Bleached and the Therapeutic Process of Making Welcome the Worms, the "Metallica Record That Never Happened"
Nicole Anne Robbins
Bleached recently released its latest record, Welcome the Worms, and with it, the band took an artistic leap forward. Bleached worked with veteran producer Joe Chiccarelli, who has produced or recorded with Frank Zappa, Oingo Boingo, the White Stripes and Tori Amos, to name a few. But an album recorded by a legendary producer wouldn't be worthwhile if the material itself was subpar. For this record, Jennifer Clavin, her sister Jessie Clavin and bassist Micayla Grace, perhaps not completely consciously at the time, pushed themselves into making an album that isn't short on melody or lyrics and seems more direct than what the group has offered in the past.
When Bleached first met Chiccarelli, he told them things he wanted to do with the record that happened to be completely in line with the band's intentions, though perhaps they hadn't been articulated yet. Notably, Chiccarelli said he wanted Welcome the Worms to be the kind of record that people would put on and get scared — at least in the sense of hearing something new and something that had the capacity to hit listeners directly deeply in the heart.
“That's what Jen and I have always envisioned for this sound, but we didn't know how to get it,” admits Jessie Clavin. “A couple of the seven-inches had [that sound]. We kind of went soft on [debut] Ride Your Heart, but there's some cool moments and we love that record, but the second one I felt it's what we were trying to get. Jen and I grew up around punk, and all kinds of other music as well, and we wanted to combine that.”
By combining the influences of classic-rock bands like Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles, New York punk and proto-punk artists like Velvet Underground, Johnny Thunders and Blondie, and California punk like X, the Germs, Black Flag and Gun Club, Bleached creates music that's melodic, well-crafted and expressive of the dark side of the human experience.
Working with Chiccarelli and co-producer Carlos De La Garza, Bleached was able to relax and let go of any former, perhaps unspoken, limitations. Not long before writing the songs for the album, Jennifer had extracted herself from a toxic relationship and Jessie had found herself without a place to live. But writing the album was a path toward growth as people and as artists.
“Going into the record as it kept growing and getting accomplished, that was happening in our lives as well,” reveals Jessie. “Seeing our record grow and seeing what we were putting into it, we felt we needed to do the same for ourselves as human beings. It was a really awesome thing at the end of the record, like a big healing process.”
The process of writing and recording the album meant that Jennifer had to externalize the words in her head. In putting the songs together, it seems as though the band garnered a great deal of personal development. This came from examining the darkness in bandmembers' own lives and embracing the whole experience, writing songs that are catchy but still reflective of real life and vulnerability. Naturally, there was some humor involved in the entire experience.
“When I first heard the title, I thought it sounded so cool, and I imagined Metallica shredding on guitar,” comments Jessie. “Then [Jen] talked about it more and I thought it was so crazy and still really cool. Jen said it was 'like the Metallica record that never happened that should have happened.'”
If there is some of that scariness that Chiccarelli envisioned for the album, it is the fear of being so exposed and risking criticism for being so real.
“That's also how it's therapeutic,” observes Jessie. “I feel like if you're going through a hard time, you can't fix it or make things better if you're not honest. It's just letting people know that you can be honest and make things so much better and easier for yourself.”
“I feel like with the first record that I thought I was being honest,” adds Jennifer. “With this record, I thought I'll just be so honest, like me writing from my journal. I feel like I've always been an honest person, but I wanted to go deeper and just feel everything, whether I was hating myself that day or loving myself —whatever it was. Just accepting the feeling and not trying to push them away, because I feel that's what we do a lot of the time, and I think that makes it more difficult for ourselves. We wrote a lot of demos — maybe just under thirty — and I thought if the song didn't work out or if I felt too vulnerable about the song, we wouldn't use it. But in the end, I didn't feel that way about any of them.”
“I feel that when I see people being vulnerable, to me, it just comes off as powerful and strong,” concludes Jennifer. “Also a lot of people I admire a lot as songwriters — like Kurt Cobain, Stevie Nicks, Neil Young or Morrissey — I feel like those are my favorite lyricists and they're super-real with their lyrics.”
Bleached, with No Parents and American Culture, 7 p.m. doors, 8 p.m. show, Monday, April 25, Larimer Lounge, 303-291-1007, $12 adv. / $14 day of show, all ages.