Frontier Ruckus: Bringing It Home
Written by Michaela Stock. Photo: Frontier Ruckus.


Musicians are no stranger to living on the road. But living at home? That’s a challenge most artists have to eventually face. 

Just before the pandemic, Matthew Milia, frontman of Frontier Ruckus, decided to stop touring and start a family–a decision that began with falling in love.

“I had met the love of my life and realized I didn’t want a tour or 200 dates a year to make a living. So I kind of totally faked my way into advertising as like a 32-year-old summer intern at a Detroit agency,” said Milia.

Milia is now an associate creative director at a different advertising agency, where he’s found success working on Cadillac car commercials. But for Milia, his climb on the corporate ladder was first boosted by his career as a songwriter.

“There aren’t a ton of segues that you can do into the corporate world from being a very idiosyncratic songwriter,” Milia said.

“But I spent 10 years learning the craft of writing and honing my writerly voice. Writing commercials is a different craft, but there is a lot of overlap in terms of being able to turn the blank page into something resonant, and something that compels other people to listen or watch.”

While having a successful corporate career, wife, one-year-old son and dog might seem standard to many, these experiences did not come naturally to Malia. For a touring musician, making the choice to transition off the road with Frontier Ruckus took some major adjustments.

“This isn’t revolutionary, to nestle oneself into domestic life. But for me, it was very different from the way I spent my 20s, which was sleeping on floors and touring in a van with my best friends,” Milia said.

“It’s something I talk about with my therapist, because it is kind of traumatic to shift gears that much. There’s so many factors of why. There’s logistical and financial factors, and considerations of self-identity,” said Milia.

Measuring success as an artist is very different from most jobs, not to mention the vulnerability that comes with the career.

“I kind of valued myself by how many tickets I sold every night. If I wasn’t filling rooms that my booking agent was booking, I felt like a failure, and I got really depressed. When you stop putting yourself through that, it’s like, ‘Oh, am I a quitter now? Did I give up on my dream?’ I sold out to do something where the money is way more reliable, and now I make enough where I could support a family,” said Milia.

But on the heels of his seventh studio album, On The Northline, which was released just this February, Milia has found that he doesn’t have to fully sever his musical journey in pursuit of stability.

“I’m blown away by people still caring so much,” Milia said.

“Our fan base is by no means mainstream, but it’s super devoted and thoughtful. These people have taken the songs into their hearts and their lives in a really meaningful way, and it far exceeded any expectation I ever had when I first started writing songs.”

It’s not by chance that Frontier Ruckus’ fanbase has stayed dedicated for more than 15 years, though; the band has nurtured these relationships since their beginning.

“If we didn’t play a song fans wanted to hear, we played it in the parking lot for them after the show. We just prided ourselves to be in that kind of band that was really accessible to people that liked us,” said Milia.

“There are people with my lyrics tattooed on their arms, and it blows my mind. I love being that kind of band that has this cult kind of following.”

As a born-and-raised Michigander, Milia’s songs have connected with a hyper-local audience thanks to his direct references to places in the state.

“Metro Detroit is a very amorphously large and complex region of all these colliding communities and socioeconomic identities, and I’ve always been endlessly fascinated with how it all comes together. So I just kind of endlessly investigate that in my songs,” Milia said.

“My songs are love songs to Michigan in such a real way. The state has always been my muse.”

Milia, alongside his bandmates David Jones and Zachary Nichols, went back to these roots while recording On The Northline. The album possesses the purity of their first songs. Without the pressure to write and record songs for a label, they stripped back production and celebrated lyricism that paints glory on the mundane.

“My life is in an achingly wholesome place, but I’m proud that I found this balance, right? I’m in a stable place mentally with my mental health and my family life, and I can still make art. I don’t have to suffer to make art, which is to me an achievement in itself,” Milia said.

“Everything has, no matter how small or mundane, a hidden beauty to it.”

If you met Milia today, you might not realize that his titles of father, husband, and creative director are founded on his decades of songwriting with Frontier Ruckus. While his transition from life on the road to staying at home was filled with tough adjustments, Milia wouldn’t rewrite his story any other way.

“I look back with nothing but immense pride and gratitude,” Milia said.

“I’m so grateful for the state of Michigan and every town that we’ve built a little fanbase in. I’m just so proud to be known as a Michigan songwriter.” 

Frontier Ruckus

Midtown at Studio Park

123 Ionia Ave. SW, Grand Rapids

April 19, 7:30 p.m.