Throwaway Style is a monthly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the Northwest, every month on KEXP.org.
This month, columnist Martin Douglas had the esteemed pleasure of speaking to Allison Wolfe and Molly Neuman, founding members of influential feminist punk band Bratmobile. Back in May, ahead of their hotly anticipated reunion show for the July festival Mosswood Meltdown (with indie-pop icon Rose Melberg standing in for longtime guitarist Erin Smith on guitar), Martin spoke to Wolfe and Neuman about the riot grrrl movement, the works that influenced the band, the disastrous 1994 gig which nonetheless got a rave Artforum review from Thurston Moore, and quite a few other topics.
How do you properly introduce a band you genuinely feel should need no introduction?
For an entire generation of music fans (present company steadfastly included), Bratmobile was one of the brightest spots in Olympia’s immense rock scene, as well as arguably the most influential musical tentpoles of the riot grrrl movement. You could argue that as great as Bikini Kill was, up until a small handful of years ago, they were better known for their politics than their music. You could argue that when Heavens to Betsy’s Corin Tucker formed Sleater-Kinney with Carrie Brownstein, she transcended the sometimes-limiting riot grrrl association to cultivate one of the most heralded bands (sans qualifiers) to come out of the Pacific Northwest in the 1990s.
But Bratmobile left a trail that would inspire dozens of well-known bands (and likely hundreds more we’ve never heard of). Some of those bands would discuss it on the record for the podcast about Bratmobile’s classic debut full-length Pottymouth. Here in Seattle (and spread through the Pacific Northwest), a cottage industry of funny, feminist punk bands dominated the music scene for the better part of a decade. If bands like Tacocat, Childbirth, Lisa Prank, and the dearly-departed Vancouver punks Jock Tears weren’t directly influenced by Bratmobile, they walked down a road the Olympia-D.C.-Bay-Area punk band paved (to much consternation and criticism from mainstream media).
While there is truth in advertising when you consider the Bratmobile name, their brand of punk wasn’t just bratty. It was loud, proud, riotously funny, charismatic, a little self-aware, openly satirical. The songs were sometimes loose and other times as tight as Mick Jagger’s jeans. They sang sweetly of Madonna’s underwear and screamed vehemently about how your scene fucking sucks. They wrote odes to the Rodney King riots and Cheap Trick. They asserted to asshole promoters they were actually the band and not “with the band.” And what a fucking band they were.
All this to say when you get an hour on the phone with Allison Wolfe and Molly Neuman, the founding members of Bratmobile, you jump at the chance to take it.
KEXP: So to start off, I am very interested in your backgrounds in activism before you started the band. Could you expound on your parents’ involvement and activist or political spaces and how it influences each of you from childhood?
Molly Neuman: I grew up in Washington, D.C. My parents both worked in politics, like mainstream politics, I guess my dad worked for a few different congressmen as I was growing up and then worked for the DNC. So I was always around public policy and government relations and things like that, which is pretty mainstream, not necessarily activist. But as I was growing up in Washington, D.C., the times when apartheid was still in place. As a woman growing up in a time when Roe was legal. But kind of learning about my own reproductive rights and knowing that the fight against Roe was sort of always present.
Those were kind of the two pillars of my knowledge and inspiration for things that I wanted to fight against. And yeah, it was sort of like an interesting time for me in that environment. But that definitely informed me when I met Allison and the sort of phase of life that we were in. But she had such a different unique experience too.
Allison Wolfe: I don't know if you want to talk about it, but weren't you volunteering for some nonprofits or some organizations before I met you? Like a funeral in Oakland...
Molly Neuman: Two things there: When I was in high school, I worked for an organization one summer called the Children's Defense Fund, which is still an organization in place that tries to support children's rights and fight poverty. The biggest campaign that I worked on and that was present then was the Adolescent Teen Pregnancy Prevention campaign, which is a mouthful. Maybe upon reflection, [it] is interesting to think about in contrast to just fighting for reproductive freedom. But, you know, really in terms of fighting poverty, I think knowing that teenage pregnancy is a massive challenge to one's livelihood and economic opportunities, that was what that was about.
But yeah, I was in high school and in early my first year of college, I was really interested in the Black Panther Party and learning about that. And I happened to be in Oakland when Huey Newton died. So you're right. I did go to the funeral.
