Jennifer the Leopard—a.k.a J-Lep—is not a band, though they are not not a band either. J-Lep is four women who combine sound-making with visual practice and performance with participation. J-Lep performs a band in order to create what they've always wanted to see: a process that involves as many props as instruments and as many hours of girl talk as rehearsal. This interview by Drew Denny." /> L.A. Record


July 30th, 2009 | Interviews

steven gunther

Program Two of the New Original Works Festival at REDCAT will open tonight featuring a performance by Jennifer the Leopard. Jennifer the Leopard—a.k.a J-Lep—is not a band, though they are not not a band either. J-Lep is a collective composed of Lauren Fisher, Stephanie Hutin, Lana Kim and Marissa Mayer—four women who combine sound-making with visual practice and performance with participation. J-Lep performs a band in order to create what they’ve always wanted to see: a process that involves as many props as instruments and as many hours of girl talk as rehearsal. This weekend, Jennifer the Leopard will realize a concept they crafted specifically for NOW Fest, supported by the funding and assistance provided by REDCAT as well as the dedication of collaborators who’ll be tapping and screaming and dancing and maybe even storming out. This interview by Drew Denny.

When did y’all form a band? Or do you not call yourselves a band?

Lauren (drums): We’re still working on our answer to that question. We don’t have a problem with people calling us a band because we’re not not a band, and we’re not more than a band. We’re a collective, and we’re all visual artists—
Stephanie (vocals): We perform a band.
Like you’re a pie chart, and band is one piece of the pie?
Lana (guitar): Or like a little circle and another circle—
Stephanie: It’s like a big circle inside of a circle that’s a little bit bigger. The first circle is the band. Outside that is girl talk and eating and t-shirts.
Lauren: Every practice, we sit here and talk shit and eat. Then we play like for an hour—we play our set one time through—then we’re like, ‘Woo, I’m tired!’ Because we all work—
Stephanie: Then we congratulate ourselves for being so great.
That’s healthy.
Lauren: We used to clap for ourselves. The first time we played at our first practice—the very first note we played became a song that we made up on the spot. We recorded it and put it up on Myspace immediately. We didn’t now how to play our songs for a while!
Lana: That’s how we still operate.
Lauren: But we learned how to play our songs when we started getting shows-
Were you musicians before J-Lep?
Stephanie: Lauren was, Lana has played, Marissa has played, too… I haven’t. I’ve been doing performance art for 15 years—wait, I’m not that old—12 years! I went on tour with a circus. Lauren and I met at grad school. We were doing research about the performative aspects of animation because we were both doing experimental animation at CalArts. I knew that Lauren and I were on the same wavelength—we knew what we wanted to see. That’s the genesis. We’re making what we want to see. I know we’re not the first to say that, but if what we wanna see is only good for us then that’s great. The more we’re happy with what we do, the better it is for us. Now we’re totally stoked that people care but at first we just wanted to have fun and see what we could do.
Lauren: Going beyond that, it wasn’t that we didn’t care about people. We wanted people to see—but we weren’t worried about what people thought. We felt like it’s so honest. We weren’t like ‘We can’t play shows until we’re all perfect musicians’… Our first shows we would always screw up—like we always do. Then I think about how I’m so nervous about the REDCAT show because it’s absolutely the most people I’ve played in front of ever since I was 15. But this is the best band to do that with…If we fuck up, we all look at each other and start laughing. Its not like everything comes to a halt, and someone’s gonna be like ‘What the fuck are you doing!?’
Lana: Did that happen with your other band?
Stephanie: Raw?
Lana: Rand?
Marissa (bass): Rune?
Stephanie: Rorschach Test!?
Lauren: I was 15 years old, and we were called ‘Head.’
Stephanie: Like H-E-D?
Lauren: ‘Head’ like BJ. We had a big tryout for the Sycamore High School battle of the bands. We got up—it was the senior council that was judging—and we started playing our Bush cover—seriously we did “Machine Head”—and my stick flew out of my hand, and the whole song just went like bflghhfffgggg… Most drummers keep sticks nearby, but I didn’t know that… I know that if that happened to us, Stephanie would say something funny and it would become part of the show. Not gonna happen though! For a long time after that I taped my sticks…
To your hands?
