Interview by Shannon-Lee Sloane – The Colourful Writer
There is one name that is the first on my lips when I think of an iconic grunge/rock/punk band; and that’s L7. From 1985 to 2001 and then reuniting in 2015, Donita Sparks (vocals, guitar), Suzi Gardner (vocals, guitar), Jennifer Finch (bass, vocals) and Dee Plakas (drums, vocals) have gifted the world with their music; their art. In your face, hard rocking, punklicious delights of tunes all delivered with in a driving force that L7 just do so well. No bullshit, no nonsense, just pure rocking genius. They are not women to hold back on their strong personalities and individuality, making news around the world as one of the first all female rock bands to really deliver something special. But their gender doesn’t matter. What matters is how hard they rock and how hard they worked to get where they are today. And that’s seriously fucking hard.
Known for her musical talent and also for her no apologies attitude, honesty and self expression, Donita Sparks is no shy violet and this is one of the many reasons why she is such an inspiration for so many, including myself. If you are not already familiar with the story, google the ‘used tampon’ incident from England’s Reading Festival in 1992. I just love it. I wanted to ask her about it but our time was limited. But I’ll bet if she could turn back time, she’d do it all the same way again. And then there is one of my favourite lyrics of all time from their song Fast and Frightening: “Got so much clit she don’t need no balls…” – the song is the second track from their album ‘Smell The Magic’ released via Sub Pop on September 1, 1990.
Last year, L7 released their first studio album in 20 years, ‘Scatter The Rats’ on Joan Jett’s record label, Blackheart Records and they are set to tour Australia and New Zealand in May. I seriously can not wait to have L7 back in town.
Having been a fan for many moons, there are a million things I would love to ask you about and chat to you about, but alas, we only have a short time, so let’s start with the big news; L7 are coming to Australia in May! Huge news for Aussie fans! Are you looking forward to coming back?
“We’re very much looking forward to coming back and we can’t wait to see the maniacs that are our fans in Australia. Because they love the rock n roll and that’s what we’re gonna’ bring to them!”
So, I think it was 2016 last time you were here and you played at the Eatons Hill Hotel in Brisbane. This time you are playing The Triffid which is one of my favourite venues in Brisbane. It actually just won an award at the QLD Music Awards! So great choice on the venue! You would have played so many cool venues, what is one of the most amazing venues you’ve ever played at?
“Oh god, we have played in a literal cave. In an actual cave in Norway. We’ve played in fire death trap venues in Belgium. With no escape *laughs* – We’ve played in some crazy places! But ya’ know, it is good to play a nice venue that’s for sure so that’s cool about Brisbane.”
In May last year, you released your latest album, ‘Scatter The Rats’ via Joan Jetts record label, Blackheart Records. It’s your first studio album release in 20 years, how did it feel to be releasing new music again?
“It felt really great and I think that we were very happy with the song collection on the album. We had done two songs before that just as singles to kind of re-familiarize with each other in the creative sense. So those two singles went well and we went ‘ah screw it, let’s make an album!’ So we were super happy with the outcome on that. And just for Australia and New Zealand, we have done a single with Joan Jett, we collaborated with her on one of her tracks. We are releasing that when we are in Australia. We did a cover of her song, Fake Friends. We did a very different version of it; a different arrangement of it. So that is what we are going to be releasing as a single in Australia.”
That is so cool! Joan Jett is amazing and L7 are amazing, so what a team up!
“You know, what can we say, we’re fabulous, you know *laughs* So uhhh yeah *laughs*”
Absolutely! And that segues into my next question. L7 are without a doubt one of the most iconic grunge/punk bands in the world. You’ve been an inspiration to many women and men in the music industry. We’ve just had International Women’s Day – a time to appreciate women who inspire us. Who is a woman in the music world who inspires you?
“Oh god, I could name many of them. But I will name Joan Jett. Because I think she has had to prove herself a billion times, so stupidly *laughs* you know like, she has had a tough go of it early on and now she’s in the rock n roll hall of fame. Now she’s a legend and an icon and well loved and well received. So I would say Joan is someone I look up to a lot.”
