ABOVE: JENNIFER (RIGHT) AND JESSIE CLAVIN OF BLEACHED. PHOTO COURTESY OF DANNY KRUG
When we got a call from Jennifer Clavin, one half of the duo Bleached, she’d just returned to her home in Los Angeles after playing a rowdy house show at Stanford University the night before. Whether the previous night’s students realized it or not, that house show was actually a pretty significant night for the band. It marked the live debut of their first album, Ride Your Heart.
Even though the Bleached has been preparing for the release of their first album, they’re far from novices. Sisters Jennifer and Jessie Clavin started playing music in the punk band Mika Miko, and after disbanding, they’ve released three 7″ singles as Bleached and toured with the likes of Franz Ferdinand and Japandroids.
Clavin was probably pretty beat after playing a late show and spending the day on the road, but she didn’t show it. That’s a good thing, because three days after we spoke, she flew to England for a press tour that officially marked the start of an ambitious promotional cycle. Before the end of the summer, the band will tour across most of North America and Europe.
MATT PUTRINO: Do you guys play a lot of college shows?
JENNIFER CLAVIN: Not really. Every now and then we do. But last night I had no idea what to expect and it was a bunch of crazy drunk college kids. It was fun. [to someone in the room] Would that be considered a frat house that we played? There were all these kids playing beer pong.
PUTRINO: The last time I saw you play, it was probably the exact opposite of a frat party. It was Chloë Sevigny’s show for Opening Ceremony.
CLAVIN: Yeah. When she explained it to us, she was like, “You guys are going to be set up in a circle around the church, and then everyone is going to play in the shape of a pentagram.”
PUTRINO: I didn’t even realize it was a pentagram!
CLAVIN: That was one of my dreams, to play in a fashion show. And then to play in a church. It was awesome that it happened in the same day.
PUTRINO: That was also a mostly all-female rock show. What’s been your experience as a woman in bands?
CLAVIN: I think it was really cool. A lot of people think we think more about that stuff. It just happens that way, but it’s awesome for people to see that. When I was in my old punk band, it felt like the majority of bands were always dudes. And usually we would get treated differently by sound guys. Now today, there are so many girls in bands. I don’t think it’s as uncommon as it was a few years ago when we were in an all-girl band.
PUTRINO: Your old band, Mika Miko, was a staple of the DIY scene in LA.
CLAVIN: I guess the LA-Smell scene. We were just starting our band and we would go to the Smell to see shows almost every weekend. The thing is, not that many people knew about that venue. We did, and our friends who are now in No Age, and we just started playing a bunch. It became this place where so many kids were coming to see us play, and doing art. If you wanted to paint a mural on the wall, you could. You used to be able to drink there, but once so many kids started going there, you couldn’t drink anymore. It just became this awesome place that wasn’t a typical LA bar. It was cool, too, because when we first started playing it was in this really shady part of LA, like in Downtown. At least one car would get broken into every week going there. No one cared. It was fun and exciting and we thought we were being bad, going to this alley in Downtown. This hole-in-the-wall, awesome venue.
PUTRINO: I remember when I first heard Bleached, I was kind of surprised you had released three 7″ singles and no album. What made you decide to do three singles before a full-length?
CLAVIN: Well, it was more, “Let’s not rush a full-length.” We wanted to build our sound and see what kind of songs we write, and take our time. We didn’t want to rush something and then later be like, “Oh, I wish I spent more time on that.” I’m really happy with the 7″s, because you can listen to the first one, and then the third, and hear how they get more advanced with songwriting, and even like poppier in production. They grow a little with each one. And now our full-length grows from those 7″s.
PUTRINO: You released one of those with Ooga Booga, another LA institution, but they’re mostly known for zines and books. How did that come about?
