The latest album from Los Angeles punk band Bleached finds the two sisters at its helm coming out the other end of a California nightmare. Respectively coming off a messy romance and an eviction, Jennifer (vocals, guitar) and Jessica Clavin (guitar) began creating a new batch of sunny pop-punk songs about drug binges, paranoia, self-doubt and the generally bad idea of dating other musicians.
Welcome the Worms, the band's second album, is also about reevaluating themselves as they live and work in a place that can break more dreams than it fulfills. And while plenty of artists have railed against the City of Angels, it gets a bit more complicated when it also happens to be your hometown.
The Clavins have gone through the highs and lows of being in punk rock bands since they were in high school and growing up in the San Fernando Velley. But in the years between their 2013 debut Ride Your Heart and today, the tumult of their lives became almost too much to bear. And it was only by writing songs together that they managed to come out of it in one piece, Jessie says. "The writing process took a good two years. I think the record was becoming therapeutic for us because it started making us become totally honest with ourselves."
The songs explore the realities of life as hard-living but softhearted musicians, as expressed through Jen's unvarnished lyrics. The synth-laced track "Sour Candy" describes a woman spiraling out of control as she does drugs and hitches rides with strangers. It's a party song about how it feels when the party gets old and self-awareness begins to creep in. "Smokin' grass, getting high/ because the past ain't kind and future scares me," Jen sings.
Most of the album exists in the shadow of the Hollywood Hills. Whether it's the Stevie Nicks-inspired groove of "I'm All Over the Place (Mystic Mama)" or idol-burying closing track "Hollywood, We Did it All Wrong," Welcome the Worms isn't exactly a love letter to Bleached's home. It may be more like couples' therapy. L.A. can be an exhausting place to live sometimes, Jessie admits, but those dark moments in the city led to a creative blossoming as the band retreated to Joshua Tree to write together.
"We kind of have this love/hate relationship with L.A.," Jessie says. "I feel so at home in L.A., but then I think it's probably like where anyone else lives. You need to escape it a little bit."
Welcome the Worms doesn't necessarily lose the sunny vibes that defined Bleached's debut. But it takes a little more time to explore the shadows. In the track "Chemical Air," Jen sings about driving down Mulholland Drive and staring at the smog over her city. Somehow, looking into that tainted air makes her realize something about herself. "I get this feeling I'm a girl with a dark side," she sings before launching into the jaunty chorus.
As with many of the songs in this album, "Chemical Air" makes it pretty fun to listen to the Clavins deal with some heavy stuff. "Jen and I grew up on punk music," Jessie says. "If you think about it, punk has some really dark lyrics but then some really poppy melodies." The dichotomy between light and dark also comes from the band being honest with the different parts of their musical personalities. "I feel like our tastes in music go from Black Flag to the Spice Girls," she says. "It's just so much of what we've accumulated over our upbringing in music."
Jessie brings many of those influences into the album's varied compositions. She shines through as a self-assured musician whose solos and riffs provide a rich environment that allows her sister's lyrics to take hold. Whether it's the searing attack she provides over "Trying to Lose Myself Again" or the arena-sized power chords in the single "Wednesday Night Melody," Jessie's guitar work, now accompanied by their new bassist, Micayla Grace, gives a sonic reality to her sister's lyrics, which themselves are bolder and more unflinchingly honest than before.
Both sisters had some time to really look at themselves with this album. "I feel like, for sure, I held back a little bit with my guitar playing on the first album," Jessie admits. "I was going through a dark stage of insecurity ... I feel like I almost stopped being punk in way. I started caring too much." It wasn't until Jessie decided to take risks and abandon her insecurities that her guitar work started to improve. "Just try things," she says. "If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. You'll never know if you don't try it."