It may have taken over 20 years but L7 are hitting Australian shores once more this October to wade through what vocalist/guitarist Donita Sparks says is a, “meat and potatoes” setlist featuring all the band’s greatest hits including, “Pretend We’re Dead’, ‘Andres’, ‘Shitlist’ and more. After starting off as an ‘art punk’ band in L.A, L7 released the inconic album, Smell the Magic via Seattle’s Sub Pop, walking straight into the grunge break out the following year with the Nirvana explosion. “Right place, right time”, says Sparks and the rest is history with the band touring the world up until 2001 where the band went into a 14 year hiatus.
Alas, time it seems does heel old wounds, and the girls are back together, touring and happier than ever. We spoke to Sparks to get the low down on the reunion, the upcoming tour as well as delving into some L7 history….
Donita thanks for your time. So, L7 are finally coming back to Australia! It’s just great to see you guys back out playing shows again. What’s the response been like now you’ve been doing shows again for a year or so and how have you personally felt having the L7 girls back in your life?
Well, the response has been amazing, more than what we could have hoped for. The press has been very kind to us as well, so it’s been a win-win. For all of us to have each other in our lives again is personally, fantastic and presenting L7 in this way has been very powerful.
Were you close to the other band members? I mean there was such a long hiatus, it wasn’t like 3 or 4 years, it was a decade and half.
We’ve been close in different parts of our lives. During the band break up some of us didn’t speak to each other at all. I mean, Dee (Demetra Plakas, drummer for L7) played in my solo band so we’ve always been in touch but I hadn’t spoken to Jennifer or Suzi for many years.
I remember seeing you guys play around 1992 in Perth, that whole grunge era that was breaking out around that time, anything that was attached to Sub Pop or had a punky element or who wore Doc Martens was huge. One moment I was listening to Nirvana, Soundgarden, L7 and they were all unknown bands as I loved finding underground acts etc. & three to six months later it was like a tsunami of grunge everywhere. Radio play, kids buying records, it was massive. Did it seem like a whirlwind at the time for you guys?
We started the band in ’85 so we struggled for quite a few years before we started to get some attention. Our single on Sub Pop came out and that felt really great for us as we had struggled in L.A. I think we were the only band out of L.A that got on Sub Pop so we were in the right place at the right time. In 1992 I guess that scene blew up, maybe Nirvana was 1991. Yea, it was pretty exciting, we thought we’d never get on MTV. That was ridiculous to think of that, five years before.
Did you get that whirlwind sensation however, like it was an overnight thing?
I think when like the eastern bloc (of the U.S) started considering Nirvana as the kings instead of some of these metal bands, it was a huge shift in hard rock because it was very different. There was no big hair, no make up, gone was misogyny. I mean Nirvana were feminists and so were much of the grunge bands out of Seattle, so it was a big sea change that’s for sure. But to be in the thick of it at the time, it’s a bit hard to have a perspective on it.
What can you remember about your time in Australia?
I remember being very excited to be there. Australia just seems so exotic. I didn’t know about the country. Then came our friendship with the Cosmic Pyschos and other bands.
Did you ever play a Big Day Out Festival? I seem to recall you playing on one Festival in Australia?
No we never played that but we did play on Alternative Nation around 1995.
I will say one of the promoters in Australia early made the mistake of announcing our show at a Red Hot Chilli Peppers concert and he said something like, ‘Come check out L7, great kids, great ass, great band’. We found out about that so we made them give us opals. I said, ‘If you’re going to treat us like broads, speak of us like broads, then we want opals in our dressing room”. On the last night of the tour, there were indeed four opals in little boxes handed to us. Wow, I had forgot about that until just now, but yep, that happened.
Your shows back in the ‘90s were quite energetic and a lot of banter between yourself and the other girls on stage. Is that something that has continued with these reunion shows? I mean you’re obviously older but once you hit the stage does 1992 Donita Sparks kick in again?
A much happier person is coming out on stage. I think that’s what happens when you get older, you become more appreciative of what is in front of you. I think the 1992 Donita Sparks was more critical of things and the band and now we’re in our victory lap, there’s a lot of joy in it. There was always joy but we’re just more appreciative of the music, the fans and it’s just a big love fest going on.
So what can Australian audiences expect from L7? Will it be a greatest hits kind of package?
It’ll be the meat and potatoes L7 set list. We’re not going obscure, we’re not going to be like Prince and get weird with it. We are doing the songs the people really want to hear. The songs that should’ve been hits ha-ha.
I’ve heard from a lot of people in bands that we were an inspiration for them and that’s super gratifying. I think some people think we should have been a bigger band, we never sold millions of records. I think our name was probably bigger than our record sales, so it’s a nice feeling when you hear that.
You slowly but surely made your way onto MTV and the like with songs like ‘Andres’, ‘Pretend We’re Dead’. Were you always looking to try write the killer riff or catchy chorus that MTV and the like would promote? I mean things are whole lot different now for bands to get noticed.
That was a time when a lot of underground bands were getting signed to major labels and we had no problem with that because I always wanted to infiltrate the masses to the extent of having our faces in some suburban home on their television. I didn’t just want to play for hipsters, I wanted to get out there further and that was a very cool time because it made it possible to do that. I don’t know if it is anymore, I don’t follow the business that closely. We’re on our own kind of island at the moment, driving around with a small crew. Not a whole lot of big business behind us right now.
That whole MTV era was good and bad in so many ways especially with things like ‘how you look’ particularly women. L7 always seemed to fly in the face of that. Was that a part of why L7 were seen as kind of rebellious? It seems you always had a punk attitude, fans never knew what would happen at an L7 gig or live tv slot for that matter?
I think a lot of people liked us because we didn’t play up our sexuality, we just wanted to be a really good rock band and that was our main thing as opposed to being glamour girls or something. I think a lot of women in particular. Saying that though our Facebook statistics say we have more male fans than female which is pretty funny as you’d think it would be the opposite.
I think L7 was definitely much more than a grunge band however, elements of punk even metal which I guess in the ‘90s made it easier for you guys to hook into many different tours. I think I remember you touring with Ministry one year, was that correct?
We did, we toured with Ministry. It was cool, I mean originally we were sort of art punks in L.A and then we wanted to be a hard rock band, so it was kind of our interpretation of a hard rock band. So we got embraced by metal, fashion, art, punk scene. By doing our own thing we got to dip into a lot of playpens along the way.
On the reunion, getting the band back together, I read somewhere that Suzi Gardner said she hadn’t picked up a guitar for 14 years when you contacted her about getting together. Was that true?
Yea, she took the longest to answer the question. You wouldn’t believe how many musicians I know who break up in a band and their guitar stays under their bed, it’ll blow your mind. I don’t know if it was too much heart break? I mean when bands break up it can crush your soul if you don’t have much financial stuff around when you break up.
Lastly, I saw the band was busking in Dallas the other day for a laugh via your Facebook. Did you get any tips?
Suzy got a $10 bill so that was exciting ha-ha. We didn’t announce it that night, we just showed up, I don’t think anyone knew who we were, I think they thought we were freaks. Maybe when we played ‘Shitlist’ they did, but who knows.
Alright Donita thanks for your time – look forward to seeing you in Australia!