The Big Issue : Edition 473
“HI, I’M MIA,” says Mia Dyson as she opens her front door. I know who she is. I’ve known since I saw her play at the Queenscliff Music Festival in 2005. Then an impressionable teenager, just learning music, I was drawn to this woman who wrote her own songs and played electric guitar. And now I am at her house, down a little cobbled alleyway in the northern suburbs of Melbourne (the best things here are always down alleyways). She shepherds me in, pours a glass of sparkling water and worries I’m too hot in the unseasonable November warmth. “I thought we could sit on the couch,” she says, a little self-consciously. On stage, Dyson mesmerises. In high-waisted jeans, with cropped and coiffed hair, she shoots out striking guitar riffs, shimmying her knees Elvis- style. When she opens her mouth and her husky voice soars out, you can’t help but stop and listen. In her lounge room, Dyson is bashful. She smiles sweetly and chats like she hasn’t done dozens of interviews before – her voice is quiet and deep. On-stage confidence, she tells me, is something she has worked at. “Iwassoshyforsolongasa performer, I used to sit down to play for years!” She shakes her head. But now, having just released her fifth album, Idyllwild, things have become easier. “I feel like a completely different person. I guess you think of your growing up being your childhood, but I feel like the last few years of my life have been when I’ve done a lot of growing up. “I feel so different about music. I used to sort of really battle with whether I could write songs. The first couple of records were all new, you know, being in a studio, all of that is so scary. But I really did have a good time recording [Idyllwild]. As opposed to my first three records, I was just all anxiety for the whole time.” The shyness did have its upside, in a way. “As a teenager, I did just spend a lot of time practising. I wasn’t one of the cool kids, I can’t claim that at all,” she laughs. “In a lot of ways, being unpopular was really good. I had time on my hands to practise. It’s a good incentive to be uncool, it pays off later.” And it certainly has. At 33, Dyson has won a string of awards for her songwriting, has performed with music royalty like Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt and Stevie Nicks, and is widely regarded for her guitar playing. “There weren’t many [female] role models when I was young,” says Dyson. “There were some, though. When I was a kid I had a record cover with Bonnie Raitt on the front with this guitar strapped on and I thought, I could do that. “I mean, I loved Kurt Cobain and all that, but I couldn’t see myself in that. I have always felt the issue is that there’s not a lot of role models, and that as soon as you have role models you’ll have a whole new generation.” As a child, Dyson surrounded herself with American culture, finding inspiration not just in American music like Raitt’s, but in American movies, TV and literature. She eventually followed her passion to the US, where she produced both Idyllwild and earlier album The Moment. She has an American husband (with whom she is co- writing some songs) and spends her time between Los Angeles and Melbourne. “I’ve totally romanticised America as a place, you know it’s always fascinated me. I find it really evocative and strange, it’s exotic to me,” she says. “Being there, living there and touring there has not diminished my romanticism.” The obscure name of the latest album actually comes from a town east of LA, a place she visited just after she got married. Her face lights up when she talks about it: “It’s unlike LA, which is hot and desert. Suddenly you’re in steep mountains with rushing rivers...it’s rocky and it’s very wild,” she excitedly mimes mountains with her hands. “And I love the name, Idyllwild. It sounds like it is, which is a very adventurous and mysterious place tucked up in the mountains.” Dyson is definitely no longer the girl who sat down when she played and barely looked at the audience. At her recent show in Melbourne, the joy of playing was evident on the faces of the entire band. When they broke into the title track of Idyllwild, the die-hard crowd was equally thrilled. In the final section of the song, the harmonies of pianist Liz Stringer and bass-player Tim Keegan chimed in melodically over the building grunge of Dyson’s guitar. Her voice slowly, effortlessly, drew up into a climax with that signature gravelly roar. Back in Dyson’s living room, she hospitably shows me to the door, shakes my hand and gives me instructions on the quickest way to get home. As I walk back down the alleyway, she waves from the doorway with a shy smile. » Mia Dyson is touring Victoria with her other music project, Dyson Stringer Cloher. Idyllwild is out now. Katherine Smyrk is The Big Issue’s Staff Writer/Editor. Pop 42 THEBIGISSUE5–25DEC2014 Idyll SHE MIGHT STILL BE A BASHFUL HOST AT HOME, BUT AS KATHERINE SMYRK DISCOVERS, MIA DYSON HAS SHAKEN OFF HER ON-STAGE INHIBITIONS.