Dani Miller, of Punk Band Surfbort, Dives Into Everything From Fashion and Working with Gucci to Sobriety and Reigniting Her Musical Fire
Words by Gemma Lacy
Photos by Steven Meiers Dominguez
Dani Miller is a masterwork. On stage with her punk band Surfbort, she rouses Well, it’s been such a crazy time and things get so dark and so weird, so I just wanted audiences with her frenetic performances. Off stage she is busy breaking barriers to make a light, funny, kind of sarcastic but true statement. “Let’s all keep on trucking as the gap-toothed muse in beauty campaigns for Gucci. From high energy to high fashion, she tells all about recording the new Surfbort album Keep On Truckin’, backing a car over her own face for cover art, the secret to being yourself, what solitude
taught her about life, and her sobriety.
I read that your look takes inspiration from wrestling makeup. Tell us more about that.
My makeup is kind of like a mix of The Fabulous Stains, Nina Hagen, Divine and wrestling. It’s kind of a blessing to not know that much about fashion because I just went into the world with that makeup being myself. “Here I am, let’s go. Let’s have fun.” But just in life and being on stage and walking around like that, it’s almost like a protective barrier. But I’m not really hiding. I’m more just putting my spirit on the outside of me. It’s like you kind of have to do less. You kind of just say, “hey, what’s up? I’m a freak,” right off the bat. “Oh, you’re a freak too? Let’s hang out.” Having such extreme makeup on kind of just connects you to all the weirdos.
You and your makeup artist Holly Silius created something cool for this new record right?
Holly is such an artist beyond makeup. She’s a painter, a sculptor. She makes crazy masks. She makes jewelry and she’s a photographer, a filmmaker. She’s so much more and I think a lot of the time in the industry, they’ll just slap on a makeup credit:
“Okay. Done. Makeup artist whatever,” but I’m like, “there’s so much more beyond just a makeup artist.” I think that she’s so talented and she has so much vision and we’ve done crazy stuff. She basically took a mold of my face and then did all the chemistry to make it into a mass that is like a floppy skin mask of my face. She then did my makeup on the mask and she made about five of them. It was so creepy-looking. Then we just ran around and she took photos to create the album art which is so cool. Then, the album art is my car about to back over my face of my mask.
That’s quite an interesting statement considering the album’s called Keep On Truckin’. Is there a bigger story behind the title?
Well, it’s been such a crazy time and things get so dark and so weird, so I just wanted to make a light, kind of sarcastic but true statement. “Let’s all keep on trucking into the future even though things are weird.”
How have these crazy times been for you as an artist?
I really missed live performances because live performances are so important. It’s a time for everyone to come together and get all their frustrations out and connect, make new friends. So I really missed that. But the pandemic kind of made me a way better person. Before, I was flying to do a Gucci DJ set in China then a Surfbort show in Germany, back to LA, then New York, so I didn’t really have time to do inner work or figure stuff out. It was kind of lonely in ways. I was just going for it since I started the band.
Stopping and taking a pause, I got sober. Something I really wanted to do just to refresh and restart. I processed so much. I did a lot of trauma work and reconnecting with family and friends and had more time to connect. Before that no one ever knew what town I was even in or my friends or family because I was just leaving and going every day.
Tell us more about working with Gucci.
It’s funny because when I was heading to my first professional photo shoot, I was so nervous. I called my mom. She said, “make sure you wear your teeth retainer.” I was like, “Mom, that’s not me. I feel more myself without weird stuff like metal in my mouth.” And it’s so ironic because that’s what ended up setting me apart; my strange teeth. I remember the first time Gucci sent me to their store in New York. It was my first time stepping into a luxury brand store. I remember being like, “oh, I thought it was going to be just a bunch of black suits and pencil skirts.” I stepped in and I was like, “what!?, this is so magical.” I had no clue. I was only familiar with Alexander McQueen and that’s it. I am new to the fashion world but I’m so in love now.
How were you shopping for your clothes before you were part of the fashion world? Your on-stage style is incredible.
My drummer, Sean Powell is a huge vintage clothes guy. Basically when I met him I was wearing all black and working at a coffee shop and just like, “oh, I can’t really dress that crazy because they won’t hire me.” Then on my off time I would dress a little weird but he told me the wisdom about clothes. He said, “when I was going to Black Flag shows in the punk scene, I would wear tie-dye, basically you can dress like a clown and it’s way more fun, and it just makes you happy.” So from then on we would just thrift and I would just wear clown styles and it’s true. It made me extremely happy and made me just feel more of myself. I didn’t have to dress to impress anyone to have fun.
How did having that time to reset yourself and reconnect with friends and family affect your work?
When I started the band, my DIY spirit and lust for music was strong because I was super broke and just barely surviving. I was so frustrated and going through so much and just getting off hard drugs. So my spirit for music was really intense and over time it slowly– not faded– but I wasn’t a raging 21-year-old anymore. The pandemic just reset that for me. Also not having support from labels or anyone, I regained that DIY spirit. Because everything shut down and we didn’t have anyone. We had this management that did not click with us so they fired us and said: “Oh, your shows won’t really do that well after the pandemic” and “you’re kind of just like an internet person.”
Wow, that’s harsh…
I’m so grateful for the moments of rejection because that— and no offense to them, they’re great people— but that really put a fire under my ass. I told myself, “it’s DIY again, baby.” We made 50-100 songs in the living room and just went hard. And I felt like I was 20 again. Excited. Really excited to just do music. So yeah all these weird occurrences that happened because of the pandemic just actually made me way stronger and now my spirit for music is at full blast again. I’m grateful for that.
You worked with singer-songwriter Linda Perry on this record and she’s known for being super supportive. What was that process like?
Linda just took us to the next level and I learned so much about music. Our songs are very freestyle, punk style. We don’t follow a structure. We just go wild and she kind of kept that energy but added a little bit of structure and kind of pushed us to make it go even more. She also found my voice more. I’m singing more on this album which is really exciting. Another cool thing about it is she did it the old school way. We did pre-production. We practiced for weeks. It wasn’t an album where we wrote a lot in the studio. We just did it all so we could play it live and just knock it out.
The record has a lot of serious themes.
Well it has really serious topics like feeling suicidal and depressed and how to get through that. Then trying to tell billionaires to spread the wealth. Then messages like if you don’t have a lover, it’s okay. If you’re lonely and things are weird, it’s okay. It’s so human to feel alone and be stuck in different kinds of dark perceptions but I hope there are beautiful moments that pull you through, that you can scream on to the songs and just “keep on trucking.”
Do you have a favorite track from the album?
I would say “FML” is one of my favorites. I don’t know, I’m basically in love with the whole thing. Which is great because sometimes by the time you put something out, you’re already tired of it. But I’m not, I’m so stoked.
What kind of message would you like the record to leave people with?
Well growing up my dad kind of instilled in us to never give up. Even if it takes a couple hours or a month or two years, things will get better. It will change and you won’t be stuck in this dark time. I’m trying to convey that it’s okay to feel so dark and suicidal and so gnarly but it’s important to just hold on tight and keep on trucking baby! The beginning of “FML” has a recording from the police trying to get a hold of my mom when I was strung out and being taken to the hospital, my lowest point. But now at 28, my life is so full and so bright. I had no clue when I was fully strung out and losing my mind, that I would have better days. I’d love everyone to realize that too.