Bleached to the Bone
BLEACHED (JENNIFER CLAVIN, JESSICA CLAVIN, AND MICAYLA GRACE) IN LOS ANGELES, MARCH 2016. PHOTOS: CARA ROBBINS. STYLING: LISA MADONNA. MAKEUP: TASHA BROWN FOR EXCLUSIVE ARTISTS MANAGEMENT USING ERA BEAUTY. HAIR: PATRICK CHAI FOR EXCLUSIVE ARTISTS MANAGEMENT USING AMIKA.
On Friday, Los Angeles rock trio Bleached released its much-anticipated sophomore LP, Welcome the Worms—a 10-song compilation laden with both personal confessions and profound confidence. In the three years since Ride Your Heart, sisters Jennifer and Jessica Clavin underwent significant and emotional experiences (Jennifer ended an abusive relationship; Jessica was evicted from her home), which fueled the majority of the songwriting. Additionally, the duo brought bassist Micayla Grace into the writing process for the first time, and album opener “Keep On Keepin’ On” is the first track the three collaboratively wrote.
“It was a night we all went out into the desert, and we just sat down and started jamming,” Jessica recalls of the experience. “I was a little nervous at the beginning,” Micayla adds. “The next morning, we were listening to some stuff we recorded and little bits of what ended up being ‘Keep On Keepin’ On’ were there.”
More than personal growth and a duo becoming a trio, in the studio Bleached also worked with producer Joe Chiccarelli (Morrissey, The Strokes, and Elton John), who helped fervent guitar riffs become fearless melodies, resulting in an album as punk as Bleached’s first, but one that is deeper and heavier. Just before the release of Welcome the Worms, we spoke with Bleached over the phone.
EMILY MCDERMOTT: How did you first meet Joe and then start working with him for this record?
JENNIFER CLAVIN: He got ahold of our demo and wanted to meet us to give some advice. At the time, our budget could not afford him, but we met at Café 101 in Hollywood and immediately connected really well. We felt like he was like our lost uncle. He had so many good ideas and good things to say. We were like, “Please can you record for us? Please produce this record, you get it the best out of everybody we’ve talked to!” A couple days later I got a text and he was like, “Looks like we’re going to be doing the record together!” That was really awesome… Have you seen the Katy Perry documentary, where she kept stalking Alanis Morissette’s producer to do her record and he gave in? It was like that.
EMILY MCDERMOTT: Micayla, you haven’t really been part of the writing process prior to this album. What was it like writing as a trio, rather than a duo?
JENNIFER CLAVIN: There’s different ways we write. I’ll write alone because I can get really deep with myself and my guitar. Then Jessie and I will write some songs together—that’s how we’ve been doing it from the beginning. And then this record we wrote some songs with Micayla, too. I like that we have three different ways of writing.
MICAYLA GRACE: It was really exciting to get to write a little bit on this record. I’d written for another project before, but not for Bleached. I was hired to play bass for the live shows; I never pictured moving up and becoming a writer. But after we spent a good year of touring together, we had become such good friends and had a bond and rapport and language that we spoke together—verbally and nonverbally. I felt like we had an understanding and intention of pushing ourselves to the next level. We said, “How do we make things even bigger and better this time?” This record will definitely be the biggest release that I’ve ever been a part of.
EMILY MCDERMOTT: What do you think you’ve learned from writing together?
JESSICA CLAVIN: I’ve learned to have trust. I think we’re all really talented and creative, and I’ve learned to trust what we’re bringing to the table and also to trust myself.
JENNIFER CLAVIN: I agree with that. Letting go of some control and allowing the process of us working together to create something that never would’ve been written if the three of us had never gotten together.
MICAYLA GRACE: What I’ve learned from Jen and Jessie is not to overwork or overthink things. My natural instinct is to do something and then sit on it too long. Jen and Jessie are pretty good at detaching themselves from an idea after it’s come out and being like, “That’s that idea, let’s show it to a producer and see where it goes.” I’ve learned to trust the ideas and the first instincts that come out, because sometimes that’s the best one.
EMILY MCDERMOTT: Jennifer, you’ve said that writing this album was more honest and acted as therapy. Where did you find the confidence to write more honest lyrics about yourself?
JENNIFER CLAVIN: With the last record people would tweet or tell me in person, “Your lyrics are getting me through this moment and this time in my life.” That let me know that it’s okay to be really honest, because that’s when you’re going to really affect somebody and they’re going to take something from your lyrics. A lot of the musicians I’m inspired by are really honest with their lyrics and that’s what touches me the most. Also, I was really depressed and it’s easy to be honest when I’m depressed. I never really realized that until now, looking back. I just didn’t care; I wanted to share what I was feeling and what I was going through. It ended up working as therapy for me.
