Can You Deal?

Growing up I didn’t feel comfortable with society’s standards of being a “girl”. Not that I wanted to be a boy, I just wasn’t interested in wearing make up, the color pink, or talking about boys. I wanted to learn how to skateboard and play music.

My best friend and I would dress up like boys and go to the local backyard punk shows in either east LA or the valley. I had cut off all my hair at that point. We would put on baseball hats, tape our boobs down and just hang out. When I would get mistaken as a boy I felt so accomplished. I wanted my name to be Victor no matter what I looked like and to be honest, I still love that name.

Later, I began to embrace the feminine side in me. Wearing dresses and embracing my curves. I eventually felt excited to be a woman. I was finally comfortable expressing my femininity and confident enough to brush off the sexist remarks, inappropriate slurs, uninvited advances, or misconduct I would encounter: a back and forth of acceptance in itself.

Eventually one of my first bands, Mika Miko, got some recognition. Interviewers would constantly ask “What is it like to be a girl in a band?” or “Did you purposely construct your band with all girls to make a statement?”. I was thrown off by these questions. Mika Miko was my best friends and my sister; not a carefully constructed statement. I wasn’t aware that females starting a band together was anything more than us making music. Now I was rebelling? Over the years we all learned to ignore the question, be polite about it, and move on. What would you like me to say? Even one interviewer was shocked when I listed my favorite bands at the time… She couldn’t believe I didn’t list one band with a female singer. I wasn’t thinking about gender, I was thinking about the music that makes me fucking feel something!

Last year my band Bleached released a full length album titled Welcome The Worms. This record was very personal to me. I wrote about being in and getting out of an emotionally abusive relationship. It was a record about getting spun out on drugs and alcohol. It was a record about totally losing myself in order to find myself. It was also our most ambitious body of work yet containing the guitar work and production we had only dreamed of until then. To this day I am still fielding interview questions that have more to do with my gender than with the art I am creating. Somehow, the conversation still derails into some variation of: “What is it like to be a girl in a rock band?” People act surprised that women can play well, play loud, make records, and tour as if it has not been happening for years. I’m done with this novelty they’ve turned me into: a girl playing guitar. I am a musician.

So, here is my answer to your question. Being a girl in a band is no different than being a girl in any field. We have people consistently pointing out our gender as if it relates to our ability. Our gender is pointed out in nearly everything as if it was integral to understanding our band. Labeling me as a woman puts me in a box and forces me to conform to gender roles. This ignores everything else I am. I want to be seen beyond gender and not what the medical stamp says on my birth certificate. When does the novelty wear off? Labeling me is reductive. I create music and art because I need to. To express, to bond, to reconcile, and to connect, and to use my voice. It is insulting to have my art received with such a generic filter. The title track to Bleached’s new EP, “Can You Deal?” is about my experience with this. “You know that it’s me, Who Else Could I Be? Don’t You See?”

I feel the need to create a space for females to share their experiences. The first step towards change is awareness.

Can You Deal? is for every girl out there who is sick of every male sound engineer telling them what they think is right for their guitar set up. Can You Deal? is for every girl who has been told that “girl bands are in right now” by an A&R guy. Can You Deal? is for any girl mulling over press photos, knowing their band will be picked apart for looks and not the actual music. Can You Deal? is for everyone who can please stop referring to my band as “female fronted” or “all girl band”. It is for everyone who can stop feigning surprise every time a woman plugs in and plays well, gets behind the drums, or has the sickest bass style. It is 2017.

CAN YOU DEAL YET?

-JENNIFER CLAVIN