Photos / Kealan Shilling
Styling / Chelsie Baaker
Story / Mea Cohen
“I’m a grandma now, I’ll have, like, three glasses of wine,” Dani Miller declares, sipping a glass of white.
This is not what I expect to hear from the lead singer of the noisy, blow-your-mind punk band called Surfbort. The twenty-five-year-old front-girl is anything but typical. She’s a collage of color in a grey, quiet restaurant. I see her in a booth, loud red jacket. Orange makeup crawls up her brows toward sharp-edged bangs—very punk. Her wide eyes match her wide smile, which is equal parts excited and warm. Miller is thirty minutes early for our interview— very un-punk. Can’t box her in. She’s not made for it. Sure, she’s zany, wild, and vivid in any setting. She’s crazy post-show stories and brazen indifference to conformity, but she’s also all about supporting the music community, and especially supporting her listeners.
Miller delves a bit further regarding her recently developed health-conscious (while still rock-centric) habits. When one of her old bandmates started a rehabilitation program, Miller opted to go sober in solidarity. She mentions her own pernicious history with addiction: “I made a switch. I used to just party, but now I’m just addicted to health and healthy lifestyles. I think it’s cool that rock and roll doesn’t have to be ‘Oh, do coke and get blasted.’ It should just be like, ‘Be yourself, be healthy.’ RIP! Die old, not young.”
Young she is. Miller may call herself a grandma, but she’s the baby of her band which is made up of three other punk rock veterans: Alex Kilgore and David R. Head Jr. on guitar, and Sean Powell on drums. She likes to joke about this frequently. In fact, one member of her band is recently a grandfather, another soon to be. Miller started Surfbort when she was only twenty-one years old.
Growing up in San Diego and Santa Barbara, she listened mostly to X and Patti Smith. “I had no clue about music, I would just go to shows growing up…I was fifteen in San Diego, my friend took me to Che Cafe, and I just never left. ‘Oh, damn, I’m coming here every day.’ … I was just stoked on the scene of everyone coming together, and dancing, and letting loose.”
Only after some self-examination did Miller come to recognize why she was so enthralled by the community at Che. Music could prove to exist as more than just a means of weekend entertainment. “I would just be so attracted to what a band was…one day I realized I’m so attracted to this because this is what I want to do.”
Surfbort’s sound is punk rock through and through, the kind of fluid noise that could rip the rubber soles right off your combat boots, and spank you with them. The songs are engrossing, the stuff you wish you’d been around to hear live in the 80’s. In 2017, Surfbort toured with the Black Lips, played at Coachella, released their EP Bort to Death, and signed with Cult Records. That’s the kind of go-go-go trajectory Miller intends to keep up. It’s part of why she moved to New York. “In California, it’s very chill… growing up there you are just in a state of fog…sometimes environmental change really helps to twist your perspective and excite you… moving to [Brooklyn]… smelling piss, puke everywhere, trash… everyone that you talk to is like… six hours a day they are working on their film project, and in another hour they’re also taking photos for this, and they’re running to this, staying out all night, running around the street, going to shows, and that is what woke me up to find myself creatively.”
Given her bicoastal status, Miller has been listening to quite a few bands local to both Los Angeles and New York. She tells me about them, vaunting their individuality, her commitment to the camaraderie amongst fellow artists apparent in her praise. “French Vanilla. It’s sick, it’s almost like she has an opera-trade voice. Starcrawler. I really like their live show. Thick is tight. They’re so powerful and full of emotion. There’s this band Gnarcissists that’s sick… I met them a long time ago before they were a band. I put the Gnarcissists lineup together. I said, ‘Oh, you should meet my friend Nazar (Khamis), Matt (Orr), and then Matt (Tillwick) and Jerry (Peel) met. They’re so good. It wasn’t my fault, it’s their fault that they’re so good. I really love them. Matt (Orr) is such a good front-person. We were just at South By Southwest together.”
Surfbort is currently on a national tour. Their shows can get pretty rowdy. Miller is known to crowd surf, pass the microphone to audience members, and dance up a chaotic storm. She tells me some stories about making out on stage with tour-mates, encounters with furry fetishists, and a lot of late-night stomach-stuffing sessions at Veselka’s in New York’s East Village. Tour bus activities are a little more tame for the artist, noting she tends to stick with embroidery, though she might like to try an audiobook in the future.
Constantly at work, Surfbort is recording their forthcoming album called Friendship Music. This will be the band’s first full-length record, to be released in the fall of 2018. I ask her to tell me about what she wants this music to do and that’s where the true tenderness of Dani Miller peeks out from under all of that electric energy. “[I want the music to] make people feel less lonely, ‘cause the world’s so fucked up. I also think it’s no more fucked up than it ever has been… I always think there is this impending doom the government puts on you. I want to be there for people. As a friend, we’re here for you, all of Surfbort is here for you. Feel less lonely, feel like you could be yourself, it’s time, let’s hang out.”
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