CLAVIN: Well, we’re friends with Wendy [Yao], who owns Ooga Booga. So in the beginning, Jessie and I were trying to do Bleached, but we were also were in other bands that we were dedicating more time to. When we had spare time, we’d get together and do Bleached, so we thought, “Why don’t we just make music and put out music videos, and not worry about playing live.” So for the first 7″, we were thinking of what would be a cool label to put it out on, and we asked Wendy, who had never put out music before. She’s been a friend of ours for so long, and so supportive of the music Jess and I do, so she was totally down. It was really cool. That’s when we decided to put out more stuff.
PUTRINO: Did you make Ride Your Heart in LA?
CLAVIN: Yeah, we did. We did part of it in the Valley, and part of it in Echo Park. First my sister and I met with Rob [Barbato, the producer], and our recording drummer, Dan Allaire. He’s in that band Brian Jonestown Massacre. He’s such a good drummer and totally gets our style. It’s so easy working with him. Rob recorded our second 7″ and then our third one. And he was like, “You have to use him as a drummer.” It totally worked out, and we thought we had to use him for the record.
PUTRINO: Did you write this record on the road or did you take time off?
CLAVIN: Kind of a combination of both, actually. Some of the songs were written in the beginning, but they got pushed aside. When it came time to record, we went back and played them again, and changed them a little bit. They were pretty much written from when we first started playing music to a month before we were recording. It’s really hard to write on the road. It seems like it would make sense, because so much of your time is just sitting around, but then for some reason, you’re in the car so much. By the time you get back to the hotel, you just want to sleep. Backstage is always so loud.
PUTRINO: What’s your writing process like? Are you the kind of songwriter that writes thousands of songs and picks the best 12?
CLAVIN: Originally that was what people were telling us to do. “Just write so many songs, and we’ll pick the best ones.” Every song, I put so much time into and planning, that I’m proud of every song. In the end, even though they told me to do it that way, I ended up sending Rob 15 or 16 demos. From there, we recorded 14 songs and used 12 for the record.
PUTRINO: Any plans for the other ones?
CLAVIN: One of them was a cover we did for fun, I don’t know if we’re going to put it out, but maybe we will.
PUTRINO: What song did you cover?
CLAVIN: It’s the Fleetwood Mac song “I Know I’m Not Wrong.”
PUTRINO: Oh awesome. How is it writing with your sister? I always imagined there was some kind of mental connection between siblings in bands. Do you think there’s any truth to that?
CLAVIN: Yeah, I totally agree with that. It’s rare, but you can find it with friends, too. But with siblings, it’s usually there. There are so many sibling bands. I think it’s because siblings connect in a way that we get each other. Also apparently harmonizing, it’s natural to be on the same harmonizing page with your siblings.
PUTRINO: What kind of stuff were you listening to when you were writing?
CLAVIN: We have a huge range of stuff we listen to. For this record, I was listening to bands that I’ve always loved. You know how you go in and out of phases with bands? I felt really strongly about listening to the bands that I’ve been in love with since high school. So a lot of Blondie, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure album Disintegration. I wasn’t trying to make the record sound like that because we were listening to the Kinks, and the Nerves, and the Replacements too. “Dead In Your Head” is funny because the demo didn’t have that feel at all. It had a ’60s girl-band sound, and Rob said, “I think we should really do this.”
PUTRINO: What made you sign with the label Dead Oceans?
CLAVIN: I liked when we met with them, Phil [Waldorf, the president of the label], said “On top of your music, I really like your music videos,” and that made me really happy, because that was our original plan before we thought of playing live. Visually, it’s really important for me to have cool videos as well as cool songs.
PUTRINO: Do you do any of the artwork?
CLAVIN: Yeah. For the first three 7″s, I found all of the photos. The first two are stills from movies, and the third is from this old ’70s art magazine my friend had. For the new record cover, we were trying to recreate [this photo] with Jess and I, but it wasn’t working. I was looking through the photographer, Chloe Aftel‘s other photos, and I was like “This one is perfect.” So we used it.
RIDE YOUR HEART IS OUT NOW. FOR MORE ON BLEACHED, VISIT THE BAND’S FACEBOOK PAGE.