Soaked in Bleached

Bleached talk their transformation from surf-pop buzz band to rock & roll juggernaut

For Bleached, there's no such thing as a sophomore slump.

For decades, the old music biz death knell had bands pigeonholed into mediocrity before they even delivered LP No. 2 to their labels. And for awhile back there, the saying “You’ve got your whole life to write your first record, and about six months to write the next” rang ominously true (see the '90s).

But more and more, it seems like our music culture is changing for the better: Second full-length albums often seem more evolved, riskier and wilder than previous efforts. Is it a shift in societal paradigm? Different expectations for the iTunes/singles-loving consumer mentality? Or maybe musicians have just decided to put the ol' music critics to bed before they miss "Matlock" and have a chance to get cranky.

Whatever the case, Bleached’s 2014 debut, "Ride Your Heart," was anchored in reckless surf-pop/rock abandonment with just enough punk snarl (leftover from their previous beloved band, Mika Miko) to make the overall mix authentically appealing.

Fast-forward two years, and the L.A.-based band (comprised of singer/guitarist Jennifer Clavin, her sister Jessica Clavin on guitar, and bassist Micayla Grace) took a trip to the mattresses. In other words, Bleached went rogue and instead of churning out more of the same, they buckled down, geared up and deliberately channeled their collective talents into "Welcome the Worms," an addictive album of meaty rock anthems that oozes Runaways-style attitude and early-era Weezer pop melodies that are anything but casual and carefree. It's fun, sure, but it's also biting and acerbic, a bit savage -- a ferocious batch of songs that also feel gloriously thick with the heft of rock-solid cement. Sophomore slump? More like sophomore punch.

Bleached (who play the Casbah on May 12) have genuinely risen from a SoCal landscape riddled with barely-adequate hipster surf-pop musicians to the big leagues -- one of the few young rock groups unafraid to pummel audiences with the all-but-extinct power chord. "Welcome the Worms" is unequivocally one of the best rock records of 2016, and the Clavin sisters were kind enough to chat about it via phone.

Dustin Lothspeich: The band recorded the new album at Sound City -- which is about as legendary as it gets for a recording studio. Was there any trepidation going into it?

Jennifer Clavin: Yeah, it was kind of intimidating at first because it was like, "Oh my God, this is just a crazy place where insanely talented people have recorded masterpieces," you know? But then we were kind of just feeling the energy of that, and I'd look up old pictures of the Rolling Stones in the exact same spots we were recording in and be like, "This is crazy." And there was this really good energy there -- but the idea before going was definitely a little intimidating.

DL: Did recording there have much to do with the bigger, thicker sound of "Welcome the Worms"? Was that sound a deliberate goal of the band's?

Jennifer: I felt like it was a sound we always wanted but didn’t know how to get. When we met Joe Chiccarelli, one of the two producers of the record, he was explaining his vision of the record and we were like, "Yes! You get it, you have to do this record!" We knew that he knew what we wanted so we were really comfortable going in there with him. And I had a lot of trust that he would produce the record with this big sound but still keep it really raw sounding. 

DL: What do you attribute the huge sound of the album to the most?

Jennifer: We recorded the album live this time, so all of us were playing at the same time. The last record, we would do it instrument by instrument with a lot of overdubbing. Joe was really adamant on us playing live in the studio.

Jessica Clavin: Yeah, there's this energy you get that comes out of it, too, with all of us playing together.

Jennifer: Joe kept saying, "This needs to be scary, this needs to be scary." If it was too sweet, he’d be like "Uh, no."

DL: Were there any specific influences going into the recording sessions? I know you've mentioned Motorhead and Jimi Hendrix as influences in other interviews.

Jessica: I feel like, for me, Hendrix has always been a constant inspiration. When I was a kid, I was like 10 when our dad took us to a party at a studio in Hollywood he used to work at called Cherokee Studios. We went to some party with him, and I just remember I spent the whole time upstairs in a little room watching Hendrix play "Little Wing" on repeat over and over again, and I couldn't leave. From there, I was just so obsessed with Hendrix. I started out playing bass, but there's something about the guitar that I wanted to get onstage and just rip a solo like that -- and make it look so easy and so natural. He's just always been a constant influence. With Motorhead, we just grew up on punk and listening to them.

DL: When I listen to the record, I think it almost sounds like an almost punk version of Fleetwood Mac. Is that off-the-wall?

Jennifer: No, not at all.

Jessica: I feel like that's totally dead-on.

Jennifer: The first time I ever heard Fleetwood Mac, I was going through my parents' records, and I was like older, and I had just gotten out of high school, and I was like, "I want to try listening to this band Fleetwood Mac. I feel like I want to know what they’re about." And then I listened to "Tusk," and I was like, "Oh my God, this is so punk!" I felt like it was this secret punk record that I had just discovered.

Jessica: [Laughs]

Jennifer: And when I did some reading about it, I learned that Lindsey Buckingham was inspired by the whole post-punk scene in England, so I was like, "OK, that makes sense." I don't know -- I think coming from loving punk so much, and finding Fleetwood Mac, and the harmonies and the melodies and the guitar sounds and the synths -- it all just blew me away. I never thought I would like music like that. I thought I was punk for life [laughs].

DL: Well, the record has been really well-received. Have you seen any bad press on the band? Do you bother reading that stuff?

Jennifer: I don't really read our reviews that often. But, really, the only negative thing I'll see is someone being really mean in a comment or something. 

DL: Oh, yeah, comment sections are the garbage cans of the world.

Jennifer: I usually don't read them but sometimes someone will send them to me, and I'll be like, "I don’t want to see that! That's why I don’t look!"

DL: It has to be strange to completely believe in your music and see other people have something negative to say about it, yeah?

Jennifer: I don't understand that. How can you talk badly about someone's art? I mean, we spent almost two years on this album, from demo writing to being done with it -- so I don’t understand that.

DL: Right? Like, how can you cut down someone for their creative endeavors?

Jennifer: Exactly. I feel like what "Welcome the Worms" means to me is: You'll have your highs, and you'll have your lows, and you just have to accept the lows of life, too. I feel like if musicians and artists didn’t have all that critiquing, then life would just be too easy for us.

Bleached headline the Casbah on Thursday, May 12, with No Parents opening. Tickets are $12 and are available online here.

Dustin Lothspeich plays in Diamond Lakes and Boy King, and runs his own local music equipment-loving blog Gear and Loathing in San Diego. Follow his updates on Twitter or contact him directly.

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