Oh wow. I mean, yeah, we can't leave that out!
Molly Neuman: Bit of a weird thing for an 18-year-old white kid to do. But I went by myself and it was a really emotional experience.
Allison Wolfe: Yeah. Didn't you take a few buses to get there? [laughter]
Molly Neuman: I think I did take a couple buses. Yeah. I didn't have a car.
Allison Wolfe: So that's the Molly I met, you know. But I was coming from maybe from a more personal-is-political avenue. I don't know. It was like my mom was a real activist. After she divorced my dad, she came out as a lesbian, a vegetarian (for a year), you know, kind of hippie, whatever, an activist. And she'd take us to No Nukes rallies and things like that. And she would march in Pride marches in the tiny towns that we were living in and eventually Olympia. But it was tiny back then.
And she started the first women's health clinic in Olympia, Washington. And that was like in 1980 or '81. That was a big challenge really. And she had this goal in mind to have it be like feminist health care by, for, about women. She had a lot of challenges. Like it was hard for her to even get a loan to start the clinic because she was an unmarried woman, you know, And so, like, "Where's your husband to sign for this?" And she got targeted by a lot of anti-reproductive rights people, like the Christian right basically, and you know, harassed a lot. And you know, people would harass us as well. Like people threw rocks at our windows. A lot of weird stuff would happen because of this work that my mom did. She also performed rape kits on call at her office. This is before they were routinely done in hospitals. And for the times that she did testify in court on a woman's behalf, often she was, I don't know, sent death threats from convicted men or even if they weren't convicted, I suppose. But angry men.
And she was really an "out" lesbian and spoke out for LGBTQ+ rights and all that kind of stuff. She was pretty outspoken. She loved a challenge.
Molly Neuman: Yeah, she had an air of fearlessness. I am sure she, like most humans, there's a fear there. But that [fearlessness] was definitely like the energy that Allison's mom projected. You know, she didn't really take any crap. She didn't really suffer any fools, including me and Allison's other friends. [laughter]
Allison Wolfe: And she wore a flak jacket to work and had a Glock in a fanny pack that she brought, you know, as self-defense. Pretty wild.
Wow. Yeah, that's all incredible stuff. What were your initial impressions of each other when you met at the University of Oregon?
Molly Neuman: Well, you start this because it was a little bit of a blur, but she loves to tell the story.
Allison Wolfe: I just remember, you know, being in the dorms the first day, and there was one pay phone in the hallway; and Molly was on it, hogging it, and she was breaking up with some guy, I think. But she had this, like, fast-talking East Coast accent. She was tough and she was just laying into this guy. And I just was like, "Ooh, who's that?" And so we kind of became fast friends. We were in the dorm, so we shared a wall between our beds.
Molly Neuman: Yeah, we lived at the international dorm and Allison, I think, selected that because she had already had a year abroad in Thailand. I think you [Allison] were embracing the international part of that opportunity and I had gone to an international school, so I think they just threw me in there. And we were next-door neighbors. Allison had a very interesting look; she had cool glasses, she had very specific sartorial choices, I guess you might say. Those were very specific in my memory of her. I was also drawn to her because she's really interesting as she has a lot of energy, and I think obviously that's served her well in her career as a performer and singer and all of those things, too.
I don't remember the moment we met. She's told this story so many times; it's like muscle memory for me now. I remember all of the emotion that I had because I was a freshman and had fallen for someone over the summer and they were breaking up with me. And that's what I was P.O.'ed about! [laughter]
Allison Wolfe: Makes for good songs, I'm sure.
Molly Neuman: Exactly.
So tell me about the music you were listening to, the books you were reading, the various art and media that you were consuming when the two of you first started hanging out.
Allison Wolfe: I mean, I guess that's sort of what I brought to the table was coming from Olympia. You know, I had all these K records — cassettes or whatever, mostly cassettes — of the super DIY music of I guess what you could call love rock or something. But, you know, these little duos or solo people performing these pretty stripped-down songs that weren't in a traditional formation of a band. And I was really into that, and kind of singing along to them and whatever, stuff like that. So yeah, I was into the full-on K and Olympia music scene.