Lauren: No—like grip tape, but maybe I should! It might make me much better—I could tape 5 sticks and we’d be like ‘dddrrrrdudud!’
Stephanie: Marissa and I have known each other since we were 15—she used to slap the bass! My only experience was being in choir.
Where was that?
Stephanie: Miami.
Where are the rest of y’all from?
Lana: Vegas.
Lauren: Cincinnati, Ohio.
Jillian: I’m not in the band, but I’m from Miami—I’m Marissa’s sister.
Lauren: Jillian will be doing something very special—
Is it a secret?
Stephanie: She’s a dancer.
Marissa: She’s our fly girl.
Lauren: We have 25 people on stage with us—we call them our sub-audience. We’ve had two rehearsals with them, and they’re gonna do interactive things with each song.
Is it all choreographed?
Lauren: It is but loosely. It’s more about giving them props and letting them do things than like ‘OK on the fifth measure, everyone will do the wave’. We want to keep it very loose—
But will there be the wave?
Stephanie: Maybe if we get another grant—
Marissa: We could get like 10,000 people!
Lauren: We love our collaborators—if it was just us playing at NOW Fest it would be totally weird and not as cool.
Marissa: We’d like to thank the people!
Stephanie: They have to dedicate more time than I probably would—I’m sure they are all busy because they’re awesome. It’s very flattering… Maybe they just wanna be on stage at REDCAT too, but it’s really cool that people want to be a part of this—and they’re really cute because some of them have come up with their own ideas. At the beginning, we told them that we were accompanying them and we wanted their input about how we could make our idea better. Some of them came up with some really nifty surprises. There’s gonna be some tap dancing.
Lauren: Someone’s gonna scream.
Marissa: Someone’s gonna leave.
Lauren: We have a living room full of props—
You have a megaphone!
Lauren: That’s what happens when you have a budget—you can buy totally weird shit.
Stephanie: We have whistles!
Marissa: We’re actually gonna involve the entire audience so by the end of the show its gonna be one huge performance. That’s the big secret, so I don’t know if you should—
Do you have plants in the audience?
Stephanie: No, we talked about that… but there are actions and people can choose to participate.
So you’re depending upon spontaneity?
Lana: Yeah.
Stephanie: And something else we wanted to say—where we wanna perform is L.A. That’s why we wanna be in L.A. RECORD. We are L.A. This is our community. We don’t think this could happen anywhere else. Slam!
Lana: None of us are from here, but this is our home.
How was the grant writing and proposal process?
Stephanie: A friend of mine who’s a performer—and a fan—she was like ‘Is J-Lep gonna apply for NOW Fest?’ I had not thought of it but I did say, ‘Yes, we are!’
Marissa: You had to look it up—
Stephanie: No, I had been before! I don’t think we had established that that was the direction we were going in… I think we gave ourselves a month before the deadline. We all were into it, and we came up with an idea for a project that we just couldn’t do elsewhere. We worked together—we created letterhead!
Lauren: We sat around and really synthesized it, and came up with the sub-audience idea. We thought if we actually had resources—if we had it our way—how would we present this band? When we had our first rehearsal with the sub-audience members, I remember seeing them do what we had been talking about—
Lana: My heart leapt out of my chest!
Marissa: To see them do what we had been talking about for so long…
Stephanie: And the fact that they are all incredibly good-looking!
Did they audition for you?
Stephanie: No, we only hang out with good-looking people.
Lauren: It’s all colleagues and friends. Three of my colleagues from my day job are in our sub-audience—
What do you do?
Lauren: I do motion graphics, animation, design.
So you probably have cool colleagues?
Stephanie: That is a cool part of us. Because we’re not 25—we have established day jobs that we are invested in. We have that mutual respect of each other and our professional lives but we also create together. All of us bring a different point of view—
What are your day jobs?
Stephanie: I work at the Claremont Colleges—I’m the Director of the Media Studies Production Center, and I teach there.
Marissa: I work in commercials—I’m a production supervisor. I work freelance, and it’s very time consuming—I’m lucky to work a lot!
Stephanie: Marissa’s also a screenwriter! She makes lots of interesting videos!
Lana: I’m an executive producer of music videos at the Director’s Bureau.
Lauren: Lana has a cool job.
Florencio (manager/Stephanie’s fiance): You guys should bring resumes to shows and pass them out!
