Clash speaks to LA punks in Brighton...
Mika Miko

There comes a point in ‘Totion’, the next single to be released from Mika Miko’s latest LP ‘We Be Xuxa’, when you lose yourself.

Jessica Clavin’s bass is dense and warped. It mutates, twisting around the echoey yips and yelps of her sister Jennifer and fellow vocalist Jenna Thornhill like the audio transcript of a changing appearance in a haunted house’s magic mirror room. “Gi gi gweeeeee,” the girls croon. Are you tall, elongated, dumpy, malnourished or chubby? Do you have a tiny head or a huge face? Who knows? At two minutes and sixteen seconds it’s the second-longest track on the record and yet it reveals no more about anything than any of the other eleven. “Woahohahoh, woahohoh, wah wee weeeee,” they continue.

The entire album is full of these aloof, dejected nuggets of ultra lo-fi punk, and there’s nothing for any of us except hard energy. Fired-up and sweaty and spirited and tenacious impudence is present in droves, especially live. Just don’t go expecting carefully crafted subliminal philosophical messages or finely tuned, immaculately produced spunky pop. You won’t find that here.

- - -

Mika Miko – ‘Wild Bore’

- - -

“I think we come off better live than we do recorded,” confesses Jessica in her spiky, youthful lilt that peaks and troughs as quickly as a five year old reacts to regular shots of fizz. “It’s better to have that impact as a live band though, isn’t it?” she asks cautiously, glancing around carefully at her fellow band mates, scanning their faces for consensus and opinion. “Yes,” declares Jenna defiantly. “Yeah,” her sister drawls. Nods follow from guitarist Michelle Suarez and drummer Seth Densham. “If we had to choose to be better live or recorded, we’d go with live,” she concludes smiling, settling back into her weather-beaten deckchair on the balcony of a flat above Audio in Brighton, where the band are playing a show as part of the Levi’s Ones to Watch showcase at the Great Escape festival.

Hailing from Los Angeles, the five-piece who formed back in 2003 are closely associated with the city’s all-ages venue The Smell, along with bands like Abe Vigoda, HEALTH, The Mae Shi and No Age – don’t believe the hype, it’s more a kind of scuzzy, hobo bar/club/soup kitchen than a ‘premier rock venue’. Already amassing a formidable reputation for their incendiary live performances there and beyond, the live/recorded dilemma is clearly an incredibly sensitive issue.

“Performing live is what you want to do as a musician,” says Jennifer. “But without a record, you know, it’s difficult,” Jessica interjects. “People want to take that home and listen to it,” she notes wisely. And there’s no lack of material for Mika Miko fans in that department. A self-released demo cd-r back in 2003, a string of 7”s released independently or on the Sub Pop and Post Present Medium imprints preceding their full lengths, ‘C.Y.S.L.A.B.F.’, ‘666’ and, now, ‘We Be Xuxa’ have quickly consolidated a burgeoning fan base.

The band is in the middle of an extensive European tour, mostly with fellow grunge maestros Black Lips and/or Matador’s lo-fi indie trio Times New Viking, and they’re pretty bloody exhausted. Before hopping across the Atlantic they played ten shows in three days at South By Southwest, which, as Jennifer readily admits, “is pushing it, a bit, really.” “That wasn’t the best,” agrees Jenna, shifting from foot to foot as she stands uncomfortably among her lazily seated band mates. “The gigs where you only play a few songs kinda suck, for everybody.” And considering Mika Miko’s tunes rarely creep above the two-minute barrier, Jenna’s reservations are certainly fair.

Collectively they’re quick to dismiss concerns over fatigue affecting their performance though. “For me, it’s like, I’m so tired, and then I’ll get on stage and I’ll forget I’m so tired and instantly it’ll be really fun,” enthuses Jennifer, her drawling squawk excitedly speeding up as she pulls herself up in the chair, one of those spontaneous bursts of intensity erupting in her. Jessica continues: “Even though we were so tired, we’d begin to play and instantly have a lot of energy.”

“Somebody wrote a bad review about us,” says Jenna wistfully. “They said we seemed great but they thought we were really tired. Maybe they’d seen through the energy? Maybe we just looked like shit?” “Or maybe it was just some asshole kid who doesn’t like us,” suggests Jennifer, giggling. “I think people wanted us to drop, but we didn’t,” Jessica adds resolutely. But how does such a fired-up punk band conserve enough energy to perform so many shows in such quick succession? “You try not to think about it,” admits Seth. “And you just fucking do it,” asserts Michelle. “You just keep going, keep trying to get everything in the van, to keep things organised and not forget anything. I honestly don’t know. Maybe we should start a praying routine?” she asks, rhetorically. “Yeah, we probably should!” she laughs.

