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By Philip Runco

“Sour Candy”, the third single from the recently released Welcome the Worms, opens with the furiously bubbling water of a bong rip. Shortly thereafter, there’s the ignition of a car engine. And in these two wordless seconds, Bleached has told you a lot about its sophomore record.

Welcome the Worms isn’t about getting wasted, but singer Jennifer Clavin spends a good chunk of it fucked up. “I’ve been getting high almost every night,” she admits during “Trying to Lose Myself Again”. On “Sour Candy”, she’s picking flowers on LSD and “giving into giving up.” A few songs earlier, she’s on a more metaphorical bender: “I can’t keep wasting my emotions on you / Getting high off the drug that I call you.”

“When we were making this record, I was in full depression mode,” Jennifer says of the self-destructive behavior. “Any time there was a reason to party, it was easy to be like, ‘Yeah, let’s party ’til sunlight.'”

The singer is calling from the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. This is the city where she and her sister, Bleached lead guitarist Jesse Clavin, have lived for the majority of their lives. And to make Welcome the Worms, it’s the city they had to escape.

“You can be distracted in L.A.,” Jesse says. “It’s too easy to push things back. You’ll be like, ‘I had a crazy night. Can we meet up tomorrow instead?'”

So the Clavin sisters and bassist Micayla Grace headed to the desert – a remote house in Joshua Tree, to be specific. And over the course of a few visits, the three would write Welcome the Worms‘ ten songs in this barren locale.

“Going to the desert was my way of escaping L.A., but it was also my way of reflecting on L.A. and how a lot of my problems aren’t as big as I make them when I’m there,” Jennifer says. “Everything seems so much clearer in the desert. And you can see the stars.”

A few tracks into the powerhouse Welcome of Worms, there’s what feels like a moment of clarity: “It’s really too bad to feel like walking death,” Jennifer sings on “Sleepwalking”. “But now my eyes are open wide.”

“I was having a discussion with a friend and they basically said that about themselves,” she says of the line. “Part of me saw it, like, I actually did wake up and realize that I want to live my life. But there was another side of it, where I felt like that’s something really psycho that a lot of people say. They think they’ve figured things out overnight. They haven’t.”

Recorded at Hollywood’s Sunset Sound with producers Joe Chiccarelli and Carlos De la Garza, Welcome the Worms is about learning to live with that duality.

“To me, the title Welcome the Worms meant embracing the dark side of life, because without the dark side we wouldn’t have the positive side,” Jennifer shares. “It’s all part of a bigger package.”

Bleached plays Washington’s DC9 on Wednesday. Welcome the Worms is out now on Dead Oceans

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Much of Welcome the Worms is set against the backdrop of your hometown, L.A. Some of the sentiments sound mixed, though. How would you describe your relationship with the city?

Jennifer: I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with L.A. There’s the beautiful, glamorized side of L.A., and then there’s this really dark side. That’s what makes L.A. what it is. And since it’s where we were born and raised, it’s sort of one of my best friends. There are parts of L.A. that I go to when I’m feeling upset. There are parts where I went on a first date. There’s so much of my personal life in this city.

I never really accepted that I was an L.A. girl until this record. I found myself writing about L.A. and not even realizing it. In the past, people would ask us, “Do you think the reason your music sounds that way it does is because you live in L.A.?” We’d always stumble on that question. But now I’m like, “Yeah, L.A. has made me who I am.” This record brought it to my attention.

As kids, our mom would take us to the Manson family house and the Nicole Simpson murder scene and the Menendez brothers house, so we grew up exposed to this very dark side of L.A.. At the same time, our dad worked in the movie industry as a sound engineer for Universal Studios, so we saw that side, too. And then we got put into the Beverly Hills school system on permit, so we grew up around these kids who were so rich, and all of their parents were divorced. We lived nowhere near that wealthy and fancy lifestyle.

Jesse: We’ve experienced every type of L.A. that you can experience. The people, the neighborhoods – we’ve experienced it all. To this day, we still experience L.A., even if it’s just something like a trip to Beverly Hills.

After over a dozen years of making music together, what’s changed?

Jesse: Jenn and I have always had an understanding of writing together. She has her role, and I have mine, but we never fully talked about it. It’s been coming out more recently, but we completely trust each other in the writing process. I like that I have a certain part, and then Jenn writes her lyrics and melodies, and then I come back in and sprinkle that. Even since we were kids, there’s always been that understanding. With all of the bands we’ve been in, Jenn has always written the lyrics.

Jennifer: Jess and I have always played music together since we decided that we wanted to play music. Jesse started first, playing bass, and then I learned guitar so we could start a band when we were in high school.

It always felt like a hobby to me, and it wasn’t until recently that I realized that music is my career. That realization has changed our relationship in the sense that we’re sisters but we’re also business partners. There are times when it needs to get real and serious.

