Mia Dyson is an artist starting again. The ARIA-award winning singer-songwriter and guitarist has been following her musical muse for almost a decade now, but Dyson’s latest LP, ‘The Moment’, comes on the back of a period of both personal and professional strife.
Unsurprisingly, the struggles took place in America – the crucible of rock music, particularly when it comes to Dyson’s brand of gravelled blues. More surprising, though, is the fact that they were kicked off by an ultimately ill-advised partnership with Eurythmics mastermind, Dave Stewart.
Stewart wanted to play off what he considered Dyson’s androgynous look and audaciously suggested the Victorian change her performing name to BOY. Dyson eventually balked at the idea, but not before she mired herself in second-guesses and nearly endless bouts of soul-searching.
“It was really exciting at first because I thought, ‘This could be my big break’,” Dyson explains over the phone from Melbourne’s inner north. “And I think that’s what blinded me to the fact that we weren’t the right match … The disheartening part was when I was in the middle of it, trying to make it work: could I change my name? And what would this look like? And just trying to work with Dave: he’s got these grand and exciting ideas, but they weren’t always tallying with my sense of intuition. I think there were a few alarm bells going off and I was trying to suppress it.”
The to-and-fro would eventually lead to the dissolution of Dyson’s professional relationship with Stewart. But it also became a defining moment, and she would emerge from the tumult with her artistic vision crystalised.
“When I finally left that situation I was actually relieved and, strangely, I don’t feel any loss or regret about missing out on whatever those opportunities might have been. I don’t think I would have enjoyed it very much. I guess the wonderful thing to come out of having gone to America and being through that and going back to playing in little clubs has been that I’ve really come to see that there’s no difference between playing for 20 people or playing for 500 people … In fact, I know that at the height of my small success in Australia I was less happy than when I really started to appreciate playing for a little room.”
As if to highlight Dyson’s point on playing smaller venues, she found an executive producer for ‘The Moment’ by doing exactly that. Cut free from Stewart’s Weapons Of Mass Entertainment, Dyson had to start thinking outside the square when it came to releasing a new record.
The answer turned out to be PledgeMusic, a website that facilitates fans contributing funds to the process in return for an artist exclusive, whether it be something as small as a guitar strap or as big as a major credit in the liner notes.
For Dyson, a fan pledged $2,000 to become an executive producer, and all because she played to 15 people in Pennsylvania. “I didn’t expect anyone to take it up but miraculously there was this guy in Pennsylvania,” she laughs. “I opened solo for somebody else and he became a super fan and pledged on the executive producer credit. So you never know who’s listening and you’ve always got to give it your all.
“The whole response to the PledgeMusic system totally took me by surprise, really. Because I’d been away from Australia for so long and I definitely had a sense of, ‘God, no one’s going to remember me’. So to get a sense of this massive support and people who had been listening to my records five years ago and were still super keen – that just blew my mind.
“It’s so interesting the way the supposed downsides of the industry is losing ground with downloads and things like that; on the flipside there are things like this and it’s just about the best way of making a record.”
The result is an album that finds Dyson enlivened and confident, as she cathartically works through the pain of the previous few years to carve out a path for the future.
Now she’s hitting the road for a series of dates around the country and is looking forward to unleashing these songs upon a live audience. “I am. There will definitely be some older material, but I’d like to play a lot of the new songs and I’ve got a kickarse new band – just to be honest,” Dyson laughs.
“Brisbane will be one of the first shows, so hopefully we’ll have our shit together. But it is exhilarating to play these songs. With this record, most of the songs were developed in the process of making the record, so playing them is still a real thrill. You don’t know what’s going to happen.” Mia Dyson plays the Courier-Mail Spiegeltent as part of Brisbane Festival September 13. 'The Moment' is released on Friday.