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Daniel Burton on resurrecting Early Day Miners and being compared to William Faulkner

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"I'd become clouded as far as what I wanted to say or what kind of music I wanted to create."
  • "I'd become clouded as far as what I wanted to say or what kind of music I wanted to create."

When last we heard from Bloomington, Indiana's Early Day Miners, they were still being hailed as unsung heroes of the Midwest's slowcore movement. Their sound evoked Low and Galaxie 500, but with more pronounced post-rock and ambient overtones. The UK's influential Drowned in Sound even went so far as to praise bandleader Daniel Burton as a latter-day William Faulkner or Cormac McCarthy.

The comparison is not unfounded, particularly on songs like "Offshore," a powerful ode to New Orleans that Burton wrote and released three years before Hurricane Katrina: "Her presence and her delta eyes, stained glass mystery," he sings. "Abandoned boats drift by, stillness and debris."

The band garnered further critical acclaim with the release of its 2011 album Night People.And then... nothing.

Until, that is, this summer, when Early Day Miners returned with a haunting new single called "Night Suit (for Tarah Cards)." Currently available online and as a cassette single, it's a return to form that builds upon the band's best work while suggesting the influence of seminal groups like The Blue Nile and late-period Talk Talk.

We caught up with Burton, who moved to New Orleans after the band's breakup, to talk about interning with Daniel Lanois, being inspired by Tarah Cards, and finding his way back to music.

Indy: It's been seven years since the last Early Day Miners album. Would you call the new single a reunion, or is it just the end of a really long hiatus?

Daniel Burton: It's certainly the end of a long hiatus. I took time off to go to grad school for landscape architecture — which I'm now practicing — and that didn't afford a lot of time for music. I'd been working for 15 to 20 years on various bands and projects, and I got to a point where I'd become clouded as far as what I wanted to say or what kind of music I wanted to create.

Were you always sure that you'd return to making music?

Yeah, it was really just an intentional hiatus. I have always known that music was my first priority. I guess maybe I could have gone to music school, which I've never done. But it's okay to take chances and put things out that aren't perfect. I think a lot of our stuff was so labored over that we kind of beat the life out of some things that could have been really wild, you know?

The new single, especially the chorus, reminds me of The Blue Nile. Does that comparison resonate at all with you? Or is this just one of those "Great, now I have to talk to a journalist who thinks everyone sounds like The Blue Nile" moments?

I'm a huge fan of The Blue Nile, and I would never deny that. To be compared to them would be a huge compliment. Man, those records are just phenomenal. Both Charlie Hall, who's now in the War on Drugs, and Jonathan Ford from Unwed Sailor were like, "You've got to hear Hats, this is totally your kind of band." And I was like, "Guys, how have I not heard this?" I couldn't believe it. So it is a direct influence and I'm not ashamed to say it.

You dedicate the new song to the performance artist Tarah Cards, who's also featured in the video. How did the two of you meet up? She does some pretty radical stuff down there.

Text messages were not the cause of Burton's seven-year hiatus.
  • Text messages were not the cause of Burton's seven-year hiatus.

Well, Tarah lived in Bloomington for a short while. I didn't know her in Bloomington, but she's always done wonderful music. She's in a project called The Wanting. They just finished their record here in New Orleans, and I think you'll be hearing about it because they're kind of blowing up here in town. Everyone's really excited about them. She's got just an incredible voice. And then Tarah started doing amazing performances at cabarets and gay bars here in town. I thought it was just kind of a one-off, but she just kept doing it and it's kind of become her career. I've just been blown away and completely impressed as a fan and supportive of her as a friend. She's part of this bio-queen movement, which I think is fantastic, where the idea is that women can be drag queens too, and there's really no labels for anybody. It's just: Be you.

Tell me about interning with [producer] Daniel Lanois. What was that like for you?

It was a special time. He had just gotten Kingsway Studio off the ground, so this was in 2000. Billy Bob Thornton was doing a soundtrack for All the Pretty Horses, and I helped engineer it, and did drum machine work, and took copious notes. I was a studio assistant, essentially. But then they scrapped the entire soundtrack — which was not something that I think Billy Bob Thornton wanted to have happen — and it went to some new country artist. They also cut the movie down from four hours to two hours. It was just a complete disaster, but it was a great experience.

I think the attraction to Kingsway was that you had all this incredible equipment in a mansion that had 2-foot brick walls and 20-foot ceilings and chandeliers. It was the idea of intentionally not working in a studio, which is something I've always really enjoyed. I'm currently assembling a studio in the other half of an old shotgun that my partner and I bought in Tremé. It's sinking, so it's getting shored up right now, and it's a termite palace. It's had its day, but our gear is in the other half of the house, and we're starting to work in there.

Drowned in Sound once likened you to William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy. Was that weird?

I really loved that piece. We had gotten hit pretty hard by Pitchfork and some others, so it was really nice. It seems like Europe has always had our back, which is pretty great. He really picked up on the lyrical content of the song "Light in August," which is a William Faulkner book that I like. The song was like Cliff Notes of that book.

Has living in New Orleans impacted your music, either directly or indirectly?

Directly, I think. Like the video for "Night Suit" that we put together, and subject matter like Tarah Cards, are all direct influences from living in New Orleans and literally walking into a bar four blocks away from my house and seeing Tarah perform. There's a lot going on here right now, and I don't think a lot of it's really popular nationally. But that's always been the case with New Orleans. I'm shocked that Big Freedia is popular. I think it's wonderful, but it's kind of an anomaly.

So are you going to do a bounce single next?

[Laughs.] I am a huge fan of that stuff, I mean it is incredible. I think it's the sound of the city right now. Obviously no one's lamenting the legacy of New Orleans. No one here is going to be like, "Oh the Preservation Jazz Hall band is terrible." But now you've got cool bands like Sweet Crude and Tank and the Bangas that are really fun live, and deejays doing shows, and bars like Gasa Gasa and the AllWays Lounge. So it's not a museum of music, it never has been.

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