L7 are set to take the First Ave stage in just a few hours, and next door at the Depot, three generations of Minneapolis punk rockers are scattered among the pre-show crowd, noshing, mingling, and waiting to pay their respects to the reunited grunge greats, veterans from an age when women forming rock bands was a rarity and a challenge.
Dining with her parents is Danielle Cusack of the celebrated young trio Bruise Violet, a rocker barely out of her teens. Elder statespunk Lori Barbero is maneuvering around a room where, as usual, she seems to know almost everyone. And at a table near the window, the trio Kitten Forever are getting pumped for a show they never thought they’d see.
“‘Fast and Frightening’ was my first driving-through-the-suburbs, I’m-gonna-kill-someone song,” Corrie Harrigan recalls. “I definitely used to tool around Burnsville-Savage blasting that song. I was such a badass teenybopper.”
Laura Larson may have been in that car with her—the two have been friends since high school, and in 2006 they started living in a house on 26th and Lyndale that held punk shows. Liz Elton soon moved in with them, and for the 12 years since, the three women have been playing music, expressing and redefining their feminist beliefs, and nudging the Minneapolis punk scene closer to the values of inclusivity that DIY rock sometimes preaches more than it practices.
L7 isn’t the only band of Kitten Forever inspirations who broke up before Elton, Harrigan, and Larson entered their clubgoing days: Many of the trio’s riot grrrl idols had called it quits by the end of the ’90s or shortly thereafter. In fact, Kitten Forever, whose members are now all in their early 30s, came of age in an awkward period of transition and reaction, the lull between the ’90s promises of revolution girl-style now and today’s quieter but more effective integration of bands composed of something besides cis-het white guys into the larger world of punk and indie.
The sound of Kitten Forever hasn’t changed much over those years—at least not in the past five years. “The first seven years didn’t really count,” Elton says of the band’s history. “2013 is when [their second album] Pressure came out, when we were touring on a different level, releasing things on a different level, not just playing basement parties.” And that’s when the band introduced their distinctive round-robin performance style. All three sing and play bass, Harrigan and Larson also play drums, and during shows they nimbly switch off between songs without a pause in the racket.
Kitten Forever’s fourth album, Semi-Permanent, out this week, showcases the band’s ability to continually find new possibilities within the strict musical parameters they’ve set for themselves. Their tunes are spare, vigorously ranty chants, voices often deliberately distorted, blurting lyrics that are defiant, questioning, and often funny, as multivalent as “There’s a list/Inside of me/That reads like it’s from another century” or as direct as “Can’t take me anywhere.” The bass lines do the heavy melodic lifting that most bands entrust guitars with, and the drums fill up the space with the din of cymbal clatter.
“At this point it’s kind of choreographed in a way,” Larson says of the band’s writing style. “We’re writing songs so that we can play them live, and we don’t like to have there be a lull in the set. To keep up that energy we’re playing songs as we’re transitioning, and we have to write songs to fit into the math of how we play a live show.”
Kitten Forever’s conversation shifts between band members as smoothly as their music does; they can finish one another’s sentences without interrupting or contradicting each other. Speaking of young women forming bands, Larson notes “It’s easier than ever...” and Harrigan concludes “...but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.” They’re continually qualifying what they just said, not to second-guess themselves, but to balance out their assertions with alternate information to clarify what they mean, in an almost dialectical process.
Take, for instance, their opinions on the health of local punk. A decline in local music venues, especially the closure of the Triple Rock, is definitely worrisome, according to Harrigan. “The music community here is so centered around venue availability,” she says. “If there’s one house space that disappears, one venue that closes, it just sucks the energy out of what’s happening.”
She’s also concerned that the housing crunch currently making Minneapolis a less affordable city will take its toll on underground rock. “We rented our four-bedroom house on 26th and Lyndale across the street from the CC Club in 2006 and it was $1,200,” she remembers. “We had five of us living there and we could fuck off, we could play music and start bands, and everybody was doing that. When you take that away, how do kids have the freedom to start all these weird projects?”
And yet, at the same time, they’re inspired by young bands like Bruise Violet. “They’ve been talking politics in their band the whole time they’ve been a band and I’m just consistently floored by how smart they are,” Larson says. “They have the language to talk about intersectionality and feminism and all this other stuff in a way I never felt I did, and the confidence to do it.”
“When we were a younger band, it was like ‘Are you an all-girl band or are you like a punk band?’” Harrigan says. “I so intensely wanted to be in the punk scene, but there was kind of this strict aesthetic: You’ve got to be tough and you’ve got to be screaming into the mic and you’ve got to be... you know, a dude. Now that it’s like, well, it doesn’t have to look that way, it doesn’t have to sound that way either.”
“Sometimes we’re like, kinda wish we were starting a band now,” says Elton, with mild irony.
“To start in a community dreaming of that shift, and to still be in it while it’s happening, and to see it come to fruition... it’s a really positive thing,” Larson says.
With: Royal Brat, Tony Peachka, Tiffani
Where: Loring Bar & Restaurant
When: 8:30 p.m. Thurs. May 3
Tickets: 18+; $8/$10; more info here