Bleached Get Sober on their New Album
“I try to get what I need/I lie to get what I need,” Jennifer Clavin sings on the power-pop nugget “I Get What I Need.” It’s one of many songs on Bleached’s third album Don’t You Think You’ve Had Enough? in which the frontwoman reckons with her history of using, whether that be drugs, alcohol — or other people.
Despite the subject matter, the entirety of this record was written from a place of sobriety. Jennifer and her sister/bandmate Jessica decided to quit drugs and alcohol after the release of their 2016 record, Welcome To The Worms.
In the three years between that album and Don’t You Think You’ve Had Enough? Bleached grew immensely both as people and musicians. The hard work they put into expelling their impulsive, self-destructive tendencies is mirrored in the deliberate creative process of the record itself. The sisters confined themselves to a practice space for seven hours per day, hashing out demos and re-writing specific parts and lyrics until they were perfect.
On the final product, the production is cleaner, the arrangements are more succinct and the lyrical narratives more coherent than on any of their previous projects. It’s definitely an intentional step in a poppier, bigger room direction (which makes sense since Bleached is playing huge venues now). Still, none of their refinements come at the expense of their signature, fun-as-hell punk character.
The sisters formed Bleached during the Burger Records surf boom back in 2010, and quickly signed to indie giant Dead Oceans for their 2013 debut Ride Your Heart. From then until now, Bleached have been a full-time touring band who’ve opened for the likes of Paramore, the Hives and Against Me!. In their first six years as a band, that lifestyle yielded some pretty hard partying and the sisters indulged in risky hedonism (drinking every night, blacking out constantly, taking random drugs from strangers) before Jen reached the point where she just couldn’t do it anymore.
The album’s lead single, “Hard To Kill,” is a head-shaking reflection on their craziest nights — and a cheeky nod to their resiliency. “All the cities that we’ve burned down/turns out I’m very hard to kill,” Jen sings over the song’s disco-esque groove.
“I feel like this is the perfect single for us to come back with,” Jessie says. “It feels like it’s really hard to kill us.”
Most of the record is about looking back on the past and acknowledging unhealthy situations. But Jen, who writes all of the lyrics, views these times as learning experiences — not regrets. “I don’t believe in mistakes,” she says in reference to “Rebound City,” a particularly vulnerable apology track to the people she’s used to get over previous partners. “I think everything we do is a lesson and leads us to where we need to be in the next stage of our lives,” she adds.
Still, some of the songs, like “Valley To L.A.” and “Awkward Phase,” are more tender: these tracks see them reminiscing about the wonder and infinite possibilities they felt during their teenage years.
Either way, this is definitely the most sonically diverse album in the Bleached catalogue, with influences as divergent as the Cure and Dolly Parton. Below, the Clavins break down the story of each song.
Jen: I feel like every time I sing this song I’m realizing that it takes work to change — and it’s so easy to slip back into old habits. There’s this one lyric, ‘Let the ocean fight for the waves.’ I just think that’s a really cool line: fight for what you know you want and what you believe in. And then, on a personal level, it’s about reaching a level of mental sanity and missing the chaos that you’re so used to.
“Hard to Kill”
Jen: Lyrically, we were talking about all the crazy shit we used to do in our partying days and how we’re surprised we’re still standing here. ‘All the cities that we’ve burned down/turns out I’m very hard to kill.’ All the crazy things we did, we’re still alive standing here in one piece and the people around me are also still alive. It’s a very self-indulgent, selfish type of lifestyle. Partying like that. And that song was kind of reflecting on that.
I’m obsessed with whistling and my dream has always been to have a good whistle song. So when we were writing ‘Hard to Kill’ and we did that whistle, we decided to keep it. The thing is, live, it’s very difficult to have a whistle because you’re just basically blowing into a microphone, which sounds insane. So we added the whistle to a track.
Jessie: I don’t know how to whistle, so it’s really interesting pretending to whistle on stage, because all of the sudden I’m whistling when you wouldn’t be whistling. I guess I need to learn how to whistle; that’s what this whole experience is telling me.
Jen: I had this weird premonition that I needed to go to the desert and write a song. And my aunt had just bought a house so she told me I could just go stay in it. I ended up writing ‘Daydream.’
The song originally started with me singing, ‘Stuck inside a daydream / always thinking about the past.’ It wasn’t about a person in particular, it was just about [me] dwelling on the past — which I think a lot of this record is about.
I wanted it to sound more like a love song, because it was sounding a little ballady and epicy. Then I thought about personal past relationships and how there are some people who I haven’t let go of yet.
It’s really interesting that we’re talking about this right now because I did a whole new moon ceremony last night with a few friends and we pulled tarot cards and my tarot literally said, ‘You need to let go.’
“I Get What I Need”
Jessie: This song is just about being a total user. Like, ‘I get what I want / I try to get what I need.’ It’s asking someone to save you, but you’re so in it as a drugs and alcohol user that they can’t. And, ultimately, when you’re in that phase, you’re also a user of people.
There’s a lyric that says, ‘Father saved me / mother can’t see.’ Personally, it’s about my mom being in denial of my actions, and then, in the end, I ended up reaching out to my dad to help me get sober. But, at the same time, I like how ‘father’ could almost seem like I’m talking about God or something. It’s a double meaning.
“Somebody Dial 911”
Jen: We were definitely trying to channel the Cure on this song, who are one of my favorite bands. I’ve been listening a lot to Boys Don’t Cry — I’ve always listened to that album. That’s literally the one album that I think constantly comes back into my life once a year and it always makes me feel so good. It brings me back to that feeling of being in high school and being like, ‘I can do anything I wanna do.’ You know when music makes you feel like that?
