Your Friend will perform at the Stage at KDHX on Tuesday, April 19.
Three-quarters of the way through Gumption, the debut full-length by the Lawrence, Kansas-based band Your Friend, Taryn Miller sings, “No one ever ages quite like they envision.” It's a very clear, precise lyric on an album that's otherwise shrouded in an ethereal haze.
“It's parallel to the changes I was going through mentally, physically, in relationships with family and friends,” Miller says. “This record has established a shift that my life is taking now.”
For Miller, who was born and bred in southern Kansas and calls Lawrence home, it couldn't be a more apt statement of purpose. Over the past three years, she has ascended from a local home-recording artist to signing with the UK-based label Domino Recording Company.
This has led to a shifting of priorities. For one, she's had to quit her job at Love Garden Sounds in downtown Lawrence. “That was a recent sad change,” Miller says. “But I am willing to trust these new things that are happening.”
To hear Miller describe it, her move to Domino was almost an accident. She never actually approached the label, but Kris Gillespie, the general manager of Domino's American branch, is originally from Lawrence. While in town for a visit, he happened to hear her on KJHK (90.7 FM). “And for whatever reason, [Domino] liked what they heard,” Miller recalls. “Over the course of a few months, we had a dialogue and they were interested. It was all mind-blowing. It still doesn't make sense to call people like Julia Holter 'peers,' honestly.”
Gumption reflects this state of flux. Sonically, it's several steps up from Jekyll/Hyde, her 2013 debut EP. Recorded in Brooklyn with producer Nicolas Vernhes, Gumption's eight songs are surrounded by clouds of guitar and keyboards. You could play this music next to Slowdive or My Bloody Valentine's quieter moments, and it would fit perfectly.
However, Your Friend also retains a spaciousness that feels very Midwestern. Part of this is Miller's voice: languid, clear and a bit confused, sounding almost suspended amongst the rest of the din. More than that, though, Miller's use of field recordings adds a sense of time and place to the proceedings. A couple of Christmases ago, she returned to Dexter, Kansas, where her parents maintain a farm. There she walked around with a tape recorder, capturing various sounds around the property. These appear on at least two songs: There is the sound of running water and an engine in “To Live With,” and pigeons flapping their wings in “Who Will I Be In The Morning.”
“I hadn't been there in so long, but I needed to have a meditative, clear state of mind, and going there did that,” Miller says about her time back on the farm. “I tend to romanticize it, the idea of archiving things. It's interesting to weave a little of your history and life into the recordings. There are so many plug-ins and amazing technological advancements in the recording world. But to have something that's yours, and which you're not directly sampling, is really cool to me. It's a different form of creativity, more organic and exclusive.”
Future Your Friend recordings will also include found sounds. “I'm working on a new song that has the sounds of a refrigerator,” Miller says.
Some of Gumption's most successful moments came together during the two-week studio session. For instance, consider “Come Back From It.” It is the album's most uptempo track, and it has a chorus that is so sunny that it feels like a double rainbow after a thunderstorm. It turns out that she wrote this chorus on the fly while under studio duress.
“I still don't understand that one,” Miller laughs. “I make jokes about how I like listening to it, but it doesn't sound like something I would produce. I didn't really know where it was going. We were laying down everything, and [Vernhes] said that it needed a moment where everything opens up. So he sat me down and had me listen to Lou Reed's 'Pale Blue Eyes.' Then he said, 'OK. You've got 30 minutes. Go write a chorus.'
“It's really fun to play that song live,” Miller adds. “We have all these really heavy, cathartic songs. Then there's that one. I love watching the crowd shift. I can actually see movement in the crowd.”
Miller admits that she works best under pressure. In fact, she may not have started performing her songs for other people without a deadline. “I had some friends who had a house where they had shows, and there was one happening that weekend,” she says. “So I collected a few songs I had been working on over time, and then wrote what would become 'Pallett' the day before that show. After that I started getting asked to play, so I needed more songs. I function better that way.”
As a whole, Miller suggests, Gumption ended up “much less inward-looking” than Jekyll/Hyde. “The range is very different,” she says. “This is the first step toward that. There's not like a nice way to say this about myself, but it's not being the victim always. Sometimes you can write from a standpoint where it's emotionally driven from what you're experiencing, but comes from what another person, or a person involved with you, is going through. There's a dialogue.”
It's a dialogue that she hopes will continue, she says. “My goal is to be more thorough about my concepts and themes. Some of the thoughts and things I write down, I'm not entirely sure where they come from. I'm figuring it out as much as the listeners.”
As for Your Friend's future plans, Miller is keeping them open, while expressing a sense of wonder that they even exist in the first place. “I'm excited for the next thing, whatever that might be. I'm very inspired by a lot of female musicians that have this poise in their artistry, like Julia Holter. I'm just excited to get better at it. I'd like to write a record that from top to bottom, you put it on and there's not a bad song. That would be the highest honor. Making an impact on the world of music is the most beautiful thing to me. If I can bring one thing to the table that sticks, I will feel at peace.”
7:30 pm Tuesday, April 19. The Stage at KDHX, 3524 Washington Avenue. $10 to $12. 925-7556.