Talking life, music, and parenthood with the valley’s most tuneful duo
by Sue Muncaster | Photography by Jamye Chrisman
Teton Valley’s Miller Sisters, Karee and Candice, are best known for their dynamic rock ’n’ roll performances dressed in outrageous costumes—transforming them into anything from French maids to chic cowgirls—at local après-ski venues, music festivals, and wedding and church services. The pair landed in the Tetons more than a decade ago after a string of brief stints in Nashville, Alaska, Reno, and California. Transplants from a small southern Minnesota farming town, they grew up in a tight-knit family with six other siblings. Their Midwestern roots define much of who they are, including their distinctive accents so reminiscent of Frances McDormand’s character in the movie Fargo.
I met the sisters for a coffee; we stayed for two. As they finished each other’s sentences, they also took on one another’s pain and revealed a remarkable story of faith, loss, and how music serves as a perfect metaphor for life.
To begin, I asked Candice and Karee to describe a typical week.
“We used to do four nights a week between Mandatory Air [an eight-piece rock band], Miller Sisters Duo, and Bootleg Flyer [a five-piece bluegrass band],” said Candice.
“Easily,” added Karee, with a groan.
“Now we do, like, two,” Candice continued. “And we’re also active with the Good Shepherd Church, and Karee’s active at the Presbyterian Church and Church of the Tetons, helping with music and song leading.”
I asked the sisters about their strengths, and their similarities and differences.
“Some people say we are the same,” Karee said, “but …”
“No, we are definitely different,” chimed in Candice.
“I don’t really like to admit my strengths,” said Karee. “I’m more of a person who will admit my weaknesses, so the things that I’m not good at are …”
“Let’s not talk about our weaknesses,” said Candice, eliciting laughs all around.
“What we can do with our talent?” asked Karee, rhetorically. “That’s there. Thank God. When it’s just the two of us, if someone comes up and asks, ‘Will you play this song?’ we will play it. If we have heard it once, we can play it.”
“Originally, I brought songwriting to the table,” Candice said; “I started songwriting and playing guitar in my teen years. Well, then Karee … ended up picking up an instrument, playing mandolin, writing her first song. The band saw her natural singer-songwriter talent. And then there’s the costume thing. Karee originally brought that.”
“I don’t know where we got that idea,” Karee said, “except for growing up we never spent money on clothes … the older kids would just hand us down stuff. So when we got out of college …”
“… [and] got some money, it was to the mall!” Candice said. “We spent all the money we made on our costumes.”
“And makeup,” added Karee. “Just because it was fun to do.”
I asked how Candice and Karee balance family with careers as they settle into their mid-thirties and their roles as entertainers, wives, and mothers.
“Once you have kids it’s a whole new world,” Karee said. “Your [own] world? It’s not done, but it’s on pause. I’m on pause. And I hope my crows feet stay on pause; I hope I look good and feel good when I come out of this.”
“Yeah, it used to be so super easy,” Candice agreed. “You show up, look good, and sing songs. Have a drink, party, go home … then do it again tomorrow. That doesn’t really exist anymore. It’s like, well, maybe we should play the four to seven [o’clock] or maybe we should take the seven to ten gig and be home by midnight and we can [still] be up to get the kids on the bus. I think that’s been the biggest challenge.”
“I look back and [see that] the one thing that’s carried me throughout my whole life is having my faith and a foundation,” said Karee. “If anything goes down, I know where to turn to. And you know what? It’s not my mom and dad … it is physically, but mentally and emotionally it is to God and that’s what I’m delivering as a parent.”
“Last night,” Candice said, “when [six-year-old] Mary Jane was taking a bath, I was like, ‘Hmmm … what is she singing?’ I thought, ‘Oh, she’s singing “Saints of the Mountains” because we sang it on Saturday night mass, not the Meghan Trainor song, “All About That Bass,” that she’s usually singing.’ Raise your voices, lift your heart, this is the day the Lord has made, Let us rejoice and be glad. Those are good words.”
Finally, I inquired about the tragic loss Candice suffered fairly recently.
“In February of 2013 I had a baby boy,” she said. “Kelvin Arthur. On May 4th, Karee and I went to Sun Valley for a gig and he passed away in his sleep. He was a SIDS baby; he was nine weeks old.”
“Because I made her go to the gig,” said Karee.
“Not because Karee made me go to a gig,” countered Candice.
“Everybody was supposed to go to the gig,” said Karee, “but Chad [Candice’s husband] wanted to stay back, and so did my mother-in-law. So I said, ‘We need to go to this gig,’ and we got in the car and we went to Sun Valley. All the way there we were saying we didn’t feel right about it.”
“He’d be two February 26,” Candice said; “he was born on Johnny Cash’s birthday. The first year people would come up to me at a show and want to give me a necklace or something … tell me a story about when they went to check on their eighteen-month old daughter and she didn’t wake up.”
“Letting her know that she’s not alone,” added Karee. “Because you feel so all alone, you know?
“You have to get to a point where you say, ‘I’m going to just move forward,’” Candice said. “You have got to think about that every day in your life, but do you say, ‘Well, I had two, but …’? Or do you say, ‘I have just one beautiful, healthy girl,’ and move into your conversation? It’s a constant.” She paused, then continued with a deep sigh and tears: “But then there’s good things. Like our Saint Bernard, who was nine and a half. He had bone cancer. I had this really good dream that Kelvin would have this big fluffy white dog to fly around on. That would be good.
“Last year in February for [Kelvin’s] birthday, Chad and I went to the cemetery out there on Cedron [Road] in the morning. We took Mary Jane. And we took red roses and spread them out across the snow on a trail and it was really pretty and it was sunny and it was all white. Afterward, Karee and I met at Ben Winship’s studio and recorded twenty-two hymns in three hours.”
“So, that’s what we did,” said Karee. “And that’s going to come out sometime [soon]. Candice, this is what I was talking about—this kind of thing only happens to people who can handle it … you are the strength that others don’t have. It’s hard to explain, but I think that you get given …
“… life experiences …” said Candice.
“… for a purpose,” Karee said, completing their shared thought; “and that is to help others. That’s what I think we do with our music. It’s not about the fame and fortune, because what we have is so much more than that. And it always will be.”