My first encounter with Jennifer and Jessie Clavin was nearly two years ago and involved the tossing of mic stands, a lot of pushing, broken glass, and people falling on my head. I found it was so exhilarating that I bought a T-shirt and a 7-inch single immediately after the gig. The sisters, better known as Bleached, are an L.A.-based punk rock band that embodies that carefree abandon you feel, driving around on a summer’s day with the windows down, blasting your favorite songs on your way to the beach or a backyard party. Recognized for their gritty honesty and the power in simplicity, Bleached teach classic life lessons through songs that you want to relearn over and over. Plus, who isn’t a sucker for that fuzzy lo-fi garage sound that seems to be so ubiquitous yet near impossible to nail? (Bleached, for the record, hit the target every single time.)
The sisters have grown in many ways since starting their first garage ban, Mika Miko, in the Valley, and the new Bleached album―their debut, called Ride Your Heart―is clearly a result of such maturity. The songs maintain their punk soul, but they’re rock ‘n’ roll in a way that one’s Kinks-loving parents might even enjoy, if perhaps only in small doses. While displaying growth both musically and lyrically, some things never change, though; Bleached still remain true to themselves with live shows more frenetic than ever. In anticipation of Ride Your Heart, which comes out on April 2 via Dead Oceans, Anthem sat down with the two to dive into their roots and discuss their future.
What’s up guys, how have you two been these days?
Jennifer Clavin: We have been good, just super busy and excited about the new record coming out.
Alright, so let’s start from the early days. What sort of role did growing up in the Valley play in your musical development growing up? Do you think being somewhat isolated from the big city was a key element to your creativity when first getting started with music?
Jessie Clavin: Yes, being isolated was kinda the main thing. We only had each other to play with and a lot of free time.
What about your parents, did they listen to anything around the house that may have caught onto you two back then? Your dad used to be in a band, right? So I guess you had the family support to keep doing music.
Jessie: Our Mom would always listen to Linda Ronstadt and Patsy Cline, singing loud around the house, and our parents would play together sometimes. We had instruments that our dad made laying around the house, and he bought me an acoustic guitar when I was seven so I feel lucky for that.
And being distanced from a lot of the main venues probably made going to shows that much more fun, I’d assume? I feel like a lot of kids who grow up in the middle of the city don’t always realize how good they have it as far as convenience to shows.
Jennifer: Yeah, to get to Hollywood would require, like, a two-hour bus ride, which we would do, and it always ended up being so fun. But then we usually would get stuck out there and have to find a friends house to sleep at. We would, a lot of times, just go to a backyard show somewhere in the Valley. Those would be so fun.
When did you first start going out to shows though? Did you follow the typical story of sneaking into venues with a fake ID in high school? What bands did you see live when you were younger that really inspired you to pick up an instrument and just teach yourself?
Jessie: I started going out to shows when I was in 8th grade and we didn’t really use fake IDs because they were mostly all-ages venues. But we did make fake wristbands to get in because we either didn’t have money or didn’t want pay cover! I remember seeing T.S.O.L. for the first time and thinking they were so awesome.
Jennifer: Yeah, it was mainly all ages but I do remember my older sister gave me her old ID so I would use that every now and then.
Did any of those bands that were surrounding you at the time eventually become friends and/or mentors?
Jessie: Not really, but I didn’t really seek them out for that, either. They are still bands I listen to and admire.
Jennifer: We became friends with the bands we started playing with like at the Smell. We are all still really good friends. And the older ones were definitely mentors, like No Age and Black Lips.
What was some of the best advice you were ever told when starting out? What are some things that most people should fully understand when beginning to take their band semi seriously?
Jessie: My dad always told me to play till my fingers bleed! I think being in a band is challenging and you have to know when to compromise and when to trust only yourself.
Jennifer: To play like it’s your last show. Because sometimes people get caught up in the crowds response/non response and then after you realize like your biggest fan was there.
Neither of you were formally trained as musicians right? Tell me a little about the process of teaching yourselves? Was it a frustrating thing, or did it just eventually click one day?
Jessie: It started by just listening to punk and playing music with each other in our garage. I feel like I’m always learning and nothing just clicked one day. It’s more of a process and something I’m continually working on.
Jennifer: It’s funny because, when we decided we wanted to start a band, we tried doing Slits covers. I think now if I heard recordings of those days I would laugh. But we just grew with our instruments going through lots of different music styles. Punk was easy to play and we liked it so that’s why we played it. But now we are still growing and can play way more then I could even, like, two years ago. Now it’s, like, rock ‘n’ roll, with some pop, and still plenty of punk.
Yeah, it sounds like such a natural growth rather than being a forced direction.
Jessie: It is a natural growth; I never expected to be where I am today when I started Mika Miko. It was more raw and punk because it was what we were listening to at the time and as I got older I started listening to more bands and wanting to expand my horizons.
Speaking of which, I’ve found a slight shift in the singing style on the new LP compared to the older records. There’s a lot more harmonizing and less fast-paced shouting style as the previous 7 -inches. What brought this boosted confidence in singing? Was that even an intentional thing or did it just happen over time on its own?
Jessie: Yeah, it was really fun to try new things like harmonizing. I remember when we were recording this last record; I would wake up and just start listening to the Kinks, getting ideas for some backing vocals.
Jennifer: I think every time we record I get a little more confident. And Rob our producer helped a lot. He would recommend a style of singing, which I hadn’t tried before and then it would sound really good. Also, the more melodic the song, the easier it is to sing to, so that helped a lot.
