Such is the life of a guitarist for one of the world's most beloved -- and hated -- hardcore bands. If you listen only to the first forty seconds of any song from Poison the Well's three albums, you might wonder what all the fuss is about. The band's dual-guitar attack, pounding rhythm section and bloodcurdling yells sound evil enough, even if they are hardly revolutionary.
On the 41st second, though, singer Jeffrey Moreira drops the screaming and makes like Mel Torme, crooning over melodies imported from Miller's favorite Cure and Smiths records. Then, just when your average thick-skinned hardcore kid would reach for the off switch, the noise kicks back in.
It's a potent mixture that far exceeds any of Poison the Well's influences and induces sexual confusion in any self-respecting tough guy. To make matters worse, when Moreira screams, it's usually about girls, putting the band firmly in the "screamo" genre.
And tough guys aren't allowed to dance to that stuff ... right?
"We did a month with [Saddle Creek violin rockers] Cursive last year," Miller says. "A lot of people were like, 'What the fuck is that Cursive shit?' But what do they know?"
Certainly the tattooed masses have enough of a problem with one of their own branching out musically, let alone dealing with artsy cornhuskers.
"We get a lot of grief from guys who just want to hear screaming, but you reach a point where you've said everything you can say with a scream," Miller says. "As far as I'm concerned, singing is endless. I can hear someone sing forever."
Back in 1997, a sixteen-year-old Miller was all about screaming. He was a normal, Nirvana-loving alt-rock kid until a friend hooked him on hardcore's angry pleasures. He began making pilgrimages to clubs packed with slam-dancing straight-edgers.
After a year of hanging out in the mosh pit, he met Ryan Primack, Poison the Well's other guitarist, who invited Miller to join the band, which has become notorious for its revolving lineup. Three singers, three bass players, three guitarists and two drummers have come and gone. Miller stayed and earned an exemplary secondary education.
"I'd get out of school on Friday afternoon, and we'd get in the van and drive to play New Jersey or the Unitarian Church in Levittown, Pennsylvania," Miller says. "We'd be back for school the next Monday. Friday nights, [while] my classmates were at school dances, we were in New York."
In late 1998, Poison the Well was signed by hardcore titan Trustkill Records. But halfway through writing the songs for The Opposite of December, Primack quit.
"He was dead serious: 'I quit! That's it!'" Miller says. "But he [still] came into the studio and did his parts."
Primack's three-month absence cleared the way for Miller to inject his melodic past into the band's breakneck cacophony. The album gave Poison the Well its identity, mixing paralyzing metal barrages with singalong choruses.
Back in the pre-Dashboard Confessional era, wearing your romantic intentions on your sleeve was tantamount to treason, yet Poison the Well's "Nerdy" became the token punk-rock girlfriend song.
"I can't tell you how many e-mails we've gotten from people who've said, 'My girlfriend and I fell in love to 'Nerdy,'"' Miller says. "It's funny, because I remember writing the song in my bedroom. Years later, we're still playing it, and it still affects people."
It was after the release of The Opposite of December that Poison the Well really learned about life in a hardcore band. Every weekend and school vacation was consumed by guerrilla touring. Even Miller's 2000 enrollment at Florida State University -- ten hours away from the band's rehearsal space in south Florida -- didn't slow the band's progress.
"I'd drive every other weekend to practice," Miller recalls. "I put 1,200 miles a month on my car."
Miller dropped out after one semester. Poison the Well hit the road.
"When we got home, we'd have to work shitty jobs, so we just tried to stay out on tour constantly," Miller says.
The band returned to Florida long enough to record its second album, 2002's Tear From the Red. The album boosted the band's popularity while further annoying the tough guys who could barely stomach songs like "Nerdy."
Poison the Well toured even harder. As the buzz surrounding the band increased, so did the band members' refusal to stop touring, even when health and common sense dictated otherwise.
"We were on tour, and Jeff got really sick," Miller says. "But he kept screaming. At the last show, he was dying. We had to have people from the crowd sing."
The band took Moreira home, only to discover that the singer's right lung had filled with fluid and was on the verge of collapsing.
"The doctor said Jeff had [been touring with] walking pneumonia for a month," Miller recalls. "His mom was hysterical. She kept telling him the band was 'El Diablo.'"
After Moreira recuperated, "El Diablo" sent him to a vocal coach so he could learn to sing properly and avoid further lung trouble.
"The voice is like any other instrument," Miller says. "It's like picking up a guitar and just banging on it, and then you sit down with someone and they teach you some shit. Jeffrey still doesn't have complete control, but his sound moves me."
It moved Atlantic Records as well. The company signed Poison the Well after the band sold more than 50,000 albums with little exposure. After recording some basic tracks for a new album in Los Angeles, the group traveled to Sweden to record vocals and mix the record.
The result, You Come Before You, is the band's hardest and most melodic record -- and one of last year's best albums. Predictably, the Internet message boards have become inundated with "Poison the Well Are Sell Outs!" subject headings. But the whining hasn't slowed down the album, which outsold Tear From the Red in just three months.
Poison the Well's success is so evident that even Moreira's mom has come around."She's a great woman," Miller says. "She's cool with it -- now that we can pay the bills and we aren't homeless losers anymore."