L7

TrackAlbum
Bite The Wax TadpoleL7
ShoveSmell The Magic
WargasmBricks Are Heavy
ShitlistBricks Are Heavy
Pretend We're DeadBricks Are Heavy
Questioning My SanityHungry For Stink
ShirleyHungry For Stink
She Has EyesHungry For Stink
DramaThe Beauty Process: Triple Platinum
Mantra DownSlap-Happy

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L7 photo

L7 (l to r): Suzi Gardner, Donita Sparks, Dee Plakas, Jennifer Finch

 

 

Contributor: Nick Perry

LIVE INTERVIEW, RADIO KXRT, FRESNO, 1994

Interviewer: You guys do a lot of political benefits and things like that. You’re into that.
L7: We do benefits, but we don’t consider ourselves a political band. We like to help out where we can.
Interviewer: How do you feel about cancer?
L7: As in the astrological sign or the disease?
Interviewer: No, I meant the disease.
L7: We LOVE it!

When people talk about the biggest acts from the grunge scene, L7, despite the genuine mainstream success they had, always get overlooked. They released an album on the grunge label, Sub Pop (1990’s Smell The Magic), they were produced by the grunge producers (Jack Endino, Butch Vig) and they toured with Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam when the scene was at its height. They had impeccable grunge credentials and for a time they were ubiquitous, but they don’t get the same level of acclaim as their contemporaries. Maybe that’s because they were from Los Angeles rather than Seattle, maybe because they’re all female, maybe because none of them married Kurt.

 

Caller (Ricky-Steve): I wanna ask you guys a question. It’s kind of funny. Who would you like to be buried next to, if you could be buried next to anybody?
L7: Can we get Security to trace that call please? What was his name? Ricky-Steve? Ricky-Ticky Timebomb’s more like it.

L7 started out in the late-eighties, playing heavy, punk rock riffs with lots of distortion and even more conviction. The lyrics were sometimes clever and funny, sometimes just one cool sounding phrase shouted over and over. The attitude was always anarchic fun. They stuck to that template for 15 years, six albums and countless live shows. For a brief period, when grunge exploded in the early-nineties, L7’s underground sound crossed over into the mainstream.

 

Caller (Ben): Did you enjoy making that film [Serial Mom]? Was John Waters just like you’d expect him to be and stuff?
L7: Do you have a cold? Or are you doing lots of crank?
Caller (Ben): What?
L7: Never mind.

L7’s third album, and in particular, its lead single, the slacker anthem, Pretend We’re Dead had the right sound at the right time and got a lot of airplay, on the radio and on MTV. Consequently the album, Bricks Are Heavy became a surprise global hit. A couple of years later, L7 released their follow up album, Hungry For Stink. The Radio KXRT interview quoted here was recorded on a promotional tour for that record.

 

Caller (Summer): I was just wondering, with your new album called Hungry For Stink and everything, you don’t stink, do you? I mean, you look like you might.
L7: Sometimes we get a little moist and meaty. Sometimes we get a little gamey.

During the interview, the more the questions get and the more bizarre the situation becomes, the more fun L7 have. They’re ostensibly on air to promote their Fresno show and give away tickets to fans, but it turns pure Spinal Tap with the inept DJ and unhinged callers who don’t want the free tickets. A lot of bands who’d recently enjoyed commercial success might find this scenario humiliating – a painful reminder that commercially, they’re past their peak – but L7 were amused enough to include a recording of the interview as a B-side on the new album’s lead single, Andres.

 

Caller: Uh, hi, yeah. I wonder if you guys could play some Rollins for me.
L7: Not! Do you have a question for us?
Caller: Who is this?
L7: L7.
Caller: L7! Are those the girls who think they’re guys or something?
L7: Next caller!

For me, grunge had been like the culmination of a quest. I’d got heavily into music as a teenager in the early-nineties – going to gigs and far-flung record shops, swapping tapes with mates, reading Melody Maker, sending away for fanzines, listening to John Peel, learning guitar and starting a (terrible) band. There was so much great music around at that time and I devoured as much of it as possible, from indie, baggy and gangster rap to alternative metal, shoegaze and dance. But it was the lazy aggression of grunge that grabbed me most of all. It was exhilarating and belligerent, like punk and metal, but it was intelligent too and with a social conscience. I loved the music, the ethos, the attitude and aesthetic and I had the hair and clothes to prove it, so when it became the dominant youth movement for a time, it felt like partly my victory.

