Los Angeles-based sister duo Jennifer and Jessie Clavin knew that things were going to be different for their band Bleached sophomore LP W elcome The Worms. Not only had they managed to charm world renowned producer and engineer, Joe Chiccarelli (Morrissey, The Strokes, Elton John) to join the sisters and their bassist Micayla Grace in the studio, but Jen and Jessie had been crawling out of their own personal dramas. Jessie was evicted from her house and scrambling, while Jen ended a torrid, unhealthy romance. While emotionally spinning, she dove head first into music. She struggled and escaped the pressures with drinking and partying, sometimes to excess, feeling like she was losing herself altogether.
“I was a loose canon,” the commanding front woman says. “I was losing serious control of my personal and creative life. I was falling apart, trying to escape. I felt like Bleached was the only thing I actually cared about.”
The 10-song LP was born out of triple the amount of demos. Sometimes the three girls spent time writing at a remote house in Joshua Tree away from the seemingly destructive city (a first since bassist Micayla had never contributed to songwriting on previous releases). Other times Jen and Jessie worked alone, just like when they were teenaged punk brats playing in their parent’s San Fernando Valley garage imitating their heroes The Slits, Black Flag and Minor Threat.
In the studio, Chiccarelli and co-producer Carlos de la Garza (Paramore, YACHT) helped the band perfect their fervent songs into fearlessly big pop melodies. They drew inspiration from the iconic hits of everyone from Fleetwood Mac to Heart to Roy Ayers. They focused on pre-production and challenged the songs. Jessie took her usual approach to guitar overdubs and leads (her favorite duty in a recording session). “I just let my fingers play and kind of surprise me,” she smirks. Still remaining to keep the band’s origin of cheeky, California-punk in the forefront, Welcome The Worms became a smarter, heavier, emotionally deeper Bleached.
“Before we even knew we were working together, I remember Joe saying, you can’t lose these melodies, no matter how raw the music gets,” Jen explains. She penned demos on an acoustic guitar and focused. “If I was happy [with the songs] in [their] rawest form, then I knew it would be even better after going through production.”
“I’ve become a more confident musician,” adds Jessie. “I wanted to be open-minded to this record and try new things we hadn’t done before. I felt such a great amount of respect working with the people we did on this record, feeling really free to do what I wanted to do, and making it a Bleached world.”
Welcome The Worms is an ambitious rock record with a new found pop refinement that somehow still feels like the Shangri-Las on speed, driven forward in a wind of pot and petals, a wall of guitars in the back seat. “Keep on Keepin’ On” is a hypnotic opening anthem that spins like a kaleidoscope, while “Sleepwalking” and “Trying To Lose Myself Again” invoke the struggle of floating through life on autopilot. The drums are instinctual, while the bass bounces like a rubber ball over the lyrics on a karaoke screen. “Sour Candy” is a stand-out hit so effortless and catchy it sticks in your head for days. Synth is only brought in as a thickening agent, just like the harmonies. “Chemical Air” and “I’m All Over The Place (Mystic Mama)” toy with pop sensibilities, while “Desolate Town” shows Jen getting weird on the verses before a Cobain-like chorus.
Throughout the record, Bleached paints a frivolous picture of Los Angeles: the life of eye-rolling caused by dating men in bands, dirty Sunset Boulevard and futile drunken nights in a starstruck hole that made everyone from Charles Manson to Darby Crash to Marilyn Monroe stare up at the Hollywood sign for direction. Although a typical theme of ruined romance floats through the album, the real power is in Jen figuring out herself through lyrics so straight, identifiable and honest. This was a first for the girl who safely hid behind a cheeky misdemeanor. She did a lot of messing up and even more digging into herself.
“Sometimes [writing this album] made me hate myself and sometimes it made me love myself,” she admits. “But being aware of how I felt is what I wanted.” It became clear that Jen had to embrace the good with the horrible and learn to overcome it all through music.
One evening, high on psychedelics and up all night, Jen and a friend passed a freaky couple at Echo Park Lake peddling homemade religious pamphlets. “One page was a bunch of cut and paste sentences with images. I’m always really intrigued by those crazy DIY religious books. It all was so perfect at that moment [because] it was about embracing the dark side of life instead of pretending it isn’t there because it’s all beautiful and I wouldn’t give any of it up for anything.” Welcome The Worms was sprawled across the tripped out pamphlet. The phrase stuck.
“We don’t want perfection because it’s boring,” she continues. “We want to make music that’s as real as life.”