Though Dena Miller grew up in a family of New York folk musicians, and recorded their earliest childhood songs on a toy cassette player, they spent their teen years in the crowd at DIY shows rather than onstage. But a relocation to Philadelphia for college found them woodshedding in their dorm room, and Deer Scout’s earliest songs were born. Centering Miller’s singular voice and intimate lyricism, Deer Scout was quickly welcomed into Philly’s legendary DIY scene, especially at fabled punk fraternity Pilam and erstwhile house venue All Nite Diner. Early cassette release Customs formally introduced Miller’s studied sparseness and pointed songcraft. 2017’s “sad boy,” satirized liberal arts’ special brand of toxic masculinity over plotted drum machines and gossamer synths (produced by Miller’s father, Mark, who they describe as a favorite songwriter and major influence). Along the way, Miller grew the project by touring storied alternative showspaces like Silent Barn, Flywheel and PhilaMOCA, and sharing stages with artists including Waxahatchee, Yowler and Told Slant.
Six years after the project’s start, Miller has moved back to their hometown of New York and is ready to release their debut full length, Woodpecker, with Carpark Records. Though its earliest songs were written during that prolific freshman year—like “Synesthesia,” penned almost instantly on a train ride home from a basement show—Miller’s taken time to fastidiously rearrange, working alongside trusted friends and collaborators: Ko Takasugi-Czernowin on bass, Zuzia Weyman on cello, Henry Munson on pedal steel, and Madel Rafter on drums. With primary engineering and mixing from Heather Jones at Philly’s So Big Auditory, Woodpecker was eventually completed at home by Miller, whose piecemeal approach to finishing the record results in its lush intentionality. The family folk influence shines through in Miller’s distinctive playing and voice, but tension-building string arrangements, droning pull-off riffs, and rattling drum play complicate the mix, channeling Americana and lo-fi forebears like Cat Power. Though the stillness in Miller’s arrangements may give an initial sense of smallness, Deer Scout’s songs are like dollhouse miniatures, laden with complexity. Through Miller’s open-hearted yearning, Deer Scout’s music feels at once safe and limitless.