Speaking of inspiring women, though this one is a fictional character. But I need to mention Tank Girl. One of my favourite comic books, movies and soundtracks of all time. L7’s big hit, Shove is featured on the soundtrack. How good is that soundtrack!? Portishead, Hole, Veruca Salt, Belly, Iggy Pop…
“So cool. And I’m not sure I have a copy of that soundtrack! I don’t think I ever saw the movie! I knew that we were on it. I am aware of who Tank Girl is. But I am not sure I ever saw the movie because we were on tour all the time. We didn’t have computers to watch a film on. So, I am not sure I ever saw Tank Girl but I probably should see Tank Girl after all this time!”
I had to track down the soundtrack myself. I could not find it anywhere and eventually found it online on CD, I treasure it.
“I will have to look that up, I will get it on eBay! *laughs* I will find the soundtrack on eBay, I will, I am writing it down!”
I was watching your documentary again recently; I love the beginning where it goes into how the band formed and how you found each member. I would imagine your bond and friendships with Suzi, Jennifer and Dee is something really special after the years of creating music together and all you’ve been through?
“Yeah, you know, the interesting thing about L7 is that we didn’t start out as friends. We didn’t start out like U2, we weren’t like school mates or anything like that. We came together for the music and there were so few women playing hard rock at the time, especially punk rockers playing hard rock, which is what we were. You know, we came together for the music. We are very different personality types and we each have our own group of friends and all that stuff. But I think together we have a rock n roll sisterly bond where we are very protective of each other. And yet, when we are off the road we don’t hang out that much *laughs* You know what I mean? so it is like we come together for music, that’s what we do.”
That is really special too, I mean, that’s what music does right? It brings people together. So even if you have those separate lives, you’ve still got each other as well. It is something really special. …
“Yeah, we communicate almost better through music than we do speaking to each other. So there’s a love of what we’ve created, there’s a love of our history. There’s a love of the dreams that we’ve fulfilled by knowing each other and by working with each other. Because we all made each other’s dreams come true right? so I think we can all appreciate each other on that level.”
Over the years, you’ve worked hard at your art and your music, you’ve gigged hard, played hard, done it tough. You’ve gifted the world with your big personality and music and I am SO glad you did! Do you think it was your calling?
“I think it was my calling to stir up some cultural trouble in one way or another. And I wasn’t exactly sure it was going to be music. But I knew I wanted to do art or be a cultural disrupter in some way. And I think I kind of actually did it in a small way, so that’s really cool *laughs*”
Before we wrap things up, I just wanted to touch a bit on the local music scene here in Brisbane which is really booming right now. And I would love to put forward a couple of bands I would love you to check out and possibly even consider for supports for your Brisbane show. But before I do that, I wanted to ask about some big bands that L7 has played with. Who were some of the big bands that you got to support back in the early days that made you just go like ‘holy shit! We get to support…’?
“Oh man, you know. So many bands that we supported were sort of our own age. So like, it wasn’t like we were ever supporting the Rolling Stones or we were never supporting The Ramones. It was like ‘Oh we are supporting Nirvana, cool!’ but they were like friends of ours, so we weren’t that impressed. I mean, we were impressed by their music, but they were out mates. So we weren’t like ‘Oh my god’ and same with like Faith No More, we were friends with them so. I am trying to think of, well you know, Lollapalooza was amazing because we were supporting George Clinton. Even though Smashing Pumpkins were the headliner, we were supporting George Clinton. And that was more exciting than playing with the Pumpkins ‘cos they were the same age as us. So that was cool.”
So, I will quickly throw it in before we have to wrap up. There’s a couple of local bands that I think would be great and would complement your sound and that would be PistonFist for some heavy rock and Dicklord for some killer punk rock!
“I will check them out! I don’t know if the promoter has booked the supports yet but I will check them out for sure! Are they paying you for this? *laughs* I am only teasing *laughs* they should pay you, you should charge them for that! * laughs*
No, I do it for the love. I love to support our local bands! *laughs*
Thanks so much Donita, I can not wait to see you play in Brisbane, Australia!
“I will check out these trouble making bands you just suggested to me and we will see you there! Thank you so much!”
AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND TOUR 2020
WEDNESDAY 20 MAY – METRO THEATRE, SYDNEY
FRIDAY 22 MAY – FORUM, MELBOURNE
SATURDAY 23 MAY – THE TRIFFID, BRISBANE
SUNDAY 24 MAY – THE GOV, ADELAIDE
WEDNESDAY 27 MAY – SAN FRAN, WELLINGTON
THURSDAY 28 MAY – GALATOS, AUCKLAND
PRESENTED BY SBM PRESENTS