CAMBRIDGE — Mia Dyson was about to start living the dream . . . or so she hoped.
She’d ventured far from her Australian home in 2009, hoping her prodigious musical talent and homespun appeal would yield success in the United States, the motherland of the bluesy rock ’n’ roll that she grew up on, playing a guitar made by her father.
After nine months making the club scene on the East Coast from a home base in Boston, she had migrated to Los Angeles and was about to be signed by a major player in the business, someone who had big plans for her.
Harmony For Humanity featuring Mia Dyson
Then she heard those plans. And there’s the rub.
Prospective manager Dave Stewart had a proposal. The high-altitude industry player, who’d been half of 1980s hitmakers Eurythmics — and two years later, as it happened, would launch a side project alongside Mick Jagger — wanted to rebrand Dyson. As an edgy, androgynous character named BOY.
“I remember getting a call about the BOY thing and really freaking out,” Dyson, 32, says now, on the phone from Australia. “It might have been brilliant for someone else, someone who had that interest in audacity and embodying a persona and becoming this stage character. But that just really wasn’t me. And I could feel how much it wasn’t me when I tried to attempt it.”
In the BOY persona, Dyson submitted to a spiky new haircut, raccoon eye shadow and some photo shoots, but never committed. She spent about two years hemming and hawing, eventually staying offstage at the advice of her handlers while they plotted other moves including a planned reality TV show.
At one point a press release announcing the identity makeover was sent — mistakenly, she says — to at least one reporter. In the announcement, Stewart looked forward enthusiastically to “[h]aving a raging girl BOY out there in black jeans, black eye-liner, and a tough attitude.” The music press back in Australia, where she’d been a critical favorite, got wind of it and started asking questions.
For a songwriter and guitarist in the mode of an early Bonnie Raitt, playing a homemade instrument and exuding earthy bluesiness, it just didn’t fit. So, finally, she said no. The envisioned management deal evaporated.
“It was just the wrong match. And I let it get way too far,” she says. “It had been making me physically ill to try and go against what my natural instincts were. So even though it was obviously a complete fizzle-out of my potential career in the States, it was a liberation. It was a huge, huge relief.”
Seen as a rising star back in Australia, she’d won an ARIA award (analogous to a Grammy) and earned a loyal fan base. But in the States she had to start from scratch, for the second time. It was another year after the split with Stewart before she had the wherewithal to assemble a new band and record her long-envisioned “American” album, five years after her previous LP.
That record, “The Moment,” was released in Australia last year and stateside in April. It plays as an urgent declaration from an artist who’d been wandering in the wilderness and finally emerged — not necessarily triumphant yet, but still fighting.
The first lines on the anthemic album opener, “When the Moment Comes,” stake out the theme: “Don’t look back / Don’t look down / I see my failure / I see my fear / Wrestled to the ground.” The finale, “Two Roads,” is a pastiche of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” set in the desert outside LA.
When Dyson plays the Lizard Lounge on Thursday, in a set capping the annual, multi-artist Harmony for Humanity confab, she’ll be backed by two musicians heard on the album, drummer Erin “Syd” Sidney and Lee Pardini on bass.
Sidney, who co-produced the record with Patrick Cupples, says Dyson’s stage charisma is compelling. “She's got that spark onstage where you can just see the audience responding to her, and her engaging with them, in a way that is very rare,” he says. “She’s the whole creative package. You just want to be around her.”
With “The Moment” in hand, Dyson returned home last year, not sure what sort of reception she’d receive. To her relief and surprise, she found her fans had been waiting for her.
“There was that sense of people having stuck around while I took five years to make a record. And it’s not like I worked on a record for five years — I just got lost for five years and made a record at the end of it,” Dyson says. “It was amazing, because while I was in the States I had no sense of that whatsoever. I just thought my whole career was done.”
“The Moment” has gotten strong reviews, but hasn’t set the charts on fire. But — finally — it represents momentum. After a run of East Coast shows this month, Dyson will return to the States in January to record another album and spend a year touring and promoting it. “It’s back where I should have been when I first moved over there. But I got waylaid,” she says.
She hasn’t yet found the American Dream she set out to pursue, but still has something to say. No longer lost or waylaid, she’s back to saying it.