Bleached plainly just don’t do things by half. Finding herself at rock bottom shortly after 2016’s ‘Welcome The Worms’ release, singer/guitarist/lyricist Jennifer Clavin entered sobriety just before the album tour, perhaps the hardest point imaginable in an industry packed with temptation and opportunity. Having successfully navigated those perils, Bleached entered the studio for this summer’s storming follow-up ‘Don’t You Think You’ve Had Enough?’ like a band reborn with elder sister Jessica having followed the same path a year later.
Still with their distinctive love of ear-worm melodies and fuzzy guitars, this time they have leaned more into pop, disco and New Wave like never before. Hell, there’s even whistling on one track. New paths and new beginnings then for a band who are still unafraid and unashamed of their past, keeping it in sight at all times but now with one eye on a brighter future.
Catching with Jennifer while she walks her dog in LA, there is no dancing around the issue as she picks up the story immediately-post ‘Welcome The Worms’. “It wasn’t a conscious decision [to get sober], but I just didn’t realise how deep into drinking and drugs I was at the time. I was just in denial, so when I eventually hit rock bottom right after that came out, I realised I just had to do it.”
Straight-edge may still be a fairly common punk concept these days, but that doesn’t make touring as a freshly clean person any easier – though doing their first tour with a similarly sober band helped. However, following tours brought with them more temptation.
Comparing it to a “weird sober boot camp,” Jennifer describes a situation that repeatedly transpired. “The second you turn up at a venue, they’re like ‘what alcohol do you want?’ They don’t ask what snacks you want, y’know? Do you want a bottle of this, of that? At the end of the night, people are asking ‘do you guys need a coke hook-up? What drugs do you need?’ It’s so crazy.”
As with all recovering addicts, she is open and honest about what the future will bring and the ongoing daily battles. “When you’re sober, they make it such a big deal to take it one day at a time and live in the now, which is a struggle for everyone obviously. But I don’t miss that life at all, and I don’t worry that I’ll go back to it because it was just so much work to even keep living that lifestyle. And I felt so sick all the time, so it’s just not worth it. If I could have done it short-term and be able to take breaks, then I’d still be partying some nights. But for me, once it started, it didn’t ever end!”
Taking that new mentality into the recording studio, she immediately noticed a difference in her songwriting. “I was more locked in focus. Weirdly though, I felt like I had more pressure, maybe because I was really awake for the whole time. Because before, if I was to try and write a song, I’d need to have a bottle of wine next to me while I wrote. And by the end of the session, you’re just drunk. But in my mind, I felt like I was channelling this inner musical genius that I could only access with alcohol or drugs!”
Fresh in her mind, it is no surprise that much of the record reflects her recent journey. ‘Heartbeat Away’ in particular “is based on a life of someone who is empty inside, versus now where I feel that I’m full of lessons that have been learned as a sober person.”
There is a fine balance of before and after that carries through the entire record, telling the story of someone who has survived, who has made it through the fire. Someone who is not just moving past addictions, but is letting go of the past and of self-doubts altogether. In short, it’s a record about accepting who you are today as much as who you were yesterday.
“It’s not about shunning the past and thinking ‘oh you’ve fucked up, you’re a bad person’, but just being… that happened. It was part of my journey, and now I can learn, and be a better person.”
Laughing as she admits that all of the interesting stuff to write about come from her own past, whether it is dysfunctional relationships (‘Somebody Dial 911′) or just the disbelief that sudden death didn’t find her after everything she has been through (‘Hard To Kill’), there is a breathless honesty throughout. Yet it never gets dark. In fact, ‘Don’t You Think You’ve Had Enough?’ is instead a joy from start to finish.
With elements of pop, even new wave disco at times, all rubbing shoulders with their familiar fuzzy punk pop, it is as likely to bring the dance moves as it is the dirty moshes. “My sister and I, we did so many tours with different bands, and I think we were just kinda taking in every night the songs that we thought came off better live,” explains Jennifer. “We wanted to channel that in the writing and make music that we have a really good time playing because we’re gonna have to play these songs so often!”
Moments like ‘Hard To Kill’, complete with catchy whistle melody, bounce along with the slinking Cure-esque ‘I Get What I Need’ also shining a new light on the Clavins. “We’re just huge fans of the disco era, plus I’m a huge Blondie fan. When we first started writing, we were going more towards that. But I think in the end, because it was still me and Jessie writing, it’s still Bleached. It just couldn’t actually go as disco as we had imagined, but it ended up perfect instead.”
The bangers don’t let up when the guitars take centre stage; however, as a stunning second half shows. ‘Rebound City’ occupies a similar space as Sunflower Bean’s recent EP, while album standouts ‘Valley To LA’ and ‘Awkward Phase’ couldn’t be more pump-your-fists-in-the-air drive-time rock if they tried. Every song has one thing in common though, a rare ability to craft a ridiculously ear-worm melody that has defined Bleached since their earliest days. Here, however, they hit a new level altogether. Admitting that it is something that comes easy to her, it goes back to Jennifer’s earliest days.
“My dad told me when I was a little kid, he was playing guitar trying to figure out the melody to something, and I was in the other room playing with my toys. It was driving him crazy, playing it over and over again, and I was in the other room just singing the whole thing.” It follows her everywhere nowadays. “When I hear a song, sometimes it gets stuck in my head until I start going crazy, so I think maybe there’s just something going on with melodies and my brain that doesn’t ever end,” she laughs.
Talk of past memories soon turn to future thoughts. Hard as it must be to put pen to paper on songs like these, it must be infinitely harder to publicly open up on a nightly basis. “I know, I thought about it and was like, is this gonna be a problem?” ponders Jennifer, pointing out her observations on the risks of coming too clean (no pun intended) too soon. “Remember that big pop star [Demi Lovato] who put out ‘Sober’ when she was like, really newly sober? I remember seeing her and thinking; this is bad. That’s how you relapse because all of a sudden all of your press is around this really fragile thing that you have to protect.”
Spinning it the other way, she sees it as an opportunity. “I’m looking at it as a way of keeping me accountable, and also that someone could see me talking about this, and if it could help even one person, then that’s worth it. So many artists have gone down the opposite path, maybe we need to start making people aware that you can be a good musician and be sober at the same time.”
With the record that she admits she has been trying to write her whole life under her belt, Bleached are now striding confidently down their own path and showing that there is most definitely another way. Not just surviving, but flourishing in the bright light of a new dawn.
Taken from the August issue of Upset. Bleached’s album ‘Don’t You Think You’ve Had Enough?’ is out now.