Surfbort’s Dani Miller Is All About Love

Photographed by Derek Pearlman.

Their debut album ‘Friendship Music’ is out today

Dani Miller, lead singer of Brooklyn-based punk band Surfbort, seems to specialize in shock and awe. Between the band’s music videos—which have depicted Miller as a diabolical cherub who murders straight-laced businessmen—and her rollicking stage presence during live performances, it’s fair to label the 25-year-old a bit of a provocateur. And in the age of the vulgar rhetoric of the Trump administration, doesn’t it make sense to be equally loud and uncouth in resisting?

However, with Friendship Music, the band’s debut LP coming out later this month under Julian Casablancas’ label Cult Records, Miller wants to do more than just indiscriminately piss off Republicans. And so it might strike some as a surprise to hear the singer of a band known for its “ABORT TRUMP” merchandise preaching about the value of compassion and understanding in the face of political oppression.

“Slushy,” Surfbort’s most recent single from their forthcoming album, is a startlingly saccharine song, the earnestness of which is obscured in part by the frantic delivery and the snack-themed lyrical content. “It's about falling in love in the fall, when it's not so cold,” Miller tells us. The single, which was one of the first songs written by the band when they formed four years ago, feels like somewhat of a departure from the rest of Surfbort’s politically irreverent oeuvre. The accompanying music video still features their usual mind-melting visuals and shots of a “TRUMP IS MY SEX SLAVE” banner in the background, but the duality of the song, which Miller calls “classic Surfbort,” rings true. “We're really into romance, but then life hits, too. You have to navigate romance through all the crazy shit that goes down.”

In the band’s “Les Be in Love,” video, Miller plays a John Waters-esque interpretation of Cupid, skewering people with arrows. “That video was really fun to shoot,” she says. “It's hard because I'm such a loving person, and I'm really positive. I have so much love for other humans, and I've always been torn with the conversation of, like, do you fight all this Trump stuff with love or, at a certain point, do you have to really stand up?” Despite her character’s murderous intentions, Miller reiterates that she is anti-violence. At one point in our conversation, she references bell hooks’ 1994 essay, “Love as the Practice of Freedom,” which emphasizes the importance of love as a radical praxis. “A culture of domination is anti-love. It requires violence to sustain itself,” writes hooks. “To choose love is to go against the prevailing values of the culture.” In other words, love is pretty punk.

And also, despite the band's slight shift, their vulgarity is still intact. Jokes about fetuses and abortions are a recurring motif—from their Twitter handle (@Surfbortion) to their song “Fetus.” Miller acknowledges that the quips against the sacred entity of the fetus, which is so deified by Republican lawmakers, might strike some as “shocking or shallow or weird,” but the imagery is more than just a crass throwaway gag. “In our song ‘Fetus,’ the lyrics are: ‘Fetishizing fetuses/ race, gender, and the war,’ because that whole group of people, they’re just fetishizing and worshipping a fetus that isn't even a live human in the world,” says Miller. “They're saying it has more rights than women or other children that need homes and a family. Like, that is so insane.”

Some people aren’t totally on board with how overtly political the band is. “It’s pretty scary, especially on the internet, the shit people say in opposition to what they've heard at my shows,” says Miller, though she recognizes the importance of using her privilege. “As a white woman, I feel like there's no room for me to just be silent.” One particularly tricky incident came in 2017 when the band played Coachella and Miller had to reckon with the accusations of homophobia against owner Philip Anschutz. “I was like, ‘Wow, well fuck that, but I'm not gonna cancel the show and not play Coachella. I'm gonna get in there, get in that space, and be an advocate for queer people and just wreak havoc in that world and bring love into it,’” says Miller. “If I were to be like, ‘They have different views than me, I'm not playing, goodbye,’ that just puts up more walls, and that hasn't worked so far, you know?”

Miller is also a proponent of using her platform as a veritable Cool Girl in a Cool Band to spread the message of radical friendship. Earlier this year, the band played the opening of Gucci’s new SoHo store. “They called me up and were like, ‘We want to make this reminiscent of the '80s New York scene.’ I guess the times then were really intense too, and it inspired really raw art,” says Miller, who calls the party “a magical night.” Though the image of Miller and her ragtag band mingling among the more polished likes of Alexa Chung and Rihanna might seem incongruous, she's not one to balk at an opportunity to work within the capital-S System for the greater good. “Before, when I started the band, like, that would be selling out,” says Miller, “but right now I'm very into just being open and in conversation with all different types of people, and trying to connect worlds.”

The #Resist movement seems dominated by a distinctly millennial brand of political rage. I asked Dani, who is the youngest member of Surfbort (drummer Sean Powell and guitarists Alex Kilgore and David Head are all in their 40s and 50s), what sort of dynamic the generation gap within the band made for. “They've been through so many different political times, and luckily they have a ton of empathy, so we're all on the same page, politically,” she says of her bandmates. Miller notes that the band is, by nature, opposed to reductive, ageist sentiment of any variety, saying, “I think a lot of times, people will be like, ‘Oh, you're too old,’ or like, ‘You're old now, you can't go out, or have fun, or rage, or let loose and be creative.’”

