Jessica & Jennifer Clavin of Bleached

Kerri O'Malley

Bleached

SoCal sugar-and-spice, garage-pop sister duo Bleached turn their crunchy 7” numbers into a more polished, bonafide full-length this week that’s destined to Ride Your Heart til your heart can’t take it no more. A few weeks before its release, Jessica and Jennifer Clavin passed the phone between them for a half-and-half conversation about how Bleached fits into the past and present femme music scene, the peace-keeping powers of Playstation, writing romantic numbers in their parents’ desert home, and overcoming the terrors of honesty.

So not only have you guys been putting out singles and playing shows for awhile, you also grew up together and played in other bands…it must seem like this record is a long time coming.

Jessica: Totally. I feel like it all ended up working out really good. The record came out at the best time it could have possibly come out. We’re both so ready to go on tour and do this and know that for the next year there’ll be a lot of touring and all that. We’re just really excited for this new record.

Ready to pick up roots and go rock out around the country?

Jessica: Yeah, exactly. [Laughs] We were actually touring a lot already, but just touring with a lot less stuff – merchandise and all that. This is actually our third US tour, but it’s definitely different. Now, we’re looking for a van to buy, so little things like that are changing.

What’s the hardest thing about being in a band with your sister?

Jessica: The being in the band part is really not that hard at all. It’s actually the easiest part, I feel like, because we both just understand each other. I’m really excited, though, because we keep talking about getting a TV in our van and having Playstation and movies, so I feel like that’s going to make it even easier. [Laughs] Because how can you get in an argument in your van with your band mates or sibling if you’re all, like, watching a movie? It just seems so pleasant.

Yeah, unless it’s West Side Story and you each pick a side or something.

Jessica: [Laughs] That’s true. That could happen.

I’ve heard you guys talk about jamming with your dad. What’s your mom like, and does she play into your passion for music at all?

Jessica: Our mom’s a really good singer, and she always wanted to be a country singer, but it didn’t really happen. But yeah, our mom and our dad both had little bands as we were growing up. My dad would play guitar, and my mom would sing, and they would go to, like, friends’ parties and play for them. I also remember waking up in the morning to our mom singing so loud to, like, some country song. And I remember being like, “Oh my god.” [Laughs] Like, I so don’t want to hear this right now. I have to go to school! But it definitely was around us a lot.

Yeah, whether or not you wanted it!

Jessica: Exactly! But now I look back at it, and realize it was really a sweet thing.

It’s hard to not ask you two questions about being a band made up of siblings or being a girl band or even being a duo, at your core, since those three relationships get so much attention in the music scene – and you’re a combination of all three! Of all those relationships, is there something there that actually has a meaning to you – working with your sister or another girl or just one other person, primarily — or is that just a manufactured way to talk about bands from your perspective?

Jessica: There is so much meaning. I don’t really think about it, you know, until you just mentioned it right now – all the different connections going on within the band – but when we were finding a bass player, at first, we didn’t really care if it was a guy or a girl, but then we thought it would be nice to find another girl, since we’re going to be going on tour a lot. And then, with us being sisters, I just understand Jennifer so much that it just helps within the band, and even with the writing process, we both have roles in the band that we really like. There’s never any competition. We’re both very supportive of each other. And I think being sisters, it creates that environment because with your sibling, all you want is the best for them. I could see how if there were two people in the band with really strong egos, it could create friction, but I think we work well together in that way. And then, we do have a guy drummer –

Token guy. [Both laugh] But yeah, I think about the girl group thing with your band not just because you are mostly girls, but because you have a little bit of that specific 60s girl-group vibe in your music that you combine that with a bit of a punk rock sound. Which is interesting because, in the past, girl-group stuff and riot grrrl stuff might have been like oil and water, but a lot of what’s going on in – excuse the term – “girl music” now is really a mix of the two. Do you see that happening or think of your music in that way?

Jessica: Well, when we were in Mika Miko, we got compared to riot grrls a lot, but we always said we’re not really riot grrls – we’re just girls in a band. But I feel like I understand it more now, and I do think about that – girls in the 60s, and riot grrls. But I feel like it’s a little different today. There are so many girl bands.

