Living in These Shoes: Miles Nielsen, April 9 at the Redstone Room Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Tuesday, 06 April 2010 08:09

Miles NielsenWhen his band Harmony Riley called it quits in 2004, Miles Nielsen took a yearlong break from songwriting. "I couldn't write anything because I didn't know what I was about," he said in a phone interview last week. "A huge part of my life just ended. I sort of looked at it a little bit like, 'Okay, we sort of failed at the music thing.' I was really trying to figure out what to do. And then once I realized that was all sort of not the case ... it made me focus on writing again."

Nielsen's sense of failure is understandable if misguided: His father is Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen, and when that's the standard by which you judge yourself ... .

"Maybe when I was younger, I worried: Where's my 'I Want You to Want Me's, my 'Surrender's and 'Dream Police's and these things? How am I going to live in these shoes?" Miles said. "I think I've come to a pretty good acceptance that my dad had a really great songwriting run there for about 10, 12 years -- kind of unstoppable."

Since emerging from that post-Harmony Riley funk, Nielsen has found his niche. He plays bass with Cory Chisel & the Wandering Sons, and he'll be visiting the Redstone Room with his own band on Friday, supporting last year's solo album Miles. Equal parts casual Americana and Beatles-esque pop, the record is warm and confident and sounds effortless -- a sign that the son is no longer so worried about measuring up to his father.

Miles said that while he still loved writing and performing music, he had to decide if he was willing to continue to work in relative poverty. In other words, he had to commit to the work rather than prospect of the commercial success he saw growing up. "I had to reinvest in the very thing that I knew I wanted to do as a kid," he said.

The songwriting hiatus, Nielsen said, turned out to be a good way to learn about writing. Following Harmony Riley -- which also featured his brother Daxx -- Miles opened a studio, at which he recorded work by Chisel. (Nielsen is still based in the Rockford, Illinois, area that spawned Cheap Trick.)

"It taught me a lot about songwriting," he said of his time recording rather than performing. Harmony Riley had written as a group, building off riffs. Nielsen said the group mostly wrote toward live performance, and its studio recordings (and songs) were often secondary priorities.

For his solo material, he said, he worked the songs harder. "I'm going to sit down with either a piano or an acoustic guitar and write these songs in their entirety," he said. "If they hold up on their own, I feel like I can bring them to a band. ...

"I hope that they're better songs. I feel like I've really gone to school, so to speak, on the craft of songwriting. I've written with a lot of different people over the last couple years."

Being part of Chisel's backing band means that much of his time is spoken for, but Nielsen said that he's had adequate opportunity to support his own record.

"Any time I'm not with Cory I'm out with my stuff," he said. "It's not hard musically; it's a little hard mentally. ... The bass player's tucked in the back ... and then coming into my thing is having a really, really direct connection with the audience ... . It's just a mindset thing. ... I need at least 24 hours of reconfiguring the brain before I step out of one and into the other."

As further evidence of Nielsen's progress in terms of his own expectations, he said he's not interested in comparing sales numbers with Chisel. "I don't think I want to at this point," he said. "He's got a big record label behind him ... . I have myself and one guy."

Miles Nielsen will perform on Friday, April 9, at the Redstone Room (129 Main Street in Davenport). The show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are $7. The bill also includes The Dawn.

For more information on Miles Nielsen, visit To listen to Nielsen's Daytrotter session, click here.

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