Legendary Rock Interviews: Q & A with Rockford’s own Miles Nielsen

Miles Nielsen (File photo by Todd Reicher)

By John Parks

Miles Nielsen is a familiar face to the Rockford music scene. He and his band, The Rusted Hearts, have kept very busy, not only in the area, but nationally as well.

Miles and the guys have been touring on their own, as well as with bands like The Bodeans, Soul Asylum and others, bringing their unique brand of music to the masses. The band is working on a new full-length album to follow up 2012’s Presents The Rusted Hearts, an EP The St. Louis Sessions available on their website www.rustedtrunk.com and are playing a gig here in Rockford at The District (205 W. State St.) July 19 with special guest Robert Jon and the Wreck.

I recently rang up Miles to chat for a bit about everything going on.

Q: Hi, Miles. Last time we spoke was before your gig at District in 2012, when you were helping them celebrate their opening after Cheap Trick played BMO Harris Bank Center, and in short time, they’ve grown to be quite an entertainment hot spot. Are you excited about coming back July 19?

A: Yeah. The last show was a fine time — we had a lot of fun. The club is great, and they’re doing a fine job of pulling people in down there. It’s not just the same old thing or the same theme as everyone else. They’re bringing in a lot of national bands and some up-and-coming bands, which is nice.

Q: You’ve spent so much of the past year out touring with other national acts yourself. Has watching bands like The Bodeans or Soul Asylum prepare or play every night rubbed off on The Rusted Hearts in any way?

A: I think so. I think the biggest thing for us is just seeing how the artists are off the stage, even more so than on the stage. Obviously, when someone has a career that’s lasted that long, they are good at what they do. It’s been really interesting and fun to meet these people who’ve been in the industry for 25 years and talk to them, because they still have a good appreciation for music, traveling and the whole process.

Q: I try to keep an eye on your schedule as much as possible and can’t help but notice that you play a tremendous amount of gigs. If you’re not out with other bands, you are most likely headlining somewhere on your own; basically, you are always on a stage somewhere. Is it a grind, or is that schedule what keeps you sane?

A: No, you know what? The grind is when I’m not busy. The playing, the traveling and all that stuff keeps me happy and healthy for sure. It’s the other stuff that wears on ya.

Q: The shows kind of vary from mood to mood as well. The set at a place like BMO was obviously very focused and tight, whereas you may play a sit-down acoustic gig on the fly or a gig at a club with special guests jamming and sitting in. Is it important to you to have the shows take on their own personalities?

A: Absolutely, but it just kind of works out that way (laughs). It’s never a set, rehearsed thing that’s going to be the same exact presentation every evening, but it’s also not a premeditated attempt to make one show loose and jammy and another with a completely different feel. It’s just how it works out and how we’re feeling at that time. Also, some of it is just the fact that when we’re opening, we do have to keep it to a more concise set of material. But when you’ve got two hours or more, you are obviously more free to cut loose a bit and do things you might not ordinarily be able to drift into.

Q: Be honest. How many times do you play a gig where you have a set list taped to the floor onstage?

A: (laughs). We rarely have a set list, which is … I don’t know, you know it’s hard to have a set list where you are kind of anticipating how the crowd is going to react or be. You can’t really dictate that. It’s not always going to be “that” way. The crowd can be different or the place can dictate a different mood than you were anticipating. In those instances, to follow the set list would kind of upset the natural energy of the room, so we don’t. For us, not having a set list is good because we can kind of feel it out and have a journey with everybody, rather than forcing something upon them.

Q: Your band has remained fairly stable since forming The Rusted Hearts. Has that kind of enabled you to enjoy that sort of freedom?

A: Definitely. I’m sure once in a while some of the members of the band might think, “It’s kind of frustrating not having a set list … it would kind of be nice to know in advance what we’re playing,” but on the other hand, that’s kind of why we do what we do and that’s why the people who are in the band are in the band. We all love being challenged, and we all wanna go out and make music a different way every night. I don’t know … seeing bands that do the exact same set list night after night for the whole tour, I would get so bored.

Q: Last question. A lot of times bands are kind of self-conscious or too cool to care about what they throw on the merch stand, but you and your band continue to come up with killer ideas. I love everything I have ever plunked down for. Is coming up with those concepts fun for you creatively?

A: I’m super obsessive about the merch thing. I am always trying to look in catalogs and different places, trying to find cool little things to put at our merch booth. I just think it makes sense to offer things that are different and totally unique to us, but make sense to us. It’s fun for people to have a little stash tin or a little burlap sack with an elephant on it. We’ve got underwear that our team printed, which we will have at the shows. We have four different colors of unisex underwear with the elephant on them. For the guys, we have the elephant on the front, for the girls, we have the elephant on the back. We just wanted to offer something different. It’s summertime, and underwear just seemed to be a logical fit.

Q: Thanks for talking with us, Miles. That’s reason enough for me to show up at the show.

A: Yeah, it is. No problem. We will see you there.

From the July 17-23, 2013, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!