I feel like my honesty with myself is the one stable thing in my life. For me, it’s easy to be honest with myself. When I was in our other punk band I wrote lyrics that didn’t mean anything. We were writing about things that were really stupid because I was embarrassed to say what I felt. For some reason, once I started Bleached, one of my rules for myself was: This time I’m going to write real lyrics that mean something. And then, for me, being vulnerable is being strong. I don’t really care if someone thinks my lyrics are stupid. That vulnerability and openness can create a lot more room within personal relationships and growth for yourself and for people—together and separately.
JESSICA CLAVIN: It’s generally something that comes with age, too. Some of the relationships and friends I’ve had, they leave me with “I want to thank you for your honesty during this whole thing.”
EMILY MCDERMOTT: Can you talk about some of the experiences that influenced this record?
JENNIFER CLAVIN: Personally, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship, very, very depressed, drinking more than I should, doing drugs, partying every night in L.A., and then trying to find my ground. When we would go out to the desert I’d have these moments of clarity, feeling like I’m just this one little person on planet Earth and my problems aren’t as big as I make them out to be. No matter how dark or how bad a situation is, I’m still glad it happened and a lesson came out of it. I like learning life lessons and want to keep learning until the day I die.
JESSICA CLAVIN: Within the last four years, I’ve started becoming totally insecure. I was lacking confidence, thinking too hard about my presence or where I was playing. That started making me feel more anxious than normal, and maybe a little depression, but I didn’t realize that was happening until we started doing this record. Writing was all about finding that confidence again, almost like finding my youth again. When you’re young, you’re crazy. Even before you get into drugs and alcohol, you’re running around and just writing things. I was trying to go back to that youthfulness where we have that confidence. I lost it somewhere. I’m still trying to find it, but it doesn’t happen overnight. It slowly comes back.
MICAYLA GRACE: The main theme for all of us was personal growth and attacking things head on. I’ve always felt drawn to happier sides of life and wanting to be very positive about everything. When you find yourself in a more challenging time, that’s scary. I found myself in one of those times, so I was challenged in many aspects. I felt lucky to have a record to work on, because it’s a pretty immediate way to process feelings and get something out.
EMILY MCDERMOTT: I also want to ask about the title, Welcome the Worms. Jen, I know you were walking through Echo Park Lake and someone handed out religious pamphlets, but what did the phrase mean to you originally, and how has it changed since?
JENNIFER CLAVIN: I don’t know if this part of the story is in the [press] book, but my friend and I had been on mushrooms all night. We were walking through Echo Park at 9AM, we ran across this couple, and they gave us this do-it-yourself religious book. My dad is atheist and my mom is agnostic, so I’m always really intrigued by those books. I was looking through it and it was a bunch of cut and pasted letters and images. One of them said “Welcome the Worms” and I was like, “Oh my god, this is what we need to name the record.” We were really deep into recording and had no idea what the record was going to be called.
When I read it, I felt like it was saying, “embrace the dark side of life,” because dark and good is what life is about; it’s a package. Without the dark side, we wouldn’t know what is good. So to me, “welcome to worms” was saying, “let’s embrace the dark side in a positive way.”
JESSICA CLAVIN: When Jennifer said the title “Welcome to Worms,” I didn’t think about what it felt or meant to me. All I got was a visual.
MICAYLA GRACE: I was so excited by it. It represented a lot of ideas that had been in my mind, which had to do with embracing the dark side. A similar expression I really is, “the cure is in the poison.” I think it’s human nature to practice avoidance, and you can spend your entire life avoiding one feeling. If you have consciousness about that, that you’re avoiding it and repeating this pattern, perhaps you’d spend more time living your life and less time running away.
EMILY MCDERMOTT: If you had to pick out one song that points toward the growth you’ve experienced in the last few years, what would you pick?
JENNIFER CLAVIN: Mine would be “Desolate Town,” because that hits the nail on the head with what I was going through in L.A. at the time. Now, looking back, I’m so glad that happened because I learned a lot from that time in my life, but I’m also so glad I’m out of that time in my life. With the musical part and the really honest lyrics, I’m so proud of that song.
JESSICA CLAVIN: I love “Chemical Air.” I saw that song grow from day one, with Jen writing it in a songwriting class we went to. I watched it grow and I went in and did one of my favorite solos I’ve ever played. I love that song.
MICAYLA GRACE: I would pick “Keep On Keepin’ On” because it’s awesome to hear where it went from little ideas, little bits in the desert, to becoming one of the singles. It was a great collaboration between the three of us and makes me really excited to keep working on music together.
WELCOME THE WORMS IS OUT NOW. FOR MORE ON THE TRIO, VISIT BLEACHED’S FACEBOOK.