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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Bleached, like sisterhood, is forever for the Clavins

Jesse, left, and Jennifer Clavin
  • Courtesy Life or Death P.R.
  • Jessie (left) and Jennifer Clavin
Siblings who are close as children often drift apart, or, at the very least, spend less time together once they grow up and pursue their ambitions. That's not the case for musicians Jennifer and Jessie Clavin, sisters who came of age together in seminal post-punk outfit Mika Miko and are now cutting their pop songwriting teeth in Bleached. So far, their current band's brief run has churned out three 7-inches, including one on influential indie imprint Suicide Squeeze, and an LP, the recently released Ride Your Heart , on Dead Oceans. Shortly before their ongoing tour, which includes a Tuesday, April 16 stop at the Earl, I caught up with the Clavins, chatting about the origin of Bleached, songwriting, and what it's like to tour and record with your own sister.

How did you guys come up with the name Bleached?

Jennifer: Jessie and I grew up being into so many punk bands which all have really good band names. I tried to think on that level but also on things we relate to, and we both used to always bleach our hair and bleach our jean jackets. Also, bleach is forever and sisters are forever, so it made sense to call it Bleached.

So it's not a Nirvana reference?

Jennifer: Actually, at first we were going to call it Bleach, but decided that was too much like Nirvana.

What's a general timeline between Mika Miko breaking up and Bleached starting?

Jessie: Mika Miko broke up in the beginning of 2010. Me and Jenn were still playing music together, not knowing it would be called Bleached. I decided I wanted to play guitar, because I was playing bass in Mika Miko, and Jenn was playing guitar and singing. We ended up taking a break for a little bit after that, because Jenn had moved to New York and joined a band (Cold Cave) and was touring with them. I stayed in L.A. and started other bands. Eventually, we had enough time and enough space for Jenn to realize she wanted to move back and restart Bleached. From there, we started Bleached again, and that's when we recorded the three 7-inches.

I'm catching you on your album release date (April 2, 2012). It sounds like you spent more time in the studio on this than any past recordings, including with Mika Miko. What was that process like?

Jessie: On this record, before we recorded, we did pre-production. We spent two weeks of just playing all the songs we were going to be recording live with a studio drummer. Starting in the month of October, we tracked bass, guitar, and drums. Then we overdubbed with more guitars and guitar leads and then Jenn did her vocals and I did backing vocals and then we just added other things from there, like percussion and organ.

You were probably used to knocking out songs in the time you spent on pre-production, much less all the extra work.

Jessie: Now that I think about it, there was a Mika Miko record where we did kind of do a pre-production part. ... It wasn't as intense. With Bleached, we worked more on the pre-production and the recording part.

More time crafting the songs and less capturing the energy of the live set?

Jessie: Exactly.

On the album and the singles before that, pretty much every song is about boys. You aren't really repping your city or talking about getting high or your cat. Do you do have this common theme on purpose, or is that just what you happen to write songs about?

Jessie: I think that's because Jenn writes all the lyrics. It's because of Jenn's personal experiences with relationships. Basically, they all are about that, but there is one new song on the new record that's actually about just having fun. It's called "Looking for a Fight." But, definitely, it is from Jenn's personal experiences.

When you started writing songs for Bleached, were you making a conscious move from the punk sound of Mika Miko to something that's a little more pop?

Jessie: I feel like when we started Bleached, we were definitely thinking "Let's do something new." I don't think we knew exactly what we wanted, but we knew what bands we liked and were influences. We definitely wanted to do something new, as Jenn was now playing guitar and singing and I was now playing guitar versus bass. Over time, it did become catchier and more pop. We were thinking more about the songwriting.

What are some of your influences, as far as bands you listen to, for the new songs?

Jessie: Jenn is really influenced by Blondie, and she was listening to a lot of them for some of the songs. I've been into the Kinks, which gave me a lot of ideas for backing vocals. We were also listening to Gun Club and any of those punk bands we grew up listening to, but that's an obvious one.

Allie Hanlon from Peach Kelli Pop recently told me that it's easier for her to cut up in professional situations when she's with her twin sister. Is the dynamic of working with your sister something that makes what you do harder or easier?

Jessie Clavin performs at the Beachland Tavern, Cleveland, Oh.
  • Bobby Moore
  • Jessie Clavin performs at the Beachland Tavern, Cleveland, Oh.
Jessie: I think it is easier because we know each other so well. We get each other more than anyone else we know. There sometimes are problems, but we work through it because we are sisters, because we'll have each other until the end. I really like touring with Jenn because we get each other so well. Sometimes I feel like I can read her mind (laughs). We can read each other's expressions.

That's probably good for avoiding conflict because you know when to leave her alone.

Jessie: Exactly!

Was it odd being in a band without your sister in between Mika Miko's split and Bleached reforming?

Jessie: I definitely felt like I was missing something, but then it was fun to explore a different band. Because we had started Bleached before we joined other bands, it was definitely there in my mind. Now, a lot of the music is just me and Jenn, besides having a studio drummer.

When you started writing songs together, did you have in mind to have a touring band and albums, or was it just a bedroom project?

Jessie: Because it was just Jenn and I writing music, we weren't really thinking about touring. We were just having fun after that doing little tours. Now, we definitely know we'll be touring a lot and are excited for that.

Do you two still write all the songs completely and then bring in other musicians to play?

Jessie: So basically, Jenn writes the lyrics and the melody of the song on guitar and I come in and do lead guitar, bass, and backing vocals. Then when we record, we have a studio drummer. That's basically it. On the record, we got this guy Will (Canzoneri) to play organ on one of the songs. And we have our producer Rob (Barbato), who is really helpful.

Have any of your bass players or drummers ever come in and added a little tweak to a song due to their own style, or have the songs stayed the same way from when you two wrote them?

Jessie: Our drummer on the album, Dan Allaire, who plays in Brian Jonestown Massacre, when we played with him in pre-production, he definitely had an influence on some of the songs.

Bleached, Carnivores, and Hunters play the Earl on Tues., April 16. $10. 9:30 p.m.

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