Early Day Miners

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Early Day Miners

You’d half expect a band with a name like Early Day Miners to be from Northern California, or some such American gold rush region. The group, however, is instead from Bloomington, Indiana. The act is also not nearly as easy to describe as, say, an American that is trying to strike it rich in gold country. In fact, it would be a big surprise if this band even strikes it rich in the music business, where any notions of a commercial gold rush have long since passed. Dan Burton, a literary songwriter that puts his smart lyrics to music described as slowcore, fronts this special band.

EDM’s most recent recording, Night People, might conjure up images of good time party people that stay up until all hours of the night celebrating. Nevertheless, such a notion couldn’t be farther from the truth. Instead, much of Burton’s current writing draws its inspiration from the work of author Barry Gifford. “I’m a huge fan of Barry Gifford and the album’s lyrical content is much influenced by his writing,” says Burton. “The title, Night People is taken from his book of short stories by the same name. Gifford is most famous for Wild at Heart, the book (David) Lynch turned into a movie.” Many of these songs actually give insight into pitiful individuals that exist on the margins of society people these songs.

Unfortunately, Burton had to play Mr. Mom, so to speak, with his sick child at the last minute before Stereo Subversion’s scheduled interview with the man, so guitarist John Dawson filled in admirably. Dawson speaks slowly and deliberately, but always intelligently when describing this unique band and its music. While he readily admits that Early Day Miners may not always be the most media-friendly outfit, Dawson simply couldn’t have been more friendly and helpful when it came to digging into this somewhat mysterious Middle America group.

SSv: The new album is Night People, so I’m wondering if there’s significance in calling the album that?

John Dawson: One reason why we liked the name is that we had been working on these songs and it came together – some of the lyrics kinda came together during the recording process – and we noticed this theme that we wanted to kind of explore as each song kind of being about a person, about a characterization of an individual. That’s where the ‘people’ part comes in.

We’ve all made an effort to sort of maintain our individualistic personalities in a world that sort of projects this idea of normalcy onto individuals.

We’ve all made an effort to sort of maintain our individualistic personalities in a world that sort of projects this idea of normalcy onto individuals.

The ‘night people’ – some of the themes — these people have slightly fringe behaviors. We thought about it as the people of the night; the sort of confused, alienated outcasts, alternative people that are in these situations in their lives that there’s some sort of dissonance going on in the situations in their lives that have forced them to kind of function on the outskirts of so-called normal behavior, normal culture. That’s the vibe, that’s the feeling of the title; it’s to kind of make reference to this theme of the record that deals with individuals who are kind of functioning in the outskirts of culture.

SSv: As a musician, you would consider yourself a night person, right?

John: Um. Well. I consider myself as an individual to not really identify with… to not really have a cultural identity. So, in that sense, I don’t have a normal identity as an individual, as an artist. I don’t necessarily think of myself as someone who always stays up late. I’ve gone through phases in my life where, you know, if you think of ‘night people’ in the sense of being, like, people going out to nightclubs and having parties and staying up late, I’m a stranger to that. But at this point in my life — and I think with everybody in the band — we’re actually pretty stable people, but we all have identities that aren’t normal. We’ve all made an effort to sort of maintain our individualistic personalities, in a world that sort of projects this idea of normalcy onto individuals. You know?

SSv: Right.

John: So that’s kind of the theme. That’s what I identify with, is like, the emotional and the development of individuals who aren’t normal, you know.

SSv: It’s interesting, because I was reading something earlier where Dan [Burton] is compared to both William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy. I guess he would take that as a compliment, right?

John: Yes. I think I’ve read that, too. And I think that Dan’s writing has a lyrical sensibility that is sort of surrealistic — it tells a story, you know? But it’s not a traditional story song. It’s a little bit more abstract. It’s a little bit more sort of impressionistic kind of approach to using language. But at the same time, there’s also this strong… there’s characters in the songs. There’s people. That kind of gives it a very literary sensibility.

And I think that’s true not just for this record, but for all the Early Day Miner records, if you listen to the lyrics. They say a lot. You feel like you’re interacting with a person, without using a lot of words or really telling a very linear storyline, you know, like, when you think of a story song that has a main character that goes from point A to point B.  They’re not like that. And also, the fact that Dan is from, or has spent a lot of time growing up in Southeastern United States. In Alabama. And he lives in Baton Rouge, LA. But I do think there’s this sort of… you know, the word ‘Americana,’ I think, has kind of become a marketing demographic.

So I don’t think that word does a very good job of characterizing any art so much. But there is this American… there’s this sort of emotional content or feel or sort of a vibration of the American South. You know? I think that kind of comes through in Dan’s writing. It gives it this sort of timeless literary quality, if that makes any sense.

SSv: What role do you play in the band?

John: I play electric guitar. On the last two records, in the studio, I played some other stuff. On the last two records, it’s been sort of the core group of four people, which has been the band pretty much since 2006, 2007. We all write material together. The last two records, a lot of the material has come from us improvising and coming up with, you know, chord progressions. We’re all writing songs as a four-piece group, as opposed to some of the early records where it was basically Dan making a recording and seeing who was available to play.

SSv: I read where the group was described as a “musical cooperative.” Maybe not so much now? Maybe it’s closer to a real, sort of steady band. Would you agree with that?

John: Yeah, that’s one of those things that has kind of carried just because of just the nature of publicity and media. You make these promotional materials for your band or whatever, in 1999, and, of course, things change over the course of 10 years. But then, all of those promotional materials are out there floating around. I actually just read a thing that said ‘Early Day Miners’ core members are Rory Leitch, Joe Brumley and Dan Burton, and like, Rory the drummer was in, like, Ativin. And this guy that was writing about us had somehow managed to get a hold of the second one-sheet from record that came out in 2010. We had some other interview questions that were, like, ‘Yeah, your drummer, Glenn Kotche plays with this Dreamers Of The Ghetto in Bloomington, is it hard for you…’ Well, Glenn Kotche is the drummer for Wilco, and he recorded a On Fillmore record, which was Glenn Kotche’s side project. Early Day Miners has always been one of those bands that is not easy to characterize. And since that’s how media…we’re living in an age where media seeks to simplify everything. It hasn’t really been very easy for [writers]. EDM is not a very media-friendly band.


  1. Patrick says:

    Nice interview!

    It’s worth noting that “Night People” was released by Western Vinyl, not Secretly Canadian (like the tag suggests…)

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