beloved la grrrl group bleached are going back on the road
The Saint Laurent favorites discuss their anthemic, personal second album, 'Welcome the Worms.'
photography ben colen
I meet the California band Bleached at their guitarist Jessie Clavin's Echo Park apartment. It's gross and hot for early February. When Clavin opens the door, she is wearing cut-off shorts and a baseball shirt, her blue hair fading and messy around her face. A little black dog named Benny scurries around the mess of guitars, books, and bags of giveaway clothes to jump up my legs.
Clavin has been babysitting the puppy, who actually belongs to her older sister and bandmate, Jennifer Clavin. When Bleached's front woman, rhythm guitarist, and bassist Micayla Grace arrives, Benny jumps into Jennifer's arms. The two sisters haphazardly try to find Benny's leash, while Micayla hangs back quietly making small talk. The Clavins flit about like two scattered fireflies before locating the leash in some totally illogical place. We hop in Jennifer's car to head out for lunch.
Things are going great for Bleached right now. They are about to head on tour again after a two year hiatus. Saint Laurent designer and fashion photographer Hedi Slimane had them perform after his latest Los Angeles runway show. They have released two new music videos to great applause. And, most importantly, their sophomore album Welcome The Worms (Dead Oceans) comes out on April Fools' Day of this year.
Bleached was born in 2011 after the Clavin sisters' old punk band Mika Miko had finally ended. Wanting to do something completely different, and much more melodic, Jennifer and Jessie began writing together and went through a myriad of bassists before enlisting San Francisco-based Grace. The band's first LP, Ride Your Heart, drew worldwide attention, but conjured the most love from SoCal fans for its Shangri-Las inspired pop refinement and relatable lyrics. Any young girl could get her heart busted and turn on Ride Your Heart for some solace. The band toured all over North America, Europe, and the UK, exhausting themselves after the tour frenzy: the typical trajectory for an up-and-coming rock band.
"When I discovered punk in high school I felt like I discovered the meaning of life," says Jennifer, reflecting on the days she and Jessie would imitate Black Flag and The Slits in their parents' San Fernando Valley garage. "To me, Bleached was a project to challenge myself with songs I never imagined I could write, while expanding on my influences beyond punk. Five years later, and I'm still writing songs I really never thought I could."
Fresh from a torrid, abusive relationship, Jennifer was struggling to get through her day-to-day. She indulged in escape through psychedelics and alcohol, spinning into a self-destructive hole. "I was a loose cannon," says Jennifer. "I was losing serious control of my personal and creative life." She stops to remember the horrible romance that now feels so far away. "I felt like Bleached was the only thing I actually cared about. I was still so depressed. Some of the songs I would actually cry while writing because I didn't even know what I was going through until I heard myself singing it."
Jennifer was not the only one going through a personal overhaul. Jessie was trying to be there for her older sister, while dealing with the reality of being booted from the house she had lived in for many years. She found herself floating, illegally living in a rehearsal space.
"It was just this dark room," Jessie laughs, sipping her tea as we sit on a patio off Sunset Boulevard. "Some days when I would see the sunlight it would be so intense, I was blinded. I was trying to get back on track. I had gotten heavily into drinking. I would wake up and drink every morning, afternoon, and night. I needed to get focused." She pauses fondly. "I needed to be Jessie again. I needed to be myself."
With this in mind, Jessie forced herself to revert back to the way she played guitar when she was young and inexperienced: free of inhibitions, doubt and willing to just try without over-thinking. Stifled by her own self-doubt, guitar didn't seem fun so she had to consciously stop holding herself back. "I went into [the recording studio] with a new confidence," she says. "I had to just remind myself that I am a good musician."
Self-doubt is natural for a band making their sophomore release, because there is now something to compare it to. There's an audience. A following.
"Do we do this more as girls?" Jennifer asks. "Do men just always think they are the shit?"
"You can hide behind confidence. It's more powerful to feel vulnerable and talk about it," Micayla responds. "False confidence will catch up with you."
Welcome The Worms is a step up for Bleached, not only sonically but lyrically. Ride felt less introspective, more lyrically vague and rose-tinted, whereas Worms sings out Jennifer's subconscious — though it retains the pop sensibilities that gained Bleached a fanbase years ago. It's vulnerable yet anthemic and massively triumphant. Worms is an ambitious, catchy record that switches from sparkling pop hooks like "Sour Candy" to the heavy, driving "Keep on Keepin' On," while "Wednesday Night Melody" sounds like The Crystals got hip to Fender guitars and a fuzz box.
Not only is Worms a first writing credit for Grace, who has now become a permanent member of the band she has been touring with for the last three years, but Bleached also won the heart of two world-famous producers, Joe Chiccarelli (Morrissey, The Strokes, Elton John) and Carlos de la Garza (Paramore, YACHT). The team worked tirelessly at the legendary Los Angeles studio, Sunset Studios. Bleached brought in 30 demos, slimmed them down to a third, and got to work fleshing out the chosen material into fearless, powerful rock songs. Jessie drew inspiration from Hole and Ron Ayers, while Jennifer looked to Fleetwood Mac, Eddie and the Hotrods, and The Go Go's, and listened to Nirvana's Unplugged on repeat.
"I was really embracing L.A. during this time," remembers Jennifer. She would drive up and down Hollywood Boulevard and reflect on her teenage years spent doing the same. Jennifer paints L.A. as a hole prone to sucking in the weak, and spitting them out with a reluctant, new found discovery of self. "I've always felt very love or hate about L.A. It's beautiful. It has so much history. I've always been intrigued by the city's dark tales of Darby Crash, Marilyn Monroe, and Charles Manson. I thought a lot about the Hollywood sign and how everyone here has probably looked up at it in awe for a second, everyone from Manson to Paris Hilton."
Sitting with Grace and the Clavins, Bleached feels like a band in the truest sense of the term. The three women have a bond that only years of intense touring and writing music together can really bring. No one is putting on their best behavior for me. They just happily are.
"Are you guys nervous at all to tour?" asks Grace suddenly as she orders another mimosa. "I kind of feel like it's this thing as though we have been out of school for years and are now going back to class. Is this going to be hard?"
"No, I am so excited," Jennifer exclaims. She pushes her mountain of fries into the center of the table as her words drag out emphatically, in a Valley-girl lilt. "So excited."
Jessie is worried about being apart from the guy she has been happily dating for two years, but is relying on the old adage, "Distance makes the heart grow fonder." Besides, the excitement to get back on the road overrides any silly fears. Grace is open-minded and ready to go, while Jennifer wants the band to tour in an RV van instead of a passenger van.
"We'll always have a place to go and hang out that is ours," she explains. She has been doing the math at home, tallying up gas prices and distances from the venue to the hotel. "It's only a month. If it sucks, it sucks." Plus, with the RV she could bring her puppy.
"I can't wait," Jennifer smiles. "I just want to be on tour forever."
Text Mish Barber Way
Images Ben Colen