"We're not the spokespeople for pussies," declares L7 frontwoman Donita Sparks one sweltering afternoon in Brooklyn. "We're a rock band." Given how they were among the first grunge-rock bands to achieve widespread success, you'd think the Los Angeles group wouldn't have to make this clarification — certainly not over 20 years in, amid a high-profile, long-anticipated reunion tour. But so it goes with the glass ceiling and the first ones in line to smash it. Between their pro-choice benefits, anti-rape anthems and infamous festival tampon tosses (take THAT, heckling dudebros!), L7 have made plenty of cracks. (For further proof of their monumental impact, check out the 2016's crowdfunded documentary L7: Pretend We're Dead, released by the band themselves.)
Following an extensive hiatus, the four-piece — currently comprising Sparks, guitarist/vocalist Suzi Gardner, bassist Jennifer Finch and drummer Dee Plakas — recently wrapped the latest run of their ongoing reunion tour, which kicked off in 2015. For the trek, the quartet have been performing incendiary hits like "Pretend We're Dead," "Fuel My Fire" and "Shitlist," as well as their recent comeback cuts, "Dispatch From Mar-A-Lago" and "I Came Back to Bitch." We caught up with the band to discuss their historic past, raucous present, their next moves — and that one time Mike Patton may have taken a shit in their orange juice.
YOU RECENTLY ANNOUNCED THAT YOU'RE WORKING ON YOUR FIRST NEW ALBUM SINCE 1999. HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THESE NEW SONGS?
DONITA SPARKS Well, we had done the reunion, but we didn't really want the pressure of new material at the time, so it was just like, "Oh, let's do the meat-and-potatoes L7 set, without that pressure." And so, as time went on, we kind of accomplished that: we were starting to jam on new stuff, and just decided to put out a couple singles, "Dispatch From Mar-a-Lago" and "I Came Back to Bitch" — and now we're doing a full length.
SO WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE ALBUM?
SPARKS Nothing, except for ...
SUZI GARDNER ... We're writing like crazy.
SPARKS We're writing like crazy, and we do have a PledgeMusic campaign up now that's doing very well. We will either put [the album] out ourselves, or partner up with a label who's got some fabulous distribution. We're unclear about that aspect at this time.
THE PLEDGEMUSIC CAMPAIGN AWARDS PLEDGES WITH TONS OF SPECIAL GIFTS, INCLUDING DONITA'S RECORDING MIC, RARE VINYL, SIGNED SET LISTS AND MORE. WAS IT HARD TO PUT ANY OF THESE ITEMS UP FOR BID? THEY'RE PIECES OF YOUR HISTORY.
JENNIFER FINCH Yes, but sometimes you have to clear out the old to bring in the new.
SPARKS We've been holding onto this stuff [for such] a long time in our closets, and at some point, it's good to just kind of ...
GARDNER ... let it go.
SPARKS Let it go.
GARDNER Real estate is not cheap in Los Angeles, and so, we have to be realistic with all this crapola.
DONITA, IN A 1997 ROLLING STONE INTERVIEW, YOU STATED THAT YOU COLLECT JIM CARREY MEMORABILIA. WILL ANY OF THAT BE UP FOR GRABS?
SPARKS Well, now, I can take my 8 x 10s that are signed by Jim Carrey, and photoshop my face next to his to make it look like we were a couple, and maybe get it on one of those "Who dated who?" type of celebrity websites. Maybe then we'll start spreading that rumor that me and Tom Cruise actually used to date. But no, I do not collect Jim Carey memorabilia anymore, because I had to dismantle my Jim Carrey breakfast nook. So I just have a couple of signed 8 x 10s.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TOURING WITH FAITH NO MORE IN 1992?
FINCH Oh my god. Dirty, dirty, dirty, dirty, dirty. That's my comment.
SPARKS I believe Mike Patton defecated in our orange juice.
FINCH Because he thought it was funny. Like, really, he thought it was cool to do that. So we'd have like [Faith No More members] Roddy [Bottum] and Billy [Gould] walk in and go, "Don't drink the orange juice. Don't drink the orange juice." And I'm like, "Why?" And they go, "It's cryptic."
GARDNER Roddy and I got attacked by a hippopotamus in Germany.
WOW, WE WOULD LOVE TO HEAR THAT STORY. CAN WE HEAR THAT STORY?
