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After a few songs, Miller looks out at the tots sitting where storytime usually happens. "That was a song about being eaten by worms!" he shouts. "The next one's about playing in the sprinkler!" Kids cheer. Teens laugh. The band sings. In a room full of adults, this might not work.
Miller has a gift for connecting with people from the stage, but he struggles to communicate in what most of us would consider easier ways. Over the phone, he has no instruments, no facial expressions, no costumes, no dance moves. These are his most effective tools, and he doesn't always make complete sense without them. When we call to arrange an interview, he looks for a pen to write down our phone number, then finally gives up, saying, "I'm gonna have to write this in perfume."
When he walks into Y.J.'s Snack Bar for our interview, we spot him right away. He has a disheveled Brennan and a denim-jacketed Greenblatt in tow. Peek tried to join in by way of a cell phone, but we couldn't hear him at all.
The first thing we learn is that Brennan and Greenblatt have been friends since they were seven. Miller met them at Kearney Junior High. "He didn't have any friends back then," Greenblatt says. "He wanted to hang out with us, but we totally didn't let him." This moment would feel awkward and sad were it not for Miller's irrepressible good cheer. "That's true," he says.
How did this evolve into a working band?
"Larping," Miller says.
Larping -- live-action role-playing -- is how these guys decide everything. They pretend they're in a band, and they take turns being in charge, suggesting approaches to songwriting, costume ideas -- everything. They also take turns playing the crowd, so they can determine which approach gets the best response. Most of it comes back to their formative Ratlin Bog larp, which they describe as though it really happened.
"The Ratlin Bog," Miller says, "is this wide, very, very sparse landscape with lots of little sinkholes, and it's got these little bubbling tar sections, and it's really sort of perilous, and you have to trudge a lot very slowly. You have to be careful. There are all these insects out and -- "
"And all the animals are albino," Greenblatt interjects.
"So what I'm thinking when we're in this Ratlin Bog," Miller continues, "is that we have to make do with what we have. I don't have access to all this plastic molding or machinery. All I have to grab onto are weeds and reeds, so that I can tie my hands up, because I've been cut. I have to make these gloves."
All of this provided inspiration for The White Waterfall of Oblivion's hand-illustrated, Shel Silversteinesque packaging. "We now know what it means to build 250 double-disc albums, and I mean, it was a hellish sort of process, but we all dug our claws into it to pull those resources out. We didn't just stick it in one slot and have it pop out the other one," Miller says.
Rehearsing with his distant buddies by Web cam hasn't been easy for Miller these past three years, but it's the best he can do; Greenblatt is at Yale and Brennan is at the University of Chicago. Miller is a physical person, and he likes to look people in the face and get really close to them. ("It's kind of creepy," Brennan says.) But being forced to temper that hasn't been all bad.