Interview with vocalist Dani Miller | By Thomas Pizzola | Photo by Cam Evans
It’s been a pretty good year for New York City’s trash-punk demolition squad, Surfbort. The band released their debut album, Friendship Music, on Oct. 26 via Julian Casablancas’ Cult Records and played some killer shows with killer bands, including a tour with Black Lips and Iceage. In addition, frontperson Dani Miller walked the runway at New York Fashion Week, and several members of the band were featured in a movie with Riz Ahmed.
But first and foremost, Surfbort are a band—comprised of Miller, guitarists David R. Head Jr. and Alex Kilgore, and drummer Sean Powell—and a great band at that. They play trashy, high-impact punk rock that doesn’t skimp on the humor or social commentary. It’s quite exhilarating and not what one would expect from a Brooklyn band these days. That’s what makes them so great.
However, the band originally formed on a lark.
“Well, I started the band as a joke, and it was a cool platform for me and my friends to express ourselves, but over the last couple of years, it has really transitioned into something more,” Miller says. “I realized that having a band is really important if you realize that the shows and your performance exist to create a safe space for people to be themselves, connect with each other, and let their emotions and frustrations out, yell, scream, dance to the music, be inspired. The list goes on, but my main goal is to continue making people feel less alone and making space for people to heal and enjoy themselves.”
Surfbort released a well-received 7” on HoZac Records in 2017, Bort To Death, but this year brings Friendship Music, which finds the band stepping up their game and stepping up to a bigger label. Friendship Music showcases the kind of band most thought didn’t exist in NYC these days, and it’s interesting that they caught the attention of Cult Records. While it might seem like a shocker to some, it doesn’t surprise Miller.
“[I’m] not so surprised but rather excited that Julian and Nasa [Hadizadeh] at Cult Records understood the fucked-up reject trash romance that Surfbort consists of and believed in us and making a brilliant record to share with the world,” she says. “Nasa, the manager of Cult, has believed in us from the start. She has given Surfbort a platform to blossom!”
The new record officially marks the arrival of a major new talent. It’s an exhilarating listen, one that might make you believe in punk again. Miller had a simple and righteous agenda when it came time to write the album.
“The world is really fucked up, but you aren’t alone,” she says. “Freak recognize freak, so let’s all dance and scream at the moon together and have fun. Be inspired, create your own fun world of art and love.”
She also has very unique approach to her lyrics. Friendship Music tackles some serious topics, but Miller approaches them on her own terms.
“I personally communicate using humor in everything I do, so it comes naturally. I don’t think the humor discounts the important topics. I want to open discussions and let it be known I don’t stand for hate, but I also want people to have a laugh,” she says. “The crowd is filled with so many different types of people, all with different experiences and daily lives, so I think humor is a great way to start, but at the same time, I want to talk about political topics that are important to me and get to know what’s important to other people. Politics should never be too taboo to discuss in music.”
Surfbort rip it up onstage—and sometimes off of it, on top of tables and in the crowd. Miller is a live-wire performer who gives her all, propelled by the sweet noise laid down by Head, Kilgore, and Powell. It provides a catharsis for them all, but especially for Miller.
“I am fairly shy and nervous before going onstage,” she says, “but when I realize it’s not really about me, I hit the stage, and I take all of that fucked-up nervous energy and all the energy of daily and worldly frustrations, as well as love, and bring it with me and let it explode onstage.”
The band are getting their opportunity to play live as much as possible: they completed a tour with The Growlers and played Goner Records’ Gonerfest in Memphis in September, completed their run with Iceage and Black Lips in November, and are heading to Australia and Europe in December. It’s all systems go on the live front.
Miller is also known for her unique fashion sense, especially when hitting the stage. She approaches this in a very punk way.
“I wear a lot of recycled clothes,” she says. “Sean, the drummer, and I lived together and have collected random clown clothes on tour. I am pretty sure that’s how my entire band dresses. Dressing is a mood. Some days, I wanna feel like Kurt; others, I want to sparkle. I think it really boils down to feeling good and being yourself. I’m half man, half woman; half alien, half pony. I’m aiming to feel good! You?”
This unique perspective has garnered Miller attention from the world of high fashion, and this year, she walked the runway at Fashion Week in New York. Far from being a grueling experience, Miller says she had a blast. Pretty good for a singer in a punk band from Brooklyn.
“Discount Universe reached out to me, and shortly after, so did LRS,” Miller says. “My friend Kelsey Rubenstein—who paints and recycles clothes under the name Whatevernbd—had told me for months to check out Discount Universe, because they shared a similar idea of being yourself and letting freaks be freaks. So, when they reached out to me, I was really excited about walking this season. The clothes are inclusive to everyone, and they make you shine and feel fully yourself—which is so rare.”
“LRS was also a joy to walk for—they use a lot of recycled material—and being a part of Wendy Nichol’s presentation was a joy!” she continues. “I feel like any company celebrating humans for being themselves is so key. I didn’t have to compromise or change any part of me, and neither did anyone who walked those shows. It becomes less about idols and more about togetherness and holding each other up and celebrating the designers’ beautiful artwork.”
Fashion is not the only extracurricular activity Surfbort are involved in. Miller, Powell, and Kilgore all have roles in the upcoming film “Sound of Metal,” which features actor and recent GQ cover star Riz Ahmed as a heavy metal drummer dealing with hearing loss.
“The director, Darius [Marder], became great friends with Sean and even came to Surfbort shows, and he asked Sean to be a part of the film, because the character is very similar to Sean: a sober drummer navigating the crazy touring musician lifestyle,” Miller says. “For months, Riz came over to our house to study and learn from Sean about his life—also to hang out. Sean ended up giving a large amount of his wardrobe to the film to use as well. They then invited us to be extras in the film, but when we got there, Darius just started filming while we were all naturally talking to Riz and Olivia [Cooke] by the ‘merch table.’ It was so wild; halfway through, I realized there was a boom mic above me and that the camera was recording. A pretty exciting start to being in a film, rogue style.”
From releasing a killer album in Friendship Music to going on awesome tours to storming the gates of high fashion to getting speaking roles in a movie, it’s been quite a year for Surfbort, and Miller is loving every minute of it.
“Life is exciting right now, and we can’t wait to spread the love and grow the Surfbort freak family,” she concludes.