By Zita Lam
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Experience Music Project Museum (EMP) has been supporting Seattle’s music industry for more than a decade with its annual competition called Sound off!, the Northwest’s premier 21-and-under battle of the bands. It provides a platform for local youth bands to make an appearance to the public. Bleachbear, placed as the youngest artist in 2015, is one talented Japanese Korean girls’ rock band you should know by now.
In reverence to Nirvana’s first album, “Bleach” and with the background of being raised in the Pacific Northwest, Bleachbear was officially formed in 2012, comprised of songwriter Tigerlily Cooley (18, vocal and guitar), her sister Annabella ‘Bird’ Cooley (16, drums), and their cousin Emiko Nakagawa Gantt (16, bass and keyboards).
This indie-folk trio once impressed the public with its debut album, “Lost Parade” in 2014 and was immediately named the Best Underage Band by Seattle Weekly. The band’s second album, “Cowboy Movie Star,” was released on July 30 and is heavily influenced by the 1960s.
“I started writing music because I was really into poetry.” Influenced by the sounds of the 1960s and wanting to present the vintage imaginary, the Cowboy Movie Star project began last summer when Tigerlily stumbled across some old postcards and commenced cutting apart different poems. “I tried to incorporate some of my favorite phrases from the collages into the actual lyrics and just use the imagery as my inspiration.”
Take “Boy,” a single from the album, for example. “One of the postcards is a lone cowboy. I had this image in my mind of him going around as a heartbreaker. I wrote this song pretty much inspired by that,” Tigerlily said.
“How we usually go by writing songs is ‘Tiger’ would play us the basics of the song in guitar and vocal. From there, we play along and come up with our own parts,” said Bird. When talking about deciding the band’s direction on the second album, Bird continued, “We tried to create a more concise image for the band — what do we want Bleachbear to be.”
“Our love of the old Hollywood girl groups’ style and clothing is certainly a big part of it!” Tigerlily added. “We had a couple different goals for this record. One of them was to capture a more edgy sound. The first album was definitely more folk-influenced, I’d say it’s less technical. It had the love letters and personal messages on it, but after a while, we wanted to move away from that and do something other than love songs.” She explained, “A lot of songs from Cowboy Movie Star were written partially because of Sound Off! Part of the judging criteria is on the performance. Besides finding new material, we added guitar solos to make it theatrical.”
Making an appearance at EMP’s Women Who Rock opening concert in 2013 was one of Bleachbear’s career milestones. They were also featured on Seattle Channel’s Art Zone TV show and KEXP-FM’s Music That Matters podcast early on. Tigerlily believes getting involved with local organizations has helped them overcome stage fright and gain experience. “We got connected with the Seattle Teen Music and Rain City Rock Camp for Girls. The smartest move we made was taking every show opportunity that came our way — it really helped us to get more experience and get over the nervousness.”
Family helped Bleachbear get to where they are today. “It’s definitely family endeavors. Emiko’s step-dad produced the first album, and we had our cousin shoot the music videos. Our exchange student, who is like a brother to us, did the album art. And of course our parents split up the works of financial and managerial duties.”
Kurt Bloch, a Seattle-based songwriter and guitarist, best known as a member of Fastbacks and Young Fresh Fellows, happens to be a family friend. “He is really into electric guitar, so we invited him to come over to help with the guitar paddles. We asked him if he was willing to be our producer and we are very lucky to have him,” Tigerlily said.
Emiko believes the band has grown as musicians since the first album. “We are a lot more efficient. We’ve learned how to not waste time while practicing.” Speaking of their future, Bleachbear is looking forward to working on covers and electronic elements. They are occupied this summer with local shows, and touring the West Coast next year is on their bucket list.
Bleachbear’s next show is at Frolik Kitchen + Cocktails Rooftop Concert series, 7 p.m. on Aug. 16.
Zita can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.