[June 13 2018]
Dani Miller isn’t your American bandstand cupcake sweetheart. She isn’t the doe-eyed front woman labels are constantly on the hunt for. She’s more like the redheaded stepchild of the current music industry, quickly tearing down the last decade’s ideals of chic-looking front woman on stage, and catching the attention of designer brands like Gucci in the process. She’s the lead singer of the NYC punk band Surfbort, and she might just be your teenage daughter’s next idol.
The first time I saw Dani, she came walking out on stage in her underwear, crotch hair hanging out, picked up the mic, smiled through her crooked teeth and said, “Surfbort sucks, we’re Yeah Mon!” She began stomping about in her Docs, talking trash on the president, and laughing like a sinister evil Bond character between songs.
Answering the phone, I ask Dani what she’s been up to. She tells me they recently finished a new album titled “Friendship Music” and she just returned from visiting with Kansas Bowling (director) in the California desert to discuss the possibility of doing a video together. Dani mentions that Kansas has been staying out there with an Italian prince. I laugh, and although this sounds pretty unusual and far out, I’m not the least bit surprised.
KEALAN SHILLING — So Dani, someone recently one night in a drunken haze of conversation told me that you pulled out some of your own teeth. Is that true?
DANI MILLER — Oh my gosh! Yeah, I think there’s a rumor going around saying I ripped out my own teeth so I could have missing gap teeth. But no, I’m just naturally born scary. It’s kind of like opposite of a vampire, like I got defanged. Oh yeah, that’s another one; the latest thing going around is that I was a vampire and they had to defang me so I could live amongst other civilized humans.
KEALAN SHILLING — So you were born with missing teeth then?
DANI MILLER — Yeah, I was just missing teeth! So I had big gaps. I used to have more of a gap between my center teeth. Kids would make fun of me on the playground, call me gap tooth and other names. I was so sad. One day I went home and told my mom, and asked her why everyone hated me. So she took me to the dentist, and they said they could close the gap in my front teeth and make it so I could have other teeth screwed in, but they ended up making the gap look weirder, and then they couldn’t fit the other fake teeth in, so then they suggested pulling more teeth to put a fake set in. At that point I was more comfortable and understood there was going to be haters no matter what, so I was over it and decided to leave them like they were. I used to have a retainer that had fake teeth in it that I’d wear to meetings and when I was a barista, but it fell out one time when I was surfing. I didn’t care by that point to get a new one.
KEALAN SHILLING — Can you tell me a little more about your childhood and where you grew up?
DANI MILLER — I mean, I moved around a lot, like every two years, but I mostly grew up in California. My dad’s really into gardening and cooking, and my parents both rode motorcycles a lot. They drove me around on bikes everywhere. I was born in San Luis Obispo, then lived in Santa Barbara, then Thousand Oaks for a minute, San Diego, then went to school in San Francisco. My dad’s family is from New York, so eventually he moved back, and that’s how I ended up out there.
KEALAN SHILLING — What’s an early memory or something that attracted you to music, and going to shows when you were younger?
DANI MILLER — Well super early, my dad would put on this Fantasia record and put out a bunch of different weird hats and outfits, me and my sister would have these dance parties. Then fast-forward a little more, my mom would blast bands like No Doubt, The Cure, and X. I thought, “This stuff rules!” My first shows were going to this place Ché Café in San Diego with my friend, Scott, when I was 13 or 14. I didn’t know a ton about music at the time, but as soon as he took me there, I kind of never left. You could volunteer to serve vegan food, so I was always there, volunteering to see shows. Even if the band wasn’t really my thing, I was just so stoked, like what the fuck is this, there’s freaks here, this rules. Later on when I moved to New York, I even sometimes questioned myself like whoa, I kind of feel like a crazy groupie stalker. Why am I so attracted to this lifestyle, and then I realized, oh yeah, that’s cause this is what I want to do… forever.
KEALAN SHILLING — Sounds like you found your calling. Has Surfbort had any groupies yet?
DANI MILLER — Yeah actually, we’ve had a shit ton of groupies, they’re mostly girls, which is sick. There’s these hard girl gangs waiting outside the dressing room sometimes. It’s fun. I’m stoked to meet fans and hangout usually. Though, there is like a couple stalkers. I don’t use that term loosely. I only use that when things get dark. I should probably stop talking about this cause it’s so crazy, and I feel like if I called them out, the stalking would get worse.
KEALAN SHILLING — We can change topics then, who are some your biggest influences musically, or what are your biggest influences when writing songs?
