“Yeah, it was three years ago, the exact same day - which we didn’t plan for either. It’s not a joke,” Jen Clavin dryly muses, and she and sister Jessie laugh at the realization: that their second album ‘Welcome the Worms’ dropped on 1st April, almost exactly three years after their band Bleached’s debut LP, ‘Ride My Heart.’
On a sunny Easter morning, Bleached - the sisters Clavin, who’d previously been in cult LA punk band Mika Miko together, and bassist Micayla Grace - have gathered at Señor Fish in LA’s Echo Park to talk about rebirth. ‘Welcome the Worms’ itself is a religious-ish reference; the title comes from an evangelist’s pamphlet Jen had been handed while walking around in the very same neighborhood. On a more metaphorical level, the band has revamped and tightened its sound and lyricism, products of the dark personal things the members have gone through since their last album (abusive and toxic relationships, dead-weight “friends”) as well as the Joshua Tree sessions that inform and permeate the album’s more focused, yet somehow rawer sound.
“We write the songs three different ways,” Jen explains. “I sit alone and write, because that way I can let anything out. Then, Jessie and I write together, and then all three of us jam.” Thirty demos were borne out of desert sessions in and around Joshua Tree; during downtime, the band members watched performances from the ‘60s through to the ‘80s to work out “what was authentic about each one and why they were important at the time.”
“This last year, through this record, I feel like I figured out my people and realized who I had to let go of.”
Though it’s obvious that those decades influence their music (they’re frequently compared to the Go-Go’s), the band members routinely ping each other about new music that’s caught their ears, such as Queens of the Stone Age’s ‘I Sat By The Ocean; or Miike Snow’s latest album ‘iii,’ and fold those influences alongside those of classics Fleetwood Mac, the Cure, Blondie, and more fringe groups like LA punk outfits Gun Club, Germs, and X. The QOTSA influence is particularly potent on ‘Desolate Town’; meanwhile, Stevie Nicks appears to possess the track ‘I’m All Over The Place (Mystic Mama)’.
The ten recorded tracks on ‘Welcome the Worms’ are imbued with blood, sweat, and desert dust already, but Bleached are a band that transforms when playing live, shredding their arrangements apart with solos and furious head-banging. A set several months earlier at the female performer-dominated festival Burger-A-Go-Go had them sharing a stage with Kim Gordon, Kathleen Hanna, and Cat Power, an experience Jessie describes as “awesome; like, we’re a part of that strong female presence in music.” But part of playing showcases like Burger and SXSW also means engaging with a less music-oriented part of the music scene, or as Jen bluntly puts it, “the fact that every online store has to have a festival clothing section - that shows how popular festivals are now. We even did a photoshoot for a festival look. I was like, Really?”
“Maybe that’s what keeps us going: ‘I’m gonna prove you wrong’.”
It’s understandable why people are drawn to Bleached’s style; the band members’ punky, thrifted threads underscore and highlight the physical strain of their performances, sometimes to excess, as Jen experienced: “When we played the YSL [Yves Saint Laurent] show, I tried to wear a nice dress that I’d had for a year and never figured out how to wear it. And then it was just riding up the whole time, and I had a pair of Spanx on, and [the dress] went up all the way on stage.”
Back to the record, ‘Welcome the Worms’ drives the band’s frustrations with intimacy, with shattered interior and exterior worlds, to the forefront. For Jen, this is the result of clearing space for self-care: “This last year, through this record, I feel like I figured out my people and realized who I had to let go of. Before, if I had let go of them, I felt like I was being mean. Then, no, I’m just respecting myself. You’ve brought me down too many times.”
It’s also the first record that this band, as its lineup exists now, has made together. And that surety in their group, in their sound, is new-ish - but they’ve settled into it. In the face of personal strife, Jen proclaims, “Maybe that’s what keeps us going: ‘I’m gonna prove you wrong’.” Or via Grace, “There’s no way you could do music if you didn’t have a calling. There are too many ways to give up.“
Bleached play DIY’s stage at The Great Escape (19th - 21st May). Head here for more details.
Bleached’s new record ‘Welcome The Worms’ is out now.