“It was complicated,” Taryn Miller says of her extraordinary journey from London to Amsterdam. The 24-year-old triple threat (singer/songwriter/producer) sat down with Glamcult before her last show of 2015 to discuss cult-like local music scenes, the pursuit of certainty and the missed flight that has complicated her day. Relaxing on one of the couches in De Nieuwe Anita, a Berlin-esque venue in Amsterdam’s West, Miller recounts how she switched London airports, paid £400 for a new flight and debated whether to even bother: “I was just, like, I’m here, I’m going to do the show, and so I made it happen,” she shrugs.
During this, her first trip to Europe, Miller has racked up major life points—some good, some bad. She arrived in Paris last November for the Red Bull Music Academy, where she was due to collaborate with, among others, Hyroglifics, River Tiber and Chloe Martini—only to find her phone pulsing with 51 worried SMSs and the academy’s activities suspended following the terror attacks. “It’s been interesting navigating this whole world that you’ve never been in alone,” she muses.
Miller’s path to what seems certain success has modest beginnings. Her first EP, Jekyll/Hyde, was recorded in her adopted hometown of Lawrence, Kansas at the house of Hospital Ships’ singer and guitarist Jordan Geiger. His encouragement—“I just want these songs to be documented”—led to the project that jumpstarted Miller’s career, and although she calls the resulting EP as “a very modest thing”, Domino Records (home to the likes of Bob Moses, Blood Orange and Julia Holter) signed her in 2014.
The local music scene in Lawrence, Kansas rivals that of Omaha or Chapel Hill. Anyone who’s lived there exhibits a cult-like appreciation for the city—including Miller. While working at legendary record shop Love Garden Sounds, she refined her notions of the artistic persona: “I often think that if [a musician’s moniker is] someone’s name, it kind of gets pigeonholed in this singer/songwriter genre and it’s not always true.” Working as Your Friend, Miller joins the class of musicians who “wanted to have this identity that had more room”.
While preparing the album Gumption, Miller searched for clarity. At 24 years old, she asked herself: “What have I been doing with myself for the past two years? Who am I close with? How do I feel about this?” She found the space to consider the answers in two unrelated places.
Miller’s childhood home is a farm in Dexter, Kansas, a ‘city’ with a modest population of 365. There, she reconnected with the familiar property while also exploring its renovations, to be “introduced to it again”, as she puts it. The experience, she says, was cathartic.
Sonically, Miller’s trip to the farm materialized in the form of field recordings. “I like the idea of being able to take real, raw things. You can manipulate them or pitch them in a different way. That sound is yours,” she explains. Though she feels a deep appreciation for other artists’ work, taking sound samples from the engine of a roughhoused golf cart with flat tyres motivated her more than sampling from other musicians, she says.
Miller’s sample library continued to grow as she explored the streets of London and Paris during her first trip to Europe. These sonic fragments trigger her memory much as familiar songs do. For instance, when in London she recorded a woman dragging a trash bag across the street. “I can associate it [the field recording] with the moment I captured it… I’ll remember the image,” Miller explains. Her original sampling during journeys at home and abroad created a sonic sketchbook she expanded upon when producing her album.
For Miller, soundscapes act as a conduit for physical impressions. “I love texture, being able to feel it around you and creating an environment in a room.” When music amasses into a floating actuality so physical “you can cut it”, that’s when Miller knows it contains the right aural brew.
Her sensitivity to the far-reaching impact of music also extends to the visual: “If they [most people] listen to something and close their eyes, what does it bring to them mentally?” Conducting her own experiments on the subject, Miller watched movies with and without sound to determine its impact on the overall experience. It’s an understandable approach, given that her high-school aspirations, she admits, included scoring a film.
Less immediately understandable are Miller’s current music preferences. Not for her the echoing, atmospheric folk rock one might predict: she finds herself drawn instead to “harsher noise” and drone, for its remarkable lack of nostalgic qualities. “It [music] almost shuts you off in a way. It’s so overwhelming as an environment aurally. [Drone] allows me to have this very clear, peaceful mindset that I haven’t really found in a lot of music,” she clarifies. She’s not the type to question this drastic change in musical preference or any other whim—like getting a replica of a Carl Rungius moose watercolour painting tattooed on her inner right arm.
For her 2016 album Gumption, Miller pursued textures. Armed with new resources and expertise, she could achieve a sound unreachable with her debut EP. She laboured for hours—up to 12 on longer days—with producer Nicolas Vernhes, whose work includes The War on Drugs, Deerhunter and Atlas Sound, at the Rare Book Room in Brooklyn. Vernhes, who Miller calls “very intuitive and genuine”, can come across as serious at times, but when you can get him dancing in his chair, she explains, you know something has clicked. “I could feel it, it was palpable. We were both, like, ‘Oh yeah, this is cool.’”
Doubt clouded much of her experience producing the album until a break-out moment came on a track she identifies as “arguably the darkest one”. Vernhes and the album’s guitarist took two tremolo pedals and twisted the knobs for seven or eight minutes, creating a distinctive warble. This, she realized, was what she wanted to do. “That’s when he [Vernhes] started hunting down things like that, sounds that I was envisioning.” She left that session confident in the direction and plausibility of finishing the album. The rest, as they say, is history.
Having grabbed on to 2015 without hesitation, Miller was steered into physical and intellectual spaces that converted her uncertainties into confidence. Whether taking on Europe, working with a world-renowned producer or dropping £400 to get that plane ticket, we can expect a lot from this boundless musician in 2016.