You can imagine how any musician would have felt in Clara Salyer's shoes: After spending a couple of years building up a strong local buzz and a couple of months working on an ambitious album, one of her band members suddenly formed his own group, dropped an EP and within months wound up adorning magazine covers in England -- more or less breaking up the older band as a result.
Now imagine how you might feel if you were an 18-year-old in that situation, one who got her GED her sophomore year of high school to dedicate herself to music.
"I was devastated for a while," the Prissy Clerks singer/guitarist, now 19, admits. "Every part of my body wanted to be happy for him and encourage him, but no matter what I couldn't. I was jealous and wanted to give up music."
Salyer's prior group, daydreamy indie-pop band Total Babe, abruptly came to an end last summer when guitarist Jordan Gatesmith signed to Rough Trade Records with his other band, Howler. Gatesmith is basically living out every rock 'n' roll kid's dream now. It's hard to begrudge him that, and Salyer doesn't. But she also doesn't need to explain why the first batch of songs from her new band sounds lost, frustrated and disenchanted.
Formed in October and playing only their seventh gig for Vita.mn's Are You Local? contest on Friday, Prissy Clerks are steeped in fractured, reverb-heavy guitar à la '90s indie-rock bands such as Sebadoh and Pavement. That's balanced out with accordion-buoyed melodies and Salyer's girl-gone-mild, slacker-poet frontwoman quality.
The quintet -- like Total Babe, not a band to Google blindly (Alexis on the Sexes might need to explain that one) -- also features Total Babe drummer Tim Leick and another of Salyer's friends from high school, accordionist Emily Lazear, still a student at Hopkins' Main Street School of Performing Arts. Its other two members tip the age scale: Guitarist Dylan Ritchie is 30; and bassist Howard Hamilton III is "too old to talk about it" (at least twice Salyer's age).
Also the well-known singer/guitarist in Red Pens, Hamilton was helping Total Babe record its album and sympathized with Salyer when the band went kaput.
"[The record] was a lot of work but wound up sounding really great," he recalled, "and then Howler just threw this EP together that was kind of a joke. They had it at their shows and only had it in plastic sleeves, no cover on it, like they didn't even take it seriously."
Salyer said Gatesmith was "too much a part of Total Babe" for her to carry on using the band name, so Hamilton encouraged her to continue as a solo artist. That's not her style, but her bandmates believe it could have been her destiny.
"I didn't initially join the band because I heard the songs and thought, 'I'm not really needed,' " Ritchie recounted.
Among the first Prissy Clerk tunes are "Losing Time" and "Daydream Catcher," both defined by confused, stuck-in-a-moment lyrics with timeless, universal appeal. The poppier (but not much happier) "No Sir" is already getting Current airplay.
Prissy Clerks will head down to Cannon Falls next month to record a debut EP with former Pachyderm Studio engineer Brent Sigmuth, which should be out by summer. In the meantime, Total Babe's dust-collecting album, "Troubled Youth," is finally set to come out in April on Afternoon Records.
Like her old bandmate Gatesmith -- who recruited Prissy Clerks to open Howler's release party in January -- she leaves little doubt where her heart lies these days.
"I took Total Babe so seriously, that was one of the reasons it was hard to lose it," she said. But she did not show any sign that the experience tempered her own rock 'n' roll dreams.
"I'm taking this band even more seriously."