“I think that some people think we’re feral animals,” Donita Sparks opines, lead singer for legendary all-amps-to-11 alt-rock outfit L7. “Like you can’t take us to a nice restaurant or something. [Laughs.] And that’s not true: We probably have better table manners than you do. It’s nice being part of society.”
Indeed, tough-as-nails L.A. rockers L7 weren’t raised by wolves, but neither were they created in some kind of music-business laboratory located under a five-star sushi restaurant somewhere in Silverlake. In the early-’90s underground, L7 were positively bulletproof and larger than life. Not as come-hither nymphs or saucy rock star minxes bestowed with privilege but as a hard-rocking unit who were simply (for lack of a better term) unfuckwithable.
Sparks, guitarist Suzi Gardner, bassist Jennifer Finch and drummer Dee Plakas were an attack team that made inroads equating furious rock music with feminist ideals. At their apex, they were diamond-hard alt-rock demimondes who shared deep camaraderie with bands in the underground, organized pro-choice rallies and made damn sure that nobody who ever saw them would ever forget them. Back in the ’90s, girls wanted to be in L7, and guys wanted to be their boyfriends—even if the gals’ fearlessness scared the living hell out of them.
After carving their name on the veneer of alt-rock with three albums, stress fractures starting forming in the band, and by the time their last record came out (1999’s Slap-Happy on Bong Load), the band had scattered into pieces. Sparks released a solo LP (2008’s Transmiticate) and then nothing. After a period of rekindling their friendships, the quartet reconvened in a room of amps and created Scatter The Rats, a steaming pile of bludgeoning riffola that reminds people what guitars and attitude sound like when mixed up loud.
Sparks took some time out preparing for L7’s current American tour to remind us that her band aren’t huffing the fumes of nostalgia as much as they are filling their tanks with rocket fuel. That along with misconceptions, the shortsightedness of some festival promoters and wait…hanging out with Republicans?
Scatter The Rats sounds like you were all cryogenically frozen and thawed out for maximum action. That’s not a dis as much as it is a commentary on the sterility of a lot of current music culture.
DONITA SPARKS: I played a couple of tracks for a friend of mine because I needed to check the mastering. My system at home isn’t always reliable, so I went to his house. He played it and said, “Wow, this is like a straight-up fucking rock record.” Well, we’re L7. That’s what we do, and he said, “I know. But it’s just great to hear guitars again.” He’s a guy that’s very up on the scene, and he hadn’t heard a rock record in a while. So that was cool.
What kinds of conversations are you having regarding Scatter The Rats? Are most of the people you’re speaking with younger writers who only have Wikipedia and YouTube clips as points of reference? Or is it hardened lifer types like, “You kicked my ass at this one gig in ’93”?
I’ve been fortunate to be speaking with a lot of younger people who are well-researched and admire us a lot. They’re younger, and they’re not as hung up on our gender. They’re usually fans who just want to engage. It’s cool: I don’t think anybody is interviewing [L7] that’s “on assignment,” per se. I think they are seeking us out because they’ve got questions, and we’re a band that’s done some interesting stuff. They don’t have to interview us: Who the fuck cares? [Laughs.] But you know what I mean.
Straight up: Do you think the world needs L7 more than ever? Your band have always been a no-holds-barred entity, sonically, socially and politically. Songs such as “Pretend We’re Dead” and “Wargasm” sound like they could’ve been made last month.
I never thought about this. This was brought up to me by a rock journalist. It was her opinion that we stuck our necks out lyrically than most of our peers did back in the day. We were making more commentary on the state of affairs than some of the other bands were, or maybe it wasn’t deeply veiled. That was something we’ve always had.
In the bigger picture of current culture, every imaginable strain of pop music has infiltrated society so deeply, it’s impossible to get around it.
I’m not very familiar with the musical landscape these days. I know that music today isn’t as aggressive as it was in the early ’90s. Rock bands were getting exposure; they were getting on David Letterman. Rock bands were getting on Saturday Night Live. And they’re not anymore. Pop artists have encroached their way into everything from Coachella to SNL. The bastions that used to be for artists like us have been cannibalized by pop stars. So yeah, good luck trying to find some music that’s got something to say. [Laughs.] I don’t know where people are finding it because I can’t even find it.
