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After 10 years together, says drummer/composer Allison Miller, her outstanding band Boom Tic Boom “feels like family, with all those complicated feelings. Any band that sticks together long enough has a varying degree of emotions involved.”
Perhaps it’s that knotty tangle of relationships that fuels the music on Boom Tic Boom’s stellar new release, Glitter Wolf (Royal Potato Family). There’s abundant joy and passion to be found throughout the album, from the celebratory “Malaga” to the tender “Daughter and Sun” and the wistful “Welcome Hotel.”
But there’s an underlying thread of tension and friction woven into the tapestry as well, beginning with the piercing unison lines of Jenny Scheinman’s violin and Ben Goldberg’s clarinet on opener “Congratulations and Condolences” and racing through the vigorous trot of Todd Sickafoose’s bass line on “White Wolf.” The tumultuous rhythms of “The Ride” erupt into riotous keyboard stabs from pianist Myra Melford and blustery squalls out of Kirk Knuffke’s cornet. While Miller’s musical family helped inspire such fiery sounds, much credit also goes to her real-life family. With two young children at home, tranquility and calm have become alien concepts, meaning that clamor is now the default backdrop for Miller’s life — and, therefore, her music.
“I never have a moment of rest,” she laughs. “So now I compose in motion. Even if I’m sitting down, which feels stationary, some part of the environment around me is moving: a subway car, a plane, a train or two kids running around. But they’re so inspirational to me; having kids has really kicked me in the ass and made me very motivated to never waste time.”
It’s also reoriented her priorities. When Boom Tic Boom was born, Miller enjoyed a busy career, touring with singer-songwriters like Natalie Merchant, Brandi Carlile and Ani DiFranco. She’s since cut back on those pursuits, preferring to stay closer to home and focus on her own music. Since the release of Boom Tic Boom’s self-titled debut in 2010, Miller’s compositional palette has broadened, leading her to expand the group from a piano trio to the current sextet line-up, which has been in place since the release of the band’s 2016 album Otis Was a Polar Bear.
Another new endeavor in recent years has been her work as musical director for choreographers like Camille A. Brown. “I made a conscious effort to work with dancers because I felt like I’d lost sight of why I play the drums,” Miller explains. “The dance-drumming-music connection is such an important aspect of why we make music. If we keep dancing and moving in mind when we play the drums, the music would always feel good.” —Shaun Brady
Feature photo by Shervin Lainez