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An interview with musician Your Friend, Taryn Blake Miller

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MARCH 24, 2016

“Right now, everything feels kind of crazy,” said Your Friend, nee Taryn Blake Miller. “It just feels like the train is going to leave without me, no matter what. So I’m packing ahead of time, if you will.”

It’s been a little less than two months since Miller released their debut album Gumption under the moniker Your Friend — two hectic months full of practice, planning and, most recently, a cross-country tour with Porches and Alex G. Over the past couple of weeks, their tour’s taken them from their home state, Kansas, through Austin’s SXSW, eventually set to land in San Francisco’s Rickshaw Stop on Monday.

Much has changed since the days of their tour for their EP Jekyll/Hyde. First off, they’ve switched out their ride from a Honda Element to a van with a little more legroom for the band — the process of insuring it, they remarked, was a headache. But, more significantly, this is their longest tour yet — they’ll be on the road for a good six to seven weeks straight. They’ve brought a new band member into the fold, adding a fifth person to the stage, and more than ever before, they’re excited to play the songs on Gumption live.

“With the EP, I had already played those songs a lot, but they were new to everyone else, so I had to keep that in mind,” they explained. “But this is the first instance where I was like, ah, I can’t wait. To play these songs and figure them out throughout this tour.”

And it seems like fans of Your Friend are equally excited to see Miller’s new album performed onstage — for good reason, too. Their album, Gumption, features a collection of complex, richly textured and enigmatic songs, characterized more by the mutable colors, textures and ghostly whispers of influences in flux in the music than by any recognizable effort to work within the taxonomy of genre.

Many have settled, instead, to call the music avant-garde — and Miller acknowledges the accuracy of the label, as well as their own fuzzy recognition of rigid category. They attribute their blurring of categorical lines to their job at a record store, where they’ve spent the past few years immersed in a pool of music and where a plurality of genres come into contact within the walls of the shop.

“I guess to some degree there’s an ambient folk element to (my music), but I have an appreciation for the avant-garde and a more experimental side of things that I try to implement as much as I can in a way that makes sense and that isn’t too forced,” they said. “It’s more about taking all of the things that I like and using those resources when I feel inclined to.”

When asked what they’ve been listening to recently, they rattled off a long list of artists — avant-garde composer William Basinski, Nils Frahm and his project nonkeen, pianist Chilly Gonzales, as well as quite a bit of what they wryly called “more droney and dark” music. Particularly, their voice lit up when they came to Animal Collective’s new album, Painting With.

“I don’t think I’ve said this in an interview yet, but they’re one of my favorite bands,” they said. “And so it’s like really crazy to me to be labelmates with them. It’s like I’m this secret fan, and I love their record. I actually have a tattoo of the Feels artwork on my leg.”

Personable, engaging and open, Miller truly suits the moniker of “Your Friend.” They project an earnest willingness to communicate — to be honest and vulnerable — which makes them immediately likeable and charming. Their name, they said, comes from the value they place in communication. They like to interact with people and the connections that thereby take shape, whether through conversation or through music.

Their passion for communication manifests most noticeably in their lyrics, through which they’ve been grappling with revealing the personal — in particular, the anxiety of revealing too much. In the past, they’ve been reluctant to disclose their lyrics to the public, especially during the days of Jekyll/Hyde, when, they said, they were feeling more vulnerable. But while Gumption was also released without lyrics in the liners, Miller has come to terms with the act of revealing the self that’s contained in their lyrics and plans to make them public in the future — as a gesture toward welcoming listeners to connect with the music, and to remove the dislocation of not knowing what’s being said.

If you want to let people into your world, you kind of have to trust them with (the personal),” they said. “You have to trust them with all those things or you’re not meeting them halfway, you know.” They paused. “I try not to overthink things, but I definitely have a tendency to. That’s what this record was really about, just discovering this sense of self-awareness.”

Between moments of chasing such introspective trains of thought and the hectic flurry of preparing for their tour, Miller still finds time to think of future projects and ambitions off the beaten track. Their interests sprawl — recently, they’ve finished reading “Love in the Time of Cholera” and are on the hunt for a good follow-up novel. And in school, they liked studying linguistic anthropology; the appeal, to them, was in thinking about “how much is embedded in language, like hierarchy, or gender, or all of these things,” they explained. But their goals for now, while looking hopefully to the future, stay firmly down-to-earth.

“My pipe dream is to score a film at some point,” they said. “Reading more I’ve been trying to read more in general.  And ultimately, I want to do a sound installation-type show too. So who knows? But first, (the goal is to) get through this tour successfully, I guess.”

Lindsay Choi covers literature. Contact them at [email protected].

MARCH 24, 2016