Born in an alternative community in the Far North Queensland hinterland, Melbourne singer-songwriter Miguel Rios had a free and lawless childhood. The kids played records late into the night and by day floated down wild rivers, drifting on the currents for hours. But there was another side to this seemingly idyllic upbringing.
These childhood memories have remained with Miguel – following him from the Atherton tablelands to the tin studio on the outskirts of Melbourne where this remarkable record was made.
A gifted guitarist, Miguel has whispered the words of his new album Slaughterhouse Road for years, trying to make sense of his childhood ghosts. Now, with this album, the whispers have transformed into evocative songs that capture the darkness and nature of the landscape, and his place within the barefooted tribe that called it home.
Picking up the guitar at 11 years old, Miguel would often rise at 4.30am to practise. Like most kids, he wanted to play fast and flashy, and penned his first song at 16. But he soon realised narrative song writing is neither fast nor flashy; it is a craft that requires total and painstaking dedication. He set about learning the intricacies of rhythm and the mysteries of song writing with the albums of Delta Blues legends and 60s American and English folk singers as his teachers. His influences include the fingerstyle and rhythm guitar greats, John Fahey, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Skip James, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Leo Kottke, and the writing styles of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash.
Miguel is a beguiling story-telling guitarist, always giving space in his songs to powerful lyrics that speak of closed doors, magic men, replica pistols and the cold spaces that no fire can warm. Slaughterhouse Road has a pared-down grittiness, rich hypnotic timbre and heartbreakingly beautiful interludes of violin and mandolin by collaborators Ash Jones and Matt Stonehouse. Co produced by Miguel and Greg O'Shea who also engineered and mixed the album which was recorded straight to tape in a small tin music studio set among the scrawny eucalyptus of Cottlesbridge during the Capricorn eclipse full moon. “We said we wanted that full moon madness and we certainly got all of that,” says Miguel. “It rained, stormed actually. The dog howled outside, but we kept playing and we got it all.”
Miguel, who carries Mexican and American Indian Yaqui blood, has a stillness in him. A devoted husband and father, he lives on the outskirts of Melbourne with his wife, two wild children and several tamed animals. Nearby is a dam they swim in, even in winter.