 

Caller: Who’s L7? Do you ride motorcycles?
L7: No we ride bicycles without seats.
Caller: Do you know Pearl Jam? Eddie Vedder?
L7: We know them very personally.
Caller: Um, so maybe we could hang out after the show?
L7: Yeah, sure we can! OK, see you later!

By the summer of 1994, Kurt was dead and grunge was on the wane. The retro sound of Britpop was being hailed as the next big scene by the music press and the zeitgeist was moving on to places I wasn’t interested in. Some of the more metal-rooted grunge-era bands kept doing what they’d been doing, but those from a punk background were either splitting up or ‘evolving’ by consciously softening their sound. L7 went the other way; Hungry For Stink was a heavier, angrier dirtier album than its predecessor. They weren’t about to make compromises in an effort to stay in the limelight.

That’s why I love them so much. Throughout their existence they played the same sort of aggressive, no-frills, grunge rock. For a time, that coincided with what was popular in the mainstream, but that’s all it was – a coincidence. They hadn’t changed their sound to gain success, and when popular culture moved on, they shrugged their shoulders and kept playing the way they always had. If they played smaller shows, sold fewer records and received less airplay – fine. They were in it for the music and for the pure, visceral pleasure of playing guitars really loud.

Because I was young and naïve at the time, on some level I had thought that my quest to find the ultimate form of guitar music had been mirrored in the music press and that it had all been settled in 1992 – shoegaze had had its brief time, Madchester was Manchester again, hair metal was extinct and grunge had won – so it came as a bit of a surprise to me when grunge fell out of favour too. Punk riffs and attitude and long matted hair were no longer cutting edge, so neither was I. But it would be many years before I cut my hair short and I still favoured primitive, fuzzed up rock. L7 were one of the few bands who kept on providing that for me, blasting out heavy grunge riffs until they went on indefinite hiatus in 2001.

L7 recently reformed and are touring again. I don’t know if they’re intending to release new material, but if any emerges you can rely on it being as noisy as ever and delivered with their trademark conviction. I’m still devouring music, of all styles and I still get that same adrenaline rush when I hear something great. Sometimes it’s grunge, its influences or one of its ancestors but if it isn’t, I often find myself thinking that it would sound much, much better played with power chords and a shitload of distortion.

 

 

Top 10

Bite The Wax Tadpole (L7) According to some sources, ‘Bite the wax tadpole’ is the literal Chinese translation of Coca Cola – scream it like you mean it over a fast-paced, three-chord, 1977-style punk riff, repeat.

Shove (Smell The Magic) L7 are pissed off. “Landlord says I am too loud, America thinks I should be proud, huh!”

Wargasm (Bricks Are Heavy) “Wargasm, wargasm, 1-2-3, tie a yellow ribbon ˈround the amputee, wave those flags high in the air, as long as it takes place over there.” Darkly humorous, 1992 anti-war song.

Shitlist (Bricks Are Heavy) L7 are pissed off again. “I grab my pen and I write out a list, of all the assholes that won’t be missed, you’ve made my shitlist.”

Pretend We’re Dead (Bricks Are Heavy) Classic, slacker anthem. “Wake up and smell the coffee, or just say no to individuality.”

Questioning My Sanity (Hungry For Stink) “I’m saving my piss in a jar, this depression has gone too far.” A great song built around one heavy, descending riff.

Shirley (Hungry For Stink) Appropriately fast and furious tribute to pioneering, female drag racing champion, Shirley Muldowney.

She Has Eyes (Hungry For Stink) Atypical song for L7, it’s based around a single heavy riff but there’s also a chorus pedal on it!

Drama (The Beauty Process: Triple Platinum) Heavy, metallic, punk opener to the band’s penultimate album.

Mantra Down (Slap-Happy) Take a phrase, scream it like you mean it over a fast-paced, surf-style punk riff, repeat. L7 go back to very basics on their last album.

 

 

L7 official website

Donita Sparks facebook

Jennifer Finch official website

L7 biography (iTunes)

Follow Nick Perry on Twitter @NoiseCrumbs

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