Exclusive: Meet LA’s Not Ironic Non-Band, Jennifer the Leopard

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Photo credit: Tanja Laden

What happens when four female filmmakers/artists get together to form a “performance-art inspired punk collective”? Jennifer the Leopard. An innovative blend of art and music, it’s a mutual collaboration among motion graphics guru and drummer Lauren Fisher; fellow CalArts alum and front woman Stephanie Hutin; bassist and Hutin’s high school friend, Marissa Mayer; and Lana Kim, who has held on to the same guitar since the age of thirteen. Following an Echo Park rehearsal for their show at REDCAT‘s New Original Works Festival, Flavorpill sat down with the quartet for their first interview to discuss music, irony, and Drew Barrymore’s wardrobe choices.

Flavorpill: Did you come together out of your mutual interest in film or music?

Stephanie Hutin: It was a social thing, but we also have a really high level of respect for what we all do individually as artists, so it was more to have fun. Now we’re taking this performance seriously, but we never took ourselves seriously. We never wanted to be musicians or anything. We still don’t feel like we really are, except Lauren is a real musician.

Lauren Fisher: The first time we played together, we made up a song on the spot and recorded it into the onboard mic of one of their laptops. We played it once, and they were like, “Let’s make a MySpace!” and literally within an hour and a half of our first band practice, we had a MySpace page and a song. That was how we operated for about a year.

FP: How does filmmaking compare to performance-based music, in terms of the creative process?

LF: It’s way more fun. I do motion graphics for a living, and when you sit in front of a computer and you’re dealing with animating all day — even if it’s for Dane Cook or something — you come home, and it’s like, “I don’t want to look at a computer. I don’t want to look at a camera. I don’t want to think about animation.” So I think this has been a great thing post-grad school, to have a creative outlet. It doesn’t have to be film. It’s not like I don’t ever want to make a film again. I definitely think this feeds into that practice, but filmmaking is like raising a kid. It’s super hard, it takes a long time, and our band practices, when we were writing, in an hour and a half, we would have a song.

Photo credit: Tanja Laden

FP: You’re not a band, and you’re more than a collective. What do you like to be called?

SH: We perform a band.

LF: We’re not not a band, but we’re not a band. I don’t think we police what people call us. A lot of people call us a band, and we’re OK with it. That’s why NOW Fest is perfect, because we probably wouldn’t be in NOW Fest if we weren’t dissecting what a band is, if we weren’t self-aware in that sense, ’cause they don’t want bands — they want multimedia and performance, and things like that. Maybe this is our opportunity to make that part of what we tell people, and part of the language, and how we talk about ourselves. But we’re not like, “We’re not a band!”

Marissa Mayer: We were always more into the performance-art aspect of being a band.

SH: Everything we do is completely sincere. There’s nothing ironic about what we do. There are a lot of comedic elements, but not ironic. We don’t want anyone to feel like we’re making fun of things that already exist out there.

FP: How do you feel about irony?

SH: Well, we have a lot of really hot women performing with us, and that’s not ironic. That’s for real. We did that on purpose. We hang out with hot women.

LF: I think that irony can be a little bit a negative thing.

Lana Kim: A little condescending.

LF: I think it’s more about just really putting ourselves out there and having fun and not having to go there. I think a good example of it is, we’re having our moms sit on stage with us when we play, and they’re gonna have name cards and a microphone, and in between songs, they’ll be like, “That was really, great, honey.” Just really anything that would be a faux pas or weird, we’re doing it. Plus, it’s just hilarious and ridiculous.

SH: And that is the whole point. We want to do what we want to see. One of the people that has helped us a lot with the staging and the theatrics of putting together this show is our theater director, and when he met with us, he was like, “I just love it. It’s just…stupid!” Then you could see on his face, he was like, “Oh, I didn’t realize…” And we were like, “No!”

LF: I want it to be stupid, but not vapid. To me, there’s a really big difference. I do think that there’s something that touches your spirit about it. It’s not like a guilty pleasure or something. It’s stupid good.

Photo credit: Tanja Laden

FP: How is being part of the NOW Festival different from your previous performances?

SH: REDCAT is the only time we’ve sought out a venue. We thought this could be our opportunity to do more what we’re interested in, which is performative work. Putting together a grant with four people is a thousand times better than putting together a grant with one person.

LF: There are three elements: there’s the band, the sub-audience, and then we’ve done a new video piece for every song. The sub-audience is really how we’re taking this to the next level. We started from nothing. We all have very little experience, and now we’re a band, and we’re playing shows like NOW Fest, and it’s kind of like the thing where anybody can do this. Anybody should be doing this with us.

FP: How do feel about Drew Barrymore wearing your clothing? How did that happen?

SH: Oh. My. Goddess. Oh, my goddess! Our manager has been working with her, and when he suggested giving [a shirt] to her, I was kind of appalled by the idea. I thought for sure she would be like, “Ugh, this happens to me all the time.” But I think the quote is, “Wow, thank you so much, I love it!” So then we were joking, we said, “Oh, yeah, in a couple of days we’ll see it in People.”

MM: I didn’t know the shirt was given to her. Someone IMed me the photo at work. They were like, “Celebs are wearing your T-shirt.”

SH: They thought it was photoshopped. They thought we did it ourselves, ’cause it would be something we would do.

LK: I was screaming for two days. It was really weird.

LF: It was full circle, because one of our first hits was “Celebrity Sightings.” It was the second song we wrote, I think, and it was all about how dumb it is to see celebrities, but it’s awesome at the same time.

Jennifer the Leopard will be performing as part of the New Original Works Festival: Program Two, July 31 through August 1 at 8:30pm.