A Heart to Heart with Your Friend
Kansas musician Taryn Miller talks about where she finds confidence, getting scared by Led Zeppelin, and being the only girl on an all-guy tour.
All photos by the author
Lawrence, Kansas kid Taryn Miller, a.k.a. Your Friend, has just turned 26, but has the vibe of an old soul. She's gone from working at a record store and self-releasing her 2013 EP Jekyll/Hyde to recently releasing her Domino debut Gumption while touring with Porches and Alex G. Produced by Nicolas Vernhes (the War on Drugs, Deerhunter) at the Rare Book Room in Brooklyn, Gumption is a warm, textured piece of dreamy guitar indie tunes that sweeps you away. It plays like a cool breeze on a hot day and comforts like a hug from a friend you haven't seen in a long time. We caught up with Miller before her set at Toronto's historic Horseshoe Tavern and talked about the relief of being engulfed and how old she actually feels. Check out our interview and photos below.
Noisey: How do you describe yourself? How do you see yourself?
Taryn Miller: Still trying to do that I guess. Maybe if I dropped acid I could tell you. *laughs* I see myself as a lot less pleasant than I think people describe myself to be, which is funny. I'm really outgoing but I'm also really quiet so I have this duality about me that I think comes through a lot in a lot of ways.
Do you see yourself as a confident person?
No! *laughs* Working on that! No, not at all, but sometimes I think that if that's really me I think that it tends to translate as confidence in a way, because I'm comfortable being "that way". Making music, performing live and doing press like this takes confidence.
How do you get over that shyness?
Oh sure! It helps when they're candid. I like to take it there if I can, it's just my nature. If I showed up and was very professional it wouldn't go the same way. No! Lately I've either been listening to a lot of drone like things, or I have a jump rope that I take on tour and I just hammer that out till I feel different head wise. I actually figured that out in San Francisco. I went to a Guitar Center that was 10 blocks away from the venue to see if I could get a different thing to fix the problem that I was dealing with and I looked at the time and we were really short. The guitar tech that was with me asked "how fast is your mile?" and I was like "I don't know! 10? I don't know!" and so we sprinted back to the venue and I had my guitar with me and I just when straight in, got up on the stage, opened it and played. It was like being high, it felt so good. I was like "I need to do that every night" so I started doing that more and that seems to help with the anxiety cus I spend less time sitting and thinking about it, now I just have to go up there.
Did you feel shy when you first started sharing you music?
That first EP was very vulnerable and I think more recently I decided that I'm gonna do some little way of releasing the lyrics, a soft release. I kept all that stuff pretty close to the chest because it did feel so personal and I didn't think a lot of people would hear it at the time. When I was playing those songs I didn't even have the intention of recording them. I think it's happened too fast for me to really agonize over it, you know? There are moments where I have to check in because I am overwhelmed…. I feel like it's just about embracing it, leaning into it a little bit, trusting the listeners, trusting people I'm working with.
What pulled you to the guitar as an instrument?
It was the thing that was around, besides a piano. My mom had a guitar that she didn't really play and it was at my grandma's so that was always there when I stayed with them. I was little, I was hitting it, it wasn't pleasant at all to listen to probably… but I don't know! There's something really visceral about it and it was something I could take with me. I don't think my parents were keen on drums or anything like that, although it's what I would have started with. It's what was available to me at that time. It has a voice.
On Gumption you incorporated a bunch of ambient audio snapshots that you recorded with a field recorder around your hometown family farm in Dexter, Kansas. How did you decide which bits to use? Did you use them all on the album or are there snippets that didn't make the cut?
I've definitely been more drawn to those kind of sounds, noise, the sound of a radiator, things like that. I tend to lean towards more lower end sounds lately I've noticed. I still have all of them, I use them for different things from time to time, not necessarily for the record, songs that we're playing live, just for in general working out things. I'm having a good time exploring manipulating sound. I think that was the intent when I went out and did that, I was just excited cus I got [the field recorder] for Christmas. It was just happenstance, but it became a nostalgic thing, because of where I was at the time. I feel like, I don't wanna limit it or belittle it, but I think that I don't know how to write for my experience at this point and it's what feels most natural and organic to me, so that's what I do. It's very self indulgent, I make it for myself really. The difference with [Gumption vs the first EP] is that I knew a larger platform of people were going to hear it. I think that was really anxiety-ridden on its own, so it was something that definitely hindered the writing process for a long time. It changed once I was in the studio and had a limited amount of time to do it, as it forced me back into my instinctual approach, which is what the EP was written on. I think that's what really made the record come together was being in that environment again, that mindset.
How old do you feel?
32... *laughs* but my life doesn't. That's what's weird. Physically, mentally… but then I look at my life like "I don't have shit together!" I couldn't be that old right now. I would have to have an established life and routine - and I don't. It's more of a mental thing, I really connect with people around that age group. I don't notice the age gaps. I think many people do.
What's does an ideal day look like for you?
