Mika Miko We Be XUXA
Published Apr 23, 2009Thanks to the hype of the Smell and their surrounding bands (No Age, Health, Abe Vigoda, Mae Shi), L.A. youth punk quintet Mika Miko have spent a good chunk of their six years together feeling the hype. Still, they've never released a fully realized album. Their debut, 2006's C.Y.S.L.A.B.F., definitely had some complete thoughts but they were a different band back then, composing songs with angular dance beats instead of raw punk fury. 2007's lo-fi 666 twelve-inch was a more accurate representation of Mika Miko's rowdy youth anthems, a sound that's furthered here. Aided by Le Shok/Black Lips producer Mike McHugh, We Be XUXA shows Mika Miko ditching the noisy elements almost completely in favour of poppy rock'n'roll best suited to badass basement shows and dingy clubs. Opener "Blues Not Speed" sets the tone with its unrefined urgency, while "Turkey Sandwich," a mid-tempo ode to the deli staple, is so goofily awesome that it appears twice: in a raw punk version and a rhythmic sing-along. On "Totion," they nod to their dance-friendly past but Mika Miko are at their best with irresistibly catchy jams like "I Got a Lot" and "Beat The Rush," and their spot on cover of the Urinals' "Sex." Hype, consider yourself met.
Is it true that four out of five of you still live at home with your families?
Jennifer Clavin: Actually, the only person who still lives with their parents is our new drummer.
That's weird, because a press release I read says "four of the five members" live with their parents.
Michelle Suarez: That's definitely the wrong press release.
JC: That must make us look like the biggest losers!
MS: "Mika Miko, 30 years old...." I'm just kidding, we're not 30. "Michelle can't leave home. She loves her mother's cooking too much."
Why do you have a new drummer and was there a falling out?
MS: It was a clean break, let's just say that.
JC: I don't think she wanted to be a drummer. She wanted to do other things. You know if someone doesn't really want to do something they just don't really try hard at it? I just don't think she was into drumming at all, so it was really hard to write music with her.
For the new record, how was the writing process different from the old ones? JC: Our old record was songs that we wrote over years of writing with Mika Miko. A lot of the songs were written by our very first drummer, which is why they were more dancey. She would always play more dancey beats. All that was on CYSLABF. This one we took a month to write, and I feel like it's more poppy and more punk or something.
MS: Yeah, I don't even know why. It totally turned out more poppy, and even with the vocals, it's a little crazier.
JC: The older record was more yelling vocals, and now we're trying to hit notes, whether they're hitting or not.
Would you say the 666 EP is a good bridge between the albums, then?
JC: Totally. This is the full album of that.
MS: This is like Reagan Youth's metal album.
All in all, are you happy with how the new record came out?
JC: I'm really happy with it.
MS: I'm really stoked that it's on a cool format. It's on 180g vinyl, so it sounds really good. I'm really happy with that because I love vinyl.
Are you total vinyl nerds?
MS: Most of us are.
When you're such a loyal fan do older punk bands, how do you arrive at a new sound with your own music? Do you try to sound like certain bands?
MS: No. When I play music, I don't think about a certain band. I think I did that with one song I wrote called "End of Time." I really like this Dicks song called "Kill From the Heart." It doesn't sound anything like that. Sometimes I'll really like the way a chord goes into another chord, but I'll never use it.
JC: I don't think we ever try to sound like another band though.
MS: I think that's maybe why we can't describe our sound. "We find the most obscure seven-inch, we rip off everything...." No I'm kidding.
JC: Everyone might be putting in a little bit of a band on their own, but it's just their own part.
MS: It's just a big compilation of everyone's influences.
Was the recording process different this time around?
JC: It was pretty different because usually in the past we've had a friend record us, and this time we did it with Mike McHugh in a studio.
MS: He had an awesome studio. Everything was analog and there was nothing digital. The only digital thing he had was to switch from analog to CD. Our friend came to help us with sound and stuff. Sometimes I feel like I'm retarded when it comes to guitar. When I'm trying to find a sound, I need someone's help to tell me if it sucks or not. I feel like sometimes I don't know what I'm doing.
In terms of the sound of your amp?
MS: Yeah, because sometimes you don't use your amp, sometimes you use the amp that they suggest, and sometime it ends up working a lot better.
JC: Yeah, like sometimes he would do this thing where he would have the smallest, shittiest amp, and then he'd have a good amp with the guitar coming through both, and it would be a perfect sound.
Did that experience change the way you think about your set-up live, or do you use the same set-up?
MS: I use the same set-up live because recording and playing live are really different. Every song on the record has to have its own sound and personality. It can't sound the same. It's more fun to experiment with the sounds, even if it's changing the mid or something.
JC: I feel like we're in so many shitty situations live that if we were to carry around extra amps to get that sound it would be not worth it. It would be extra work we were doing for no one.
How has your live set changed over the years?
MS: Well, first of all, Jen started using a mic stand. That's changed.
JC: I used to feel like I had to go really crazy or something, and now I'm more comfortable just playing our songs.
What's the deal with the record title We Be Xuxa? What does that mean?
JC: You just have to look her up. She's cooler than our moms.
MS: Xuxa was this children's entertainer, and she... man, I don't even want to talk about it! Just look her up and know that it makes sense to us and not to you.
Are you able to make a living from Mika Miko?
MS: Not really.
JC: If there weren't five people it might be possible.
MS: Sometimes we'll come home from tour with a good amount of money, which is good, but sometimes there's none. So to pay rent we just get a job, or sell shit on eBay, and one person in the band just asks their parents for money, but not us.
Did you have label offers and how did you settle with PPM?
MS: No, and because PPM loves us.
JC: Out of all the labels we could've done it with, we were like let's just do it with Dean's label because he knows us and he's supported our band from the beginning. We were just kind of sick of all this label business, like maybe a label wanting to take you or not take you. We were just like "Fuck that, let's just go with Dean's label."
MS: It's just the more DIY choice because you don't have to deal with dumb label stuff. Labels are huge companies that charge you for tape and stuff, you know? You owe them. It's weird and totally foreign to me. I don't even know what I'm talking about, maybe they don't charge you for tape.
JC: No, they do. Well, Kill Rock Stars did.
MS: With Dean we know exactly what's happening all the time. There's no BS. It's more safe.
What happened with Kill Rock Stars?
MS: Honestly, we loved them, and they were so cool to us, and everyone who works there is awesome, but it started to feel like we weren't fitting in anymore.
JC: I felt like when we were with them it was always about us being a girl band on Kill Rock Stars, and we weren't about that at all. It was just a coincidence that we were all girls.
MS: That shit gets old fast. We didn't purposely start the band like "Okay, girls, we're gonna start a band! Let's do this!" Then when we started getting more recognition it was always like, "all-girl punk outfit Mika Miko" or "riot grrrls Mika Miko." We never said we were riot grrrls. I don't mean to disappoint riot grrrls out there...
JC: But yeah, it gets really weird. People just tack shit on you, and you're like "Where does this come from?" (PPM)