By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Don't call it a sell-out; she's been around for years, and all Meredith Miller has to show for it are two locally released CDs and a day job that pays for her to play at night. No, Miller's decision to form a band--a year ago now, in case you didn't notice--was a long time in coming. She did it for practical reasons: When the frat boys storm Deep Ellum on the weekend, the last thing they want to do is listen to a single white female strum her acoustic guitar and sing smart little folk songs about her boyfriends and her dad. She did it for financial reasons: Perhaps now she'll get signed to a major label that will finance her dreams. But most of all, she did it for artistic reasons: As far as she was concerned, when you get the chance to play with such musicians as Reed Easterwood and Bryan Wakeland, you take it without asking questions. Miller might well dream of one day waking up without having to go to work, but who in the hell would deny her such aspirations?
And besides, she says with a small laugh, "Everybody knows rock and roll's more fun than folk music."
It's been three years now since Miller moved back from Austin, where she attended the University of Texas, three years since she began playing live again, three years since she jump-started the idea of making a career out of music. Back then, she sat on the Dark Room stage and, in a deadpan-pretty voice, sang these wonderful, deceptive songs about waking up alone and falling asleep with Elvis; she wrote about admiring a boyfriend for trying to kill himself and other songs about falling in and out love easier than taking a breath. A tape of these songs, which was recorded in Austin in 1995, became a CD a year later: ifihadahifi, licensed and released by Crystal Clear Sound. Sparse in places, funny in others, beautiful at unexpected moments ("Whole," with cello and violin, is a heartbreaking highlight), the album was a significant evolution away from her indie debut Bob, which was produced and mixed without her permission.
Yet ifihadahifi sold like every other underfunded local release that doesn't get promoted outside the area code, and Miller was left wondering what to do next...which turned out to be going to work every morning.
"I've done two locally released albums now, and I haven't gone anywhere, and it hasn't gotten the labels anywhere," Miller shrugs. "There was no money for them to promote my records, and that's what has happened with every record out of Dallas. I don't have money to do it, and the label doesn't have money to do it."
Frustrated with the lack of sales and with crowds that seemed more interested in hearing themselves than the performer, Miller finally put a band together. She had thought about it for years, since her days at UT, but she could never find musicians she could work with. In the end, she didn't have to look too far: Miller had been a longtime acquaintance of former POWWOW frontman Reed Easterwood's, and she approached him about playing together and possibly doing some recording. Easterwood had his own project going (it also featured bassist Dave Monsey), but all of a sudden, Miller and Easterwood's projects and intentions sort of merged.
"Playing with a band is more fun, but also it seems I can play more places, and people take me seriously," Miller says. "It just seems like when I'm with a band, I get attention I didn't before. With a band, people have to pay attention. They're automatically listening because it's loud. When I was with myself, they didn't have to."
Still, they needed a drummer. Easterwood's was more into jazz than rock, and as luck would have it, Easterwood's old friend Bryan Wakeland was looking for a job, having spent a short, unfulfilling stint in Pluto with former Fever in the Funkhouse bandmate Nick Briscoe. (Miller had also known Wakeland since high school--this is a damned small town.) Wakeland--among the most veteran of local drummers, having spent time in Fever way back in the day and Tripping Daisy until two years ago--had sort of retreated from the scene, taking stock of his decision to leave a band with a major-label deal.
"I didn't get out of Tripping Daisy to do my own thing," Wakeland says. "I just knew I didn't want to be there. I just wasn't happy overall. It wasn't the type of music I wanted to be doing full time. It was just a lot of things. Like, I'd listen to Neil Young and shit like that, and then have to go back and play the trip they're on. As they grew as musicians and as I grew, we grew apart. It was the best call to go different ways."
As Easterwood was hooking up with Miller, Wakeland was off writing his own songs and getting together his own band with Ugly Mus-tard bassist Mike Daane. Wakeland was even recording his own songs, singing and playing keyboards on a seven-song demo that's damned good--playful, moody, even kind of Tin Pan pop (the tape's opener, "Rainy Day Jesus," is a delirious killer). Indeed, the demo ranks as one enormous revelation, proof that some people are going to waste just keeping the beat.