Bleached on third album Don't You Think You've Had Enough?
Three years after reckoning with their self-destructive tendencies, Bleached emerge from a storm of their own making with a sunny, sharp third album
Three years ago, Bleached exorcised their demons. Their second record, Welcome the Worms, marked a lurch into darkness that both casual fans and longstanding followers were taken aback by. There wasn’t much on their first LP to suggest it was something they were capable of; surface listens to Ride Your Heart indicated this was another Los Angeles outfit in thrall to the melodic pop-rock greats of the city – The Runaways, Fleetwood Mac, The Go-Go's – and closer inspections only reinforced that view: lyrically, love, loss and defiance were the crux around which the album revolved. Anybody who’d followed the Clavin sisters prior to them forming Bleached, meanwhile, would have been familiar with their old thrash-pop outfit Mika Miko, but wouldn’t have been able to draw obvious parallels between the manic energy and off-the-wall lyricism of that group and the comparatively measured cool of their new one.
With Welcome the Worms, then, came a turning point. Every aspect of the Bleached sound was suddenly fuller – the guitars heavier, the energy sharper, the production grungier. Ride Your Heart’s fizzing guitars, persistent melodies and intertwined vocals remained the bedrock, but the cleaner presentation was striking in its forcefulness; this was an album with statement of intent written all over it. It was born out of the most turbulent period of singer-guitarist Jennifer Clavin’s life, one in which she’d allowed her drinking habit to get away from her, her dalliances with drugs to become a longer-term preoccupation and her relationships – both romantic and platonic – to take on a suffocating toxicity.
The record was the sound of her working through regret, trauma and inertia with laser-guided focus, an album characterised by a steely determination to turn a new leaf and take back control. By way of comparison, this month’s third LP, Don’t You Think You’ve Had Enough?, feels like the calm after the storm. It’s defined by its clarity; it’s the first record from the sisters since they both achieved sobriety, and it shows.
There’s a bright-eyed bounciness to the sound of tracks like Somebody Dial 911 and Valley to LA, and an emotional balance to Jennifer’s lyrics, from the wry Rebound City to the irrepressible Hard to Kill. "It’s a healing record, I think," says Jessica on a call from Chicago, where the band are about to play their first show with their new live line-up. "It goes back to us recovering, getting sober and finding new characters and confidence within ourselves. We got to go back to the innocence in us that we had when we first picked up our instruments."
Most of the songs came together properly in LA, but before writing began in earnest, the Clavins decamped to Nashville to jam out ideas with a wide cast of friends and collaborators. That included members of Paramore, with whom Bleached toured in 2017 and to whom they credit the palpably danceable nature of Don’t You Think You’ve Had Enough? "We got to see them play every night," says Jennifer, "and the energy they have, especially on their new songs, was really inspiring. Jessie and I both love disco, and to see this band that I’d always thought of as maybe being a little more emo doing this really dancey thing with their new record, that rubbed off on us. I remember thinking, 'I want to do that – I want to write songs that we can have that much fun performing'."
A new division of labour helped make Don’t You Think You’ve Had Enough? such a clear-eyed effort too. Rather than muddling through songs together in the same room, as had previously been the modus operandi, Jessica handled most of the instrumentation alone, and Jennifer did likewise with the lyrics and melodies. Producer Shane Stoneback was then drafted in to oversee the recording from behind the desk, after a painstaking process of finding the right person for the job.
"I want us to have a very specific sound, one that people are going to recognise as being Bleached," explains Jessica. "The bands I love that Shane’s worked with, like Cults and Sleigh Bells and Vampire Weekend, they have that, but there’s something vintage about it too, you can’t quite pin them down to a specific era. We did a lot of one-take stuff, which was exciting – it felt genuine and a little bit raw. We’ve had producers in the past who would edit the shit out of the songs so that everything’s on the grid and there’s no mistakes. Shane was into the mistakes, and so were we."
For Jennifer, though, making sense of the album’s themes remained a solitary affair, albeit a less torturous one than on Welcome the Worms. Distance from the turbulent events that came to define that last album allowed some clarity on them. "I was letting go of things this time because I was almost writing them as if they were stories. They’re from a different time, to the point that they feel like they could have happened to a different person. It was really obvious, working on these new songs – that’s not who I am any more."
Crucial to her renewed confidence and relentless forward thinking on Don’t You Think You’ve Had Enough? were her experiences on the road in support of Welcome the Worms; everywhere she went, she’d meet fans who related to her struggles, and who’d found their own catharsis through hers. "I realised that I can’t control how people interpret my writing, so there’s no real point in holding back. We went out on tour and it seemed like it was going to be a scary prospect, to be singing these songs every night that are about depression and self-sabotage, but I came out of it healthier, with a solid foundation, and realising that actually, the songs are a good reminder for me. Every night on the road, we play them and I’m like, 'yep, don’t wanna go back there!'"
Don’t You Think You’ve Had Enough? is released on 12 Jul via Dead Oceans