Smile Politely

Just another day at the mine

Bloomington, Indiana’s Early Day Miners have struck out on tour in support of their new album, The Treatment, and they’re taking their poppier, more-accessible road show to the Red Herring tonight as part of the Pygmalion diaspora. The show starts at 6 p.m. with Morgan Orion and the Constellations, followed by My Dear Alan Andrews at 7, Post Historic at 8, the aforementioned EDM at 9, and World’s First Flying Machine closes things out at 10 p.m. Cover is $7, for you non-bracelet holders out there.

I spoke to head Miner Dan Burton last week about a variety of topics, some even relevant to the task at hand.

Smile Politely: How long have Early Day Miners been together, at least under that name?

Dan Burton: About a decade, actually. We put out our first record in 2000 on Western Vinyl, which is a label out of Austin, Texas. And then we were picked up by Secretly Canadian for everything since then. The band has gone through a few lineup changes since then.

SP: How did you and Johnny get together originally?

DB: I was in a band called Ativan at the time when Early Day Miners started forming, and Ativan was a very regimented, minimalist concept band. It was two guitars, bass, drums — or, just two guitars, drums, no bass, no vocals. And it was a very cool band to be in, but I was aching to be in something that would be really lush, and could explore more intricate production and songwriting. So I started looking around to see if anyone else wanted to start a band that fell on that side of things, and ran into Johnny and a guy named Rory at the time.

SP: Where did the name of the band come from?

DB: I was working for a summer in Yellowstone National Park, and there was a town in the northeast corner of the park called Silvergate. My friends and I were up there fly-fishing, and I found a brochure for the town’s tourism department that said “Early Day Miners” under this picture of these old miners, and it just looked like a cool album cover and band name. I liked the sound of it.

SP: That’s a cool story. It’s very focused on a time of place.

DB: Yeah, yeah, for sure.

SP: I got some literature from Secretly Canadian about the new record, and it said this album was more poppy than your previous outputs, and I didn’t know if you wanted to talk about how that came about?

DB: There were a number of factors as to why that’s the case. We took a three-year break after our previous album, Offshore, where we just spent a lot of time writing and producing our own sound in our house, in a basement studio. We also had two new members join at the time, and we spent a lot of time just finding our new sonic identity. A lot of that added up to the poppier sound that we have now.

SP: Is there any different instrumentation that you used on this record, or just a different approach?

DB: The instrumentation is the same, although the sound is completely different, because a lot of us changed up the type of gear that we were using. I stopped using digital keyboards, and now I use this old ’70s keyboard called an Arp, used by like Tangerine Dream, bands like that. I used to play a Gibson, now I play a Fender, things like that. Sonically, it sounds completely different. Also, the studio adds an instrument. We really laid off the reverb, and in the past, we just loved to drown in reverb. It forced ourselves to find new sounds and strip away layers, bare bones arrangements.

SP: Do you think that will affect your live performances as well?

DB: Yeah, I think so. Live, we really stripped some of the ambient, instrumental passages away and we’re focusing on hooks. Now, moreso than ever, I’d also like to add lyrics are a priority in the band more than any other instrument. Where in the past, they’d be treated as an additional overdub, I guess. Now, they’re front and center.

SP: As far as lyrics go – I’ve got the lyric sheet sitting in front of me here — I was wondering if the lyrics for each song got written in one batch, or if it was kind of a process over three years. Can you talk a little bit about how the writing came about?

DB: With the lyrics for The Treatment, the way that we wrote the vocal melodies, and a large percentage of the words on that lyric sheet came about from practice. It used to be in the past, the way that we’d write songs, was that we’d work out the instrumentation and then I would take a CD of it, and I would drive around and create vocal melodies on top. Now, with this record, with the rehearsal of the songs and the recording of the songs, we all wore headphones and we were able to hear the singing. So, a lot of what was written was just stream-of-consciousness that just came to me on the spot. I really like that. It a cool way to work, because it really puts you on the spot to come up with a melody more than just writing guitar parts. And it becomes intrinsic in the songwriting process. The songs are arranged now, more than ever, around the lyrics and the singing, where in the past, we’d have guitar lines that would never drop off for the vocals. It’s kind of a maturity in writing, I think.

SP: I’m not seeing a whole lot of uplifting songs here, I guess. How would you describe the mood of the record?

DB: I don’t know [laughs]. I think it’s pretty uplifting actually, but I know where you’re coming from. A song like “How to Fall,” to me, is just a complete sunny-day song. Or “Spaces.” “Spaces” is a song that, for me, is a song about going to all-ages shows as a kid, back in the day when people could actually smoke in bars. So there’s just an atmosphere of peace about that. A lot of good memories attached to that.

SP: Did you grow up in Bloomington, or somewhere else?

DB: When I started going to shows, I lived near Louisville, Kentucky, and going to see bands in the ’90s there.

SP: Any bands that stick out as highlights of that time in your memories?

DB: Yeah, definitely. Crain was a really cool band. Rodan, they were phenomenal. Palace Music — Will Oldham.

SP: Oh, yeah. I didn’t even think about that connection.

DB: A band called Hula Hoop were really awesome, back before the internet.

SP: It changed a lot of things, huh?

DB: Yeah, it’s cool, though. It’s a good force.

SP: Anything else you wanted to talk about?

DB: No, just really excited to play Champaign. It’s a city similar to Bloomington. A friend, Seth, who booked our tour and puts on Pygmalion, is a real champion of the arts there.

Related Articles