Jennifer Clavin was through with manifestos when she entered the California desert. She was ready for a memoir.
When she and her bandmates in Bleached emerged from their dusty retreat, they were aglow with psilocybin and spiritually refreshed. The product was Welcome the Worms -- a reclamatory document of Clavin’s struggle to find herself following an abusive relationship and a spinout into booze and substances. The L.A. punk quartet hit the road with the vigor of young colts only to find that their vision quest hadn’t translated to the press.
“We were constantly being asked about what it was like to be an all-girl band, which we’re not, or what it’s like to be girls in a band,” Clavin remembers. “Since I’ve been playing music, [it’s been] more about the novelty of me being a woman with a guitar. I was sick of that at that point. I was like, ‘Why aren’t you asking me about the deep personal stuff that I spent the last year writing about?’”
When the Welcome the Worms tour ended in 2016, Clavin, her sister Jessica (guitar, vocals), bassist Micayla Grace, and drummer Nick Pillot went into the studio to exorcise their frustrations. The result was Can You Deal?, a searing pocketful of new songs and B-sides. It’s the reluctant manifesto Clavin was compelled to write, and on Saturday night, she’ll vent her frustrations to a sold-out crowd while opening for punk legends the Damned at the Fine Line in Minneapolis.
“I feel like I have a platform to speak and say what’s on my mind,” Clavin says of the four-song EP, released on March 3. “With Trump being elected, I felt like everyone got too safe and didn’t speak up enough before. Then, it was like everyone realized that we have to continue to keep talking and not let ourselves backtrack.”
EP opener “Can You Deal?” confronts the problem with no opacity. “Pretty little child, tell me your tale / How you got the courage to rebel yell,” the song opens, only to build to the venomously plain chorus of “Yeah I’m a girl and I play in a band -- can you deal?”
Therein lies Can You Deal?’s power. By reducing the question of “What’s it like being a girl in a rock band?” to a foregone absurdity, Clavin embarrasses industry chauvinists into recoil. But that’s not where she’s content to end it.
Can You Deal? was distributed alongside a zine of the same name. In the zine, a ream of female musicians take to the page to express their frustration, dejection, anger, and indignation over the same treatment that created “Can You Deal?”
“The zine is just a place where female-identifying musicians are just sharing their experiences in the music industry,” Clavin says. “Anyone who talks shit on that would look really crazy.”
The Can You Deal? zine contains accounts from female luminaries the likes of Liz Phair, Patty Schemel, Kate Nash, Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino, Paramore’s Hayley Williams, and Tegan Quin. Each woman in Bleached also gets a page to say their piece, as do Minnesotans Alicia Bognanno of Bully and Lizzo.
“I sent like 15 emails out, I did not know what to expect,” Clavin says. “It was kinda scary emailing everyone not knowing if they were gonna think it was crazy or whether or not they were dealing with it, and I was totally shocked that the response was so awesome and supportive. It just kept going.”
Can You Deal? does not stop at commonsense feminism in its screed. At its heart, the album is about the myriad dangers of intimacy.
While “Turn to Rage” and the title track might shame you for not digging deep enough, despondent pop burner “Dear Trouble” outlines the treacheries of going too deep. “Poor Jennifer, I’ve been crazy all of my life,” Clavin sings in half-hearted warning. Likewise, “Flipside” details the diminishing returns of infatuation, acting as a cautionary tale for both love and music. In both cases, the diagnosis is clear -- go beyond the surface, but proceed at great risk.
Splitting the difference is “Turn to Rage,” a chugging castaway from the Welcome the Worms desert sessions. Going back to the emotional sludge of Clavin’s unhealthy relationship, “Turn to Rage” questions how dangerous it is for Clavin to introspect, turning the question of “can you deal?” inward for the first time.
“When you’re in a situation like that, you’re questioning yourself, like ‘Do I like being treated this way?’” Clavin says. “Sometimes I wonder, if I were to give my lyrics to a therapist, could they really just dissect me and say, ‘You really need to work on this or this.’”
Retreating to the desert to write Welcome the Worms was all about self-help. It was Clavin and her bandmates finding a base after a great tumult and learning how to process any offenses or traumas levied at them. Institutional sexism was just the first to cross their path after that stint in the desert. There’s no telling what the next outrage will bring.
“For me, writing music is very therapeutic,” Clavin says. “Whatever I’m dealing with at the time, that’ll determine what the lyrics will be about.”
With: The Damned
When: 7 p.m. Sat., April 22
Where: Fine Line Music Cafe
Tickets: Sold out; more info here
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