By Brittney Goodman
20 May 2021
Has it really been 10 years of D Mills and the Thrills?? Yes it has! Ten years ago, Diane was dating Tom Johnson, who was a member of the Johnson Family Band, and also a very talented musician. So, he said to her, “So, you are doing this Hip-Hop Show, I’ve got some guys who can back you up.”
High Plains Reader: How did you get started?
Diane Miller: We didn’t even rehearse. They were just so talented and professional. They came in and set up their instruments and then played while I rapped over their grooves. And I was like, oh my gosh, that was awesome. And people really took to it. About a year or so later, as D Mills and the Thrills, we played our official first show at the downtown Fargo VFW. And people liked it. Yes, Hip-Hop and rap in Fargo. And with me as a female lead vocalist, it was such a rarity. That on top of us all being really talented musicians, I guess it was just a recipe for success.
HPR: I remember, early on, I was in the audience at Duffy’s Tavern and you did half country-western and then the rest was Hip-Hop.
Miller: Yes. That’s my style. I remember that show. We did two there. I love Duffy’s. That’s just who I am as a musician with playing that half and half. I am a musician that wants to play everything. I just love music in general. I want to perform everything that I love. I love music of all facets, all styles and genres. And I love to perform. The more different styles of music you play, the more you can vary it up and not be repetitive. I like the challenge of it and the excitement that it brings to me and to audiences.
HPR: Can you describe your current style of music?
Miller: It’s funny because after our D Mills and the Thrills Anniversary Show, a friend was trying to sell someone on coming to the show and said to me, “I have the hardest time being able to figure out how to describe your music.” I was like, don’t worry. That’s awesome, I like that. I like to brand myself as an original and be a little bit outside of the box and not follow a certain trend. As a result of liking so many styles, it naturally happens. Hip-Hop for sure – because I’m a rapper. I really love the grooves of Hip-Hop. And the way the beat moves. There is a certain rhythmic flow that is attractive to me and makes me want to move. Alternative is also a good word to use. Folk music. Folk and Hip-Hop are the two major genres I would use to describe me. Folk music – like stripped down singer songwriter style with an acoustic guitar, and separately I like to do an alternative form of Hip-Hop. I fall more into the creative and artistic realm of Hip-Hop. I like experimentation. So you could say it is experimental.
HPR: About the Minneapolis music scene and how you fit in and some of your collaborations, let’s start with your rapping on Jessica Vines’ new single, “Delicious.”
Miller: Jessica Vines hit me up. I have been admiring her for a while now. She has a beautiful voice – her intonation, her delivery; she is clearly very talented. She asked me to do a rap on one of her songs, and then she sent it to me, and I was like, oh my god this song is awesome, of course I’ll do it. And it has been getting a lot of airplay on The Current, a really important music station in the Minneapolis area, MPR-affiliated.
Minneapolis has been awesome. It’s been a really natural transition for me to come into the music scene here. I’ve been interconnected with it since I really started. In Fargo, through attending shows by Minneapolis artists that came through Fargo. I would always have my eye on the Minneapolis music scene. There is a lot of amazing talent from the Cities and it’s so close to Fargo. And being editor of the High Plains Reader for a while, I interviewed a lot of Minneapolis artists. And with booking for The Aquarium, of course.
And then I got the opportunity to be a booker in Minneapolis for Icehouse. I had been wanting to move there to grow as an artist and performer. Icehouse is an independently-run music venue and we host easily some of the best artists in the Cities, of every genre. The Club owner is especially into jazz. We have world class jazz musicians that come through all of the time. Steve Earle has played here through a micro-show of The Current. We host on the rise artists that come through and a lot of Minneapolis artists that will go on to be breakout artists. So it is a big deal to be booking for them. Of course, with COVID, it was obviously a weird year; but we are hosting outdoor shows and indoors now that restrictions are being lifted.
Kiss the Tiger is one of my favorite collaborations since moving to the Twin Cities. Kiss the Tiger are a tried and true rock n’ roll band, and Meghan, the lead singer, is kind of my twin – people get us confused. She is an amazing lead vocalist. They just released an album and they are doing a residency at Icehouse this June. I can’t make it to every show, but I will be performing backup vocals with them. On the album they just released I did some backup vocals and guitar.
