Jennifer Clavin has a stern message for rock critics, and it comes in the form of the latest single from her band Bleached, “Can You Deal?” It’s the title track from a forthcoming four-song EP (which will be out on Dead Oceans March 3rd), and it was inspired by Clavin’s frustration with a music community more focused on her gender than on the content of her records. Last year, Bleached released their sophomore album, Welcome The Worms, and it dealt with some pretty heavy topics – abusive relationships, drug and alcohol addiction, searching for a sense of self – and pound for pound, each scorching guitar riff matched those issues with raucous gravitas. The production dwarfed the lo-fi sound of their debut record, 2013’s Ride Your Heart. But Clavin says that relatively few music writers wanted to delve into any of that; instead, one question kept coming up in interviews: the dreaded, reductive, “What’s it like to be a girl in band?”
It’s a tricky question, one that assumes male-ness as the default; no one would ask a male musician what it’s like to be a guy in a band. If the question is rephrased to exclude gender markers, it becomes, simply, “What’s it like to be a person in a band?” which reveals how acutely lazy the sentiment behind the question is. A woman cannot compare her experience as a woman in a band to this supposed “default” because she exists as a woman even when she’s not playing music. There are lots of musicians, Bleached included, who sing about personal experiences in their work, and while the best confessional songwriting taps into something relatable and universal, it’s still rooted in something specific. There is no universal experience that all women share based on their gender, but “Can You Deal?” points out how frequently folks seem to forget that.
More often than not, women are asked this question as a means of provoking some kind of feminist declaration. That can feel like a trap for a band or musician that doesn’t focus on politics in their work, especially since men are never asked to take a similar stance. It’s obvious that there’s still gender bias in the music industry – from festival line-ups that favor male acts, to rude sound guys who dismiss female players’ ability and know-how, to ads for gear featuring scantily clad models – and for some musicians, that’s certainly worth discussing. But asking a woman to re-live whatever gender-based affronts she’s experienced (which are, arguably, part of a larger system of patriarchal culture) doesn’t combat the issue in any real way, especially when it comes at the expense of ignoring the actual art that she’s making, the influences behind it, or what she hopes to achieve with it.
In the interest of putting this very tired question to bed once and for all, Clavin compiled essays, visual art, poetry, and lyrics from dozens of women in the industry. The resulting zine is also called “Can You Deal?” and features work from her bandmates, as well as Lizzo, Tegan Quin, Patty Schemel, Jane Weidlin, Liz Phair, Sadie Dupuis, Alice Glass, EMA, Julien Baker, Mish Way, Hayley Williams and more; it’s out the same day as the EP and all proceeds go to Planned Parenthood. Bleached will be touring to promote both throughout April, and hopefully this time around, Clavin will get to spend more time professing her love for Black Sabbath than railing against stereotypes.
Listen to “Can You Deal?” below and pre-order the LP here.