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This Musician Based An Entire Album On 350 Letters Sent Between His Grandparents During WWII

During WWII, Peter Miller's grandparents exchanged 350 letters over the course of four years. His album Picture (Portrait) chronicles their story.

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Peter Miller, the frontman for Minneapolis-based band We Are The Willows, recently finished his second album, Picture (Portrait), which tells the story of his grandparents meeting and ultimately marrying after World War II.

Emilie Robinson / Via The Homestead Records/We Are The Willows

The album is slated for release on Nov. 4 via The Homestead Records.

Peter (far left), who lived with his grandparents while attending college, had heard about the 350 letters his grandparents exchanged during WWII and eventually was given them on his graduation day.

Graham Tolbert

We Are The Willows, from left to right: Peter Miller (songwriter/lead vocalist), Hilary James (cello/voice/keys), Leah Ottman (violin/voice/keys), Stephen Lindquist (drums/voice), Travis Collins (bass), Jeremiah Satterthwaite (guitar/banjo).


"[My grandfather] had heard about [my grandmother] and he wanted to go see what she looked like, so he made a deal with my grandmother’s dad to chop wood for him," says Miller. "And when he saw her, he was immediately magnetized."

On the left, the lyrics to "Dear Ms. Branstner" with a corresponding letter to the right.

Alvin Miller met Verlie Branstner in June 1942, and, in November of that same year, was drafted in the Army and sent to the Southwest Pacific. For the next four years, he and Verlie exchanged over 350 letters, both uncertain of their future together.

And even after Alvin returned home, he ended up working in Minneapolis while Verlie lived in a small town about 150 miles away, so they continued to write letters until they finally married and spent the rest of their lives together.

In 2009, when on the tour for his first album, Miller began reading the letters and taking notes in his spare time. "They’re really potent and it’s hard not to get really emotionally engaged in them and it’s exhausting, all that to say that the process took way longer than I thought it would."

On the left, lyrics to "Turpentine to an Open Wound" with a corresponding letter to the right that references guests and a davenport.

"As I read more letters, and became more invested in this person that my grandpa was, thoughts came more together in later years. I was one of my grandpa’s primary caretakers before he passed away, and that kind of reignited the project."

"Because they didn’t really know each other that well before he left, my grandparents built this relationship from afar. Reading the letters, I just hear my grandpa’s voice — I can hear him responding to things that my grandma says.”