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Don't Blanche, this band's on the upswing

By Jeffrey B. Remz, December 2004

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The Millers hooked up with White because he was the last of 15 drummers in Goober.

Next stop was Blanche.

"For our recording, we didn't want to keep it low fi," Miller says. "We wanted to make it sound something contemporary. It was just bracing that inexperience and simplicity and really wrap all that around the emotion of a song with what we were going through."

That included the death of Miller's brother of liver failure after a long bout with depression and other problems, his grandmother at 97 and Tracee's father.

"We kind of recorded it between funerals I think," says Miller.

The sadness came through on several songs. In "Superstition," the storyteller considers that as a route to healing since doctors, medicine and prayers hadn't worked. "I know that it's bad luck/to be superstitious/but nothing else is working/and my heart is really hurting."

"Tracee had some health issues at that point," says Dan Miller, thinking, "How many waiting rooms have I had been to this week. I thought maybe if I cross my legs this way, maybe the test results will come out this way. Maybe if I'm not superstitious, the news will be better...It might sound like a clever singer/songwriter lyric, but it was really the truth of what I was thinking like."

"So Long Cruel World" is a son's parting message to his mother. "Dear Mother don't cry/the time has come to pay for what I've done, so goodbye."

"Writing a song is just having some kind of idea, some emotion that's in your head," says Miller.

"Sometimes it makes me feel better," says Miller of addressing the dark subject matter. "Sometimes it really is cathartic in a good way, and sometimes it's cathartic in a really bad way, and it hurts. It makes me feel good...maybe it ends up being a good therapeutic thing. I don't know."

"We didn't want to be this really depressing album. Musically, one of the things we learned while we were recording, we put a lot of thoughts into arrangement. With Tracee having a softer voice, it can't be charging drums. It makes more sense for her to sing when the arrangements (are soft). Keep things more simple, and we can have moments of chaos. It was a learning experience about that. That's what gave the songs real life when working on them as a band. When it's just me and a guitar singing, the songs stand up, but what gives Blanche its real personality is everyone else in the band playing their part."

Miller is enjoying a bit of a film career now as well. He will appear in 2005 as Johnny Cash's bassist Luther Perkins in the Cash biopic "Walk the Line," featuring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon.

An appearance by the band at the annual South By Southwest in Austin led to Miller getting the gig. Producer T Bone Burnett of "O Brother" fame was familiar with Miller and tipped off the filmmakers about him.

While there, Miller, who had previously acted in several unknown, Michigan-based indie films, received a call, but the filmmakers thought he lived in Los Angeles, which would have made it easier.

When Miller returned to Detroit, he got back in touch with the filmmakers, who said the part remained open. He sent a videotape doing a Cash song, "Long Black Veil," and soon auditioned in Hollywood.

"I fit the mold of someone who could play guitar," says Miller. "They wanted someone who was tall, skinny, gaunt looking."

Miller, who looks like Lyle Lovett, fit the bill.

"I was shocked," recalls Miler when told he got the part. He rehearsed in May and filmed in Memphis for two weeks this past summer.

"Luther was a man of few words, so I didn't have to remember too much," says Miller, who has about 10 lines in the film.

"It was interesting," says Miller of the experience. "It was really great. I loved it. It was fast paced. It wasn't a lot of sitting around in the trailer."

With the film under his belt, the next bit of big news for Blanche was that the album was picked up by V2 Records, the eclectic New York label that also is home to Moby.

Miller indicates Blanche did not even think very much about getting on a big label.

"We hadn't sent it to any labels in America," Miller says of the disc.

V2 apparently got wind of Blanche from its South By Southwest outing.

"We just sent them the album," says Miller of V2. "We were told them we were on a little label in Detroit, basically a mail order thing. It didn't have a UPC code and all that kind of stuff. They called up and they had heard about us, and it worked out from there. They were really great about it."

V2 released the album in late September, and band members say the label will make a bigger push starting in February. V2 kept the music and artwork exactly the same.

One of the advantages of being with a label is the distribution network for the album to get into stores is far easier.

"I think it'll open up more doors for us to really start developing things in America. America is just bigger, and it's harder to tour. Go over to UK and Europe, and you can do it all pretty quickly."

Miller readily acknowledges the tough times the band has faced personally, but underneath that may be a silver lining for the group.

"I think when going through sad times, you don't want to wallow in misery, but there's something comforting about it, something melancholy abut it."

"I feel guilty, selfish about having real feelings," he says. "I don't want to feel sorry for myself. But I do have a pessimistic view of the world. I'd like to get rid for the next album and be a more positive person I think."

But he's also quite happy for Blanche. "Everything that happens is icing on the cake," he says. "We just can't believe it."

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