By Colin Stutz; Photo by Patrick Waites on July 15, 2013
As young punks growing up in the San Fernando Valley, sisters Jennifer and Jessie Clavin were drawn to a handmade, solid-wood guitar their father kept under the bed—shining gemlike in its case’s royal-blue velvet lining. Each morning before he left for work, he would put it away, and after school the sisters would secretly pull it out to practice thrashy covers of The Slits in their Northridge garage.
Inspired after seeing an all-girl band at the Troubadour in West Hollywood as teens, they decided to start their own. Marching out of the show towards a bus stop, they stole a sign for the realtor DBL on their way and appropriated the acronym to their liking, shouting it out in English accents a la ’77 anarcho-punks Crass.
“Dead Banana Ladies!” the two yell out now, laughing identical sort of bleating Valley laughs, relaxing on Jennifer’s Hollywood Hills balcony. They’re nursing early afternoon cups of white wine to appease tequila hangovers from an album release celebration the night before.
DBL was short-lived. Its last gig was in some brightly lit after-school center with a circle pit of boys crashing into each other. Turned off, the next day the sisters started a new band called Mika Miko with Jessie’s best girlfriends from high school.
Over the next few years, Mika Miko and the Clavins became mainstays of the LA punk scene, ever fun and irreverent, finding a home at the downtown DIY venue The Smell among the likes of No Age, Abe Vigoda and The Mae Shi. After years of trekking across Southern California by bus to Corona or Pomona for all-ages shows, Jennifer and Jessie were amazed to find this secret spot in a dirty back alley near Skid Row.
“At that time, you felt like you were being kind of bad. Like, ‘If my parents only knew I was here,’” says Jennifer, now 28, wiping a strand of faded pink hair away from her mouth. “But then it was like such a cool place. Inside, you felt totally safe.”
On came seven years of touring and three blistering LPs stacked with eccentric two-minute blitzes. With three final shows at The Smell, Mika Miko split up January 1, 2010, and the members went separate ways on amicable terms. The Clavins casually got to work on a new band called Bleached that was to be just the two of them, but for a while it remained an afterthought to other plans: Jennifer started fashion school in Pasadena but then wound up moving to New York to join the goth synth-pop project Cold Cave as a keyboardist, dating the bandleader Wesley Eisold.
But before too long, she moved back to California, tired of playing someone else’s parts of someone else’s songs for her boyfriend’s band. Jennifer called her younger sister up and got to work writing songs for Bleached. “I feel like with everything I’d been going through, I also had a lot to sing about,” she says.
Sure enough, Jessie, too, left her other projects behind and recognition came quickly following Bleached’s first recordings: several seven-inch singles released in 2011. Today—with the headaches and light sensitivity to prove it—the sisters’ work has culminated in the album Ride Your Heart, a collection of hard-up love songs that replace Mika Miko’s manic playing with a more airy attitude, faded in Southern California sun and lo-fi Phil Spector arrangements. “This is what I’ve been waiting for forever,” says Jessie, 26.
Talking about the path that brought them here, with each other’s words of personal insight—like, about how it felt after Mika Miko broke up—one Clavin feeds the other a sort of discerning “ohhhh” in response. It’s as if they’d never discussed these things out loud before.
Looking to the Burbank skyline through a ravine northward, they laugh again together, twin-like, and maybe a little self-conscious of their own revelations. For a couple of high-school dropouts—punks from the beginning—they’ve done well for themselves. Thank goodness for the LA Metro, blessed be rock and roll, and long live the Dead Banana Ladies.
“I want to be an influence now because I feel like I did my time,” says Jessie, skipping a few words in thought before describing the time she was approached by a girl at a club who told her she’d been the girl’s reason to start playing bass. To be sure, this cannot be an isolated occurrence.
“But this was the one time I’ve ever heard this and it made me want to cry,” says Jessie. “That’s just so awesome.” F
3 ALBUMS THAT INSPIRED BLEACHED TO MAKE MUSIC
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars
I love the feeling this album gives, there are so many elements to it. It gives a sense of having a good time. This is how I would want people to feel listening to our music.
This is one of my all-time favorites! It’s just this one guy from Germany in the ’70s but it’s so moody and psychedelic. It makes me want to start this crazy psych band and do a bunch of acid.
In the Beginning
This was the first record I bought because I thought the cover looked so cool. I became obsessed with it and how the songs were like nothing I had heard before. When I sat down to learn my first song on guitar, it was a song from this album.
This article is from FILTER Issue 52