In fact, when Miller’s mom, Meredith, asked to go on tour with the band and work their merch table during a series of shows they played with Amyl and the Sniffers, she thought it was great. “She's raging excited,” says Miller. “There are so many social pressures of thinking that when you get to a certain age, you can't do fun shit and just go wild, so it's really cool. I'm like, ‘Live your life! Do whatever! Dance, run around, go on a little trip with us.’”

Speaking of shows, Miller continually refers to the “freak family,” that has materialized around the band, especially at their concerts. “It's easy for people to be like, ‘Whoa, that's gonna be a really intense, punk show. Ahh, scary,’ but it's totally the opposite,” she says, explaining that she wants Surfbort shows to be a place of communal catharsis. “If you're a total freak and like covered in slime, or if you're a straight-laced businesswoman, business dude, train conductor, anything, I want you to just come and let loose, and get out your frustrations and pent-up emotions.”

Friendship Music comes out today.

Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images

Sounds fake, but okay

In a new interview for Australian Vogue, Kendall Jenner makes the claim that being associated with the Kardashian name was a setback in her modeling career. Hmmm, that's funny, because power and influence usually works in their holder's favor.

In the interview, Jenner addresses skeptics who doubted that she would make it as a professional model. "A lot of people assumed that because I came from a 'name' that it was a lot easier for me to get to where I got, but actually it's the completely opposite," she says.

"I've always been the person to prove [critics] wrong, even when I was younger," she says. "I've always been a hard worker: that's in my blood. My parents raised me and my little sister to be that way and the rest of my sisters, too." In the profile, it's revealed that Jenner used to attend castings "simply as 'K' or 'Kendall' to distinguish herself from her famous family."

But keeping her name off her portfolio wasn't going to fool anyone, really. Her face has been on television for years, and it seems unlikely that a casting agent wouldn't know who she was even if Kendall didn't come out and say it. Perhaps Jenner was more closely examined and more readily criticized by people who doubted her, but I'm not sure I believe that she had a harder time gaining a modeling platform or booking big jobs, even if she didn't use her last name.

After all, Jenner was likely able to get into those big casting rooms right away because of her family's connections, and she was able to devote her time to pursuing that career because of the wealth they have. She would've had a much harder time making a name for herself if she didn't come from an influential family. She probably wouldn't get to be so selective about which shows she walks, and she definitely wouldn't be the highest paid model in the world.

Screenshot via Hulu

Introspection is not a bad thing

In Look Back at It, we revisit pop culture gems of the past and see if they're still relevant and worthy of their designated icon status in our now wildly different world.

"It just seems like you agree to have a certain personality or something, for no reason. Just to make things easier for everyone. But when you think about it, I mean, how do you know it's even you?"

Iconic '90s show My So-Called Life is filled with existential questions and observations like this, with many, if not all of them, voiced by high school sophomore Angela Chase (Claire Danes). They're delivered with a familiarly annoyed tone, as if Angela can't believe things are the way they are, and that they're unlikely to change.

Angela lives with her parents and sister in a comfortable home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and spends her time navigating the social scene of Liberty High School. She's undergoing a big change, having switched friend groups and fallen in with a cooler crew, namely Rayanne Graff (A.J. Langer) and Rickie Vasquez (Wilson Cruz). Thanks to them, Angela dyed her hair from blonde to a "Crimson Glow," and is encouraged to indulge in her obsession with Jordan Catalano (a pre-Gucci Jared Leto), the kind of guy who's constantly applying Visine and has a limited chance of actively graduating.

From the first moment of the first episode, Angela's voice is pure, unadulterated teen angst. The melodrama can, when watching as an adult, feel like it's too much. And then there's other times, like when Angela talks about the agony of Sunday evenings, that it feels unnerving to relate so much to a 15-year-old:

"There's something about Sunday night that really makes you want to kill yourself, especially if you've just been totally made a fool of by the only person you'll ever love, and you have a geometry midterm on Monday, which you still haven't studied for because you can't, because Brian Krakow has your textbook, and you're too embarrassed to even deal with it. And your little sister's completely finished with her homework, which is just, like, so simple and mindless a child could do it. And that creepy 60 Minutes watch that sounds like your whole life ticking away."

Angela is nothing if not an over-thinker, preoccupied with very teenage problems like zits and gossip and who to talk to at parties; her thoughts on the most simple of relationships are extreme, like when she thinks about how she felt before she became friends with Rayanne and Rickie: "it seemed like if I didn't, I would die or something."

Sometimes, her melodrama feels suffocating—particularly when related to Jordan Catalano (it's imperative to say both his names). Angela wonders: "Huge events take place on this earth every day. Earthquakes, hurricanes... even glaciers move. So why couldn't he just look at me?"

As an adult, it's easy to think that, of course, Jordan should look at her: She's smart, witty, open-hearted, pretty, has good taste in music. But then, there's no way to make sense of how crushes work. As a sophomore in high school, I also pined after guys who I felt were out of my league, and after the only girls who were out... but who were dating each other. My thoughts probably (definitely) sounded a lot like Angela's, and I was similarly dissatisfied with my life.

