PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A County resident wouldn’t look twice at Brandon Miles and Hannah Colleen if they saw them at the grocery store. The couple said they blend in with Presque Isle’s rural community, a loving couple in their 30s, possibly only distinguished by their stylish dress and love for 1980s nostalgia.
But Miles and Colleen have full-time jobs like few others in the area: They make up the electropop duo Crunk Witch. A synth-heavy band that sings of love, self-empowerment and science fiction with a 1980s motif, the duo’s unique music and energetic live shows have led to fans nationwide and hundreds of thousands of listens on streaming services.
The couple is humble about their chosen careers. They aren’t unique in The County. Like most, they have full-time jobs, albeit ones that require traveling across the country in a van filled with lights and faux fur coats.
Colleen, who is from Presque Isle, met Miles while he was working as a DJ and electronic music producer in Portland. They quickly formed a strong bond that turned creative when they began the group Crunk Witch in 2009.
Since then, the group has released four albums and played hundreds of live shows. Most notably, they have represented Presque Isle at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, four different times. They will make their fifth appearance this March.
Colleen said that inspiration for Crunk Witch is eclectic. Though they took inspiration from modern electronic music production, their style is rooted in an appreciation for pop culture far beyond the music medium. They especially appreciate classic video games and cheesy fantasy and action films of the 1980s and 1990s.
Miles said Crunk Witch started as a sort of “joke” between the couple. He found his previous electronic music work unfulfilling because he felt he had to control his creative impulses to be successful in the field. With Crunk Witch, he gained musical freedom.
The electronic music scene is a balkanized world, featuring a litany of genres and subgenres, each one smaller and more niche than the last. Chiptune, folktronica, vaporwave, witch house and glitch are among the most popular in recent years.
Living somewhere with practically no music scene, and with a penchant for looking outside of the box of traditional culture, the duo said they sound little like any of their contemporaries. They described themselves as the “wildcard” at most shows they play with other acts.
“I would say it’s its own blessing and curse,” Colleen said. “Because our sound will stand out, but we often don’t fit in anywhere.”
Last year, the duo spent nearly four months on the road, playing more than 90 shows across the United States, two of which were in The County.
The group travels in a minivan featuring their instruments, a laptop, a light show and an assortment of electronics, including controllers, mixers and vocal effects. They’ve even fit the van with a full-sized bed frame, so that they can take naps during the day.
For Miles and Colleen, the Crunk Witch experience is about far more than music: it’s a visual experience, featuring stunning neon lights, elaborate on-stage costumes and a lot of action. They compare their performances to a theater production.
The group is also distinguished by their dress. Their over-the-top outfits reflect the most indulgent fashion of the 1980s. Low-button shirts, chains and rimless glasses are just some of the apparel you might see at a Crunk Witch show, either on stage or from passionate fans who show up dressed like the duo.
“I think we definitely go for that dripping 80s vibe,” Miles said. “It’s a very fun image to have.”
The band has fans in Aroostook County, but not nearly as many as outside of it. They said their most extensive fan base might be thousands of miles away in Texas, where they played almost 10 shows last year.
Yet, even as they tour nationwide playing an alternative subgenre alien to many in Aroostook County, they don’t lose sight of their homebase. On their “faux fur tour,” the pair wore faux fur jackets they had bought from Marden’s Surplus and Salvage in Presque Isle. And everywhere they go, they are billed as hailing from Presque Isle, Maine.
As for handling the dynamics of being both married and a musical duo, Miles and Colleen said compromise and conflict resolution is the key. Because both have “strong visions” for what they want to see in each of their songs, there’s a lot of give-and-take.
“Compromise in a marriage is one thing,” Colleen said. “Compromise in a creative endeavor, I think, is harder.”
The band starts a new tour on March 5 that will begin in Southbridge, Massachusetts, and take them all the way to California. Though they have a touring act that performs more outside of Maine than inside, they look forward to continuing to make music free from the influence of others in scenic Aroostook County.
“Living up here, there are no rules for what we should not do,” Miles said. “So, we always just go for it.”