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Dani Miller lives a life in Technicolor. She’s the wholly authentic, unmistakable front woman of the punk band Surfbort. She’s a joyfully counter-cultural Gucci model. But she’s also a surprisingly humble, doting mom to a pair of young Chihuahua mixes, 2-year-old Pony and 1-year-old Foxy, whose love for her burns brightly.
All of the above is remarkable when you listen to Surfbort’s latest album, Keep on Truckin’. At first a cyclone of self-hate and sadness, it ultimately shape-shifts into a testament of how Miller surmounted this darkness. The album is helmed by mega-producer and Songwriter Hall of Fame inductee Linda Perry (she’s written for Christina Aguilera, Kelis, and Courtney Love), in what is clearly a game-recognizes-game sorta synergy. It opens with “FML” (yes, that’s Fred Armisen in the video), a song about self-destruction that opens with a real voicemail Miller’s mom saved from an officer informing her that her then-teenage daughter is in police custody after a night of partying.
Miller is sober these days, but her vivacious energy is hardly sobering. We spoke with the engaging singer about how Pony and Foxy have been instrumental in her quest for hard-earned happiness.
Now that you’re promoting this record, where do Pony and Foxy stay when you’re on tour?
I do tour a lot. But they’re in good hands. Before I adopted them, everyone’s like, “Don’t get a dog, because you tour!” I didn’t want to be a bad dog mom. So I thought if I can get, like, six friends that really like dogs, who I trust and are really awesome, maybe they’d be interested in watching them. That’s what ended up happening. I’m a single mother, but the dogs have a lot of support systems. Like, Emily [who works with Linda Perry] is such a dog person. They were so spoiled! I didn’t know that you can get a “pup patty” at In-N-Out! I’m like, “Okay, they’re gonna hate me now because I don’t get them pup patties.”
Who did that?
Emily! And she takes them to her mom’s house, which has a pool in a huge backyard and other puppies. I’m like, “Well, they’re living the high life.” So basically, don’t be afraid to adopt. Just make sure you have a support system if you’re busy. And it’s even better if your support system helps them be high-life puppies.
Were your dogs in the studio when you recorded Keep on Truckin'?
They weren’t there the whole time, because we were there for, like, weeks and weeks. I just feel like dogs have such sensitive ears, and it’s so loud. But they come sometimes, really if I just do vocals or for meetings and hanging out.
Do your dogs fit into your creative process at all?
I’ll do vocals in my room for demos and stuff, and they are with me when I do that. I’ll do it sitting on my bed. One will be on my lap; one will be on the side of me. They’re such lovers. They’re always around when I’m writing and interrupt in the middle, like, “Let’s go outside!” They really change your perspective and keep you grounded. It’s cool to have puppies to be like, “Yo, we just want to play ball and run around and cuddle.” My drummer will come in here and play guitar. We’ll write stuff, and they love it. I think it’s calming for them.
Do your dogs ever sing along while you sing?
Pony is really weird. He didn’t even know how to bark when I got him. But Foxy, she’s loud and taught him how to bark. He has this weird, like, half howl, half bark amped-up thing. He does it if I’m playing back a song.
Do you have any songs on the album that are inspired by them?
Well, I feel like just a couple of themes. Like, one of the lines is like, “If you don’t have a lover, it’s okay / Everything’s shit, but please don’t fade away.” Puppies really helped me realize you don’t need to follow society directly, like, you don’t need to always have a boyfriend or girlfriend. Sometimes society makes you feel unworthy if you don’t have that, and I feel like the puppies really helped me realize that’s not true.
What I like about Keep on Truckin' is that it’s such an upper. It’s very much about living life. But the album itself has a lot of intensity that you work through.
Yeah, fully. We already had “FML” written in a super punk way, and Linda kind of opened it up into, like, a love ballad. There’s a lot of duality and like, life comes with like so much depression, especially when you’re growing up. For me personally, it was drug addiction, suicidal tendencies, and stuff. So I just wanted to make those topics, like, not taboo. S—- gets better. It’s crazy my mom saved that voicemail. I was like, “Mom, why did you save this for so long?” And she said, “Oh, I just want to remind you how it was when you were struggling.”
It’s amazing that she saved that.
The cop who called my mom on that voicemail, someone sent him the record, and he messaged me on Instagram. And normally I’m like, “F—-cops.” But he saved my life that night. I’m just so grateful for him. And it’s crazy: He ordered merch for his family for Christmas. Now I’m into sobriety and my life is fuller and bigger and better. But like, in that moment, I thought the world was super small and about to end.
How have your dogs helped your mental health?
They change your perspective. If I’m caught in my feels or just sad or frustrated, Pony will be like, "Hi, mom. Let’s go outside and get fresh air.” That’s kind of a mental-health check-in that they’re always doing! It’s crazy how much they’ve helped me. Pony was my first animal outside of my family’s house, and it felt like the deepest love ever. I was like, "Wow, this is crazy. It’s beyond, like, dating anyone.” This is like pure love.
Something really cool about dogs and animals in general is, like, I wouldn’t be up at seven or eight in the morning in the sunshine, just taking a breath of fresh air and staring at the sky feeling grateful for life. If it wasn’t for the dogs, I would still be sleeping.
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The Berlin-based artist has shot Amy Winehouse and Iggy Pop. Her new gig is taking portraits of creatives and their pets.
Nisha Gopalan has been a writer/editor for The New York Times, New York magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and NYLON magazines. She currently resides in Los Angeles.