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You can imagine how any musician would have felt in Clara Salyer's shoes: After a couple of years of building up a local buzz and a couple of months working on an ambitious album, her guitarist suddenly formed his own group and wound up adorning magazine covers in England -- more or less breaking up her band.
Now imagine you were an 18-year-old in that situation, one who got a GED during her sophomore year of high school so she could dedicate herself to music.
"I was devastated for a while," the 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 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. As most Twin Cities music scenesters know, 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, Prissy Clerks, sound lost, frustrated and disenchanted.
Formed in October and playing only their seventh gig Friday as part of Vita.mn's Are You Local? contest, the quintet is steeped in fractured, reverb-heavy guitar work à la '90s indie-rock bands such as Sebadoh and Pavement. That's balanced out with accordion-buoyed melodies and the girl-gone-mild, slacker-poet frontwoman quality that Salyer carries over from Total Babe.
Prissy Clerks -- like Total Babe, not a band to Google blindly (sexual content might come up) -- also features Total Babe drummer Tim Leick and another high school friend of Salyer's, accordionist Emily Lazear, who still attends Hopkins' Main Street Performing Arts School. Its other members tip the age scale: Guitarist Dylan Ritchie, also in the band Teenage Strangler, is 30; and bassist Howard Hamilton III is "too old to talk about it" (he's at least twice Salyer's age).
Hamilton, best known as the singer/guitarist in Red Pens, was helping Total Babe record its still-unreleased album. He 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 the band without him, 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.
Those tunes include "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. Nearly all the band's songs so far are based on a unique tuning that Salyer lifted from the song "It's OK" by one of her favorite bands, Land of Talk. Coincidentally or not, Hamilton uses the same tuning in several songs by his new garage-punk band, the NPCs (in which Salyer and Ritchie back him).
Prissy Clerks will head to Cannon Falls next month to record a debut EP with former Pachyderm Studio engineer Brent Sigmeth; it should be out by summer. In the meantime, Total Babe's dust-collecting album, fittingly titled "Troubled Youth," is 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."
After gaining a buzz straight out of high school in 2009 off their debut album on Afternoon Records, Blaine-reared indie-popsters Now, Now Every Children dropped half their members and half their name to become Now, Now -- and then sort of dropped off the local radar.
They were busy elsewhere, it turns out. Co-leaders Cacie Dalager and Bradley Hale added guitarist/co-vocalist Jess Abbott, signed a deal with Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla's label Trans Records and then trekked to Vancouver last summer to record with producer Howard Redekopp (Tegan and Sara, New Pornographers). It all led up to this week's release of "Threads," which the trio will promote Saturday at the Triple Rock with the Farewell Circuit and Dan Mariska (8:30 p.m., $10).
Sounding a lot like a younger, prettier version of Walla's bandmate Ben Gibbard, Dalager steps out as a provocative and poetic frontwoman in songs such as "Prehistoric" and "School Friends," which imagines one man's ideal girlfriend: "She'll be invisible like you want her," she sings. Her sharp tongue is matched by an edgier sound, with icy guitar interludes and hard-pulsating, vaguely electronic-styled beats scattered throughout the 11 songs. That down time was certainly well spent.
Random music news and notes
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Ronnie Spector playing at the Amsterdam Bar?! That's one of several cool things on tap for the Girls Got Rhythm Fest, announced for May 11-12 at St. Paul's new rock tavern, also with Japanese rockers the 184.108.40.206.'s (of "Kill Bill" fame), the Muffs and locals such as L'Assassins. Details at GirlsGotRhythmFest.com. ... Saturday at the Amsterdam, stormy pop-rockers the Small Cities take the big stage to promote their first full-length album, "With Fire," which falls sonically between Sunny Day Real Estate and early Radiohead. The disc was produced by Peter Wolf Crier drummer/tinkerer Brian Moen and boasts a heavier sound (and one extra band member) than the group's debut EP. ...
Fresh off a week of gigs with Poliça and Marijuana Deathsquads, bombastic noise-rockers Total [Expletive]-ing Blood -- featuring Poliça's Ben Ivascu on drums -- return home to promote their second album, "Real Demons," at the Turf Club Saturday. The Deathsquads and Slapping Purses open the show; not one you'd want to bring your timid out-of-town guests to (10 p.m., $7). Recorded with Neil Weir at Old Blackberry Way Studio, the LP throws in a remake of the Minutemen's "Paranoid Chant." ... Poliça will head back to Texas in two weeks for the South by Southwest Music Conference, where they're booked to play the IFC Crossroads House (airing on the Web and TV), among many other gigs. ... I wouldn't be surprised to see some form of the Deathsquads at Sunday's Nick & Eddie Winter Party, starting at 4 p.m. with a dozen acts including Me & My Arrow, Zoo Animal, Mayda and Grant Cutler. ...
McNally Smith College of Music is making an ambitious SXSW push this year, including its own day party on March 17 with Astronautalis, Pink Mink, Zoo Animal, the Honeydogs and more. ... David Campbell and I will discuss the heavy Minnesota presence at SXSW this year on 89.3 the Current's "Local Show" at 6 p.m. Sunday. Rockford Mules singer Erik Tasa, who is issuing a solo album, also guests on the show.