Prissy Clerks debut Bruise or Be Bruised
Clara Salyer has done a lot of maturing over the past couple of years, but she's still young — even as far as musicians go. You can tell that from the big black X's on the backs of her hands, a dead giveaway that she's not yet old enough to drink. Salyer was in high school when she fronted her first band, Total Babe, and already has a pretty good idea of who she is as a musician.
"I used to be totally annoyed when people called Total Babe a twee band. I didn't understand," recalls Salyer, who has a wool cap pulled down over her head, and her face partially hidden by a pair of large, dark-rimmed glasses. "But I realized it's kind of a huge compliment. I'm probably never going to get away from it, because my voice sounds like I'm a child." She shrugs and gives a laugh, as if she's letting her insecurities simply roll off her back. "I'm just always going to sound like a Disney character."
That attitude also sums up plenty about Salyer's new band, Prissy Clerks, who are gathered with her at a Mexican restaurant in south Minneapolis. Their songs display wide-eyed enthusiasm, a newfound sense of self, and the defiant, even sneering belief in staying young forever. It's just the kind of attitude, in fact, that makes a person do something irresponsible like start a rock band.
"Total Babe was kind of like finding ourselves, learning what music was and what bands we liked," Salyer says of her former band, in which her current drummer, Tim Leick Jr, also played. "But for me [now] there's a more reckless attitude. I just want to play really loud."
When it comes to playing loud, Salyer's in good company: Bandmates Dylan Ritchie and Howard Hamilton, as she puts it, "have been in 80 bands," including noise-rock avatars Teenage Strangler and Red Pens. "I think this happens to everybody who's in a band, where you go to a show of another local band...and you have that 'uh-oh' moment, where you're like, 'That's what I want to be doing. What am I doing over here?' And that's how I felt every time I saw Teenage Strangler," explains Salyer. "So," she adds, with a note of sarcasm, "I'm selfishly trying to suck the energy of Teenage Strangler, in some form, into Prissy Clerks."
Perhaps that's just the electric guitars talking, or a sign that she's increasingly self-assured, but there's often a layer of sarcasm in what Salyer says. True enough, there's something rock 'n' roll about her singing, "Everybody says that everybody dies/But everybody's wrong 'cause everybody lies," a line that could be Prissy Clerks' debut, Bruise or Be Bruised, in a nutshell. But when it comes to discussing where her songs come from, she suddenly becomes bashful, shaking her head nervously and looking down. "I only like saying what I'm not doing," she says abruptly. "That would be too good of an interview."
Where Bruised succeeds is in how well it fuses those different impulses to capture the freedom and uncertainty of young adulthood, with poppy hooks, fuzzy guitar fills, a bratty sense of humor, and only partially hidden vulnerability. If Ritchie's leads are all over songs like "Death Wish" or the stop-start, psychedelic rush of "Psychic Love," then the beauty of "Losing Time" and closer "Stay Glad" are all about Salyer's sweet, cloying vocals. Little surprise, then, that the album was recorded in two bursts, the slower songs on a countryside retreat, the others in a somewhat last-minute effort to cut the heavier songs in one go.
Part of the rushed nature of those later sessions was a matter of necessity. Prissy Clerks' accordion player, Emily Lazear, was about to start her freshman year of college on the West Coast. Since then, the band has been playing off and on without her — they'll be packing in as many shows as possible over winter break — and one need look no further than "Losing Time" to appreciate just what she brings to the table. "As a four-piece I think it's great," says Salyer. "But I feel more comfortable when it's a five-piece. It's missing something when she's gone."
There probably won't be any such detours on Salyer's end any time soon. For the foreseeable future, her education seems destined to be a crash course of late nights in barrooms, a trial-by-fire on stage. Salyer shrugs about her brief time in college, "I did take a couple classes, and then stopped halfway through. There's a running joke: When I say something stupid, I just say, 'Yeah, I took a class.'"
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