Yeah, I mean, a lot of things are going on across the board – the vintage revivalism with the girl-group sound isn’t for girls-only bands for sure – but I do feel like there’s a bit of a new scene for girls playing music.

Jessica: There’s a lot more girls in bands, definitely, but it almost seems like it’s not a thing now, since there’s so much of it. Like, it might actually be equal now between guys and girls in music. But I do like it when girls talk about who influences them…and when you think about girls in the 60s or riot grrls, it was much harder for girls to start a band then than it is now. These days, I guess it’s a little easier. It seems like these days people just want to see girl bands or girls rocking out. I feel like it’s harder for guys these days. [Laughs]

Do you think it crosses over the line sometimes into a gimmick, or are you always appreciated as good music?

Jessica: Um, I think it’s still appreciated, for sure. It really depends, you know, it could go either way, but I think it’s generally appreciated.

I totally agree with you, and am really excited to be living in this music scene now, but I feel like some people are still making it weird. Like, random reference, Jack White and his switch-up between all-girl and all-boy backing bands last year as he toured with Blunderbuss. He did some interviews around then that talked about working with the two genders like he was some kind of twisted puppet master, talking about how adding one girl into the recording room changes the entire vibe…

Jessica: Yeah, me and Jen have been on tours before, not recording but just on tours, with all guys before – more like guy driving, merch guy…a lot more guys than usual, I guess. It was really difficult. I think if there was just one more girl in that setting, it would have calmed things down way more. It kind of just became very overwhelming, and I think that has a lot to do with why we’d prefer to have a girl in our band – well, not saying all girls, we love playing with our drummer and touring with – but I can see that. There’s a difference there.

Yeah, I mean we’re beyond some gender barriers in a lot of ways, but you can’t pretend sexual tension doesn’t exist.

Jessica: It’s funny, though, because I seriously feel like everyone Jen and me have worked with in Bleached there’s never been any sexual tension. If anything it’s like, “Ew, that’s gross. I feel like he’s my brother.” [Both laugh]

[Jennifer takes the phone.]

Maybe you’re accidentally forming some kind of quasi-family band. So talk to me a bit about the songs from Ride Your Heart. Even though we’ve been chatting more meta about your tunes, when it gets down to it, you write more traditional love songs. Who are these guys? Are they real?

Jennifer: Mainly, it’s coming from a real place. Being in a band and being on tour, it’s hard to have an ideal relationship. It’s always more long-distance. And I’ve been touring since I was almost just out of high school, so it just seems like every time I fall in love with someone, it gets messed up because of my lifestyle. And also I feel like I’m a little dramatic, so I take it to the next level a little bit. [Laughs] But whatever I feel like I’m going through a tough time with someone, and I am singing about a few different people, that’s when I’m inspired to write. A big group of the songs were written when I was breaking up with someone, and we were about to start – or, well, had been doing Bleached but didn’t know yet how serious we were going to take it – and I was living in New York for a year, but I moved back home and lived with my parents for a couple of months, cause I was moving back to LA, and they live in the desert. So I was just in my room everyday, writing songs.

Wow, that’s a lot of changes at once. I feel like in order to be inspired to create something, you have to be alone or give yourself some space, you know what I mean? And it seems like the desert, after a breakup, in your parents’ house is probably the epitome of that.

Jennifer: Yeah, and now that I live in LA again, it’s so hard. I mean, like, yesterday I was kind of going through a tough time with this guy I’ve been hanging out with, and he’s in a band, I’m in a band…and you, like, almost don’t want to start something serious because you know what’s probably going to happen because you’re in bands. I was just like, “Fuck, I should take this time to try to write some music,” but then I didn’t. For some reason, when you’re in LA, there are a million other things to do, so it’s hard to get yourself to do that. But yeah, just being in the desert, there was nothing for me to do there except just sit and write music.

