Interview by Allie Volpe
Miller’s gotten good at multi-tasking. The past year has been wrought with countless opportunities, from the re-release of her debut EP, "Jekyll/Hyde" and subsequent release full-length album "Gumption," both on Domino, to touring with indie stalwarts like Courtney Barnett, labelmates Porches and Alex G., and currently Kurt Vile. Whenever she’d return to Kansas, she would also work full-time. Miller is a master of time management.
“It’s kind of like if you had to write a paper and all of a sudden had to do it overnight and you manage to churn it out,” she says. “It’s kind of like that, where you’re so afraid of the consequences that it heightens you to the point where you just manage to do it and you’re like ‘I don’t know how I did it, but I did.’”
On the contrary to her personal life, Miller’s Your Friend is a master class in patience. On "Gumption," each song had been built from an original guitar line, a solitary vocal melody. Each subsequent tone, elegant drone, echoing warble, had been manipulated and structured to fit the album’s expansive soundscape. Her haunting vocals - harrowing and androgynous, much like Jana Hunter of Lower Dens - top the arrangements. The icing on the cake lays deep below: Miller even utilized ambient field recordings from the places she would frequent.
“I’m trying to get more and more into it where I’m not just playing the field recording, I’m taking one hit out of it and turning it into a completely different sound,” she says. “That’s the most exciting thing to me, building your own sample library to work from.”
It’s only natural the LP is titled "Gumption" - Miller exemplifies it. Here, she talks with us about her busy schedule, the way she manipulates sound and more.
You’re moving and you’re preparing for tour. How do you deal?
That’s the thing I'm so frustrated with at the moment. I’ve had so many opportunities in the last year-and-a-half, but I feel like I don't have the time to be prepared for them. If I just had a month to not do this, I’d have so many new songs fleshed out for tour. But I haven’t. When we were leading up to the release of the record last winter, I went to Red Bull Music Academy so I feel like I wasn’t prepared for any of that in terms of headspace. Then we went on this really long tour and then I came home thinking, “Ok I’ve done it, I’ve got through this seven-and-a-half week run. I’m gonna get home and I’m gonna get centered’ and then this really great opportunity comes through and it was Kurt Vile. I can’t say no to that. I’ve managed to get things done because of pressure which is very crippling, stress-wise, my body’s physically not in the best shape, but I’m getting things done. I wish I knew how to healthily do it.
Your music is an interesting pairing of having expansive gear setups with classic instruments.
That’s the thing, I think I’ve been figuring out the live setup over the last two years. It's changed so much. The whole project started solo: It was just me and looping. Then it became two and then it became four. I’ve never gotten to sink in and be like “This is how we play these songs.” It’s changed so much over every tour or just certain shows. There's a lot of room in this project, it can be anxiety-ridden but it can be really fun.
Often times the things that are the most stressful are the most worthy.
Yeah! We already did one show with Kurt Vile and it was our first show together, the guitarist and I. What’s been really cool about playing with really amazing artists like Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile is they have such a wider audience so there might be two or three people that are like, “Oh, I like what this weird duo is doing.” In some ways, it’s not as accessible so it's really cool to see people respond to it. Even people that have seen me before in different forms will see this and be like “Oh, wait, the last time I saw her, it was this.” Even the bouncer at the venue walked up to us after the set and said, “I don’t normally tell bands this, but I really liked that.” That’s the highest compliment when someone is working at a venue day in and day out and feels that they want to tell you that.
When you listen back to "Gumption" and hear those field recordings, does that elicit memories for you?
With sound, especially when you’re recording with headphones, you’re so oriented to the space that you’re in. Direction comes through the sound that you captured. You can remember, “Oh, I was standing right here facing this way.” I had a lot of stuff that I got in London and Paris walking around and hearing different sounds from the directions of the street and remembering where those were. I like that aspect about it.
How do you determine what sounds can be manipulated?
You have an idea of what kind of sound you want. Something that would take place of a hi-hat, so you know it’s going to be a little bit higher in timbre, frequency-wise. So you go through and find something that's in that realm already and you start to shape it and take away things so it functions the same way - it’s keeping time in this way, but it has a different texture. I’m just now getting into it and I have so much to learn and I think that’s what’s really exciting. There’s so much information out there now. Someone’s already done it - they’ll show you. I’ve been reading a lot and watching a lot of tutorials and asking a lot of friends who are well-versed in it.
That sounds hard!
I think the thing with me is the more possibilities that I open up, the scarier it gets because it’s harder and harder for me to narrow down my workflow. I start going down this wormhole. That’s what I’m trying to do: [to] find ideas to focus [on] because you can do anything now. It’s a really exciting time to be making music.