DANI MILLER — I was into, not to say bad music, but I liked bands like Blink 182. The bands I saw didn’t really influence my music though. It more helped influence the energy, and what I wanted to be around. People who want to have fun and see the world as an exciting place to dance. All my band mates are from Texas, and grew up in the 80s punk scene there, so I feel like they already know what’s up when creating sounds. Some people seem to write or base music off of other songs or sounds they like, but I’ve never done that. My mind kind of works in a way, where it’s just like, drawing from outer space. Obviously everyone’s influenced by everything a bit though.
KEALAN SHILLING — When writing songs is it pretty spontaneous then?
DANI MILLER — At the moment our drummer, Sean [Powell], he’s a genius songwriter by the way, he’s always coming up with amazing shit. We live in the same house, so he’ll come in my room and be like, “Check this out,” and play some rad riff, and already have a cool chorus or hook, and then I’ll add to it. Sometimes Sean and Alex [Kilgore] and Dave [David R. Head Jr.] will be there, and me not being a good guitarist, I’ll think of something and say, I want it to go like this… “duh-na-nah-na, nah-na nah-nah,” and just make music with my mouth, and then they’ll translate that into the guitars.
KEALAN SHILLING — Is Surfbort your first band project?
DANI MILLER — Yeah, when I moved to NY I knew I wanted to get into the music scene here. One day I was at my friend Helena’s place, and noticed her roommate had a guitar. It was kind of cheesy but I was like, “Woah, your roommate has a guitar?! We should start a band!” I had no clue how to play any instruments, and I’m not a trained singer. Actually, I still suck at singing, but I sing from my heart and from the little alien hiding in me.
KEALAN SHILLING — How did you guys land on the name Surfbort?
DANI MILLER — This girl was putting on a show and asked if I knew any bands. I was like, “Yeah, I have a band!” I just made up that I had a band, and then she was like, “Oh, what’s it called.” Around that time “Drunken Love”, the Beyoncé song came out, and everyone was going around saying “surfbort,” so I said “Surfbort”! I was thinking it would just be a joke band name for one show but it ended up sticking. Sometimes people would book us thinking we’re like hot tanned babes that play surf music. It was always a shocker when we come out and play this really fucked up trash music. It was hilarious, so we just kept the name.
KEALAN SHILLING — Were you nervous about playing the recent Gucci’s Soho store opening?
DANI MILLER — Yeah, I was really nervous, but I get nervous at every show, even if I play my grandma’s backyard. I’m always freaked out. I have stage fright and I’m shy, but people don’t realize that because once I’m up on stage, I turn it around into freaking the fuck out.
KEALAN SHILLING — Did you get to keep the clothes?
DANI MILLER — Yeah, now we all have a ton of Gucci shit. I always mix it with my trashy clothes and wear it out. It’s funny.
KEALAN SHILLING — What else have you been working on lately?
DANI MILLER — We just finished a record, so we’ve been cooking up some ideas for music videos. I’m really into Nadia Lee Cohen and Kansas Bowling right now. I think they’re the best filmmakers in music currently. They’re both super inspiring. We just finished the album art too. One of Sean’s aunts actually painted it in the 80s.
KEALAN SHILLING — Last question… Can we do a “Yeah Mon” reunion show?
DANI MILLER — Oh my god! Hahaha, yeah mon! That was all because of the Coachella radius clause. Chris [Shaw] from GØGGS really wanted us to play that show, and I think one night he got really stoned and kept replying to us over and over saying, “Yeah mon.” So I was like, “Okay mon, what are you talking about mon?” We needed to change the name of our band for the show. So then based off all his texts, we decided to do the show under the name “Yeah Mon.” At the same time my band mates found some 60s knock-off tees that said “yeah mon” on them, so then it was just a full on “Yeah Mon” party. That was the sickest show. Hey, speaking of shows, can I mention a few bands you should check out?
KEALAN SHILLING — Sure.
DANI MILLER — Dilly Dally, they’re sick. Promiseland, they destroy venues and wake everyone the fuck up, The Entire Universe, POW!, Numb.er, BOYTOY, oh and Amyl and the Sniffers, we just played with them. I’m obsessed, they’re like this raging fucked up Austrailian version of us with these rogue mullets. I hope to find more bands like them.
KEALAN SHILLING — Cool, thanks for sharing Dani!
DANI MILLER — Thank you!
Interview and photo Kealan Shilling, styling Chelsie Baaker