More about: Surfbort
The opening sample on Surfbort’s recently-finished, imminently-released new album Keep On Truckin’ is a real field recording that was only ever supposed to be heard by the people closest to band vocalist Dani Miller. The sample, which opens the darkly humorous single ‘FML’, features Sergeant Pete Cohen of the San Diego Police Department. “We have your daughter Danielle Miller” he says into the receiver, “…she’s been drinking and she’s currently being transported to the hospital [because] she’s started throwing up”. Over ten years since the teenage incident that lead to police involvement and Dani is talking to us about it on the phone: “That’s from the first ever party I went to,” they say. “My mom actually saved that from when I was like 15. My mom saved a lot of messages from that time just to show me, when I was better: ‘yo, you were out of it.’”
It’s was a prescient decision on Dani’s mum’s part. Not only is her daughter now clean, sober and fully able to reflect on her past life, but that particular recording has made for the perfect opener to Keep On Truckin’, an album deeply preoccupied with its’ listeners’ wellbeing. “Shit gets so hard and dark. When I was doing hard drugs I had so many of those FML moments and I was suicidal and stuff” Dani states. “People who have been that low can probably find comfort or humour in [‘FML’] and know that they’re not alone in that way” they explain of the opener, which introduces themes that hold throughout the truly impressive new record. Among them: suicide and its prevention — the need to “Keep on Truckin’.”
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“My aunt jumped off Niagra Falls and died when she was in her twenties. She was such a badass hippie activist: she told me no matter if it takes a couple hours, days, months, years; no matter how long it takes, things are going to get better. To keep on trucking: hang on tight for the good times ‘cause the future holds surprises that you have no clue about.”
Thus Keep On Truckin’ is flush with gentle support, soul-baring confessions designed to comfort, and the kind of ‘fuck it’ attitude that Surfbort’s live shows and Dani’s Instagram have in spades. “So many times I wanted to give up. So many times I was like ‘I’m done’. Existing is batshit crazy, but the good times are magical. I want everyone to feel supported even in strange times” they tell me, spilling over with enthusiasm for a newly-recharged philosophy for life. It’s a hopeful, ‘c’est la vie’ attitude that runs through Keep On Truckin’. “Happiness is on its way” Dani sings on the sweet ‘Open Your Eyes’, “Nothing’s going my way today, but it’s okay” she assures on ‘Life’s a Joke’. On the most wholeheartedly therapeutic song ‘Never Nude’, she tells us “everything’s shit but please don’t quit today”. Dani expands on the song: “I wanted to send little messages. When I feel super alone, what do I want to hear? I wanted to be like ‘yo, it you don’t have a lover it’s okay.’ Society makes it so you have to have a lover, but it’s like, no! You can just jack off and watch movies and find love in other ways”.
Don’t forget humour either. Surfbort certainly haven’t: the most explicitly political song on this project is about the unethical nature of billionaires. The song’s name? ‘Dicks in Space’. The irresistibly-titled ‘White Claw Enema Bong Hit’ meanwhile, thrashes with all of the surrealist punk hilarity of the songs that made Surfbort big in the first place: “The Hippie Vomit Inhaler White Claw Enema Bong Hit will always be there” Dani reassures me of that side to the band’s personality. “We got to stay freaky but expand our songs. I like when it’s fucked up and scratchy but I’m like ‘okay, I want to make some listenable radio bops too’” Dani adds. “Even when I do pop stuff I’m never going to be full-on polished pop. It’s like trash and glam combined and that’s how my spirit is”.
While that carefree heart is still beating hard and strong, the differences between Surfbort’s 2018 debut full-length Friendship Music and Keep On Truckin’ are vast. On the former, Dani says that the focus was largely “frustration with the government”, while this time the approach was both far less furious and far more emphatic. “Government is going to be shitty forever. It’s never going to get good…sorry! So I wanted to focus on connecting and helping people no matter what horrible shit they’re facing, especially when the world has been burning and at every turn things are unimaginable and intense and traumatising and gnarly”.
