surfbort's dani miller is the friendly, burrito-puking queen of punk
Surfbort's wild new video is also deeply personal, alluding to Miller’s own struggles with addiction and mental health.
Photography Derek Perlman
Dani Miller is the puking punk princess bringing friendship and music to the world. The frontwoman of Surfbort, Miller and her band recently released the aptly titled Friendship Music, Surfbort’s first record on Julian Casablancas’ Cult Records. “It’s a record to be there for everyone, be a friend for anyone in need. It’s our response to these wild-ass times,” Miller describes.
Like a hippie love-in passed through a millennial punk processor, Surfbort’s music covers topics such as politics, sexuality, mental health, and social media with tracks like “Selfie,” “Les Be in Love,” and “High Anxiety.” The band’s latest single, “Dope,” is a slower, more personal offering, alluding to Miller’s own struggles with addiction and mental health. “From 17 to 21 I was on super hard drugs, and it’s kind of a farewell song to that,” she explains. “It’s like a coming out song, a sweet 16. I was born to do something else, born to sing and spread love, not just die young.”
Like Surfbort’s other releases, “Dope” is accompanied by a video, executed in the band’s usual DIY style, and featuring a number of Dani’s friends and fellow musicians. “The video itself is kind of commentary on me not being able to keep up with the music industry, or traditional beauty standards,” she says. “Just screaming at the moon and being myself and continuing to move forward, even though it’s hard.”
Watch the Gilbert Trejo-directed video below, and read about how Surfbort was born out of a chance encounter with Beyoncé and a burrito.
First off, how’s the tour going?
So much fun! We’re with Black Lips and Iceage. Every show has been a blast. It’s really cool touring with three bands ‘cause it’s like a caravan of freaks.
When did Surfbort form and how?
I'm not really a musician, I never knew about singing. I grew up in California, hence my stoner Valley girl accent. I moved to New York about four years ago because I got a chance to work with Darren Aronofsky and develop films. The first [Surfbort] show was on my 21st birthday and we made it as a joke. It was the day Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love” came out and we were like, “Oh, let’s play a show and call it Surfbort!” I had no clue that that was the start of the rest of my life! I’m pretty young for my band, which averages about 45. The rest of my band are all from Texas.
So how did you get a crew of 45-year-old Texans to play with you?
This is a classic story! I was new to playing music and I didn't know you couldn’t eat before, so I ate an entire burrito and mid-set I puked it up. Sean, my drummer now, was in the audience, and he was like, “Wow, sick, let’s hang out!” Then he introduced me to David Head and Alex Kilgour. They were all raging in the 80s punk scene in Texas so they have a lot of music and life knowledge.
Punk music can often be quite nihilistic, but you guys seem pretty positive. How do you maintain your sense of humor in such dark times?
I feel like humor is so important, but not laughing in a way like, “I’m so removed from this, this doesn't affect me.” We’re all fucked but let’s enjoy the moment and enjoy being together and get past this together. There are really fucked up things happening but you cannot just let that rule you. The people in charge, they want you to be in fear, they want you to be hating your fellow humans. We have to break out of that.
Your songs talk about a number of issues concerning young people today.
It’s a very ‘wear our heart on our sleeves’ response to the times. I deal with depression and crazy anxiety. Everyone deals with relationships and their sexuality, and anxiety attacks. With social media and mental health, I try to embrace it with lots of humor and not hold it too true. If I spill mustard on my shirt and I’m drooling and laughing, I just post a pic of that! I try to just connect with people on it and not take it as such an evil force.
Do you think your music has taken on a more serious political agenda since the election two years ago?
I don’t think we have the space or time not to. I feel like if I were to only play music for pleasure it would just be irresponsible because of all the crazy shit that’s going down. I feel like I have to stand up against that.
Do you have a goal in terms of educating your audience?
My first priority is opening up the space for people to have a place where they can be themselves. Let out pent up aggression and meet new friends and connect. That’s my number one thing. With the political stuff, I want to open up conversation. I’m not trying to just get up there and be like, “If you have different views from me, get away from me!” That doesn’t do anything.
One article describes you as “the friendliest punks on the planet.” Do you think that’s true?Totally! I'm here for anyone to be their friend. Every show we play I meet so many new friends. It’s like a friend gang! Everyone’s welcome to come and hang out.
Your parents were at the record release in New York — are they fans?
Yeah, my biggest fans! When I was singing “Sunshine” I was singing the words at my Dad and he started bawling crying, and I almost started crying. I feel like they were probably nervous when I said I was quitting my job to play rock. After seeing shows and seeing what we’re all about, they’re totally proud of me now. My mum actually came on tour with us the other day and she had a blast!
When I started, I was so nervous to even go onstage, to sing in front of people. My dad told me to pretend that everyone who is important to you and has your back is there onstage with you. I think that’s really cool for anyone going through a hard time. Just pretend everyone who has your back is right next to you in that situation!
What’s next for Surfbort?
LOTS OF FRIENDSHIP MUSIC HANGS AROUND THE WORLD!