A hot new punk band, Surfbort, emerges from Manhattan, with a message for the ages: Fight the power!
“I would like to push myself to invent something that helps shift perspectives of the hateful people that are out there, a sort of induced acid trip that wakes evil people up and helps them see the light.” – Dani Miller
Grousing over how “New York ain’t cool anymore” has become a national pastime of sorts. Far be it for me to add to the steaming pile, but I’ll go ahead and say it has been a long time since we’ve heard such a twistedly furious punk act as Surfbort coming out of Manhattan. Or heck, even from ubiquitously hip Brooklyn.
And I will go further to say that, considering the average rent in Chinatown is now less than Greenpoint even, Ridgewood, Queens, is seemingly the “hippest” part of town right now, and it mostly reminds me of an overpriced take on the near west side of Cleveland (which is a compliment, pal). So let’s just get over the ever-opinions of New York, except the one that says, “Wow, people really feel the need to figure out what’s up with NYC.” The five boroughs still seem a bellwether for where America stands in some way. And it’s standing a little wobbly, okay?
Right now, perhaps the best trashy punk band in New York stands, jumps, flails, and screeches in Manhattan once again. Three-fourths of Surfbort live in “The City,” somehow figuring out how to accomplish that, with two of them being well-regarded fine artists too. Singer and focal putz, Dani Miller, holds down the thrift-threaded Brooklyn role, acting as the rabble-rousing weathervane between two clashing guitars, a bruising drummer, and the collective political bent that aims to sarcastically slay the Far Right Dragon as best a trashy punk band could hope.
The musicians in the band have an impressive garage punk past, rocking since before it was fashionable to be apolitical in indie bands; and Miller is a younger sort who has grown up through a shit economy and our current Orange Reich. Thus, loud outrage and smart aleck, stink-finger pointing was never an artistic debate. Hence, this band is rightly fed up, but funny, and making – so far over three singles, lots of shows, and an upcoming debut album – a serrated riffs, lysergic rhythm, desperately regaling punk for a very fractured era.
PKM: Alright, Surfbort! Give me the band’s general backstory – how did you form, previous bands, member switches, etc.
Dani Miller (singer): I started the band with Matt Picola, Helena Eisenhart, Charlotte Wimberly, and Olivia Orely. There have been member switches since then. I am the only original member, but it’s such a pleasant, drama-free, magical lineup now, and everyone understands each other and communicates. So I don’t see any more lineup changes in the near future, besides adding a friend or two for certain tours. Right now, it’s Alex Kilgore, David Head, Sean Powel, and I. Such a powerful lineup! We hold each other up and are really there for each other which feels really special compared to past trials and tribulations.
I grew up in California but moved to New York with Matt Picola and formed Surfbort. This is my first band, but a lot of the early lyrics I wrote I took from notebooks I wrote while living in the Tenderloin and at the beach in San Francisco. All the early stuff Matt Picola wrote the music. Now we only continue to play one of his songs from the old lineup of Surfbort, all of the other music we play now has transformed and evolved into a new beast. We all add and write different parts, but Sean Powell writes most of it at the moment.
Alex Kilgore (guitar): I grew up in Texas, left in 1982 at 15 to go to San Francisco with Verbal Abuse as their roadie/beer thief. Back to Texas in ‘84/’85. One final drug bust in ‘91 propelled me to get sober and move to Brooklyn. Been in NYC ever since. Ran into Sean at a Melvins show four years ago, and we kept saying we should jam. A year later, we did for a few hours, and Dani came to sing, and it worked. Dani had Surfbort already going, Sean wasn’t in it yet. So we recorded like 14 songs in a weekend on a 4-track as Hippie Vomit Inhaler with Jim Tozzi on bass. A few months later Sean (Powell, drums) was in Surfbort.
David Head (guitar): I grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and moved to Austin in the early ‘90s after living in Utah for a while. In Austin, I started a band called the Motards. Sean played drums in some of the bands we played with all the time back then, like the Fuckemos and the Chumps. We toured around together. Later I lived in Chicago and had a band called Headache City. When I moved to NYC in 2009, I had a band for a year that never really went anywhere, so I was mainly working on my art for a few years after that. A year and a half ago, I was arting at my studio and got a message from Sean asking if I’d be into filling in on guitar for Surfbort for a few shows they had coming up. Surfbort had recently become MY FAVORITE FUCKING BAND IN THE UNIVERSE, so I was like, “Yeah, I guess so.”
PKM: Now I believe, before forming around 2015, a few of you hadn’t played in a while, like maybe you might’ve debated leaving music in your past. So when developing Surfbort, did you have anything in mind, or sort of just jam and see what happens?
Kilgore: I left the scene in about ‘91 because I thought it was over. Really it was probably self-preservation. I had lost some friends and it looked like curtains if I stuck around Texas. I got an eight-year probated sentence and moved. My co-defendant, the great drummer Sean Riley, got the same deal but stuck around and violated within a couple months, then spent the next decade getting recycled thru TDC. I only sang in a few bands as a teen that played around Texas. I had started acting, and that outlet utilized my junkie skill set perfectly. When I started jamming with Sean and Dani I had come from working in theater for like 20 years. I was an actor, then director/artistic director/writer. Playing is cathartic, especially with these three, and especially in this political climate!
PKM: What part of NYC do you live in, and what’s the best and worst part about it?