- - -

Mika Miko – Live at Levi’s Ones To Watch, Brighton

- - -

Punk’s toothy grin was never a pretty sight. But Mika Miko are like the finely filed veneers on a set of stained, decaying, age-old gnashers. And that’s not in an objectified ’cause-they’re-pretty-young-women type of way, but because their stage antics aren’t so much pre-conceived acts of raucous sensationalism as they are genuine displays of emotion, unadulterated talent and a tangible sense of creative flair.

“We never try to be anyone but ourselves,” reveals Michelle. “Maybe this unified sense of cohesion and energy is subliminal cos we’re never, like, come on guys, tonight we’re gonna be Power Rangers or X-Men, or Transformers.” “Or the Spice Girls,” interrupts Jennifer. “Yeah, maybe we are the Spice Girls,” ponders Michelle. “Jen would be Scary Spice ’cause of her hair. And Jennifer would be baby.” “No. Jessie would be Baby,” asserts Jennifer. “Seth would be Geri, Ginger Spice, Michelle would be Sporty ‘cause she’s active and I’m Posh. Even though I don’t wanna be Posh but I feel like I have to be, I have take that ‘cause it’s the only one left – the one no-one else wants.”

This kind of rapturous, tangent-building banter is typical of Mika Miko. They’re a spirited bunch, unassuming and spontaneous, bursting with a zest, a plucky puissance for their music and having a good time. And it’s not a self-destructive quest for vices, although Michelle admits there was a time she couldn’t get to sleep “without smoking lots of weed,” and they’re swigging beer from bottles – there’s a serene air around the group evident in their caring hugs, supportive statements and disarrayed banter that you can’t perceive ever faltering.

“Look at that hand, it’s so fucked up,” yells Michelle, violently propelling herself up and gesticulating wildly towards a passing bus with all the grace of a petrified horse. “Ooooohh god, is that someone’s hand?” enquires Jennifer with a tone that drips of an assured, hilarious naivety. “I’m on the bus,” laughs Michelle, mimicking what she imagines the normal-sized bloke with an abnormally humungous hand adorning the side of the double decker would be saying if he could, in fact, talk. “Hi. Hi. Hi. Hi. Hi. I, I, I’m on the bus,” says Jenna, concluding her introduction with a military salute as the vehicle draws away. This exchange is, almost, right on cue. Developing from shreds of mundane, banal detail, Mika Miko transform an arbitrary, seemingly irrelevant moment into a Botticellian ramalama of disarray. This is standard form. ‘We Be Xuxa’ is packed full of them: ‘Turkey Sandwich’ for example. “That was named before the lyrics were even written,” confesses Jenna. “I was just singing weird words to it while we were on tour and it kind of, like, just fell into existence.” And their erratic mischievousness extends way beyond simple forays.

Says Jennifer: “There was this one time, when we were contacted by a kid on MySpace who says, come play our college festival in New Jersey – it’s called Sex Fest. We were like, ‘Uh, that’s an extra eight hour drive but whatever, won’t it be so cool to play this sex festival’. So we finally get there and the guy goes, ‘Oh um, it’s not at the college anymore, it’s gonna be at my friend’s house’. So we pull in and there’s about ten people there around a swimming pool and we’re told to go set up in the living room. We ended up playing to just that one guy that set up the show.” She begins giggling. “And then he got money from everyone and spent it all on coke,” continues Michelle, doubling over in fits of laughter. “The drug dealer did give us $50, but it didn’t even cover our travel costs,” says Jessica, before Jennifer wraps the tale up: “But maybe the story is worth it... I feel like we get conned by a lot of people.”

I joke that I’m not actually a journalist. That this will be going on my sex blog – a kind of purgatorial exercise in inversion. I’ll take all their answers to questions about songs and lyrics and touring and music and gut them, stripping back layers until I’m left with a bare core. An essence, an idea, something to run with, to deconstruct, to get excited about, to revel in, like when you’re learning a language and suddenly you stop actively processing words formulaically ’cause something’s clicked, you finally get it – whatever ‘it’ is. They laugh in unison. A nervous laugh, as if they’re each being bulldozed by burly men in balaclavas wielding knives and growling into their ears: “Laugh! Now! Or else.”

Mika Miko are genuine purveyors of the DIY aesthetic, even though they now have a booker and a manager and an agent. Who should they trust? What should they do next? Where are they headed? “Well,” says Jennifer tentatively, “we’re just rolling along. Whatever happens, we’ll deal with it.”

- - -

Mika Miko – ‘Totion (live)’

- - -

Mika Miko’s ‘We Be Xuxa’ album is out now on Post Present Medium, and is reviewed in issue 38 of Clash Magazine; find the group on MySpace HERE.


Follow Clash: