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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INTERVIEW: Pretty Happy

“I think you’re the first person to say we have genuine talent…” laughs Pretty Happy’s guitarist Abbey Blake when I enthusiastically tell her I love the music that the Cork art punk trio make. Bassist Arann Blake laughs at my compliment too. The bandmates (who are also siblings) are sat in their car, windows rolled up, sweating to death whilst talking to me on Zoom via their smart phone. They’re about to go on a well-deserved holiday to Kerry after releasing and promoting their recent EP, Sluggers Bridge.

Along with drummer and friend Andy Killian, the trio create riotous, tongue-in-cheek post-punk offerings often centred around their observations and experiences of living in their home county of Cork in Ireland. We spoke about the “uniquely Cork” humour that underscores their new EP, growing sick of the sound of your own songs, facing up to the fact you’re never going to be like Rory Gallagher and winning over fans in the most unlikely of places…

Hello Abbey & Arann. For anyone who doesn’t know, can you tell us how Pretty Happy first got together?

Abbey: We’re siblings, so we kind of always played a bit of music together as kids.

Arann: Our Dad was a drummer in a band in the 80s & 90s around Cork in Ireland, so he was always putting musical instruments around the house and stuff. Our Mother is big into blues music and Rory Gallagher. I think she always wanted one of us to become a famous blues guitarist. Abbey & I actually got guitar lessons together at a very young age and we both rejected them…

Abbey: They were just awful. We were sent to this local young fella – who looking back, was obviously a stoner – and he was trying to teach us something like Bryan Adams’ ‘Summer of 69’ and I just absolutely hated it.

Arann: We just wouldn’t practice; it was so funny. He’d be like, “go away and learn that chord.” Then we’d come back and be like, “we didn’t learn the chord.”

Abbey: We just didn’t want to do it. I remember coming home and giving my Mum back this awful mini strat that we got in Smith’s toy shop, and I was like, “Mum, I’ll never be Rory Gallagher. Stop.” and that was the end of it. But we did start jamming and I did pick up the guitar again when I was 16/17. If you listen to Pretty Happy’s early stuff, it just sounds like rip offs old Strokes songs. I had no FX on my guitar and Andy our drummer was just doing simple 4/4 stuff. You can definitely hear the progression and it’s only gotten weirder since we’ve actually learned how to play.

Arann: We’ve been going for three or four years now and I think we really needed that time to develop. Kind of like what Abbey said about the Strokes, I think that’s what happens when you’re in a band. At first, you mimic other bands, because you don’t know how to develop your own style. And then you do something a bit different and you’re like, “Okay, there’s something in that,” so you write a new song and that keeps going until you start to have a bit of a repertoire of songs that are kind of a new style. But it was fun kind of learning stuff as the band started to gig more.

Abbey: Our first gig was a metal gig and we were the lightest, lightest, pop rock version of ourselves at the time. Andy was living in London for the summer, so we hadn’t really jammed that much and Arann just got onto us and he was like, “we have a gig” and Andy was like, “Oh, I didn’t know this was an actual band” and that’s how Pretty Happy started. It was never supposed to be a band. It was always just jamming with pals.

Arann: Abbey would always bug me and be like, “let’s start a band or something” and I’d be like, “Alright, get off my back – a band with my little sister?” Fine…I’ll pick this great friend of mine that I know, but he doesn’t actually know how to play the drums. Then as it went on, it obviously became the main band and became the band that people actually took notice of. People were like “there’s something to that, what you’re doing there.”

Abbey: It’s good to hear your thoughts on the start of the band there Arann. Thank you so much for letting me in. Appreciate it man…

If it makes you feel better Abbey, I’ve got an older brother who makes music and he probably wouldn’t let me be in a band with him – mainly because I can’t actually play.

Congratulations on the release of your EP, Sluggers Bridge. I read that you described it as being “uniquely Cork and influenced greatly by the people and humour of the city.” We’re a London based blog, so can you elaborate on that a little for our readers…

Abbey: I think all Cork people would call it the “real capital” of Ireland. Cork people love Cork so much. They’re just very funny people.

Arann: It’s funny talking about this and being from Cork, it’s like “I’m pretty and I’m funny and I’m sound…”

Abbey: Cork people always have an ego. It’s a joke all over Ireland that Cork people fucking love themselves. I think there’s so much slang and just the constant slagging – people will mock you relentlessly in Cork. It’s so good. You can’t take anything seriously because you will be slated. I think that’s why we’re so jokey in the band and especially with that EP. Even the title Sluggers Bridge was an old slang term our Nan used to call Arann. She’d say “Oh go look at sluggers bridge there” because he drank stuff so quickly…

Arann: It was a milk bottle I was drinking, I was a baby like, I was just drinking my milk…We’re a post punk band, so I think there is an expectation to be very serious and take yourself seriously. But you couldn’t possibly do that in Cork.

You’re putting Cork on the map. Do you have a favourite track on the EP? If so, why?

Abbey: We’re sick of them by now…

Arann: You don’t promote an EP by saying “I’m sick of all the songs,” Abbey. The correct answer is “but they’re all so good, how could I choose?” It depends. What is funny, I think, when looking at your own music, is that it’s so hard to enjoy it. You hear it and then you remember all the different versions of it that you put down in the studio, so it becomes more like this mathematical thing. It’s so hard to enjoy your own song.

Abbey: I’m also disgraced when hearing myself. I hate hearing myself. Do you ever hear your own voice back played back, and you realise it’s fucking awful? And I can’t hold a tune. I can’t sing, so that’s why I kind of shout and stuff. So yeah, I can’t listen to our songs much.

Arann: Is it a bit late to ask if we’re allowed to swear?

Swear away, it’s all good.

Abbey: Okay, if I had to pick a favourite it would probably be ‘Sea Sea Sea’, because I think that was written so quickly and that was my first time properly “singing.” It’s my favourite to play live too. It’s always our last song, so you know that your last minute of energy can be spent.

Arann: There’s a big outro at the end which we always love to close the show with. It reaches a fever pitch so that’s a very fun song to play. It just descends into madness a bit.

I love that you’ve just admitted to hating your own EP. That’s really cracked me up.

Speaking of ‘Sea Sea Sea’, I know you directed the video for that Abbey, and you were nominated for Pinewood Studio’s ‘Lift Off First Time Film Makers Festival’ award, which is amazing. Talk me through the concept of the video and where you got your idea from…

Abbey: Yeah, it was cool. It was kind of like something I had to do, it was like, “Oh, shit, we need a music video,” and the lads had moved to London, so I was like, “Okay, fuck you, you’re in London, I’m gonna do it and I’m not gonna tell you what I’m doing.”

It was really fun in the end. I studied film in college and my final year was cut short because of COVID, so the video was my first time getting back with a camera, coming up with a concept and editing it. We filmed it during winter on a beach in Cork and I had to beg my girlfriend to be in it. I was like “Please, will you just do this video? You have to run into the sea. Yes, it is November, but I’ll bring whiskey hot chocolate…” and she was like “for fucks sake, fine!”

The sea was the perfect backdrop for the video and the beach was perfect for the concept of kind of digging your own hole. The song is essentially about coming out, facing rejection and also trying to talk to older generations about gender and sexual identity and stuff like that. I was really lucky with my parents when I came out, they were so cool and open, but I’ve seen different reactions from people before. I think a lot of that is provoked by fear of the unknown.

I don’t know. I hate saying meanings for music videos. Take what you want from it…

It’s an important issue behind the video’s concept and a great video! This is honestly the most self-deprecating interview I’ve ever done. I’m into it. How are you feeling about the return of live music after Covid-19 put a stop to it last year? What’s the situation like in Ireland at the moment?

Abbey: That’s a big thing in Ireland at the moment. The fact that sporting events are back with no social distancing, but not gigs.

Arann: At the time of speaking, there’s been a lot of backlash against the government about the double standard. It’s a real point of contention.

Abbey: It’s weird, because it’s been a year of talking and saying “Oh yeah, we’re a band, we do band stuff,” and then not properly gigging. We’ve done live streams, but I think that’s a totally different thing. We had to adapt from performing to a live crowd to performing to a camera.

Arann: You have to point the energy in different places, it’s so weird. In terms of acting, it’s like Theatre vs Film, it’s about creating an energy in a room or a venue, versus translating that energy to a camera lens. It’s much weirder and it took a while to get used to. I don’t know if most touring musicians today would be used to that kind of thing, we definitely weren’t at the start. We’ve done around 8-9 of them now.

Abbey: I think we’ve always had that thing of conjuring up energy though. I always loved having a “bad crowd” or playing old country pubs and you see these old fellas with a pint of Guinness at the bar looking at you like “what the fuck are they doing?” I love those gigs because I like trying to turn people. I love screaming my head off to someone who hates it, I don’t know why. I way prefer that to a crowd that likes us. I think we’re very awkward with praise, so I prefer that situation.

Arann: They were sort of lovely gigs though. Abbey would be screaming her lyrics from ‘Sea Sea Sea’ – “you hate your son / but you love yourself” – at these old men from…

Abbey: …you got our own lyrics wrong there Arann. It’s the other way around, it’s “you love your son / but you hate yourself”

Arann: Well, I don’t have to sing it do I? We never listen to our songs because we’re sick of them, remember? We’ve both already established that…

But yeah, those kind of gigs were so funny because you would go on and at least if they don’t like the style music we’re playing, which they normally don’t, you know it’s pretty out there, they did appreciate what we were saying or trying to do. We’re really looking forward to have a couple of gigs coming up and it’s just going to be fantastic to have a crowd again. We’re really buzzing.

Abbey: I remember getting a handshake from one of the old fellas at the bar that I mentioned after the gig. He was like, “Jesus, you really put into what you’re playing. You really go mad on the guitar, don’t ya?” It was just like a “fair play, you’re doing what you’re doing” kind of moment which I loved.

