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New Babes in Toyland bassist Clara Salyer: 'I just wanted to do the songs justice'

Babes in Toyland, from left: Clara Salyer, Kat Bjelland, and Lori Barbero. Dog's name unknown.

Babes in Toyland, from left: Clara Salyer, Kat Bjelland, and Lori Barbero. Dog's name unknown.

When asked to be the new bass player in one of the most important punk bands of the '90s, the weight of the rare opportunity didn't escape 23-year-old Clara Salyer.

Minneapolis’ own Babes in Toyland put out three records and two EPs before disbanding in 2001. In June of 2014, frontwoman Kat Bjelland, drummer Lori Barbero, and heyday bassist Maureen Herman announced the trio’s reunion. Last June, they roared through their homecoming show at Rock the Garden. 

Two months later, Herman announced via Facebook that she had been fired from the band

Instead, Salyer would play bass. Barbero met Salyer, who's also a member of local punk groups Whatever Forever and Royal Brat, through mutual friends. When it came time to decide on a new member, she was the clear choice because of her proven chops and open schedule.

The new Babes lineup has hit more than a dozen cities since last summer, including Seattle for September's massive Bumbershoot festival. This Saturday, they'll play First Avenue — their first post-reunion hometown club show. 

Salyer put her own music on pause to begin touring with Babes in Toyland, a group she discovered as a teen while perusing the used record bins at Cheapo’s former Lake Street location.

“I was just blown away by how powerful [Babes in Toyland's music] was,” she remembers. “I hadn’t listened to a lot of female artists really — I’m not quite sure if that’s how I would describe them — but, I was listening to like, the Who and classic rock stuff.”

Salyer is 23 compared to Bjelland and Barbero’s 52 and 54, respectively. But beyond the original Babes’ breadth of experience, Salyer says their interactions aren’t altered by age differences. “We’re all just super passionate, and that’s the most important part,” she says.

Like any other band, Babes goof off at practice. “The other day we were playing songs and [Bjelland] changed all the lyrics to half the songs to super funny and inappropriate things,” Salyer reports.

Any pressure on Salyer comes from herself and, perhaps, older fans more accustomed to former Babes incarnations. 

“It was just me building it up in my head and not wanting to let down fans,” she says. “I just wanted to do the songs justice.”

Salyer notes sitting down with headphones for 10 hours a day to master the songs. Although most of Babes’ songs are comprised of a few simple parts, she says they tend to take unexpected turns and twists.

“[Bjelland] is really into classical music, and I think she takes from those darker composers for some of the more haunting, atypical transitions,” she says. “I was obsessed with Stravinsky for a while, so I think that’s why we see eye to eye on a lot of things.”

Salyer joining Babes in Toyland is mutually beneficial. Bjelland and Barbero get a fresh player to help amplify their longstanding­­­ energy. And Salyer gets a once-in-a-lifetime experience with infinite learning opportunities and chances for exposure. The work ethic exuded by her veteran bandmates is inspiring her own musical directions.

“Seeing all the fun parts of touring and the payoff of working really hard has refueled some excitement for my own music,” Salyer says. “It’s definitely opened my eyes.”

The Babes gig makes for an insane schedule, but it's one she's glad to have. 

"It doesn’t give me time to think or be sad in the winter. It’s a little messy right now," says Salyer, who also works part-time jobs at two bookstores and a library. "Whenever I can when I’m home, I'm practicing with two or three bands. It just makes me aware of my time, and realizing I want to spend as much as possible doing music." 

Babes in Toyland

With: Kitten Forever and Ageist

When: 7 p.m. Sat., Jan. 30

Where: First Avenue

Tickets: $25; more info here