I like to be busy. I always think about that, people who are like "I just want to lay back and read a book." No! I like to get as much done as possible in one day. It just makes me feel better. I like to check off lists. I like to see the completion of a task. Ideally, I have to have coffee, I just do, multiple times a day. It's probably not good with my anxiety. I like being able to sink into working on something. I've had a few days like that in the past few months where that's all I was doing. I was in the studio for 10 hours and it felt really good 'cause I didn't realize it, I was just that present. That's ideal to me. Being in a place where you're not ruminating about something else, which is what I spend 80% of the day doing and 20% of it playing. I like the relief of being engulfed by something.
Are you already working on the next record or are you just focusing on touring right now?
I feel really energized to work on new things. I have this irrational fear that maybe I'll just make kinda what I've made before if I'm doing it right now. You know what I mean? Like, playing these songs now, I might write something similar one of the songs I'm playing. *laughs* Right now I'm just really honing in on just the things that I've acquired, different pieces of gear I really want to explore more, see what I can do with them. Lately I've just been working on sonic colleges and what I can do with those. Reading books on sound design. Things like that. That's where my interests are right now. I'm hoping at some point the light will turn on. I'm not going to force it.
When you get in those anxious head spaces how do you distance yourself? What helps?
It sounds really funny, I make jokes to the guys [her band] sometimes, if I get in a weird headspace you have to keys to a baby me. You know like, "Oh look over there! Look at this!" Distract yourself. Distracting myself is the key when it comes to getting out of certain head spaces that aren't healthy for me. Finding something completely unrelated to what I'm doing at the moment.
What did you listen to growing up?
My grandparents listened to a lot of R&B and soul, I have an Ohio Players record from them. That kind of thing, I loved growing up around that. My dad, he's got very eclectic taste. He doesn't change the CDs in his car very much or at least he didn't at the time. I legitimately grew up listening to Led Zeppelin. That was his favourite band. He'll tell you otherwise though, he always changes it to Iron Maiden or whatever, but that's what I remember most. I always hinge on this on this one memory of this one song and I still don't listen to it, I think it's like a trigger… I would freak out when "No Quarter" came on. I didn't want to hear it. I was like "This is scary I don't like it!" but he would make me listen to it anyways. Now when that song comes on I'm like "Fuck!" but I grew up listening to that and I love Robert Plant's voice. I just love how grating it kinda is. And Queen. Queen was a huge band for me too. As far as vocalists there's Nina Simone, Freddie Mercury, Robert Plant, Billie Holiday, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke especially, those were the ones at the top for me for sure. I think that's what made me want to play guitar too, listening to classic rock, because the guitar was so featured. I remember thinking it was really cool. "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" was one of first songs I actually ever learned how to play on guitar. I remember my dad, he'll deny it, but he had to leave the room. I think it was too much for him.
What are you listening to now?
Now, as far as really really recent recent, I saw Autolux in Chicago the other night. Carla is probably the best drummer I've ever seen live, it blew my mind. That band is incredible and that record, I didn't really know about it and I can't say I know their discography very well, so when first heard it I was like "What is this? What are we listening to? This is so cool!" That's a more recent record that I was really excited about going to see & I'm so glad I did. I listen to a lot of drone or more experimental stuff too. I've been really drawn to really heavy things like that Roly Porter record is so good. I love Haxan Cloak. That new Tim Hecker record I've been waiting for along time. The one I'm sweating the most though, I'm like "Someone leak it!" I'm kidding but I really wanna hear the new Andy Stott. I'm just pining for it at this point. I love everything on the Modern Love imprint as well as the Other People imprint. Dave Harrington's record just got released on Other People so I've been listening to that and it's fucking awesome. He actually played on the record! He played on "I Turned In" and that was really special to me 'cause I look up to him so much. He's an incredible player.
Where do you call home now?
Lawrence, I've been there for five, going on six years now.
Do you see yourself moving at all?
I try to make sure that I'm staying in check with that and not get wanderlusty, like "maybe I wanna move, maybe I don't..." I end up asking myself that a lot. I do see myself going other places at certain points in my life, but that's the thing about Lawrence, it's there. A lot of people go back. A lot of people move to a bunch of different places and they end up coming back to Lawrence because Lawrence is there. It's a community and it's been long lasting as far as I know.
What's the vibe there?
People describe it as a midwest Portland, really small. It's music and arts centric. Very communal, we have a co-op, that sort the vibe. But it's small, it's a smaller town. It's cool, it's slower moving. I think that's what I like too. I like being busy, but I like being in control of it. I'm not having to force myself to work faster because the pace of the city is crazy.
Have you always felt in control or was it something you grew into?
I like to think that I adapt pretty well. It's nice knowing that I have the option to slow down and get my stuff in order. It's really nice having the luxury of knowing enough people in different areas of the town that you have a support system. You don't have that luxury in a bigger city, 'cause there's so many people.
Has it been weird being on a primarily male tour with Alex G and Porches?
No no! That's something I've actually been exploring more and more in the past six months, just the idea of identity and kind of not really knowing that there are these little pockets that exist under that umbrella. I do see myself in this very clear way in that I do have times where I do feel more on this feminine side and then I have my masculine tendencies too. I feel like just being able to balance them, I tend to be fine around the guys. I'm just a person. I don't feel like "guys vs girls" - I'm just here.