HPR: Do you have any upcoming music releases?
Miller: I have been working on a 6-song EP, which will be my first solo EP and it is an alternative Hip-Hop album. It is going to print on vinyl and CD soon. It is going to be a mixtape of sorts with six different Minneapolis-based producers and all of them are amazing musicians.
The producers are as follows. Haley – formerly known as Haley Bonar – originally from Rapid City, SD. She is producing my single “Out of Order,” and what she has done with it, is mind-blowing. I can’t wait to share it. We’ve done the music video. Also, Martin Dosh who has worked with Andrew Bird and others. Greg Schutte who has worked with Ryan Bingham, Chastity Brown, and others. Also MAKR who works with Marijuana Deathsquads, Ronia, Bon Iver and others. Miles Hanson also is producing a song and he is a Fargo South High graduate and engineer at Creation Audio. Finally, there is Just Pete, an alumnus and classmate of mine from Minnesota State University Moorhead music program and a USC master’s program graduate.
With COVID I have had more time to write music. And with the McKnight Fellowship grant I got money to buy new gear.
HPR: When you write your own music, do you do the music first, or lyrics, or…?
Miller: Usually there is a little bit of music, a structural bare bones, and a rhythmic melodic idea. I start playing and then the words will come. I start writing songs all the time, and some don’t go anywhere. When you know you like a song, you don’t want to walk away from it as you’re working on it.
If you follow me on social media, sometimes I post ideas I am working on. And sometimes I go back and look at them, and am like, yes, I should go back and work on that. Usually it is a bit of an instrumentation thing first which gives me an idea of where to pattern the words.
HPR: Talk about some of your favorite times that you performed.
Miller: One of the biggest rushes is playing for a huge audience that are all staring at you. I think maybe one of the most memorable shows that I’ve ever played, especially in my time in Minneapolis, was when I got to open for Marc Rebillet. He is incredible. And I did not know of him before. And I got asked to open for him. Getting opening slot opportunities are huge for musicians. And for me, I don’t always easily pair well with acts because I am so different. But Rebillet is beyond different. I liked him. I thought it was a great pairing. I am a huge fan of comedy and I like to make people laugh. It was a huge sold out show at the Fine Line Café.
By the time I went on stage, the room was already packed. And this was a pared-down D Mills and the Thrills, just as a three-piece. I just had my bassist and drummer, Jason and Eli and I was playing guitar and keyboard and rapping at the same time. I remember being chummy. I liked the intimacy of it. Sometimes less is more. So being front and center and singing for these people. Having just this stripped down raw sound, looking into people’s eyes and seeing them glow. I was like, what? It was just so magical.
And it happens in Fargo. Some of my favorite shows were at Dempsey’s or The Aquarium, where it’s just all packed in. Some of my favorite kinds of shows to do when you are up close and personal and you can really connect with the audience. And it’s life-giving to play that and to look at people and know they are enjoying themselves.
Even our 10-Year Anniversary was so cool. It was socially distanced because of COVID. But I could tell there was this energy in the audience and people in the audience were excited to be there. The energy level in the room was high and it really contributed to this feeling of goodness. And that’s why I do this. It makes me happy and it makes other people happy. So let’s keep doing this. I have the talent, and let’s not waste it. The band, The Thrills, is just so good—just so powerful, so on point. They know how to take it to the next level with the audience to bring the energy level up and get live and get down and especially when we would have special guest MCs. The audience would get especially excited. It’s like everything else in life is all forgotten about and you are just so present.
It is hard to pinpoint one show, because it happened so often. But I love playing at Dempsey’s and The Aquarium, it’s my home away from home. It’s my favorite place in Fargo-Moorhead. It really is.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
D Mills & the Thrills Current Lineup:
Diane Miller – emcee and vocals
Andi Thoreson – vocals and keyboard
Jason Boynton – bass
Steve Wallevand – trombone and keyboard
Josh Reinhardt – guitar and synthesizer
Eli Davis – drums
Former members include Tom Johnson, Mike Howey, John Shea, Zach Kobrinsky, Jason Will, Seth Holden and Andy Stermer
Food Trucks & Trails Festivals
July 24, 2021 at MB Johnson Park, Moorhead
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