Lauren: I think it’s amazing that we’ve stayed together for 2 years—since July 2007. I’ve been in bands before, and it’s so amazing to be with people where its not like, ‘Come on, we have to do this…’ We just really wanna be doing this! Sometimes we come to practice on a weeknight, and we’re so tired we just spend the whole night talking—we don’t really end up rehearsing but it’s so good. I’m really amazed by us like, ‘We’re great! We’re having a band!’
How has your experience been at REDCAT—are they nice to you?
Stephanie: They’re wonderful!
Lauren: A couple of the guys we’re working with are our former classmates. Chris—the lighting director—came to our rehearsal, and he’s been talking to us about what we want. We don’t have the language to talk about lighting. I’m like, ‘Maybe pink?’
Marissa: ‘We want it to be dark!’
Stephanie: ‘Then we want it brighter!’
Lana: ‘Like a lamp that you turn on in your room?’
Lauren: They’ve been really cool, and they’re excited.
Lana: And supportive.
Marissa: Like they actually want us. It’s not as if they made room for us. They want us to perform there!
Lana: Did you guys see George [George Lugg, Associate Director, REDCAT] talking on Raw news? He was talking about the shows and what a wide, um, array?
Stephanie: Arrangement?
Lauren: Assortment?
Lana: Assortment of shows there are in NOW Fest and how cool they are, and he was like ‘One artist is gonna have their moms…’ He was super psyched—he was giggling!
Lauren: I think it makes them laugh—the shit we’re coming up with! Unfortunately all our moms can’t be there every night, but we’re having our moms sit on stage with us. They’re gonna have mics and in between songs they’re gonna be like ‘That was really great, honey!’
Lana: Or like, ‘I didn’t know that you knew how to do that!’ I don’t think my mom has ever seen me play music. In high school I never let anyone watch me play guitar—like in my room with my headphones on, playing guitar along to Nirvana! Recently I’ve started bringing home my ukulele—my little niece really likes it. But my mom sings and growing up everyone assumed I would have a good voice—which I don’t. They’d look at me when I was little, grab my cheeks and be like, ‘You probably have the most beautiful voice from your mom!’Aand she’d be shaking her head whispering, ‘No—no, she doesn’t.’ I mean not really, but sort of… On top of that I’m shy. I mean—not anymore!
Lauren: You’re adorable on stage! Every time my friends come to see, they’re like ‘The guitar girl is so adorable, and she has an ear-to-ear smile every time!’
Lana: Because it’s funny! Because I laugh every time I mess up—which is all the time!
Lauren: Which is awesome!
Stephanie: Because the song goes like ‘ding ding-ding-ding ding ding-ding’ and if it just goes ‘ding ding-ding diiiiing ding-ding’, I mean, it’s OK—
Lana: It’s true I only play three notes—
Lauren: I feel like the bitch of the band cause when there’s a wrong note I shoot the side eye—
Lana: I look at you when I mess up. I look at you a lot.
After this performance—after the grant and all the assistance and support—will it be hard to go back to bars and galleries?
Stephanie: Well, certainly it will not be the same but it’s always fun to perform! We’ll probably need a little break to regroup, but we have a few things in the works that are new. We’re gonna try to keep the ball rolling… Right now—the past two or three months—we’ve only been doing this. We’re ready to look at the documentation and see where we can go from here.
Lauren: If we’re gonna set a bar—I’m just really excited to have a PA.We’ve only played with a PA one time—at the Smell—and it was amaaaazing. We were like, ‘We sound so good!’
Marissa: We’re the best band ever!
Lauren: So minimum requirement is a PA.
Marissa: We’ll save our t-shirt money…
Lauren: You know about our Drew Barrymore story?
Oh, the other Drew.
Lauren: We made these really awesome t-shirts, and she was photographed by the paparazzi wearing our t-shirt—Marissa sent me a link, and there was Drew Barrymore wearing a shirt that Stephanie and Lana and Marissa screen-printed themselves—
Marissa: Think she’ll come to the show?
Stephanie: If she wants to come to the show, she can!
Marissa: She can be VIP!
Stephanie: She’s totally awesome.
Lauren: She embodies our spirit. We wrote a song about celebrity sightings, so it was that much more amazing.
Stephanie: We’re really excited about that kind of stuff cause we’re not from here. I mean, we know the deal.
You don’t scream at them.
Lana: You pretend like you don’t see them.
Lauren: Then you write a weird hip-hop song about them.
Lana: You whisper to your friend and giggle and look at them sideways—I didn’t realize I was doing this, but this guy in art department on one of the first films I worked on told me Tobey Maguire was bowling next to us, and I totally didn’t care but I guess I kept looking over cause the art department guy came over to me and was like, ‘Lana, honey, this is L.A. and we don’t do that!’