Keep On Truckin’ is also far more leisurely and noticeably more ‘pop’ than anything they’ve done before. There are clear choruses here, and what’s more: they’re catchy. ‘Big Star’, which looks to Dani’s past from a clearer vantage point (“so high on heroin I didn’t know life was good”), could well be a Runaways song, while ‘Lot Lizard ’93’ provides a soft, singalong chorus that’ll get stuck in your head. ‘Hollywood Trash Pile’ could sample a Rolling Stones riff while ‘Never Nude’ is the lightest output the band have ever shared. It’s partly the act of sobering up (from alcohol this time: Dani has been off “hard drugs” since the band’s inception) but much of this new dedication to melody is down to album producer Linda Perry, who Dani says was “everything” to the album. “She gets us” Dani says. “One of the things she said was ‘I just don’t ever want you to doubt yourself’. [She] brought it to the next level”.
It was model Ashley Smith who had the idea for the cover art of Keep On Truckin’. “Putting make-up on and wearing a mask is super powerful and warrior-like so [Ashley] just came up with the idea of having a mask [of my face] for the cover. My drummer picked out [the final shot]. He was like ‘I want the one of the mask underneath the car’." They assume a winning tone as they verbalise the art: "Keep on trucking’! You’re about to get hit by the car and get smushed, but who knows? Maybe the car won’t smush you!”
It was an inspired idea. The Dani mask, complete with sky-scraping eyeliner and red lips, stares out from the tarmac as a tyre threatens — hilariously, horrifyingly — to run it over completely. The symbiosis of cover to album could hardly be closer, showing just how nearby Dani and her best friend Ashley operate to one another. “It’s funny that you mention that” Dani says when I point out the pair seem to be always together, “because Ashley Smith is right here.” Ashely yells hello in the background as Dani speaks on their partnership: “Meeting her has been so freaking cool. We kind of fell in love and were like ‘oh my God, shall we be soulmates forever?’. But then we decided that we just want to be best friends to the end of time.”
The close pair, who Dani appears to reference on ‘Lot Lizard ’93’ (“Best friends; almost could be lovers”) make music together in a trash-dance band called DM. In it, Dani operates as her alter ego “Bobby Crush”, while Ashley contributes as “Jet Ski”. Currently, the project has only one song to its name: the loose, fun ‘Freak in da Club’. “It’s funny because our first song came out when the clubs weren’t even open. That’s been our theme: just dance wherever you are” Dani says of the project, which does reportedly have more music on the way: “We’re going to try and put out an EP” Dani reveals.
DM appears to be where some of Dani’s excess energy has gone to, allowing both it and Surfbort to blossom into something new. “This album re-energised me” they explain of Keep On Truckin’. “All that time struggling, like ‘oh my God I want to put out the second record!’. We almost put out living room recordings!” she says of the three years following Friendship Music.
Gladly, things have turned out just right, what with Linda Perry’s input and production as well as the circumstances surrounding the album. More comfortable in themself than ever, Dani says that “waking up, I feel not man nor woman. I wake up feeling an alien or a mix of everything”. And of course, Dani is also now sober: “I just want to keep learning; keep helping people to feel comfortable in their skin being sober” she says. “You don’t have to be blackout, you can just have a blast and feel good in the morning — it’s pretty sick. I still laugh hard and go hard. I hate it when the music or art scene is like you have to be fucked up, ‘cause it’s so not true. You don’t have to do that to make art: it’s cooler to be alive and hang out and be healthy.”
Trashy, glitzy, hyper, sober: Surfbort, though carried to new heights by her band of veteran punks, lives and dies by Dani Miller and her dichotomies of experience. Today, that means a feral heart, a clear head and a deep desire to help people. “Sometimes things get so shitty they get meaningless” Dani says. Of her ethos, she adds: “I want to just smile at the end of it and laugh and be like ‘we’re in this together. Let’s skip into the sunset’.” Echoing the purpose of Surfbort’s second album Keep On Truckin’, Dani Miller wants you to know this: “Everything is shit but do not quit baby!”
Keep on Truckin’ arrives 11 October.
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More about: Surfbort