Mika Miko, the latest band to be birthed into the indie-rock mainstream via L.A.'s back-alley venue The Smell, isn't a new phenomenon. Over the last six years, the band has helped build the West Coast's neo-no-wave sound along with fellow travelers Abe Vigoda, No Age, and Health. Mika Miko's new full-length, We Be Xuxa, released in May on Post Present Medium Records, shows a radical maturity in Mika Miko's usual yelp and bang with some welcomed song structure and stronger, tighter beats. In advance of the group's performance at tonight at the Beat Kitchen, guitarist and telephone-crooner Jennifer Clavin spoke with The A.V. Club about adding a little testosterone to the mix, talking popcorn machines, and how the stink of fame has affected The Smell.
The A.V. Club: There's a dude in Mika Miko now. What's the story?
Jennifer Clavin: That's Seth! He's our new drummer. Basically, we were at this point as a band where we weren't able to write new songs because our old drummer [Kate Hall] was having issues being able to play. It was weird because she was really good. But I think she wasn't interested in it anymore, so her playing sort of went downhill instead of getting better. [Guitarist] Michelle Suarez knew Seth Densham, so she brought him in and we tried it out. Seth's drumming was perfect and exactly what we wanted, so we asked him to join the band. We started writing the new record, We Be Xuxa, together in, like, a month so we could have it out by May.
AVC: We Be Xuxa has some really cryptic lyrics, especially on the song "Turkey Sandwich." Care to decipher the lyrics?
JC: Jenna [Thornhill, vocalist] wrote the song, and I play guitar on it, so I might not know them exactly 100 percent, but I can try. She works at a movie theater, and she's basically singing about this popcorn machine made by a company called Cretors. So the song is about Cretors, the popcorn machine, talking to her. She sings, "I'm gonna be someone / Cretors tells me I'm gonna be someone / I want a turkey sandwich." [Laughs.] The deep voice in the song is supposed to be the popcorn machine talking to Jenna, saying, "Jenna, I'll miss you when you go."
AVC: The We Be Xuxa album cover is so "California," like with the strategically placed palm trees. Was that intentional?
JC: Okay, good! We totally wanted it to be really California. It's funny, because the day we took that photo, the band was just out taking promo photos. We weren't intending them to be the cover of the album. We were in a cemetery, and the security guard comes over and tells us to "delete every photograph on the camera right now." Our friend Raul, who was taking the photos, is kind of a shy, scared guy, so he started deleting them. I thought he was joking when he told me about it, but when I got a hold of the camera, I saw he was actually deleting them! He deleted every picture. We had taken over 300 photos, so we went to a camera store and begged them to recover the images.
AVC: In a February interview with LA Weekly, your friend Randy Randall from No Age talked about the vibe changing at The Smell now that Health, Abe Vigoda, No Age, and Mika Miko have started getting national attention. He said it felt like there were strangers in his home, as the kids there were more observant and standoffish at shows and less participatory.
JC: Well, I wouldn't say standoffish, but we played there the other night and I did notice a new crowd. I overheard, like, four people looking for the entrance. [The Smell's main doors open into an alley—ed.] I thought, wow, people really are coming because of the hype The Smell is getting. But when we played, it still felt like everyone was having a lot of fun. The only funny thing about it is, maybe because of the publicity, people might think Smell shows are crazier than they really are. It's just this cool little place downtown. Maybe new people get there and think, "Oh, this is it? The Smell is just in this dirty alley?" I'm worried that all of these people will start coming just because of the hype, and the original supporters will think, well, this sucks now. I hope people don't stop coming because of that.