So you only write songs when there are bad things going on in relationships —

Jennifer: Well, that’s been the pattern lately, but there’s actually a song that didn’t make it on the record, but I’m really excited for when we do release it. It didn’t sound right – the recording – so we decided to wait to re-record it. But that song’s just about music and loving playing music. But yeah, that seemed to be the pattern because that’s what I was going through, and I’m just really inspired when I’m going through a weird time.

Yeah, that’s where I was going. Do you feel like this is kind of a one-time theme because of what was happening in your life, or do you feel like you’ll usually write from this place?

Jennifer: I kind of feel like it’s going to come from the same place because some of songs were songs I was writing right when Jessi and I were ending our old band, and they’re kind of the same subject even though they were written way before a lot of the newer ones. A lot of the bands I really like, too, or a lot of my favorite songs are of a similar subject matter, so I’m sure that plays in too.

What’re some of those bands?

Jennifer: A lot of Johnny Thunder songs, a lot of The Replacements, The Smiths, The Cure…I was just listening to a lot of Creedence Clearwater the other day, and a lot of their songs are like that, too.

[Laughs] That’s kind of left field, but I love it. CCR! Yeah, I mean, I feel like a lot of art and music is made by people when they feel like things aren’t quite right, and in that moment – whether it’s because you need to strive to make something right or figure something out or distract yourself…to me, there’s so many reasons when things are bad that something has to come out of that.

Jennifer: Yeah, to me, the things you just listed – it’s a combination of all of that. Which I guess is almost like a therapy, in a way. When you’re really down and stuff, picking up a guitar and singing about it is a way to distract yourself, make yourself feel better, and learn from your mistakes. And also, it’s like you’re singing about someone else, so it’s almost romantic in a way, but then it’s also a little depressing, so it’s this light but dark thing happening.

When you play these songs now, after some time, do you still go back to that moment and that person, or has it turned into something different now?

Jennifer: It’s weird because it’s actually like both. I remember playing a show one night on tour, and that’s what ended up tearing me and this person apart – this really long tour in Europe – and I got an e-mail from him five minutes before we were about to play, and one of the songs was about him. And when I had to play that song, I started crying onstage, and I was trying to hold back my tears because I was like, “This is embarrassing!” But now when I play that song – now we’ve been apart for so long I don’t feel that way anymore. But at that moment, I was like, “Oh my god, why do I have to play this stupid song right now?”

Yeah, your songs are exciting to listen to because they’re romantic at times – they have this sweetness to them – but there’s a little get-the-fuck-away, badass attitude that peeks out too.

Jennifer: Oh, cool. Yeah, I feel like the lyrics I write are really honest, and people can tell that, and they relate to it, and appreciate that. It took me awhile to get comfortable writing honest, heartfelt lyrics. When I was in Mika Miko, I was embarrassed to do that, so I would write funny songs – or not funny, but I would be so vague about what I was singing about that anyone could interpret it however they felt comfortable, and I wasn’t putting myself out there. But now I feel comfortable. I’m like, “You know what? Fuck it. I’ll sing about whatever I want to sing about. This is bothering me right now, so I’m going to go write a song about it.”

That’s really cool. How are you feeling now, with the record about to drop – more confident and empowered with this stuff out there, or are you a little raw now that everyone’s talking about the album?

Jennifer: You know, I feel totally comfortable. Some people are already asking me more about the lyrics for this and that, and I think it’s really cool. I work really hard on the songs, thinking about what words work here and what would sound better being sung, so it’s cool when people ask that kind of stuff.

So on the eve of your album release, what are you most excited for with Ride Your Heart?

Jennifer: I’m just really excited and ready to keep going with Bleached and doing what I’ve been dreaming of doing – playing shows and having people get really into the songs. I can’t wait to play a show and, like, everyone knows every song. Because now, people get really excited for the 7” songs, but when we play new songs, people don’t really know what it’s going to sound like. But I can just tell, now that the record’s started leaking a bit and we played this show at Burgerama, I can already see people getting a little more crazy for the new songs, so I’m just so excited. I think it’s going to be so fun!

Ride Your Heart is out now on Dead Oceans.

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