Total Babe's songwriter/guitarist Clara Salyer is eating scrambled eggs and toast for lunch. She is wearing a blue and green knit Minnesota Timberwolves hat, which is a key part of her wardrobe. Clara just turned 17. She has been studying music for years—specifically jazz bass, but creating pop music is her current occupation.
Total Babe's recently released EP, Heatwave, is breathtakingly accomplished, with complicated melodies and fully realized pop sensibilities. The songs are full of sweet sadness and sparkle. The music has a floating quality to it, like doing the backstroke in a clear lake while staring at the sky. Violinist Lizzie Carolan's ethereal melodies create the hue, while Jordan Gatesmith and Salyer's harmonies bring delicious boy/girl energy and pop jangle. They recently added drummer Tim Leick, one of the band's buddies, to the lineup.
In person Salyer is simultaneously awkward and all knowing, like one of the sisters from The Virgin Suicides, and has already captured the attention of fellow local musicians like Red Pens' Howard Hamilton III. "She has some really adult tendencies, but in the end she is just a kid still sneaking out, doing doughnuts in parking lots and TPing people's houses," remarks Hamilton. "It's really funny to watch it all unravel and come together."
We recently sat down with Salyer to discuss her love of music, her band, and her new record label (yes, she has one) over breakfast-for-lunch.
City Pages: You recently left your music high school. What turned you off of that?
Clara Salyer: I was happy I got to play music at school, but at the end of an eight-hour day learning things I wasn't interested in, I realized I could get an education later and do music now.
CP: And you are doin' it. You recently went to CMJ [the College Music Journal's industry fest in New York], right?
Salyer: I was going to go and see if I could sneak into any of the shows, and it turned out we could actually play, then my head kind of exploded.
CP: Tell me about your musical influences.
Salyer: For Total Babe, one of my big influences is Lou Barlow from Sebadoh. I heard the acoustic version of "Brand New Love" and that was the turning point—that song totally changed my life. Originally, I wanted to be a folk singer. I tried really hard to get a folk band together. If you play a guitar you have to have a folk band, right? But then I just started writing pop tunes and decided not to fight it. Over the last year—I really appreciate a song for what it is. I used to be a total music snob and I hate myself for it. But a good song is a good song no matter who writes it.
CP: And you have your own record label....
Salyer: It's called Personal Best and it's a part of Afternoon Records. They [Afternoon Records] are now doing more national things—that's cool, but the label was started to work with local bands and young bands. So he [Ian Anderson, the label's main guy] decided to let me and my friend Shane, who is in a band called the Shoe Shiners, start a subdivision to do that. Since we are young kids making music, we can look for other young kids making music. It's really rewarding, putting on a local show, attending it, and seeing people have fun.
CP: You do realize most 17-year-old girls don't have their own record label?
Salyer: Yeah [laughs]. I was like literally freaking out, peeing my pants [when Ian offered her the label]. We work with a bunch of local acts. The first record [by the Shoe Shiners] will be out in November.
CP: Is learning about the business side disenchanting, or does it get you psyched?
Salyer: Both. At first it was a little draining. The amount of work that goes into it lessens the romantic side. But I am really excited because I can do it the way I want. To have kids believe in you and trust you—everyone just wants to make good music and put out a record. I really didn't know how anything worked. I still don't know everything, but I do know the steps to get there.
CP: You seem to really know who you are.
Salyer: I am trying to figure it out.
TOTAL BABE play the Personal Best Records launch party with Shoe Shiners and We Valdictorians on FRIDAY, OCTOBER 30, at the MUSIC BOX; 612.871.1414