But, lyrically, I guess it’s just about being in a really unhealthy relationship with somebody — but being into it. Feeding off of that dysfunction and looking back at the unhealthy patterns that existed when I wasn’t fully healthy myself.
“Kiss You Goodbye”
Jessie: Jen and I had a practice space, a lockout room, and we decided that we were gonna go there every day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and just be in that room and write. We were doing that for most of the record’s writing, and that was one of the songs that we pieced together one instrument at a time.
I went in the room early, because I’m a more early person, and put this track together. I honestly had no expectation; it was a warm-up. I really couldn’t see it was a song from beginning to end.
Jen: I opened this track and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m so excited about this.’ So I started putting vocal melodies and lyrics on top of the parts.
I remember the first verse came to me and I was just imagining this breakup scene happening. It didn’t even really happen in real life, but in my mind I imagined this whole scene of being in L.A. — talking to the person and trying to figure out if you’re breaking up with them or not. Them smoking a cigarette and there’s smoke getting in your face. But being into it all, and feeling like you’re in a cool teen movie.
Jen: I love this song. I feel like these lyrics hit an area that I never thought I would see myself publicly writing about. It’s weird, I’m OK talking about doing drugs and drinking. Talking about rebounding is so deeply painful.
A lot of times we don’t even know when we’re doing that — when we’re using other people to make us feel full. It takes a lot to be like, ‘Look, I need to do me right now.’
When we’re not ready to look at ourselves, we’re just constantly using other people to make us feel better about ourselves. And I feel like this song was me admitting that; it feels like a big apology to everyone I’ve ever used, in a way.
Jen: This song used to have a totally different melody and different lyrics. It was a cool song; everyone liked it a lot, so it made the cut. But then I was convinced it could be better, so I met with this friend of ours who ended up helping me rewrite the lyrics and vocal melody. I took the day off of recording that day to work on it.
Jessie: Amazing. I couldn’t imagine it going anywhere else. When Jen sent it to me I got chills. I was like, ‘What happened?’ It was so amazing. There’s something about this song that feels like it was meant to be.
Jen: To me, the song feels like you’re at a party and you should be going home but you’re still there, doing whatever drugs someone’s offering. There’s red lighting.
“Valley to LA”
Jen: We were jokingly singing Dolly Parton’s ‘9 to 5’ with this chord progression and we just kept going with it. We wanted to write a song that was kind of an ode to the valley, because that’s where we grew up.
I feel like the valley made me who I am today. It’s where I met my closest friends; it’s where I got into playing music. It’s so suburban, I feel like if you’re the creative type, you have to figure out how to keep yourself from not going crazy. So we were immediately drawn to playing music and starting a band.
Jessie: I was in the desert at our parents’ house and I was like, ‘Dad, I need a solo.’ He’s a big country guy; he knows how to play country guitar. So he helped me put the solo together and recorded it in his little mini studio. That kind of bonded my dad and me together.
Jen: I actually really, really, really like this song, even though it’s maybe one of those songs that will get forgotten about; it’s later on the record and it’s not going to be a single. But I like the first lyric: ‘That one time when I was such a piece of shit and made you sad.’
It’s a song about life and life on life’s terms and how it is what it is. It’s kind of what the record is already about: just realizing that the past happened and we can move forward and we don’t have to regret it. We can learn from our mistakes.
Life feels so big and intense sometimes. Even though I’m in my thirties, I still feel like a teenager half the time. When I was a teenager, I thought that by now I would have it all figured out — and I don’t. At all. Do you ever have it figured out? Maybe when I’m 60.
Jen: I’m a big social media hater. One day, I was complaining about how when we were younger, we would take photos with our disposable cameras and take them to the store and pay to get the pictures developed — and then you’d have to wait. There’s so much work that went into the photo, into the memory.
Now it’s like, ‘Oh, take a picture with your phone, post it on the Internet and see how many likes you get.’ It’s just so different. With this song, I was kind of talking about that.
Jen: Our manager was like, ‘Oh, you and this girl Madi Diaz would probably hit it off. You guys should try to write a song.’ And I was like, ‘OK, sure.’
It’s always a little bit awkward going into a writing session with somebody you don’t know at all. But we just clicked immediately, getting really deep about our personal lives and what we both were going through; we both were in a similar place, trying to figure out how to let someone go.
We were talking and I was like, ‘I feel like trying to hold a relationship together is like watching a shitty ballet.’ And we were like, ‘Whoa, that needs to be a lyric.’ Then the song came together; it was just guitar and vocals on an iPhone.
Everyone got so attached to the sound of the demo that they were like, ‘Let’s make the song actually just sound like this,’ which is a very hard thing to do because a lot of times when you try to recreate demo magic it does not work.
But then we were like, ‘What if we just made the outro sound the way the song probably would’ve gone if we did the whole thing more in Bleached style?’
Jessie: That one was really hard for me to record because I was not there the day that they wrote ‘Shitty Ballet.’ Madi has this very interesting timing to her strumming, so it took me so long to learn.
I had the click so loud in my ear that, at one point, I looked down and I was tapping my foot so hard in the recording studio to stay on it that my shoelaces had totally untied. Her Nashville strumming was this whole new thing for me, but it was awesome because I got to learn something new.
(Photo credit: Nicky Giraffe)
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