts are putting the finishing touches on a new album tentatively scheduled for release later this year. In the meantime, he has put together a four-song EP, including the overtly political “Revolution Day.”

There’s liars in the halls they claim your freedom as receipts All bought and paid for by a giant greed machine And all the lies they lead to Revolution Day What a wasted world From “Revolution Day” by Miles Nielsen

“I’ve been drawn to this round of presidency how people function inside of politics, and to see how divided we can be over politics. I think it’s such an interesting thing because as a country and people, we really need to be united. I know people always tell the artist and musician to just shut up and play music. But these people really aren’t fighting for us, they have their own agenda, and that’s where the line ‘What a wasted world” comes from,” said Nielsen.

Having said that, the new album will intentionally steer clear of politics, at least overtly.

“We need to go opposite of getting into that. I want people to have a little break from that and remember music is fun,” said Nielsen.

Miles Nielsen and the Rusted Hearts return to the Castle Theatre in Bloomington on Friday night as the opener for good friend Chicago Farmer.  

The entire GLT interview with Miles Nielsen.

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Jon Norton is the audio director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.