Molly Neuman: Allison had a lot more underground music in her tape case and I was a little bit more basic. I loved R.E.M, and I think I had some tie-dye T-shirts. I listened to a lot of Led Zeppelin and Bob Marley in high school, even though I'm from D.C., I wasn't really a punk rocker until I met Allison in Eugene, Oregon, which is an ironic zone of connection. But in addition to all the stuff, which was really pretty mind-blowing in the way that it was like, "Oh, this is a melody and a guitar and like a sung melody, a sung guitar, a basic beat. But these songs are so good." And that was something I hadn't really been exposed to before.
But she also had... I think Bleach had already come out by that time, right? So this is the fall of '89. So she had Bleach and she had [music by] the Melvins. You know, you [Allison] were really into Northwest rock; Girl Trouble and grunge before anybody thought it was funny to call it grunge; or ironic or, you know. [laughter] I think it was just the music! Nisqually Delta Podunk Nightmare and all of these local bands to Olympia, like Some Velvet Sidewalk [too], and all of this stuff. To have exposure to that was also mind-blowing. You know, the first show she took me to in Olympia was Melvins, Nirvana, and Beat Happening at a grange hall. Melvins headlined. That will maybe be on my tombstone that I was at that show. It was incredible.
Allison Wolfe: Yeah, so we were into grunge as well. We really liked the music, but I think after a while we kind of felt like some of the imagery was a little too shock value/stupid for me – for us. After a while, it was kind of like, "Well, there's a lot of sexism going on here," and not necessarily with the bands, but with their audiences and like, "Okay, this is sexism, dressed up in flannel and long hair. I prefer long hair, but I don't really prefer sexism." So anyways, we kind of just were like, "Well, we can't really play instruments exactly, but maybe we have something to say that might be a little bit more than this." So that's how it started getting us to thinking. But I do also want to say that another thing that Molly brought to the table was hip-hop and go-go. I mean, she was really into those scenes and she really got me into like Public Enemy, which [was], you know, super important.
That's one of the things I wanted to ask y'all about; the hip-hop thing.
Allison Wolfe: And there were a lot of women in hip-hop too, because it was really flourishing in the late eighties and early nineties, actually, [the rise of] hip-hop for women.
Oh, yeah. Absolutely.
Allison Wolfe: Molly knew all about that and she used to go to go-go shows in D.C. and stuff like that. So she turned me on to all that and — which album was it when Public Enemy came out when we were in college? Was it A Nation of Millions? No, the album after that?
Fear of a Black Planet?
Allison Wolfe: Yeah! I have the record! And THAT record, I remember there were a lot of delays in it coming out and there were a lot of rumors of controversy and that's why it wasn't being released on time. And so it was real hyped up on campus as well; everyone was talking about that. And it was just a really exciting time.
Shout out to Girl Trouble, by the way. 'Cause I'm a Tacoma guy. So any mention of Girl Trouble gets a rousing applause from me.
Allison Wolfe: Awesome. They were my favorite regional band, actually. I loved Girl Trouble. I loved going to see them play. And I saw them a lot in high school and after that.
Molly Neuman: And you can probably trace a little bit of that to Allison's performance. Like she's always smiling and she's always moving. I mean, that's not necessarily [the approach of] the rest of the kinds of bands that you got to see growing up, right? So maybe you could trace that back to Girl Trouble.
Allison Wolfe: One of my best friends in high school went out with Buddy Love [Dale Phillips] for a little bit, my friend Lora Hammersmith, and she brought him to my mom's house. And that was really exciting. Except they just sat there giggling with each other and making, you know, we had the letter magnetic letters on the fridge. So they were making all these words. And I don't know, I just remember my mom coming over to me at some point, maybe I was in another room, and she was like, "Your friends are weird. Aren't you going to hang out with them?" [laughter]
Tell me about creating the zine Girl Germs and how that transitioned into forming Bratmobile.
Allison Wolfe: I think the band was a band in theory first. Like we named the band first, but it wasn't happening-happening.
Wasn't that the era where one of you referred to it as a quote unquote, "fake band?"