At the time, that dissatisfaction felt oppressive—and I wouldn't want to relive it entirely. But that introspection was also what saved me. By questioning what was around me and interrogating how I really felt, I was able to reject the trappings of my conservative town, figure out my own politics, and accept my own queerness. My teenage dissatisfaction with the way things actually are made me grow as a person, and it shaped me into who I am. Thinking about Angela now, and how her angst fueled her, reminds me that I should also let myself indulge in some teen angst—even as an adult.

In one of the show's final episodes, Angela pauses to reflect on the value of her overthinking. She's ringing in the New Year with her friends and decides her resolution could be "to stop getting so caught up in my own thoughts, because I'm like way too introspective… I think." But she decides against that idea, because "what if not thinking turns me into this really shallow person?" Same, Angela. Same.

Courtesy of HBO

Thanks, I hate it

In an interview today with The Cut, Vanderpump Rules star Stassi Schroeder blessed readers with some of her thoughts on HBO's Game of Thrones, and since we can't get enough GoT talk, we were excited to see what Schroeder had to say.

And, in case you're wondering if Schroeder is a fan of GoT, don't: She's actually such a massive fan that she refers to her fans Khaleesis, and they call her Khaleesi right back. So!

Anyway, after the wide range of responses to Daenerys' fiery mayhem in the show's penultimate episode, The Cut wanted to check in to see how Schroeder was faring, and ask what she thought of it all. While Schroeder's opinion on Dany is mixed (she found the Dragon Queen's "crazy" actions to be relatable, but she didn't think it followed Dany's character arc), it wasn't, like, a bad opinion, just a bit muddled, if not so different than those of the majority of viewers.

Schroeder's real hot take, though—what we feel comfortable calling the worst GoT opinion we've heard—is about another character altogether: Arya Stark. Here's what Schroeder had to say about our favorite blacksmith-banging, Night King-killing, proposal-denying assassin in all the Seven Kingdoms: "Arya, I feel like she probably should have just married whats-his-name [Ed. note: Gendry! His name is Gendry!!]. What's wrong with being a lady and a badass at the same time? You don't have to choose just one."

And, like, sure, you don't have to choose just one, but Arya would never choose to be a lady. That's not her! So, if we're still talking about characters behaving inconsistently, Arya saying yes to a proposal (a rushed one at that) would have been absolutely bonkers. Arya's not about to change her entire personality just because some dude drops down on one knee and proposes, and to want her to do so would be like wanting Dany to act like a sheep, instead of a dragon.

All to say, you know nothing, Stassi Schroeder.

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hoto by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for Civic Entertainment Group

Our favorite grouchy girl died today

Today is a sad day, because it is the day Grumpy Cat died. Also known as my personal favorite feline celebrity, Grumpy Cat died from complications following a urinary tract infection. The super relatable cat—real name, Tardar Sauce—was only seven years old.

Grumpy Cat was first introduced to the world in 2011, back when LOLcats were everywhere. Grumpy Cat's downturned face (the result of feline dwarfism, according to her owners) was the subject of a huge amount of memes—she was even the 2013 Meme of the Year at the Webby Awards—and was the subject of her own Lifetime movie, in which she was voiced by the Grumpy Cat of actresses, Aubrey Plaza. But, though we loved her for the memes, we loved her even more because we related to her mood.

Grumpy Cat was so relatable because, like us, she was completely over everyone's bullshit. Unlike us, Grumpy Cat didn't hide her feelings with a smile. And while that was because Grumpy Cat literally couldn't do that, we like to think that she also just didn't want to do the emotional labor. Which is why, in honor of Grumpy Cat, have the courage to roll your eyes at someone today, instead of forcing a fake grin. And just think about how Grumpy Cat's probably frowning at us from some sort of kitty afterlife, utterly annoyed that everyone is mourning her death.

Screenshot via YouTube

And I need to see the rest ASAP

As excited as we already are for Olivia Wilde's directorial debut, Booksmart, to hit theaters next week, we just got even more desperate to see it. Why? Well, the first six minutes of the film were just released, and every minute is incredible.

The film opens on Molly (Beanie Feldstein) meditating and listening to a motivational tape telling her she's better than everyone else, and to "fuck those losers." Her room is decorated with pictures of Michelle Obama and RBG, so we know her head is in the right place. We learn she's the class president when she arrives at school with her best friend, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever).

It's there that we get a glimpse of the social hierarchy in which Molly and Amy exist—but somewhere down near the bottom, way below the popular kids, the theater nerds, the stoners, and even the annoying class clown.

The film officially hits theaters on May 23, but Annapurna Pictures is holding advanced screenings across the country today, May 17—we're actually holding two of them! So, if you're in L.A. or New York, check them out.

But also, you can watch the first six minutes of the film, below, and prepare yourself to watch the whole movie in a week.

BOOKSMART | Uncut First 6 Minutes