On a gray Friday morning, Taryn Miller lights a cigarette and stares out at the wintry field beyond the back porch of her two-story house on the edge of Lawrence. She likes it here, she tells me — this town and also the slight distance from its center that the house allows her. As we talk, though, it's clear that her view from that porch is changing.
"There are so many directions I can go now," she says.
This house is Miller's comfort zone, where she played a solo show for the first time in years in September 2013, with the material that would end up on last year's exquisite Jekyll/Hyde. She made that EP under the name Y(our) Fri(end). She has since dropped the parentheses — and been picked up by Domino Records, home to the likes of Animal Collective, Blood Orange and Arctic Monkeys. (On February 20, Domino rereleased Jekyll/Hyde, along with an announcement that the vinyl would come out in April.) Things, she says, are about to be different, even if she's not sure yet just how or how much.
"They had just been kind of keeping an eye on me, seeing what I was doing for a while," Miller says of the label. "I remember when I first got an e-mail from the A&R rep one day [in May 2013], and she was just like, 'Hey, what are you up to?' I was just walking home from class, and I stopped midway and just had to stare at it for a second. It took me hours to write back a three-sentence response."
Up a dim, narrow staircase, Miller's attic bedroom is lined with concert posters and album covers from bands such as Beirut and Local Natives. As the desolate blare of a train whistle fades, she puts on a soul record — the Numero Group's Eccentric Soul: The Prix Label — and sits, posture perfect, in a straight-backed chair. With her herringbone blazer and tortoiseshell glasses, she could be a professor posing for a yearbook photo. She's 22, though, and a recent University of Kansas graduate with a degree in linguistics. Miller laughs at the idea of her chosen major but explains that she was drawn more to Lawrence than to the school, which didn't have a program that fit her specific ambitions at the time.
"I had just read Tom Robbins' Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates that summer, and in the book he has this skill of having learned a lot of languages, and that was the one thing I could lean toward as far as majors," Miller says, smiling. "And I saw linguistics and I was like, 'I could get into that. I could take that seriously.' And now here I am. And in all that time, I was playing music in different projects."
Miller has a quiet, earnest way of talking, and her voice can be soft but grainy, as though she's not yet fully awake. It's sometimes hard to reconcile that sound with the boundless, hypnotic singing on Jekyll/Hyde. (She has taken vocal lessons and says it has taken years of practice for her to become comfortable with her voice.) But she doesn't lack confidence when she talks about being part of Domino, a move she says feels natural.
"I was up there at their offices [in Brooklyn] in October, and they were like, 'Oh, feel free to raid our archives, grab some stuff!' And I was looking around and thinking, 'I think I own all of these. I'm pretty sure I own almost every record on this shelf right here,'" Miller says. "And I think that's really cool, and it says something about how much I respect, and how long I've followed, this label. For them to even pay any attention to me is surreal."
Domino has long had a reputation for scouting out rough-diamond talent. The label's lesser-known acts are not always immediately lucrative additions or obvious choices, but that's where Miller feels the deal's advantages are. She explains that allying with Domino isn't about career advancement or scoring big tours.
"To me, it's the opportunity to have the tools and the resources to make the records that I want to make, and I probably wouldn't have those otherwise," Miller says. "It's a really unique chance to go in whatever weird way I want because I have people backing it."
Still, when the Domino news went public, Miller worried what would be said about her. Perhaps the musicians with whom she had cultivated relationships would feel abandoned or put off.
"I was afraid that I wouldn't be welcome anymore," she says. "And that was an irrational fear, but it was still there. I'm so rooted in the local scene here, I didn't want to be banished from it. I didn't want anyone to be under the assumption that I was too good to play local shows or something. That would break my heart."
But if anyone should be afraid of being left behind, it's local music fans. Today is Miller's day off from her part-time gig at Love Garden Sounds (whose owner, Kelly Corcoran, manages Your Friend). This evening, she's playing a show at the Replay with her housemates, fellow Lawrence band Oils. It's comfort-zone stuff, and she insists that what she has found in this community isn't something she would walk away from easily.
"Everyone has been super-supportive and amazing," she tells me. "It's bewildering, the love in this town that they have for other people and the art that they make. People have been asking me if I'm going to move or get out of here, and I'm like, 'Why? Why would I do that? This is where it happened.'
"I wouldn't be here without this town and the support of my friends and fellow musicians and the baristas at the coffee shop. Everyone here is so warm. I don't think I'm going anywhere."