Now that you both are a bit older than when you wrote the original Bleached material, how can you describe the style of writing of the new album? Do you think that you’ve both grown a lot as people over the last few years of being on the road and going through so many new experiences? On a similar note, what sort of life events and situations served as themes in the new record?
Jessie: Writing this album was a longer process, and, yes, I feel like I’ve grown a lot and have been having so much fun on the road.
Jennifer: For this album, we got to work a lot longer on every song. In the past, on the 7-inches, we would go in and record two songs in one day and that would be it. This time we got to take a song, mess around with it, and then record it. Then have time to work on the vocals, harmonizing and adding percussion and even organ. Also since Jess and I record everything other than our studio drummer, Dan Allaire, that’s very different than with our past bands. We have way more control, but then you kind of have to be able to let go because there are so many elements we have to [oversee]. I for sure feel like, over the last couple years, I have grown so much. Many of the songs are about growing up, falling in love, falling out of love, and life.
I heard that you used to record everything live in single takes for the previous EPs, but was the recording process any different for the LP? Did you have a producer come in this time around?
Jessie: We have always kind of had someone come in and help with producing, but for our new record there was more time spent on the production and getting the songs together. Rob Barbato produced the last two 7-inches as well as the full length, and we had a pre-production session for about two weeks before we started recording. We recorded by tracking the rhythm guitar, bass, and drums all together, then followed with over-dubs of more guitar, some percussion, organ, etc…
When it comes to songwriting, do you each play a separate role? Does your relationship as sisters in a band consist of knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, or would you say you both focus on everything equally?
Jessie: We for sure both have our separate roles in the band. Jen puts it together with a guitar riff and then the melody and lyrics. Then I come in and add some guitar leads and bass. Maybe in the future that could change, which would only continue our process of trying new things with music writing.
A lot of people say that Bleached has a real “SoCal” vibe, which I can definitely understand but you probably get a little tired of hearing that so much. I personally think it’s a good thing. What parts of the California lifestyle would you say drips into the music you make?
Jessie: I think it was the L.A. punk scene that you can hear in our music. We grew up listening to bands like the Germs, X, the Gun Club, etc. And they were all from L.A. Also, California is a huge state, L.A. is a huge city and spread out, and there is a really relaxed kind of chill vibe, but traffic can be crazy!
Your music videos seem to really embrace the L.A. culture that you’re a part of. What keeps you two based out of L.A. and what about it makes it so special to you?
Jessie: There is that side of L.A. that can be real glam and Hollywood with so many films being made here, and I think we really did take a liking to that growing up. We love to watch films, Valley Girl being one of our favorites! I feel like, with the weather always being so nice, it makes it easier for us to get together and write. L.A. seems like the place we would like to stay for now, but who knows about the future? I may want to live in Iceland!
Jennifer: Also, I love the brightness of L.A. But then the dark side, to. Like with the porn industry being from the Valley and all the crazy murder scenes you can take a tour around L.A. And all the famous people buried in Hollywood. It’s so crazy.
Do you dig for records on a regular basis? Where do you usually buy music and what are some recent finds that you’d recommend for us to check out?
Jessie: I don’t dig for records as much as I use to, but I will say I just got a cool Small Faces record. The self-titled one. It’s a really awesome record to put on and rock out to.
Jennifer: I go to Amoeba a lot. It’s a huge record store in Hollywood. They have so much used music. I would recommend Lou Reed’s Street Hassle as a used record to search for or Dwight Twilley’s ”Looking for the Magic.” Or The Human League’s instrumental record. That one is amazing.
Also, can you name some other fellow L.A. bands that the readers need to see this year?
Jessie: Were super excited for Veronica Falls. Their new record is really awesome, even thought they are from UK. Audacity, Pangea, and FIDLAR are some L.A. bands that are really awesome.
Jennifer: Yeah, and we just learned about Foxygen from L.A. They seem really awesome.
Jennifer, have you been into fashion as long as you’ve been into music? When you sit down to design clothing, do you approach it mentally the same way you’d think of music, or is it an entirely different muscle? Do you think that having an additional passion keeps your music fresh and not repetitive?
Jennifer: Yeah, I think having different passions does help keep them new and alive. It actually is a different feel. But when you get in the zone with either, I feel really free, and like I could make anything I want. I think, with fashion, I have more control because I do everything from the drawings to the sewing. With Bleached, it’s a group effort between Jess and I. So I think that’s why it feels different.
Tell us a bit about the upcoming plans after the album release.
Jessica: We are leaving for SXSW in a couple of days! We have a U.S. tour in April and then a Europe tour in May!
I’ve seen you guys a couple times, by the way, and I have to say that the energy and crowd involvement is always 100-percent. People just go crazy and it’s awesome. You must have some pretty wild stories about fans. Did I see a picture of some guy running on stage to kiss one of you at the El Rey a few months back?
Jessie: Hahaha yes! Someone came on stage and kissed Jen! That was awesome; kids were crowd-surfing going nuts! When the crowd goes crazy, I can really feel it and I get really into it, and then it’s just the best feeling after, to know you played a good show because everyone was having so much fun!
Jennifer: Hah, yeah, actually two guys came on stage. It was so cute! And then I ended up jumping in the crowd. It’s like you get high off of everyone’s energy. I love when people dance and have fun. It’s the best.
Alright, that wraps this up. Any last words of wisdom or extra upcoming things you wanna mention? Some shout-outs?
Jessie: I’m not really good at shout-outs, but our record is coming out April 2 and we’re super stoked!
Jennifer: Shout out to all my friends! They rule!