Molly Neuman: Maybe. It was like, when we first started calling ourselves Bratmobile, it was really early on in our friendship and knowing each other, you know, and we're like, "Oh, yeah, we'll make this up. And then we'll sing Beat Happening songs or Spook & the Zombies songs." And we would go to parties in Eugene, and when the band would take a break, we would sing one of those songs a cappella and it really bummed people out. It really was a huge bummer to people who are drunk on like jungle juice or whatever they did, [to hear] whatever tuneless acapella song we were busting up. But it was hilarious. And then we would just get on our bikes or like, go to the next one.
That might be a stretch, but that's the memory I have of it. We'd ride our bikes all over. Eugene's very flat, mostly flat, so it was a nice biking town. So we did that while we were plotting. I think originally we were going to do a radio show and call it Girl Germs, and then the radio station didn't really come together. So we decided to make the zine — and they might have all happened anyway, even if the radio show had happened, because we were finding out about fanzines. A lot of them were talking about girls and women making music. It was all coming together in that way. But then we did sort of declare that we were a band. And then someone said, "Well, if you're a band like come and play this show in six months." We took that on and decided we had to write some songs and someone had to learn how to play some kind of instrument to go along with it because it was just the two of us, and that was how we played our first show.
I did go to college with an acoustic guitar. I thought that was very poetic imagery. [laughter] I didn't really know how to play it. So I took a lesson in school and then I traded that in eventually — or I can't remember if I traded in or what, but I ended up getting an electric guitar. And that's the one that we played our first show with. And yeah, I mean those [songs] were, like whatever, two or three chords max each song, but [they were] good tunes, you know, some of those we still play, right? Are we playing any of those ones?
Allison Wolfe: I don't know. I wish I could find my tape off the soundboard of that first show. I used to have it, because I'm like, "What did we play?"
Molly Neuman: We definitely played "Girl Germs."
Allison Wolfe: Although I bet we played "Queenie." Well I don't know but I'm thinking maybe we played "Queenie."
Molly Neuman: We played five songs for our first show... I think it was about five songs. Allison sang on all of them. She played guitar on one, and I kind of switched back and forth on drums and guitar.
Was it Beat Happening that y'all opened for that first show?
Allison Wolfe: No, Calvin Johnson put the show on. He's the one who lured us into coming up there and playing; he's the one who basically called our bluff. It was opening for Bikini Kill, who I don't think had been a band for very long. Maybe six months.
Molly Neuman: It was their second show.
Allison Wolfe: Okay. I always say it was their third show. But you know what? I don't really know.
Molly Neuman: It might have been, but it was definitely like a week after their first show or something.
Allison Wolfe: Well, they seemed really pro to me, but yeah. And Some Velvet Sidewalk [played as well]. But Bikini Kill were really big encouragers of us and inspirations to us. Tobi Vail and Kathleen [Hanna] were both like, "You guys should do a fanzine and you should be a band," and all this stuff.
Really cool. As people who were very much in the thick of its creation, what was that initial spark of the riot grrrl movement like?
Allison Wolfe: I mean, I just see it as really a lot of [the involvement of] Kathleen Hanna. She was working at a domestic violence shelter at the time; a rape crisis center as well. I think a lot of it was also that the first Gulf War was happening at the same time. And a lot of guys in our scene who we knew were actually... You know, there had been a mention of a draft, potential draft, and they were all scared of getting sent away, understandably. But I think that Kathleen sometimes questioned, "Well, okay, but what about the war at home, the war on women?"
And so a lot of this political awareness, which of course affected us directly, came into our dialogue, came into our networking and meetings, our fanzines, and our songs. And then I guess all of this talk and stuff kind of eventually became riot grrrl. But I think a lot of the idea really with riot grrrl was also like... Molly and I, for example, were in women's studies and such classes at U of O, and I do remember at some point in class, maybe using the word girl to talk about ourselves or to talk about others – other women – and people correcting us sometimes. I mean, not our teacher necessarily, but like other students. And I remember thinking, "Well, what about the lives of young girls?" Why is that never really discussed so much in feminism or academic feminism, and why aren't those lives considered as much? And also thinking about this idea of uplifting what's been traditionally considered "girly culture" or "women's work" and all that kind of stuff, right? You know, these spaces that are diminished because they're relegated as like, whatever, women or girls or whatever. I think a big part of riot grrrl, too, was to make feminism less academic, I suppose, and speak more to regular people or something like that. But also to make our punk rock worlds more feminist. So I guess making feminism more punk and making punk more feminist.