Your motives for reconvening are a lot more noble than some of the cash-grabs currently happening.
In particular, the reunion and now this album is just reminding people who we are and our participation in the rock ’n’ roll story. We were very invisible on the internet for years, like we didn’t even exist. Now it’s like, goddamn straight, we were fuckin’ part of it. We still are part of it. We were blazin’ the trail for a lot of stuff. People need to be reminded of that every so often. Everybody rewrites history when they write an article on the band.
It’s certainly not like you and I are fast buddies and get together to exchange Christmas cards. But when that Rolling Stone piece came out saying that you and Suzi didn’t speak for decades—despite living three blocks away from each other—it really saddened me. It hit me right in the ventricles.
It hit you in the ventricles? [Laughs.] Here’s the thing: I didn’t quit the band. Jennifer quit the band. Suzi quit the band. When Jennifer quit, we were able to go on. When Suzi quit, the wheels had already fallen off the band financially. It’s like a marriage. When there’s no bread, shit gets contentious. When you’re working really hard and you don’t have much to show for it, except for a lot of cool stuff that you’ve done, things get weird.
Sometimes people become enemies for reasons that are just like… [Pauses.] Listen, I didn’t quit the band. I’m not the right person to ask about it. You don’t always get answers to why people quit a band. You don’t always get the truth. And when it is done in an ungraceful manner, shit gets contentious. Let that be a lesson out there to anyone: Try to have grace.
I’m not a big fan of the nostalgia-leaning aspects of bands reforming. But L7 didn’t do anything stupid on Scatter The Rats. No guest rappers or special EDM mixes for club DJs or sponsorships from VH1 or forays into pop music.
It’s interesting because if you see a lot of the bands from our era that are on the circuit currently, clearly people want some push back: They want to sing some anger anthems. L7 are pretty good at anger anthems and some of these other bands are, as well. I think people are fed up, and they want to sing along about this frustration and aggression.
We’ve never done anything but be L7. Now, we play punk festivals and metal festivals. What’s interesting is that we don’t play many alternative-rock festivals, which is sort of where we’re from. It’s funny how the traditional tribes of metal and punk embrace us, and that’s where we’re welcomed. The other press darling festivals we’re not asked to participate in which is kind of weird. [Laughs.] We always thought we were musically independent.
Misconceptions are the opium of the people. In your opinion, what are the biggest misconceptions about your band, anyway?
There are plenty of misconceptions. [imitates dullard rock fan.] “I thought you were going to be covered head to toe in tattoos.” I don’t have any tattoos. It’s funny: Even people who know who we are think we’ve got those cliched elements to us.
It’s funny that everyone wants to put us into those categories that you don’t necessarily fit into. “Oh, I thought you guys were too serious.” “Oh, I thought you guys were a joke band.” “Oh, I thought you guys were a feminist band.” We’re a rock band—and a very unique one. [Laughs.] Seriously, I will read a few comments on Facebook, but I won’t read what the trolls write, so I don’t know what the fucking misconceptions are.
L7: Not giving a fuck since forever.
We give a fuck about a lot of things. That’s another misconception. I think the idea of “giving zero fucks” is empowering to a lot of people. I think that’s a very difficult stance to have. [adopts a bratty child tone.] “I don’t care what anybody thinks.” Well, maybe you should because you’re acting the fool. [Laughs.]
It’s nice to be a part of society. If everybody didn’t give a fuck, we would have no society, no civilization. It’s good to be civilized. When I’m in a social situation with people who aren’t in the rock world, they’re like, “You’re so normal.” I can be normal when I want to. I’m a fuckin’ chameleon. I can hang out with Republicans. It’s called being civilized.
The band is currently on the road with remaining dates below and tickets here.
06/12 – Vancouver, BC @ Commodore Ballroom %
06/14 – Portland, OR @ McMenamins Crystal Ballroom %
06/15 – San Jose, CA @ Santa Clara Fairgrounds
06/16 – Sacramento, CA @ Murphy’s Park
% with Le Butcherettes