Arann: I remember at another gig, we were in a bar where the stage is literally in the middle of a functioning bar. We were doing soundcheck, and people were watching matches and having drinks while we were trying to sound check a punk song, and there was a woman who just shouted “Will someone turn that off!?” as we were checking levels and stuff – and that’s when we knew the gig was gonna be a slog. So we just screamed so loudly that people either left, or the people who stayed kind of had to listen to us.

A bad reaction is still a reaction, you know? If you know any venues that would hate us, please give us their details…

I’m sure I could think of a few venues in London or Essex (where I’m from) that I can recommend. What’s next on the agenda for Pretty Happy? Any new releases, anything you can tease us with?

Abbey: We’re going into the studio to record next month. We’re writing for the first time in so long, because the lads have moved home from London, so it’s the first time we’ve actually had free time when we’re not just practicing for a gig. It’s just us jamming for fun again, which is so nice.

Great stuff. Finally, are there any new bands or artists that you’d like to recommend to us?

Abbey: We love what Elaine Malone does. Her stuff is insane. Her live show is insane, I’m just in awe of her. We had her on for a gig with Angry Mom a few years ago and it was my first time seeing her. She just stood on stage with a harmonium and a guitar and she played the harmonium with her feet, whilst she also played guitar and sang and I was like, “Holy fuck.” I remember sitting on the floor in front of her and being like, “how is this one person making such layered music?” It was so beautiful. Then we saw her with her full band and it’s just like…honestly, you’ve got to see her live, she’s so good.

Arann: Arthur Itis also has a new album coming out on Art For Blind Records, who we released our EP with. If anyone likes us, then check out what he’s doing. He’s doing very cool off-the-wall post-punk stuff. He’s definitely someone we listen to a lot. Everything on Art For Blind Records is unbelievable actually, they have some great acts.

Thanks so much to Abbey & Arann for the chat!

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Photo Credit: Nicholas O’Donnell

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut

LISTEN: GIHE on Soho Radio with BLAB 25.08.21

Tash & Kate were back on Soho Radio‘s airwaves playing a mix of golden oldies – including an iconic 90s rager from Alanis Morissette – and new music tunes from some of their favourite women, non-binary and LGBTQ+ artists.

Southend-based musician BLAB aka Frances Murray also joined them to talk about the release of her new single ‘Insurance’ on Cool Thing Records, what it’s like recording in the studio with Sam Duckworth (Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly), being inspired by Bikini Kill/The Punk Singer & re-defining what it means to be an Essex Girl.

Listen back below:

 

Tracklist
Alanis Morissette – You Oughta Know
Little Annie – I think of you
Lion Babe – Frida Kahlo
Beorma – Her
ARXX – Not Alone But Not With You
Serena Isioma – Really, Really
Emma Bradley – I’ll Be Outside
Mumble Tide – Good 4 Me
Bleach Lab – Real Thing
BABii – Shadow
Anna Prior – Thank You For Nothing
Flossing – Switch
Moor Mother ft. lojii – Shekere
BEBELUNA – Drunk
Nilufer Yanya – Day 7.05093 (keiyaa Remix)
BLAB – Insurance
**BLAB interview**
Jaz Beeson – Coffee Machine Sounds
Grandmas House – Golden
John Glacier – Icing
DROWND – Sinner (KANGA remix)
Meggie Brown – Dusty Smells
Joon – Just Can’t Get Enough
Yay Maria ft. Franx – Template
Tinashe ft. Ms Banks – Die A Little Bit
Olivia Dean – Slowly
Lizzo ft. Cardi B – Rumors

LISTEN: GIHE on Soho Radio with Bitch Hunt 30.06.21

Tash, Kate & Mari were back on the NYC & Culture channel on Soho Radio for their third GIHE new music show! They played a mix of golden oldies and new tunes from some of their favourite women, non-binary and LGBTQ+ artists.

London-based non-binary band Bitch Hunt joined them to talk about First Timers Fest, their recent EP Shapeshifter, working with their ultra supportive label Reckless Yes and their enduring love for Dave Grohl…

Listen below:

 

Tracklist
Kelis – Good Stuff
Lolawolf – Whole House
Täpp – Aquaria
Witch Prophet – Makda
HAVVK – Automatic
Lingua Ignota – PENNSYLVANIA FURNACE
WheelUP ft. Tiawa – Take Me Higher
Desire Marea – Tavern Kween
Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen – Like I Used To
Wet Leg – Chaise Longue
Varley – The Pressure
Girl Ray – Give Me Your Love
CMAT – 2 Wrecked 2 Care
Bitch Hunt – Eau Claire
**Interview with Bitch Hunt**
Th’Sheridans – I Don’t Wanna Be Dismembered
The Linda Lindas – Racist, Sexist Boy
BLAB – Eton Mess
Trouble Wanted – Lonely Cowgirl
All Day Breakfast Cafe – Old School Struggling
Cherym – Listening To My Head
Alice Hubble – Power Play
Blonde Maze x Attom – I Think About
HARD FEELINGS – Holding On Too Long
Seinabo Sey – Younger (Kygo Remix)
Joni Mitchell – All I Want