Molly Neuman: I think that it definitely seems like it touches most of it. I think there was definitely a need for community also. Kind of like, you know, along the lines of what Allison was describing; the environment and our atmosphere was pretty intense. You know, like slam dancing was a real thing. Mosh pits were a real thing. We would go to shows and come home with totally bruised knees because we wanted to be up front by the bands. We wanted to be dancing as close as we possibly could to the bands [onstage]. And that meant that we were going to get slammed that kind of bruised and injured in a way. That was definitely not the goal. We didn't want to feel that way. And part of it was, if there are more women and girls who feel safe and are present and in front, maybe that whole dynamic will shift too. And that would be great.
And that was what I think that there's the fanzine Riot Grrrl was really kind of like almost like a flier that became just one piece of paper that we folded into four. It was actually like, "Hey, come to this meeting." That's the original zine, if you will. It was like a tool, you know. "Come hang out." And then that was the first riot grrrl meeting. It was never an organized — not to say there wasn't organization behind it — but it wasn't designed like, "We're going to have a leader and we're going to have these committees."
I work in business, so I have a lot of sort of org design things in my brain at all times that it was definitely a self-organizing, self-realization kind of thing. Which was inspired by what we were learning about that movement that had come before us, whether it was through women's studies or Black studies or ethnic studies. That was a real tradition that we were inspired by.
Allison Wolfe: Right. But we didn't have clear goals and things like that. Not like Molly does now. She's always sending me charts and things. [laughter]
Molly Neuman: We're trying to make things happen at this stage of our lives. We got to keep a checklist.
Allison Wolfe: But it's hard for me to break out of the punky tradition of, "What do I do with this?" Yeah, she's right. I mean, community building, networking, and just strength in numbers was a big part of riot grrrl. And representing ourselves. We felt like we needed to create our own platforms, to have a voice, to be heard, and to represent ourselves because no one else was going to do it for us, you know?
Yeah, that girls-to-the-front mentality. Speaking of Girls to the Front, I've read that book like three times now. So like, all of these, all of these ideas are, you know, rushing up and at the forefront of my mind as we are talking. The interesting thing to me about riot grrrl is the way that it was miscontextualized and how everyone was kind of put into different little boxes. And I think about how riot grrrl has been stereotyped. And the stereotype has stood the test of time as, like, a white girl thing. But Bratmobile was, you know, y'all were reading Eldridge Cleaver and writing about hip-hop in your zine. And so I guess what my question is, can you count the ways in which riot grrrl was being shortchanged by being stereotyped and placed in these little boxes?
Allison Wolfe: I don't know. I mean, I don't want to say that these claims are invalid or anything, you know? I mean, that's like for sure it probably — or it wasn't intersectional enough, but you're right. It doesn't mean that we weren't already reading and thinking intersectional.
And doing the work, yeah.
Allison Wolfe: I think a lot of things that we discussed or read about or even just discussed in each other's apartments or bedrooms or whatever are things that are actually part of a mainstream conversation now. But, you know, it wasn't just us. I mean, there's a lot of other thinkers back then; alternative thinkers who were also discussing all these things. It just wasn't part of mainstream discussion or whatever. We didn't have social media or really the Internet or anything like that.
Molly Neuman: No, I mean... I think it's important to think with a critical lens about everything, but also recognize the need and the response from the circumstances that we were in. I mean, certainly, there's a whole spectrum even within maybe the people that you might most identify with riot grrrl; the members of Bikini Kill, or Kathleen and Tobi particularly, and Allison and me particularly, and a few others. Even though we might look pretty homogenous as white women, we also have a whole spectrum of economic experience and cultural experience. There's no perfect analysis. I mean, it would certainly be great [if there were].
I think in real time at the time there was legitimate critique around what was perceived to be a homogenous kind of group. I mean, that doesn't exclude it from being valuable and critical for other progress that I think we can sort of see evidence of still today. I don't accept that music specifically and society for sure is, by any means, the power structure is balanced and right at all. But there's been some incremental improvement that, some of it tracked back to the work that we did. And so I'm very proud of all of this, even if I think yeah, the critique is legit, it's worth thinking about and talking about.
