Your Friend Finds Catharsis in Kansas

A chance performance with Mount Eerie and local battle of the bands victory got singer-songwriter Taryn Miller on indie rock radar

Your Friend
Your Friend Photo by Shawn Brackbill
WRITTEN BY
Harley Brown

Taryn Miller, a Lawrence, Kansas-based songwriter who records and performs as Your Friend, once had a dream that she would share the stage with Mount Eerie's Phil Elverum. And then it happened. In September of 2012, her friend and co-producer Jordan Geiger (who also plays in the band Hospital Ships) asked her to open for Elverum's show at the Lawrence Arts Center, a local practice and performance space. "I was shaking," Miller tells me over the phone from her adopted home, not far from where she spent most of her youth in the town of Winfield. "I played solo in front of a huge crowd in this beautiful venue. It was so surreal."

It was the beginning of a "whirlwind" couple of years for Your Friend. She recently signed to Domino Records (home to Real Estate, Animal Collective, Arctic Monkeys, Dirty Projectors and several others) for the re-release of her debut six-song EP, Jekyll/Hyde, recorded at Geiger's Lawrence home studio. Miller's haunting voice, reminiscent of Sharon Van Etten or Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner, peaks and dips like a flock of birds over prairies of delicately brushed drums and aching guitar chords. She played at a venue called the Eagles Lodge with a series of hardcore bands in high school, each with a title worse than the last. (Miller refused to name names, except that her on-again-off-again religious parents made her quit when one involved the word "blasphemy.") Needless to say, making her first solo record was cathartic.

"I was just writing because I had to do something with where I was at," says Miller, who felt wrung out by band breakup cycle at the same time she discovered bands like Neutral Milk Hotel and Modest Mouse. "These songs were literally just happening." One of them, "Pallet," a quietly devastating portrait of a friendship both reinforced and complicated by sickness, was written just a few hours before her very first house show. "I am more interested in making sounds than songs," she says. "I love feeling it hit me in a live performance, the actual wave of the song, the dissonance that happens with the delay."

To finish Jekyll/Hyde, Miller tapped Geiger and engineers CJ Calhoun and Danny Bowersox to layer drums, vocals, and a slide guitar here and there. "It was cool to have these songs already and then add things," she says. "[CJ] would take a guitar part and drop it an octave and you can't tell unless you're watching the waves on the software screen, but you can tell when it's not there."

After she pressed and self-released the EP with $1,000 she won at University of Kansas radio station KJHK's battle of the bands in April of 2013, "there were tweets going around about me, apparently," says Miller, who didn't yet know what a hashtag was. The social media buzz caught the attention of Domino's Kris Gillespie, a former DJ and music director at KJHK, who flew down to Lawrence to catch one of Your Friend's performances and meet the musician herself. In May, he reached out. "I was walking home from school and I get this email like, 'Hello from Domino,'" she recalls. "I just stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and looked at my phone." The emails kept coming, and in February of this year Your Friend was signed and an April 8 release date set for Jekyll/Hyde.

Even though she's signed to a major independent label, Miller doesn't make music full-time. "That's a hilarious question I get lately," she says. "I'm like, 'Are you kidding?' Absolutely not." But she prefers keeping Your Friend a hobby and working her day job at Love Garden Records (which makes a cameo appearance in the video for Jekyll/Hyde's "Tame One") to the alternative: "Sit in a studio for 20 hours and just hit a guitar and lose your mind." This way, she gets to listen to music all day anyway, discovering acid jazz and artists like Joe Meek and Arthur Russell that are already influencing her next album.

"I'm in this stage where I'm like, 'How can I make the next thing without making the same record?'" Miller asks. Besides scoring some modest recording software and trying to structure songs around drums or piano instead of guitar, she's been working on an undisclosed cover. "Working within that space has been a good exercise in putting together a song, because it's not my song," she says. "Looking at it, it has components. I'm trying to find this new way to approach it."

Even in the unlikely event that her next album is an avant-garde jazz freakout, Miller knows that Geiger, her bandmates, and the Lawrence community will support her. "They've probably seen me a million times," she says. "They still support it and like the songs. It's really, really cool."

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