Some musicians think they need to torch the certainties in their life to reach the creative depths they seek, but on If I Said Only So Far I Take It Back, the new album from Los Angeles-based Australian singer and guitarist Mia Dyson, the key to deepening her songwriting lay in self-acceptance.
Catharsis, it turns out, doesn't hold a candle simply to seeing circumstances as they truly are.
"As a younger person I thought I was dictating how my life went, and then I would get really annoyed when it didn't go my way. It's been a process of discovering that I'm not in control and that I'm on an adventure without a control panel," Dyson says. "You can either fight it or go with it, and while that doesn't mean I don't have any say in my life I can definitely enjoy myself a lot more with the latter."
The 36-year-old, who grew up on Victoria's Surf Coast with a luthier father who put guitars in her hand and sounds in her head from an early age, was in Melbourne recently for a handful of shows (Dyson maintains separate touring bands in America and Australia) and to promote If I Said…
Her sixth album, released on Friday, continues her evolution from the blues-rock firebrand who announced herself with the 2003 debut Cold Water.
"It feels like some of the most honest and vulnerable writing that I've done and been willing to put out. It's definitely a reflection of how my life has gone in the last few years," Dyson says.
"I haven't had the success I dreamed of, or even assumed, was coming when I was 20 or even 25 years old, yet I've kept making music for a living which is no small feat."
Dyson moved to America in 2009, starting out in Boston and shedding her initial travelling companions over the next two years before relocating to Los Angeles.
A lyricist who'd always written about transient lives and the arcs of outsiders, she found herself alone and had to build up a new support structure and define her strengths and capabilities.
The process hasn't hardened her outlook, but instead made her receptive. In 2014 Dyson married, and during the writing of the new album she started to adapt the poetry written by her husband Karl, discovering that the meter of his verse inspired unexpected melodies.
Dyson would work alone in the morning, then the couple would collaborate in the afternoon, with Karl returning to the guitar and piano he'd first learnt to play as the son of missionaries.
When Dyson decamped for Muscle Shoals in Alabama to record, she then found keen collaborators in co-producers John Paul White (formerly in Americana duo The Civil Wars) and Ben Tanner (keyboardist in blues-rock quartet Alabama Shakes).
After three weeks of fruitful recording the pair, each with Grammy Awards to their name, wanted to release If I Said… on their label, Single Lock Records. After 15 years of self-funded independent releases, Dyson found herself with a record deal.
"There were times previously when I was looking and couldn't get one, and that was hard and painful," Dyson says. "But when it came up this time I felt that the time was right."
The finished record is Dyson's most eclectic yet. The R&B ballad Nothing, which is defined by fuzzy chords and a spectral refrain, gives way to the urgent 1980s pop licks of Fool, and across the 10 tracks not only genres but emotional states intermingle. Defiance and vulnerability prove to be as complementary as haunted blues and sparse folk.
"I always wondered if these songs could sit on the same record," Dyson says, "and now I know that they can.
Mia Dyson plays 48 Watt Street, Newcastle on March 24 and Leadbelly, Newtown, on March 25.
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