Allison Wolfe: Well, also, I think it's important to recognize — although I should be prepared to say a bunch of names — but I think it's important to recognize that, you know, the people who were involved in riot grrrl who don't fit that white, middle-class, whatever. So, there are some people like Ramdasha Bikceem who did [the] GUNK fanzine. Really integral to riot grrrl. Although she also does complain about the lack of diversity within it at the time and has spoken about it since as well. And there's a lot of other people. I don't want to erase them. And sometimes it's also a part of who gets to write history and who gets written in and out of history. It's like, these women were there, you know, And they should be talked about more and their work should be seen more.
Could you elaborate on the band's first breakup? It seemed to come at a time of upheaval. Not for just the band, but kind of like the riot grrrl movement in general, at least from what I've read.
Molly Neuman: There's a lot of facts that made it really ambitious to think that we were going to maintain and continue on at the level that we had. We were living on different coasts. We were in different spaces mentally and emotionally, and being in our early twenties. I always think back on that. How I physically felt then was really kind of wild. You know, mixed up, crazy, didn't really know who I was yet, kind of rudderless.
And then to try to do that in a context of keeping the band going from across the country without even email; literally we didn't even have email, let alone texting and all these other things that make maintaining connections at least a little easier. So I think those were pretty big structural hurdles, then when we decided to... I flew across the country, slept on the plane, and then woke up, took a nap, practiced, and played a show — that wasn't a good idea. So the fact that we broke up after that was kind of a bummer in retrospect. But we didn't have any help. We didn't have any guidance. We weren't adults. That's my take. I'm sure all three of us have different perspectives.
Allison Wolfe: Well, at least you slept. I don't even think I slept before the show at all. [laughter]
Molly Neuman: You came up when you came up from D.C. too, right?
Allison Wolfe: On a bus with people who hated me, sitting behind me, talking about me the whole time, [who came] to our show and [were] basically kind of harassing us the whole time we were playing.
Molly Neuman: Pretty much.
Allison Wolfe: I mean, I'm not saying they didn't have some legitimate concerns about some guy who was messing with them at the venue, but it was a situation where we were expected — and this happens a lot to a lot of bands, especially then I think it happened to Bikini Kill a lot. A lot of bands were expected to be not just entertainment, but to basically be security as well, and to always be omnipresent. You're responsible for everything at the show, or at least some people think so. I was trying to kind of keep the peace in the crowd. But after a while, it kind of seemed like these people were actually creating the problem. I don't know. Anyways, I took the bait. I fell. I fall easily. I always feel kind of guilty about everything and feel like everything's my fault.
Molly Neuman: And I don't think you should. I mean, honestly, it was a bad idea. I think part of our band has always been a little bit up for anything. We all like to go places, we love our friends, and we've been really fortunate to meet interesting people and maintain interesting relationships for the last 30 years. I think that was the reason we're like, "Oh, sure, let's play this show. Sure, that's great, we'll fly across the country." We had done it before, so it wasn't a completely foreign idea, but we weren't connected. And so the fact that Allison was going through that specific, intense situation, I didn't really know what that was about. We are true to our name, not as much in our current stage of life, but like, you know, we are brats, and we kind of lean into that when it's convenient.
I don't think we had a lot of empathy for each other. And so the fact that there was a trigger of, "This is like super hostile, f this, I'm out," I think it's really more evidence of immaturity and being in not a healthy emotional place. But what's great is that then four years later, we did kind of check ourselves and realize that, yeah, we had some stuff to do still, and we made two more albums. I think it's a little bit of the atmosphere of why we're trying to do stuff now. It's like, "Okay, well, why not? You know, we're a little bit more solid?"
Allison Wolfe: But wait, let's describe the scene a little bit, right? A little bit about that last show: It was Thread Waxing Space in Soho or NoHo or whatever.
Molly Neuman: Yeah, Broadway.
Allison Wolfe: We got flown out; I think it was by Sassy Magazine or something like that.
Molly Neuman: No, this one was not the Sassy one; that was at Wetlands.
