L7: fierce not fearless

"WE JUST WANTED TO BE A GOOD BAND"
“WE JUST WANTED TO BE A GOOD BAND”

L7 are smashing it up in Australia right now. Here’s my interview with Donita Sparks, originally published in QWeekend magazine.

In the 1990s, L7 were a band that stood apart from the pack. Pre riot grrrl, post-punk and one of the few all-­female grunge acts, they brought to the stage heavy rock hooks, catchy songs and plenty of attitude.

While they might have considered themselves the last people to do the reunion thing, in 2014 the band got back together and have been playing sporadically since.

“It wasn’t really, ‘let’s get the band back together’, it was, ‘do you want to do this?’, because I didn’t even know if I wanted to do this,” says frontwoman Donita Sparks. “I just kind of put it out there. Do we even want to go there? Because if we do we should do it soon, because we’re not getting any younger.”

The gang includes the core line-up of Sparks, Suzi Gardner, Jennifer Finch and Dee Plakas, who hadn’t played together since Finch left in 1996.

“The first time everybody saw each other again after so many years, it was weird but we all started laughing again almost immediately. It was uncomfortable and also giddy at the same time. It was cool.”

Their reunion shows have been gathering steam and going off – including playing surprise gigs such as a couple of Rock at Random sessions, where they would do pop-up busking acts drawing crowds, playing such memorable hits as Pretend We’re Dead, Shitlist and Andres.

In their heyday, L7 had a reputation for being fearless, in-your-face, having a feminist agenda served just by being themselves, and partying as hard as anyone.

Legendary antics include Sparks dropping her pants live on British TV, and flinging a tampon at a rowdy ­audience during the 1992 Reading Festival in the UK. They’re incidents she won’t live down, but while she might have mellowed, it certainly took bravery to be in the frontline of fame. So were they really fearless, and where does that bravery come from?

“That’s a really good question. We weren’t fearless,” Sparks says. “You’ve got to front a lot. There’s a lot of fronting involved. It’s for real but it’s also a performance, to a certain extent. People like that side of us, so showing vulnerability back in the day, there was no place for that on our stage.

“Because we were up against a lot. There were people coming at us from the audience. We had to be tough ­cookies out there because it was a rowdy rock ’n’ roll crowd and you can’t go too soft with that. You’ve got to be hard. Sometimes you’re a little worried about what’s going on but you just have to hang tough.

“I’m very proud to be a woman in rock, but I’m just as proud to have our songs hold up and be appreciated as a good rock band. That was our fantasy when Suzi and I set out to do this. It’s not that we set out to be rich and famous, we just wanted to be a good band. And the fact that we’ve made it in some people’s eyes is super cool.”

As well as live shows, the band is working on a documentary, which means poring through archival footage. Before the age of smartphones, and during the heyday of MTV behind-the-scenes shows, the band were canny enough to document much of their tour with camcorders. It’s a bit of a trip, or stumble, down memory lane.

It’s been fun bonding with the band again – and the audience. While the L7 fan base may be a little softer around the middle, they can rock out just as much as ever. “The ones over 40 are the ones to catch the younger ones when they’re stagediving. (They’re) a little more solid to hold up the young ones.” A soft place to land.

L7 play Eatons Hill Hotel, Friday, October 14. Tickets

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