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Rooted in the Midwest

BY TOMMY MORGAN JR. | APRIL 30, 2010 7:30 AM

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mp3 sample: Miles Nielsen

"Good Heart Sway"

When Miles Nielsen gives a songwriting workshop, he likes to keep things awkward.

“Songwriting is very personal, and I love the first 25 minutes of awkwardness where no one wants to say anything,” the songwriter said.

Before he plays the Blue Moose Tap House, 211 Iowa Ave., at 9 p.m. today, he will put on a workshop and performance for students at United Action for Youth.

The artist said he mostly does such workshops in his hometown of Rockford, Ill., and they are something that he enjoys because he learns from them as well.

“Every time I do [a workshop] I learn something different about myself and about my songwriting,” he said.

Kylie Buddin of United Action for Youth, who has played with Nielsen previously, said the musician’s writing abilities and unique life experience — Nielsen is the son of Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen, and he traveled with the group as a child — will make for a good workshop.

“This was sort of a perfect opportunity for him to get exposed to a younger audience and for a younger audience to get to see what he’s like,” Buddin said, noting that when Nielsen plays in Iowa City, he doesn’t really play in places accessible by local youth. Nielsen will also play a set for United Action for Youth before performing at the Blue Moose.

When he does arrive at Blue Moose, he will play what he calls “Beatle-esque cosmic Americana,” an eclectic mix of songs that channel the pop of the Beatles, psychedelic music, and the alt-country feel of Wilco and the Jayhawks.

In addition to his solo work, Nielsen has performed in bands, and he has even performed songs at weddings. He said someone who saw him play approached him about performing a pop-country cover at their wedding. The songwriter balked at the thought and offered to write them a song of his own.

“I would sort of despise you and resent you for making me do this,” Nielsen said he told the couple. “I would much rather write a song for you.”

Even if they’re somewhat schmaltzy, he said, writing songs such as that has helped him better his writing process for his material, in part because of the discipline necessary to turn out a completely new, original song in a short amount of time.

He is also working on songs for a new record. The musician said over time, he has become more selective in what songs he chooses to release.

“For my next record I’ve already thrown away 20 songs. They’re not up to what I want them to be,” he said. “I’m not holding onto it as much as I probably used to in the past. Anything you do in your life, something’s going be better than the last thing.”

His workman-like approach to music is a part of growing up in the Midwest. Though he has been on the road a lot, touring with his father and with his own projects, Nielsen, who said his work reflects the region’s blue-collar attitude, remains a steadfast Midwesterner.

“I really like seasons,” he said. “I’m not a big fan of late January and late February, but those are the months where I write the most songs, because I’m indoors so much. I feel like I’d take myself out of being a real working-class musician if I lived somewhere warmer.”


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