INTERVIEW: Bleach Lab

Full of bittersweet reflections on romantic burnout, grief and hard won emotional resilience, Bleach Lab‘s second EP, Nothing Feels Real, is an emotive, fluid record that continues to soften the sharpness of their collective pain. Following on from their debut EP, A Calm Sense Of Surrounding, The South London based four piece haven been busy refining their song-writing processes and preparing to headline The Lexington in London on the 20th October.

We caught up with vocalist Jenna Kyle and guitarist Frank Wates to talk about Bleach Lab’s new EP, how it differs from their debut and their anticipations for their upcoming gig…

Hello Jenna and Frank! Can you remember who or what first inspired you to start making your own music?

Jenna: My Mum bought me Singstar when I was about 9 or 10 and I used to come home from school every single day and just whack it out, so she asked me if I wanted to take real singing lessons. Singing has been my main passion through school and up until now. I started playing instruments too, I tried clarinet and I played the harp for a while as well which, was really amazing.

Frank: Conversely, I remember playing on Singstar and it was the thing which made me realise that I could not sing. My personal experience of getting into music has been really backwards and forwards, it took me quite a long time. My Dad is a musician, he performs jazz and it didn’t exactly establish a career in music as a particularly glamorous or easy thing to do. I knew a lot of people who kept telling me not to do it, but I remember I picked up a guitar for the first time when I was 10 and the feeling of wanting to do music would always come back. I’ve gone through a couple of periods where I’ve completely walked away from music entirely and they were definitely the periods that were the worst for me in terms of creativity and just general happiness. It was when I realised that I needed to go head first into it really.

Singstar also made me realise I couldn’t sing.. So how did Bleach Lab come together?

Frank: It’s quite a long story, which goes back until the beginning of 2017. It was a very gradual thing. I met Josh, who is our bassist and he also does the the lyric writing with Jenna, because we got brought together in a music project which we found online. It was a band that we really didn’t like at all, we didn’t agree creatively with the person who was orchestrating it and it all fell apart one afternoon. At the time, I’d only known Josh for about two months, but we were at my house with the drummer who we were working with and we just thought “while we’re here, should we just do a rehearsal anyway?” and it just sort of snowballed from that.

Jenna: Josh and I also studied music together at college and we stayed friends when I went off to uni to do music again. He just messaged me one day asking if I wanted to come down and give the band a go and I said yes and that was five year ago now…

Frank: We’ve gone through the classic situation of having a couple of line-up changes during that time. We had another drummer called Sean previously and he performed on our early singles and our first EP, A Calm Sense Of Surrounding. Then we put in Kieran who is our drummer now and he had a really big effect on how we’ve basically been doing everything since then. So the band has changed quite significantly just within the last year. It’s been quite gradual drawn out process, which has been hampered partly by COVID and other stuff as well.

Do you think COVID and the following lockdowns gave you a chance as a band to take a step back and really think about what you wanted to do next?

Jenna: Yeah, that’s exactly the way that we felt during lockdown. Obviously, there was quite a lot of uncertainty and we didn’t know when we’d be able to get back out on stage and what music venues would even still be around, but it was a lot of downtime to be able to reflect on what we actually wanted to be putting out there. It just gave us a of bit of breathing space, I think.

Frank: It also helped to refine – well, I say “refine,” I think we’re still working it out – but it helped to refine what our song-writing process actually is. The thing I’ve learned over the last year or so, is it’s just so important for any artist or band to have a process when it comes to song-writing because without one, it’s actually a really difficult thing to just get done. I think we’ve always had to deal with logistics within this band because Jenna lives in Brighton and the rest of us live in London, and we don’t live nearby each other in London either. So whenever we rehearse it, it takes quite a few hours to get us all in the same room. I think we are always going to be a band that needs to be able to rely on writing music remotely and I think having something as extreme as a country-wide lockdown forced us to realise that was actually the way that was best suited to us. It’s funny, really, we’re in the process of writing at the moment and I think we’re realising that we don’t get as much done when we’re all in the room together.

I guess it’s good to know you can keep writing even with these obstacles in the way.

You released your debut EP, A Calm Sense Of Surrounding, earlier this year. I know it was informed by very personal situations; the breakdown of a romantic relationship for you Jenna and for your bassist Josh, who was coming to terms with losing his father. Without probing too much, did you find it useful to write this EP as a way of coping with and confronting these very intense emotions?

Jenna: I can’t really speak for Josh, but we do write together, so we do relate a lot to each other and it is a very cathartic way of dealing with the things that we’ve both been through, and which everyone has been through on some level as well. Having a creative outlet and being able to write about things in such a way can really help you understand more about the situation yourself as well. You learn things about yourself that you didn’t necessarily know were there because they’re coming from really deep down emotionally. Sometimes I realise things long after I’ve written about them. What we write about is very personal and it’s quite daunting to be that open about things, but I think the new EP is an extension of similar experiences for me and Josh. It’s an extension of the story-telling.

