Bleached

Keep On Keepin’ On:
Bleached Make It Look Easy

It’s been a while since we last heard from Bleached. A nearly three year drought since the 2013 release of Ride Your Heart ended April 1 with Welcome the Worms, a slicker yet meaner take on the group’s guitar pop sound. Sure there was 2014’s 7-inch “For the Feel,” highlighted by an amazing cover of the Coasters’ “Poison Ivy,” but fans needed an album’s worth of material to truly chart the musical growth of sisters Jennifer (vocals, rhythm guitar) and Jessica Clavin (lead guitar, backing vocals).

The Los Angeles-based pair transitioned six years ago from the noisy post-punk weirdness of Mika Miko to the sunnier, guitar-driven pop sound they continue to further as Bleached. Though the sisters have different personalities and interests – many interviews focus on Jessica the tomboy and fashion-crazed Jennifer – they are of one mind when it’s time to write a rock ‘n’ roll song. That’s a good thing, as the touring lineup outside of the sisters has at times been a revolving door.

Enter bassist Micayla Grace, Bleached’s touring bassist for the past three years. While past promotional photos and videos just showed the two sisters, new press shots and the album cover both feature Grace alongside the Clavin sisters. Leaving past members out of photos had more to do with a string of temporary members than furthering any kind of sister gimmick. “If we’d always incorporated others in pictures, people would be like ‘What happened to this girl?’ and ‘What happened to that girl?’,” Jessica says. “It finally became apparent that Micayla was going to be with us for a long time.”

With her newfound permanent status, Grace became the first non-Clavin to take part in the songwriting process. As an added bonus, the sisters’ new bandmate had access to a friend’s isolated house in the Joshua Tree desert. The trio spent days at a time there, Desperado-era Eagles style, writing songs and escaping the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. “The desert is good for anyone to relax and think about some things because it’s so silent out there,” Jessica says. “You can’t hear anything, and everything around you is so pretty. It was fun trying a new way of writing, too. Just the three of us in the desert, jamming on stuff.”

Ironically, most early reviews point to how Jennifer’s lyrics on songs like “Chemical Air” and “Hollywood, We Did It All Wrong” deal with the myths and realities surrounding Tinsel Town and urban life in general. So the band went to the desert to get away from their hectic L.A. lives, only to write songs about the urban inconveniences they left behind. “It’s like a relationship where you break up with them, but all you do is write songs about them,” Jennifer says.

When the group wasn’t hiding in the desert, they worked on new material in a tiny practice space in north Hollywood – a private spot away from where most of their peers rehearse. “I wanted to be somewhere where I knew I wouldn’t run into anyone,” Jennifer says. “I wanted to know that no one would walk by and be like, ‘Oh, are you working on some songs?’”

Jennifer isn’t being rude when she says she didn’t want to see familiar faces while working on new songs. Even her band and tour mates can cramp her creative style, making songwriting on the road nearly impossible. “I’ve known people that have told me that they wrote a song on tour, in their hotel room or whatever, but we are glued to the hip on tour and there’s never any alone time,” she adds.

Once the songwriting process ended, the trio had amassed 30 demos. Ten of those songs were narrowed down to be recorded at Sunset Sound Recorders. From there, the band recorded Welcome the Worms with co-producers Joe Chiccarelli (Morrissey, the Strokes, Elton John) and Carlos de la Garza (Paramore, YACHT). Working with name producers at the studio that birthed the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, the first two Doors albums, and Prince’s Purple Rain was the proverbial California dream for the Clavins. They credit their father’s years of networking as a sound engineer for film with opening the right doors for Bleached to record at a Sunset Boulevard institution. It was quite a change from recording those early Bleached 7-inches with whatever punk and garage friends had a meager recording setup in their bedroom.

It was also a far cry from the Jessica and Jennifer’s teenage years, when they were learning to play by dissecting the melodic sounds of the Misfits, Ramones, Buzzcocks, and other timeless influences that can still be heard on throwback tracks such as “Sour Candy.” The album’s biggest surprise, “Desolate Town,” is straight-up grunge worship, another reflection of what was popular to emulate when the sisters first became aware of mainstream alternatives. “Our parents had a house in the Valley, out in the suburbs,” Jessica says. “We had nothing else to do but play in the garage, so we’d do that and learn covers.”

As they began joining bands, including the seminal Mika Miko, the sisters became entrenched in a D.I.Y. scene anchored by local all-ages venue the Smell. It was the perfect setting for the still underage sisters to expand their punk and indie horizons as both listeners and musicians. “We wanted to express ourselves however we wanted,” Jennifer explains. “If you wanted to paint a mural on the wall, you could paint a mural on the wall. If you wanted to play in a ditch while they were constructing a second bathroom, you could.”

Toss in the 2001 opening of Amoeba Music’s Sunset Boulevard store, and the sisters had access to rock ‘n’ roll’s past and present in their part of town. Mentioning the store reminds the sisters of numerous musical discoveries and hours of crate-digging, so it’s no wonder their local record store gets to host an April 1 live performance and album signing.

In the years since Ride Your Heart, things have not always been as upbeat as the band’s music. According to the press release for the album, penned by Mish Way of White Lung, Jessica was evicted from her home, and Jennifer went through a nasty breakup. These personal dramas had a hand in the three-year gap between albums. As often happens for artists, real-life pain added to the creative process that followed. By pouring their still wounded hearts into these songs, Bleached created something deeply personal instead of just a set of throwback pop songs with Go-Go’s melodies and the occasional Joan Jett riff. Take “Wasted on You” for example. It’s as poppy a punk song as you’ll hear all spring, fueled by vitriol that likely stems from Jennifer’s breakup.

Jennifer sees the positives in writing songs on the other end of stressful situations. After all, a well-written album is often a cathartic statement of where its players were at that point in their lives, musically and personally. Or as a wise man once crooned, “Anger is an energy.” More importantly, archaeologists in 2070 will surely dig the opening track. “I really put a lot of heart and soul into this album,” she explains. “If we’d done it sooner, it might have sounded more forced. When you put music out, it lasts forever. It’ll still be out there past all of our deaths. Maybe if Earth is still here and people are studying albums to hear what our time was all about, it’ll still be here. That’s why I don’t want to put out just anything.”

Bleached hasn’t put out just anything since forming from Mika Miko’s ashes. Instead, each release has found the Clavin sisters with a firmer grasp on their throwback pop and punk influences. That growth in the face of lineup changes and personal drama culminates on Welcome the Worms, an album that finds Bleached pulling off one of the hardest feats for pop-leaning rock musicians: they make it sound so easy.

Photo by Nicole Ann Robbins.