Allison Wolfe: Okay. Well, we got flown out. We weren't gonna miss that show. Pussy Galore was there, Sonic Youth was there. Joan Jett was there. I mean, it was like all the "cool people" that of course, we were excited were at our show. We were headlining, and I just want to say Blonde Redhead was opening for us. It was crazy. And then we fell apart on stage. Yeah, it was wild. But I remember Thurston Moore wrote about it later in Artforum, and he was like, "That was the best performance art I've ever seen." It was us breaking up onstage. [laughter]
Molly Neuman: Yeah, that wasn't the intention. I mean, I think we were all sad and mixed up about the whole thing, but we were in different places in life, right? Like, I had moved to California. I was kind of starting something fresh. And so it was not a completely surprising thing, I think.
Because I was kind of starting my quote-unquote "career" in music around the same time, I think about this [sometimes]. If I had not focused on the business, would I have focused more on music and being a drummer and being in a band and writing songs? I don't know. But that wasn't what happened. But when I did end up working in music and working with other bands, [I ended up] thinking about how little guidance or any kind of support we had to help make those decisions or navigate that time. We were totally on our own. There weren't many models. There were some other models, right? So L7, obviously Babes in Toyland; Bikini Kill, but they were, you know, our peers. And maybe Babes in Toyland and L7 had managers and they ended up signing to major labels and stuff, but we didn't have any of that [infrastructure]. And most of our other peers who were friends in bands who were men were putting out their own records and stuff. So we didn't really have a model for what to do and how to navigate that stuff. And I think that that's a shame. It's just a fact, but it's a little unfortunate.
Allison Wolfe: In my mind and in my experience since then, not a lot has changed, I guess, because I still don't have handlers. [laughter] But, you know, it's like, [for] a lot of bands, you've got big personalities all in the same room.
What led you all to get back together in 1999?
Molly Neuman: Here's the story: We were at a show together in D.C. I was managing the Donnas or I was working with them at the time at the label, and we were all there backstage. I think someone said — this is the anecdote I remember — "Hey, Bratmobile's here." We're like, "Oh, hey, we are." I mean, we stayed friends. Once we got through that zone of strife, we were pretty much immediately friends [again]. And in fact, Allison and Erin [Smith] started a new band together. And then the band that I was in on the West Coast, we would play shows with them. That was kind of the best outcome, I think, was that we didn't say, "Oh, she's the worst person in the world and I can't stand her and I'm never gonna be friends with her." It was [more] like, "Oh, well, this is over for now." And so maybe that was always in the back of our mind or I don't know. If not, it just was sparked again. I think we stayed pretty close.
Allison Wolfe: Erin and I had done Cold Cold Hearts, and then that fell apart. I think I was doing another band, Deep Lust at the time. But yeah, I don't remember exactly how it started back or why we got the idea again. But anyways, it was cool. Looking back, it's funny, we were only broken up for like four years; which, especially these days after sitting out a pandemic, doesn't actually seem like that long. But I guess when you're in your twenties, it seems like forever.
It was funny because when we did get back together, I do remember some people in the press basically describing us like we were these old hags. Like, "So much time had passed and they're so old now, and she's huffing and puffing and holding her sides," which I won't deny. [laughter] But at the same time, you know, I don't think I was that much more out of shape. Or who knows, whatever. But like, no one's describing the Stones like that. No one was describing Fugazi like that, who were [also] older than us, you know?
Molly Neuman: The standards are ridiculous for women and more marginalized people in general. It's pathetic.
Tell me about getting back together this time around. Were there specific circumstances where it was like, "Okay, we're going to get the band back together"?
Molly Neuman: We're going to give it a shot. Well, I mean, Allison and I live in the same town now, so that was one of the reasons that we thought it made sense to even consider it. I think that when we thought about it in the past, there were different hurdles or challenges, and there still are hurdles and challenges to really get it together, including maybe more realistically, the physical requirements. [laughter].
But, you know, that's great. I've been here in L.A. for a couple of years now almost. And so I think that was kind of what set the stage, "Oh, let's think about this." It's also, you know, we want to have some fun. We want to see people who are in all phases of life, you know, [having] the opportunity to make music. And hopefully that's an inspiration for younger women and girls who, you know, might see a career that could have lots of faces and don't have to be defined by youth or anything like that.
