L7 is one of those bands. They demand respect, and they get it.
Formed out of a love of punk rock and pushing buttons, L7 left a bruise on the face of the ’90s then burned out 18 years ago. A documentary unexpectedly arrived in 2015, reunion shows happened, and L7 is now triumphantly returning to Minneapolis tonight.
We spoke to singer/songwriter/guitarist Donita Sparks about resisting, punk rock, and L7’s love of Minneapolis.
City Pages: Since the new songs started coming out [“Dispatch from Mar-a-Lago,” “I Came Back to Bitch”], I’ve been waiting for a local show, hoping…
Donita Sparks: Have you seen us before, Chad?
CP: No! I have narrowly missed L7 shows many times over, actually—tickets in hand for at least two shows in the ’90s. When was the last time you played in Minneapolis?
DS: Probably in the year 2000, as Conan O’Brien would say.
CP: That was just before the lull, then.
DS: That was before the “indefinite hiatus,” as we were calling it.
CP: Since the hiatus, you have lived close to Suzi [Gardner—guitar/vocals for L7], is that right?
DS: We lived three or four blocks away from each other, and I think we were both really hoping to not run into each other. We didn’t, so that’s Los Angeles for you. That’s kind of funny that we never ran into each other.
CP: Is there anything you would like to say about that period of band inactivity?
DS: I’ll say that a reunion was never in the plans at all. I was never pining for a reunion, and I don’t think that my bandmates were either. I’ve seen other documentaries, like New York Doll, [New York Dolls bassist] Killer Kane just hoping for a reunion for all those years, and we weren’t like that. Different strokes for different folks.
But then when it started being a possibility, we all thought it would be a challenge, and then it started seeming like it might be fun. It was originally done out of… like you… a guy who has loved us for years, but never got to see us. There was a lot of love coming from our fans on Facebook and stuff. Eh? Everyone else is fucking reuniting, why shouldn’t we? We were already in communication over the documentary [L7: Pretend We’re Dead]. We were already talking to one another after a long silence.
CP: Beyond the two new tracks, is there a new album in the works?
DS: Well, we’re certainly enjoying making new music. We just need a little more time together on the creation side of things. Rather recently, we were very focused on the reunion shows, and the documentary, but now things have freed up a bit. It was like, we’ve got the live show, that’s good. Anybody got music they want to work on? We’ve been jamming in rehearsal, so you know, we are definitely clicking again as creative partners.
That’s really fun, because I’ve been on my own during our hiatus. It was cool, but a little tougher because I didn’t feel like I had musicians in my solo band that I connected with—with the exception of Dee [Plakas—L7’s drummer], she was drumming for me in my solo band—but this is kind of cool. We speak each other’s musical language in this band. [Note: After this interview, L7 announced that they do have a new album in the works, and you can be part of it.]
CP: The new songs are great. They’re funny in the “if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry” way.
DS: That’s a good way to put it, too, because these are very serious times, but there’s always room for commentary on the times that has a little bit of sense of humor to it. “I Came Back to Bitch”—an interviewer asked me what it is about. Well, what isn’t it about? What isn’t there to bitch about? And people were asking why we were reuniting now. I came back to bitch! It’s funny, but it’s also pointed. These times, and how fucked up things are, and how bleak it seems. It might even be bleaker than it seems, but I came back to bitch.
CP: It’s all about now, and the times, right? If you know even a little bit how to play an instrument, you should get together with like-minded people, and say something.
DS: Yeah, I think we could use a little more aggression, and assertion instead of just saying “resist.” Get out there and fucking do something, whether you’re marching or writing to your representative, or doing a sit-down strike at the Capitol, or writing songs. Get out there. The Reagan era had a lot of great music.
CP: Given L7’s involvement in Rock for Choice in the ’90s, what would you like to add to the #MeToo and #TimesUp conversations today?
DS: Well, I came back to bitch. That’s our comment on everything, man. That’s our comment on #MeToo, the environment, greed. The main point of the song is greed, against power, oppression, and the #MeToo stuff is all a part of that. We came back to bitch. “Bitch” is often a derogatory word—well fuck off, we’re claiming it as a powerful word, and we came back to bitch at anyone in our fucking way.
CP: That’s as good an answer as I could hope for.
DS: There you go. Boys and men can bitch, too. We are embracing men who are saying, “I came back to bitch,” because there is a lot to bitch about.
CP: I seem to recall in the ’90s, the band not wanting to do press or photos unless everyone was there. Am I remembering correctly?
DS: No. Back in the day, we refused to do all-female articles or issues. That’s one thing we agreed upon early on that we wouldn’t be shoved into some female ghetto. We felt like we deserved our own article without being lumped in with Lita Ford. Now, when people write about us, it’s more as a legacy act. It’s not harped on as much. They may point out that we’re feminists, but we’re compared more to, like, Iggy Pop.
CP: Back at the start in the late ’80s, did you see the band as a long-term thing?
DS: On the scene in L.A., there are a lot of bands. It was almost a social scene in which we could do something artistic, play some show, and maybe get in a van and travel. It was very humble beginnings, and we just wanted to be involved in something cool. I think Suzi dreamed of being a rock person for a very long time, I dreamed of being someone in the arts, whatever that was going to be. I was just throwing pasta on the wall, to be honest. I would have been a photographer, a painter, a filmmaker—I just didn’t want a square life. I wanted to do something cool. I played a little guitar, so Suzi and I started a band.
CP: Conventional wisdom says that grunge is the melding of punk and metal. Which one informs L7 more?
DS: Oh, punk for sure. Absolutely. Suzi and I were from the art-punk scene. Suzi was doing poetry readings, and I was doing performance art. L7 never even played any metal clubs, I don’t think. Have you watched the documentary, Chad?
CP: No. [Note: I have since.]
DS: Dude, you have to watch the film. It’s on Hulu. I think you’ill really dig it. It really fills out where we came from.
CP: Since this interview isn’t in real-time, using your crystal ball what are the things that will happen in the next couple of weeks that we should have talked about?
DS: I don’t really want to talk about it. I don’t think it will be good. I don’t know specifically what it is, but like I said, everything is fucked, so name it. You know what I mean? I’m just trying to be proactive, keep my head down, do my work, and pray like everyone else that things will get better.
CP: I was watching on YouTube a great L7 show from France in 2016 with my seven-year-old daughter, and she thinks you are the cat’s pajamas. What do you have to say to girls, boys, kids today?
DS: Don’t be afraid to be creative. The thing about being creative is that you are scared to be that way sometimes, and that’ll stop you, but if you just do it then you’ve done it. You know what I mean? Then you can do the next thing. I would say don’t be intimidated by the arts, because they’re actually… especially with punk rock, you can have very rudimentary skills and create complete magic. That’s what was so liberating about punk rock for us.
You asked, “metal or punk,” and it’s punk by a gazillion miles. Would I rather play like Johnny Ramone or Yngwie Malmsteen? I wanna play like Johnny Ramone.
CP: Anything else you want to talk about?
DS: I do want to say that we’re excited to play Minneapolis, because Minneapolis back in the day was a musical hub that we respected a lot. It was always a highlight. There were certain cities that were musical, cultural hubs that had very strong scenes, and bands that we really liked and respected. Coming back to Minneapolis is super exciting for us, because we feel like we have a lot of peers there, and even if we haven’t stayed in touch we feel simpatico with a lot of the bands on the scene.
CP: The feeling is mutual.
DS: Don’t miss us this time!
With: Death Valley Girls
Where: First Avenue
When: 7 p.m. Thurs. Apr. 19
Tickets: 18+; $25; more info here