Do you have a favourite song on your first EP, and on your new EP Nothing Feels Real?

Jenna: I think ‘Never Be’ has got to be my favourite, I just love it. I still look forward to playing it the most when we play live.

Frank: I think an important distinction to make for me is between the song and the recording, because it’s so often the case that the recording comes out nothing like you imagined it would based on the song. I like ‘Old Ways’ a lot from the first EP, primarily because it was kind of an afterthought track that we decided to include quite late. ‘Never Be’ is also one of my favourites, as I think the recording of that track came together really, really well. There’s a song on the second EP called ‘Inside My Mind’ which I want to say all of us had as our favourite song? But I think ‘Real Thing’ is mine.

Jenna: I think lyrically for me, ‘Real Thing’ is one of my favourite songs that I’ve written. Lyric writing doesn’t come very easy for me and I think that’s the one I’m most happiest with.

Frank: I think I think it’s very difficult for us to give a cogent, succinct answer to this question because we consistently disagree on what songs we prefer and don’t prefer, which is good! It’s nice to choose between songs that you all like for different reasons, so you’d probably get different answers from us all on different days…

Jenna, you mentioned that Nothing Feels Real feels like an extension of your debut EP, can you elaborate on that?

Jenna: Sure. Sonically, it’s not very different but I think it’s more cohesive. Lyrically, this EP is possibly a more in depth exploration of both mine and Josh’s experiences that we’ve already touched on. We’ve been able to dig a bit deeper and I think we’re both becoming better writers as well, creating our own processes which I’m getting more comfortable with as we progress.

Frank: Yeah, I think it has more cohesion in terms of how it sounds purely because it was written over a shorter period of time. I think the whole process behind it was very different because we were listening to more specific music in the build-up to recording it. We were bringing in Steven Street to produce it and he has a prolific discography associated with certain sounds in certain areas. I think that informed the overall sound of the EP very strongly, and as a result it has more of a case of identity to it than our first EP does, which is a nice thing to feel, because once you start trying to do four or five songs and have them have some kind of collective identity together, it’s actually really hard to make them any good.

You mentioned producer Steven Street who’s worked with like The Cranberries and The Smiths. What was it like working with him? What do you think he brings to your overall sound on this EP?

Frank: There was a big contrast between recording our first EP and recording this one with the Steven. That’s no discredit to Max who we worked with on our first EP. We knew we only had a set amount of time working with Steven and that we had to get it done. The urgency that came with that actually really helped with the process, it was all really efficient, which is not usually a word that I would use to describe recording an album or a song in a positive way, but it was! I think it helped because we didn’t overthink things, which is something that I’m very much guilty of doing. He made it really easy. He was very easy to bounce ideas off of when it came to production ideas and it just made the whole thing a lot easier.

You’re going to be headlining the Lexington on the 20th of October. What are your anticipations for this gig? How are you feeling about headlining such a great venue?

Jenna: I’ve never been to The Lexington! I’ve heard everyone just telling me how great it is so I’m very excited. We’ve been looking forward to it and working towards it for so long. I think the crowd will be a nice mix of family and friends, but also new people as well, which is always nice to see.

Frank: I remember when our manager told us that we were playing The Lexington and we were delighted. It’s one of many very, very pleasant things that have happened to us this year. It’s one of my favourite venues, I’ve seen some great gigs there. It’s nice because it’s still relatively intimate. I mean, we’ve already been kind of blown away with some of the venues that we’ve been getting to play because again, with the whole intervention of COVID, we kind of leapfrogged to playing all these venues that I thought it would take years for us to play.

I’m sure you’ll all have a great gig. As we’re a new music blog, we always ask what new music or new bands are you listening to at the moment. Is there anyone you want to recommend to us or give a shout out to?

Jenna: I’ve been listening to a lot of Bess Atwell lately.

Frank: Yeah me too, I saw her on the overground the other day. I think she had been doing an in-store show because her album’s just come out. I was with my girlfriend and we walked past her and got on the train and I was like “That was Bess Atwell!” and my girlfriend said “why didn’t you stop and speak to her?” and I thought “Yeah, why didn’t I stop? I’m legit really into her music. It could very easily have talked to her about how much I like her track ‘Co-Op’. One album that I’ve been listening to a lot at the moment, and I was really gutted because they played in London and I couldn’t go because we were hard rehearsing for our shows – which is definitely the right thing to be doing – is the Art School Girlfriend album. I’m really, really into it.

Jenna: I also have my comfort zone with my music and what I listen to. I have my list of songs on Spotify that I just play over and over again. Sharon Van Etten, Phoebe Bridgers, Angel Olsen, Julia Jacklin. There’s a lot of nice female vocal stuff on there…

Thanks to Jenna & Frank for the chat!

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