All right, last question. As y'all are thinking about this set and are in the... I don't know what stage of rehearsals y'all are in, but I assume that y'all are either there or are getting there. Are there any songs that y'all have come across that made you say to yourselves, "Wow, we wrote that"?
Allison Wolfe: All of them! [laughter] I mean, I don't know if it's a good "wow" or a bad wow... [laughter] Or just an interested or surprised "wow." It's interesting because, at first, the challenge was like, "Okay, I'm going back to these songs we wrote." I don't even know how many years ago at this point. I mean, 20, 30, whatever.
Yeah, 30 years this year from [the release of] Pottymouth.
Allison Wolfe: Right. You wonder if they're going to hold up. Maybe it's sad, but maybe not a lot of things have changed because those emotions come right back or the situations that the lyrics relate to, they come back as well. I feel like a lot of it still holds up. And also it's just kind of fun and we're going to be doing some stuff that I don't think that we did live typically. So it'll be an interesting set list I think. We've been having some practices, but we can't practice on a regular schedule because we have to fly people in. It's been kind of these condensed long weekends so far.
Molly Neuman: It's been a little bit intense, but that's good. We definitely felt the progress from one to the next. The week before the shows, we'll be getting our show legs, so to speak, ready. And that'll be fun.
In our first-ever two part feature for Throwaway Style, I exhaustively documented the career of Tacoma rap star and ace producer KHRIS P and came away from it with even greater anticipation for the pretty long-in-the-works WHATSTHEEMERGENCY?, the rumblings in the streets growing to a roar in town before KHRIS finally dropped it. There’s a distinct flavor of the new project that separates it completely from last year’s truly outstanding offerings KHRISPIANO RONALDO and TRACKBURNERS VOL. 1; the beats are a little darker, a little more insular. It’s party music for studio apartments on the far end of the night and the town. KHRIS’s lyrics are reliably great; his liquid flow hits interesting corners of the rhythm and his charisma and penchant for chortle-inducing punchlines shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who has been following the growth of his invisible pen for the past couple years. KHRIS is entering his peak Future era; it’s emergent.
Clyde Petersen’s long-running band Your Heart Breaks has been one of the pillar groups of indie-pop’s third wave. (I have a lot of opinions and perspective on the history of indie-pop, but I don’t have the space to get into a lot of them here.) If you’ve found yourself enthralled by Petersen’s truly excellent documentary on Earth, Even Hell Has Its Heroes, you’ve already been witness to his gifts as a storyteller. If you enjoyed the delightfully odd and truly harrowing animated film Torrey Pines, The Wrack Line is similarly sprawling in its musical ideas and lyrical concepts. The album is weird and funny and lightly melancholy and exquisitely written and quietly devastating and feels like a whole world flows endlessly and seamlessly in its 64 minutes.
It has been an excitingly glacial process for Freak Heat Waves to become the band they are today. Their 2012 self-titled debut was very much steeped in the tradition of arty guitar music; the Victoria band was once a pretty outstanding hybrid of garage and krautrock. The band has worn a dizzying array of styles since then, landing on the straight-up atmospheric house of their fifth full-length album. There’s a vaguely psychedelic touch to Mondo Tempo’s best songs (you don’t really forget the mind-altering properties of music once you’ve mastered them), and in some cases, more than vague (check the jazzy, weather-damaged interlude “Music Has an Interesting Power”). Another stellar effort from one of Western Canada’s most unpredictable bands.
“Mama had more pictures of Tupac in the house / Than my pops in the house / So it was either deadbeats or hip-hop at the house”
There’s a chance you already know Lord OlO is a prominent figure in the Suederverse. The Akron, Ohio MC has guested on a few AJ Suede joints, as well as stealing verses on Khrist Koopa’s very good Metal Detector Music. He wears a mask, but less like DOOM or billy woods in the “Soft Landing” video and more steeped in the history of traditional African folk artists (he also wears a version of a Ghanaian smock) and what people call Afrofuturism. It’s not an affect or an attempt at anonymity, as the lyrics on Al Chimera — on this list because the bulk of its tracks were produced by Koopa, one was by Suede, and two were produced by Portland superproducer Televangel — are often deeply personal.
Two decades after their breakup, Martin Douglas explores the history of the influential South Sound punk band through their music.