L.A.-bound via the Berkshires
Go west, young woman.
Twenty-eight-year-old singer/songwriter Mia Dyson re-located from Australia to the Boston area back in April, to take the next step in her budding career. She already had three very well received albums to her credit, as well as stints opening for the likes of Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt.
Now, after excelling in a crash course exposure to the American music biz, she's headed westward to Los Angeles, to establish a new base as she prepares for her first stateside record release and looks to take things to the next level.
In the meantime, she's established an auxiliary home base in the Berkshires, and isn't leaving without a goodbye party. She says farewell to the East Coast with what is sure to be a raucous show at Mission Bar and Tapas Saturday night on North Street. (Advance tickets are highly suggested; visit ahead of time or contact the venue to inquire about ticket availability.)
Though she was born in a mud brick house an hour north of Melbourne, and spent her teen years in a seaside town not far from there, this musician was raised on American roots music.
"Australia has adopted so much American culture that it's not such a big leap to come here," she says in a phone interview from her current home base in Somerville. "My parents pretty much exclusively listen to American music and a little bit of British music--The Band, Little Feat, Bonnie Raitt. That sort of soulful, bluesy-edged Americana stuff.
"I was brought up on this music that speaks to the American landscape. Place, events--there's this whole history in the music, these geographical references. So coming here was a sort of musical homecoming in some way, which is bizarre. I wish that I could have that from my own country, but that's just how it is."
Dyson plays what you might call a homemade guitar -- it was built by her father, Jim Dyson, a musician and noted guitar maker--and alternates with a lap slide guitar.
She sings with a soulful, weather-beaten voice that belies her years. Her 2003 debut, "Cold Water," shot to prominence with a nomination for "Best Female Artist" in the ARIA Awards, what you might call the Australian Grammy's. Her follow-up won for "Best Blues and Roots Album," and her third album continued the run by snagging yet another nomination.
She toured the United States in 2006 and 2007, but found that American record labels were hesitant to sign an artist with little name recognition in America, who lived on the other side of the world. The geographical distance was entirely collapsed by her musical affinity with American music, however.
"I'm finding out a lot more about American culture and history and can't help but want to write about it. And yet it's not my history. So there's this dilemma about trying to keep it universal and yet in some ways just wanting to write [now that I live here] as if I was an American," she says. "I want to not be trapped by the idea that I'm not an American so I can't write about it."
Indeed, casual fans forget that The Band, so often cited as the epitome of genuine, earthy, American musical sensibility, was composed of one American and four Canadians, all of whom grew up listening to American radio.
"People in Uzbekistan can listen to Bon Dylan, so it's not like anything is just restricted to a certain place," she says.
While throwing herself eagerly into the Boston music scene this year -- making the rounds and playing venues like Club Passim, the Lizard Lounge, and Toad -- she set up an outpost of sorts at Mission.
Shortly after her arrival in the States, she set up a series of month-long residencies in which she played a venue once a week. Dates were booked in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, but there was a desire to add a fourth venue. Her booking agent had success sending other artists to Mission, so Dyson ended up playing there four times in May. It clicked, and she's since returned several times since.
"It's amazing, I've really been able to build a following [in the Berkshires]. And a lot of that's because [owner] Jim [Benson] has really got the community engaged in the fact he's got great music and great food and people really want to go there," she says. "There are a couple of stalwarts I see every time."
A "hybrid" album, composed of selected tracks from her three Australian releases, will be released in the U.S. next year. She plans to spend much of the year touring in support of it.
In the meantime, she's headed to Los Angeles, where her longtime manager is teaming up with Dave Stewart -- best known as one half of Eurythmics, but also an accomplished record producer -- to launch her stateside career with vigor.
"It's been wonderful," she says. "Especially moving to a whole new country and leaving behind my own musical scene in Melbourne, to come here and find one pretty much instantly was so welcoming. It felt like I had come to the right place."
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