Latest release: Scatter the Rats (Blackheart)
It’s no mean feat for a band to stay connected and relevant and passionate over a 30-year period but LA punk rockers L7 have managed it.
Formed by Donita Sparks and Suzi Gardner in 1985 and later joined by Jennifer Finch and Demetra Plakas, the band are responsible for the iconic grunge albums Bricks Are Heavy’ (1992) and Hungry for Stink’ (1994). Produced by Butch Vig, Bricks are Heavy made the grade in Rolling Stone‘s May 1999 list of ‘Essential Recordings of the 1990s.’ Their 1992 single ‘Pretend We’re Dead’ spent 13 weeks on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart, and reached a high of #8.
L7 played the famed Lollapalooza festival in 1994, which saw them sharing the stage with other seminal 90s acts like the Breeders and the Smashing Pumpkins. In the summer of 1990 L7 even opened for Nirvana, when the band were first debuting songs like ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ Sparks went so far as to tell Kurt Cobain the album Nevermind was going to be a huge hit. He didn’t believe her.
In short, L7 formed an integral part of the punk-rock scene in the 1990s. They told it like it was and took no prisoners. Sparks famously threw a tampon at an obnoxious crowd-goer in 1992 at Reading Festival, screaming: “Eat my tampon, fuckers!” Even to this day, L7 fans toss tampons on stage to pay homage to the woman who really couldn’t give a fuck.
In 2001, the band suddenly announced that they were on “an indefinite hiatus.” Sparks went off to pursue independent music project, Donita Sparks and The Stellar Moments, while Jennifer Finch joined punk rock band the Shocker. Then… radio silence for over a decade.
To the delight of fans everywhere, the band announced their reunion in 2014, with an all-original line-up featuring Donita Sparks, Suzi Gardner, Jennifer Finch and Demetra Plakas. Now, their latest album, Scatter the Rats will be released on 3 May 2019; their first in 20 years. The album is a riotous celebration of their punk rock roots, and the pleasure these ladies take in pumping out those bass-driven riffs overridden by Sparks’ ghoulish screams is palpable. Notable tracks include ‘Burn Baby’ and ‘Stadium West’, among others. One thing is for certain: L7 have compromised on nothing. The attitude is the same, the lyrics are trademark L7, and the production is flawless.
It takes courage to interview the lead singer of your favourite band for over 20 years, but one windy morning in the wintry climes of the upper Blue Mountains I find myself doing exactly that.
That So-Cal drawl so familiar from all those angst-driven adolescent years spent listening to their music echoes down the telephone line and I have to pinch myself to check I’m not dreaming. But Donita Sparks is laidback, cool, effervescent. In chatting to Sparks, it becomes immediately apparent that these hard rock chicks haven’t strayed too far from their original, albeit winning, formula: “I feel like we picked up where we left off, we’ve stuck to our roots,” she says. “I feel like no time has passed at all since our last album.”
Sparks is quick to point out how pleased she is with all the tracks on Scatter the Rats. “I don’t have any favourites per se, but I’ve been listening to ‘Stadium West’, it’s got a great energy and a wicked video clip too.”
Inquiring minds want to know, what is Donita’s favourite song to perform live? Again, that trademark casual California cool: “’Fuel my Fire’ or ‘Shove’, they’re fun. Although ‘Freak Magnet’ is great for big concerts.”
Does she have any favourite bands at present? “The Death Valley girls are great; they have a garage band sound and tonnes of energy. They’re joyful and fun. We’ve played with them a lot recently.”
So, who does this wild heathen woman look up to? When asked about role models, Sparks is unabashedly sweet. “My mum – she’s the coolest chick in the world. I’m so lucky to have her in my life.”
I delve deeper into the psyche of this fearless rocker. A lot of your tracks have feminist undertones. Is feminism still continuing to achieve what it set out to achieve? Sparks is humble, but willing to share: “I’m by no means an expert but I think we’ve still got growing pains, there’s still backlash. It’s like two steps forward and one step back. But I think we’re getting there, we’re progressing.”
And what does she think of people who think the term ‘feminist’ is a dirty word? She is quick to respond: “I would call them bigots. Or morons. The end.”
Lastly, I ask her the big question – what’s her favourite gig ever?
“Our Australian fans are pretty wild! We love playing Australia. We’re looking at touring there in 2020.”
And so, we can look forward to the Goddess of Grunge herself (and her band) gracing our shores sometime next year. Prepare yourself for some high energy no-holds-barred hard rock. L7 concerts are essential music education for anyone who loves to rock. And rock hard.