Does that ever put on a strain on things?

Jennifer: It doesn’t with our relationship; if anything, it makes us closer. But, personally, it can be overwhelming when you’re supposed to be the artist making the music, diving into yourself, being honest, and then there’s this other side where you’re trying to get people to like your band enough that you can actually live off of it. It’s a weird push and pull.

I’m the most business in the band, but that’s just because I’m a Capricorn – I can’t help it, I have to do business.

Jesse: For me, just now trying to be more involved with social media, I’m like, “Oh my god.” I’m really trying to get more focused on that, because it’s such an important part of having a band these days. When we first started playing music, we didn’t have, like, social media. [Laughs] All we did was go to a venue and play a show.

One of the things that’s striking about Welcome the Worms is its scale. In a way, every song feels like its own little movie. Sonically, what were you going for?

Jesse: It’s so funny that you say that, because that’s what we say: We want every song to be its own movie.

Jennifer: It wasn’t as planned as maybe the record sounds like it was, though. There were just so many different aspects of the record that fell right into place at the right time.

First of all, with me, I just wanted to be really, really honest. I thought I was really honest with the last record, but when I started writing this record, I was like, “No, I can be even more honest.” I just went deep with what I was thinking and going through.

In terms of the music, it was a sound that we always tried to achieve but we weren’t able to get it until we worked with Joe Chiccarelli and Carlos [De la Garza]. That’s how we knew we wanted to work with them – they described their sound, and we were like, “Yes! That’s exactly what we want! Please do this record with us!”

Jesse: It was really important for me to try new things. I wanted to have a lot of variety of guitar tones and playing. I had gotten stuck in this hole for a little bit. I felt like I couldn’t expand, and I was a little insecure with my playing. I don’t know why it happened, but I felt like I was better than that. With this record, I just tried to go for it and try a lot of new things.

We were listening to so many different types of music, which was really helpful during the recording – it’d be like, “Oh let’s listen to this one song.”  It was all about having the confidence to expand our sound.

Where there any particular records or songs that you honed in on?

Jennifer: I definitely drew from a lot of Siouxsie and the Banshees stuff, because she’s one of my favorites. We were listening to a lot of Queens of the Stone Age – that song “Sat by the Ocean”. We listen to a lot of punk. We grew go on punk. We were listening to Cock Sparrer.

Jesse: Another song we were listening to a lot was the Roy Ayers “my life” song. [Laughs] I don’t know how it even came up but we were listening to it one day in the studio, and then I completely took a melody from the singing – I mean, I was just completely influenced by it. I was like, “Oh my god that’s so cool,” and then I put something like it into a guitar line. You would have never guessed that.

I think it just shows how much music Jenn and I listen to, and the variety of it. It’s all an influence for us.

Jennifer: I was really obsessed with the unplugged Nirvana album. I couldn’t believe how good those songs sound stripped down and then how good they sound like loud, crazy rock songs. That was a goal of mine: I wanted every song to sound just as good acoustically.

Coming from a punk background, do you ever find yourself fighting internal resistance towards big melodies? There are so many in here. A song like “Sour Candy” has what feels like a huge chorus but then the real chorus arrives and blows it away.

Jennifer: I had the chorus for “Sour Candy” for a while. One day, our bassist Micayla [Grace] and I were jamming, coming up with that verse and then the pre-chorus, and I was like, “Let’s just keep going with it, because we don’t have to use it.” We were demoing so many songs at the time. Then, when we were figuring out the chorus, I was like, “Oh, I have this old chorus from a while ago,” and we put it together, and it fucking worked perfectly. I think we had to change a key or something.

I felt pretty very strongly about “Sour Candy”. I’m so glad that I didn’t think, “Oh no, this is too poppy.” Actually, because it was sounding poppy when I was writing it, I was like, “I’m just going to go with this and make really poppy lyrics.” But I ended up changing the lyrics to be more my style.

When you posted “Sour Candy”, you recommended that people go for a joyride and blast it.  That seems like a very L.A. thing to do.

Jennifer: That’s the best way to listen to music. That’s how we test a song: We ride down the highway in a car with the music blasting. That’s when you know if a song is right.

Jesse: Living in L.A., everything is so far apart. A big part of our upbringing was being in a car, going to a show that’s an hour away and blasting music all the way there.

Jennifer; Even when you have a day of running errands or meeting someone for dinner, you always have the radio on in your car. That’s where I hear most music.

Jesse: When Jenn had her first car, a Chevy Nova, we would all pile into it and drive an hour to Showcase Theater in Corona. She had this little boombox with all of these mixtapes, and the record button was really close to the play button, so anytime someone would think they were pressing play, they were actually pressing record, and we’d start yelling at them, like, “You’re recording over the tape!” [Laughs]

Jennifer: But it was such a big deal because you needed to have music.

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