Darren Miller is a name that seems to be appearing in our paper more and more lately. Since the veteran guitarist’s main band of more than 15 years, revered indie-rock elder statesmen Tame … Tame and Quiet, has been on somewhat of a hiatus, he’s been offering his talents to an increasing number of projects over the last few years. Miller fronts thrash-metal throwback Ox Combine as well as his most recent outfit, the haunting art-rock fiasco The Boozy Moods. In addition, he has collaborated on recordings and occasionally appeared on stages with post-punkers BULLS and is also involved in two separate post-rock-influenced groups, one he leads called 100s and another, Tortfeasor, in which he plays bass. He can’t seem to find enough outlets.
Though guitar has been his weapon of choice for more than two decades, a recent injury forced him to put the instrument down for a few months. Accustomed to being busy musically, he was determined not to let the affliction slow him down. In fact, he turned the impairment into an opportunity for a completely new means of musical expression, this time in the form of an electro-industrial synth project he’s calling Annafell Lights. The outlet’s debut release will drop on Friday, a split CD with Great Unwashed Luminaries, the electronic side-persona of Kelly Minnis, frontman for Bryan, Texas’s Ex-Optimists.
“I had been wanting to do [a project] that was just me,” Miller said. “I’m not a very good singer, so I couldn’t really do a singer-songwriter [acoustic-type thing], so I was trying to think about what I could maybe do when I cut my thumb off,” he said with a laugh.
He was exaggerating, of course. In November, while using a large paper cutter at the hospital where he works by day, the cutting arm slipped and he sliced about 5mm off the tip of his left thumb, sort of like one might do to the end of a cigar.
“They couldn’t save any of it,” he said of the injury. “They just put some Dermabond on it and sent me on my way. Now I still can’t put any pressure against the back of the neck of the guitar. I can still kinda wrap my thumb over the top of the neck and play a bit. I got through a few Boozy Moods gigs and the UFOFU show that way,” he continued, referencing a gig he played at Fort Worth Rock Assembly 7 this past fall, during which he and his bandmates in TTXQ paid tribute to the near-legendary Dallas punk band.
While laid up and unable to play, he had an epiphany of sorts of what he could do. As well as being a devotee of ’90s post-rock a la June of ’44 and Don Caballero, Miller was always into the moody trip-hop of that era, too –– artists like Tricky and Massive Attack. It had always been in the back of his mind to try and start a project inspired by that smoky, synth-heavy sound. Now was the perfect opportunity. He rescued some old analog synth gear out of storage and began to mess around.
After creating a couple of tracks, he posted them to his Facebook page along with rudimentary videos he made with his iPhone. One of them caught the attention of Minnis, who reached out to Miller about the split release.
“For the first time, in all the projects I’ve been in, someone reached out to me about putting my music out,” Miller said. “When someone offers to put out your CD and you don’t have to pay for it – fuck, yeah, I’m going to say yes to that!”
Minnis runs the small College Station-based Sinkhole Texas Inc. Records label (Ex-Optimists, The Cutters), which will release the 11-song collaboration, seven of which are Annafell tracks. The sounds on the effort run the spectrum of electronic-based music, from the dark and brooding Skinny Puppy-esque “The Tank Fails” to a bright, almost pop sound on “The Sky Is Twilight.”
Now that the album is set for public consumption, Miller is focusing on learning how to perform the songs live, a new skill to develop. His first show as Annafell Lights will be next month at Arlington’s Caves Lounge.
With rumors of a reunion of his first band, local post-rock pioneers Benway, Miller’s torrid musical output shows no signs of slowing. He admits his age may play a part of the motivation for the constant work.
“This is what I do,” he said. “Even when I’m at home watching a music documentary or a crappy sci-fi movie or whatever, I pretty much always have a guitar in my hand. One of the songs on the album talks about this. I mention, ‘I have more time behind me than ahead.’ I’m 46 years old. If I’m lucky, I have maybe 40 years left, unless by then they have robot bodies, and then who knows, but there’s definitely no reason to wait.”
8pm Sat, Feb 22, w/No Voz Void and Stem Afternoon at Caves Lounge, 900 W Division St, Arl.
$5 suggested donation.