[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, “Bizarre Ride,” appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
Let's just get this out of the way. Until now, Jennifer and Jessica Clavin have been primarily known for singing and playing bass in the seminal Smell punk band Mika Miko. This biographical information has burrowed its way to the forefront of every article written about their new band, Bleached.
The sisters point this out before I can even turn on my tape recorder. But the constant references to their past successes are more of a stamp of quality than an attempt to link them to a bygone era. After all, anyone who saw Mika Miko perform during their 2003-09 run became an instant convert. Four girls created a four-alarm blaze, aided by bleeding saxophone licks and Jennifer shout-singing into a red telephone.
Then Mika Miko pulled a Dave Chappelle, going out on top. But rather than sojourn to the ends of the Earth, the bandmates pursued routes more conventional to those in their mid- to late 20s. One got married. One wanted to become a doctor, and one wanted to go to art school. In 2010 the Clavin sisters formed Bleached.
“We were excited to sound like bands that you couldn't sound like as a traditional punk group,” Jennifer says on a balcony with a panoramic view of the backside of the Hollywood Hills. Clavin shares a five-bedroom, three-story house in Universal City, filled with books, records, art and empty Starbucks cups. Her younger sister, Jessica, lives in Silver Lake.
“We were really getting into Gun Club and Johnny Thunder,” Jennifer adds, sporting a black, striped T-shirt, blue cloth shorts and champagne-colored hair. “Bleached is punk but with a more rock & roll edge. It's ideally somewhere between Blondie and Siouxsie & the Banshees.”
Bleached started as a test. Directly after Mika Miko, Jennifer Clavin decamped to New York to briefly join a dark-wave group called Cold Cave. Splitting her time between coasts, she wrote two songs that the Valley-raised sisters recorded and released on a new micro-label run by Chinatown bookstore Ooga Booga.
“We figured that way, if Bleached didn't turn out to become anything, it wouldn't be a big deal,” Jennifer says.
But the songs and subsequent singles immediately earned praise from Fader, Pitchfork and Spin. They were offered a deal for a full-length, Ride Your Heart, which was released last month on respected indie label Dead Oceans.
Ride Your Heart navigates a different route for the sisters, away from the more traditional punk rock of The Slits, Black Flag and Minor Threat and toward jangling, love-struck pop, more conducive to the gentle slopes of the surrounding canyons. It's a left turn from their days in Mika Miko, but there is a green arrow. So it goes when you're two sisters raised in a musical family with an obviously innate musical connection.
“I feel like we grew up on the same music and understand what the other wants to hear,” Jessica, also and wearing a black shawl, says.
They're as well versed in hardcore punk as they are in '70s rock and the TLC and Spice Girls pop records that they listened to as preteens. Consider Bleached less a dying of the roots and more a return to an original shade.
“You can try to go back to the original thing, but it won't ever happen,” Jessica says.
“The name made sense because we always bleached our hair and our jean jackets growing up,” Jennifer says. “Being sisters is something that lasts forever. It's the same with bleaching something — you can't just wash it out.”
Editor's note: We goofed by not giving full disclosure: The sister of writer Jeff Weiss does publicity for Bleached.