Miller: I live in Bed-Stuy with Sean the drummer. It’s a great community with beautiful tree-lined blocks. There is nothing I can think that’s bad about it! Although New York = more trash and slime. You’ve really got to be into that.
Kilgore: I live in the West Village. Best part: pretty and clean. Worst part: pretty and clean.
Head: I live in Manhattan. I like to walk around so Manhattan is good for that. The best part about Manhattan is Brooklyn, though.
PKM: I think Surfbort are maybe the best new NYC band in the last couple years, but not the only one. I think it’s becoming a bit tiresome with the constant boo-hooing about gentrification, condos, and the general “New York ain’t as cool” jive. And I think the fun and action you guys convey onstage is kind of reflective of that. So, am I right thinking that Surfbort too is tired of NYC griping? If I’m wrong, gripe away!!
Miller: I never cry over the past. The past was sick, it was inspiring, but nothing to hold onto and try to replace the present with. The other night Patti Smith was reading her poetry, and right before she threw her poetry book into my hands she asked the crowd, “What’s the difference between 1976 and now? NOTHING!” You can find magic and power and life in any moment, any week, any situation. There will always be condos and boring rich people taking cool shit over. The President has always been a fuckwad, but you have the power to make life rule, to send love, and to paint/piss on the condo walls!
Kilgore: It’s like how many New Yorkers does it take to change a light bulb? 10. One to change it, and nine to talk about how cool the old bulb was. Yeah, post-Giuliani NYC definitely ain’t as cool, but neither is anywhere. What place is like, “Oh dude, this is so much cooler than it was 20 years ago!” That’s the cancer of corporate America. But I think there’s cool, stupid, funny, horrible, heartbreaking stuff everywhere humans are, and everybody has the capacity to be a genius and an idiot.
Head: We’re all gonna die. Might as well live it up in the now.
PKM: You seem quite politically minded with your social media posts, stage banter, etc. Would you be amenable to Surfbort being involved in any political organizing action? Like can we expect to see you guys screaming in front of Trump Tower or marching through DC any time soon?
Miller: I have always participated in marches against Trump, for women’s/trans women’s rights, against the separation of families, against every inhumane policy. But I would like to push myself to invent something that helps shift perspectives of the hateful people that are out there, a sort of induced acid trip that wakes evil people up and helps them see the light. And it’s not about Republicans or Democrats, it’s about treating humans that are different than you with love and respect. Voting and contacting your representatives is very important too. Also, we will continue to write songs about not supporting our government because silence is deadly.
The other night Patti Smith was reading her poetry, and right before she threw her poetry book into my hands she asked the crowd, “What’s the difference between 1976 and now? NOTHING!” You can find magic and power and life in any moment, any week, any situation. There will always be condos and boring rich people taking cool shit over.
Kilgore: Fuck the NRA, fuck I.C.E., and fuck the people dismantling all the human rights in this country while everyone is distracted by the antics of a clown president.
PKM: List the most practical political change action you have done in the last year; and then list the most angered dream thing you would do to Donald Trump if you had the chance.
Kilgore: If I had the chance…I can’t say.
Head: I protest and vote and donate money to organizations like the ACLU and leftist candidates when I can, and I call my reps. In dark times like this, I think music and art can kind of slide the boundaries a little further out and create space for dissent elsewhere in the culture.
PKM: Seemingly incongruously, given your hefty angst and scruffy sounds, you guys have been asked to play some shmancy private parties of late, no? Can you give me the what, how, and why about that? Any good stories out of those?
Miller: We never limit ourselves to only playing for a certain crowd. Gucci was opening a store in the city and wanted to bring the energy that has always been alive in New York on stage, so we had fun going wild with them. Plus all our friends came, so it was a mix of amazing fashion crowd and friends from the music world. It’s great to mix things up. Was really cool Gucci would support freaks as well. Support the weirdos, the underdogs, the freaks – more wealth equality. I want to continue to break boundaries down and scream under any moon.
Kilgore: The Gucci party was so fun, and Alessandro is so cool. It was great to watch people be dumbfounded at first and then totally become one with us by the end.
PKM: You’ve done a little touring so far. Any good out-of-town after-party stories?
Kilgore: One time we all stayed in a cat piss hoarder’s apartment and dry humped each other with Trump masks on to get away from the stench.
PKM: There’s something gratifying about seeing some trash rock vets get it together again for such a solid band and some solid buzz, for lack of a less annoying word.
Miller: Yeah, I’m basically in music school whenever I hang with my band. Three gnarly Texan dads from the ‘80s in New York with a baby alien screaming along with them – a pretty insane combination.
PKM: What else can we expect from Surfbort in the next year – records, tours, clothing-tearing parties, online recipes, etc…
Miller: Our debut album, Friendship Music, is coming out in October 19 on Cult Records! It’s such a powerful record, and I can’t wait to share it with the world! We are playing Goner Fest Sept 26. Touring with some very special people TBA. Also, all November we are on tour with the Black Lips and Iceage. And I have a great banana bread recipe I’m trying out!
PKM: Finally, Dani, per your hit single “Hippie Vomit Inhaler, did you ever find out what happened to your:
Shit: Found it in the grass
Jeans: Lost forever
Friend: Under a rock
Dog: Licking my face
House: Somewhere around the corner
Car: In the pond
Drugs: In my brains
And when hippie vomit comes out of the inhaler, do you spit it out, or just bear it, swallow, and grin?
Miller: You’re gonna have to hang with us if you wanna know whether we spit or swallow.