GARDNER Well, we were playing in a circus tent place and we snuck out to where they had this hippopotamus in a tank, and we walked towards it and it lunged at us, and we [makes wiggle moves]. It was really scary.
FINCH I wonder if that hippopotamus is doing a reunion tour.
SPARKS I wonder if that hippopotamus is a pair of shoes right now.
FINCH Take it to the dark place!
POLITICALLY, LYRICALLY AND MUSICALLY, YOU PAVED THE ROAD FOR LOT OF BANDS. ARE THERE ANY BANDS THAT YOU'VE SEEN OVER THE YEARS THAT YOU WERE LIKE, "I REALLY LOVE WHAT THEY'RE DOING. I REALLY THINK THAT THEY'VE CAPTURED KIND OF WHAT WE STARTED?"
SPARKS No. I don't know, man — there's not a lot of meat-and-potatoes bands out there. Since our reunion, we've been getting lumped in with a lot of bands who we are blown away to be mentioned alongside: The Stooges, and Motörhead, and you know, these, like ... great rock bands. Our name being thrown into those circles, I think, is our proudest achievement, because that's what we started out to do.
HOW IMPORTANT WAS MOTÖRHEAD TO YOU GUYS WHEN YOU WERE COMING UP?
GARDNER They were very influential. We rocked out to them a lot. I still rock out to them, serial-listening in my car, so I'll be listening to them until I'm killed by death.
SPARKS And Motörhead were an island. Their music classified as metal and hard rock, but the band didn't belong to any specific scene.
FINCH And they crossed [into] DIY and punk and all different genres .
SPARKS Yeah. And I think, you know, the Ramones are a lot catchier than Motörhead tunesmith-wise. I think we've got a lot of that, too, 'cause we like the Ramones, as well, and the B-52s.
L7 WERE AMONG THE FIRST BANDS TO DEAL WITH SEXUAL ASSAULT, EQUAL PAY AND OTHER FEMINIST ISSUES THAT HADN'T YET PROLIFERATED THROUGH THE MAINSTREAM. WHEN YOU REFLECT ON THE SCENE IN 2018, IN THE WAKE OF THE #METOO MOVEMENT, IN PARTICULAR, DO YOU THINK FEMALE PERFORMERS ARE BETTER OR WORSE OFF THAN WHEN YOU WERE ON THE COME-UP?
FINCH I think certain people are more aware about safety, and, in general, that's a good thing.
SPARKS Maybe now, they're more aware about sharing their abuse stories with each other and getting empowered that way. See, I think that there was possibly a lot more shame attached to some women's issues back in the day, so I think that that's a cool thing about the youth, that there's more sharing.
However, these changing attitudes can sometimes come with a little hypersensitivity that I think, in a hyper-reactive sense, can be a little boring and unnecessary. It sucks the fun out of some things, you know what I mean?
In some aspects, you have to get over it. If you don't like a certain word or something, then combat that with some humor, as opposed to getting up in arms about every misstep somebody takes. People say stupid things all the time. I said something stupid on stage last night. We can't nail everybody to a cross, because then you don't know who your friends and enemies are.
FINCH It's a big learning experience, I think, for society right now, and there's gonna be missteps. And you just flow with it. You just go with it and support people the best you can.
WE'RE ALSO SEEING CHANGES TO DIY COMMUNITIES, ON AN INSTITUTIONAL LEVEL — PEOPLE SPEAKING UP ABOUT SYSTEMIC ABUSE AND ABOUT THE POWER STRUCTURES THAT SOMETIMES LEAD TO SITUATIONS WHERE WOMEN FEEL UNSAFE, AND THEN CREATING REAL CHANGE. WERE THESE TYPES OF POWER STRUGGLES DISCUSSED AMONG ARTISTS IN THE L.A. SCENE, TO YOUR KNOWLEDGE?
FINCH I think there's always been this joke of a "casting couch" — the understanding that there are players, and there's a dynamic of sexuality in the entertainment industry that has always been talked about. But the talk about definite structure and who controls the power is a new conversation.
SPARKS And I'll say something: You know, there are also plenty of people who would be happy to give a blowjob to get a part in a movie, also! So there's that side of it, too! There are some people who would go very low to get a part in a film, so, you know ...
FINCH Or get high.
GARDNER I'm really bummed. I can't sleep my way to the top.
SPARKS I wonder if I'd have ever blown somebody to be like a No. 1 artist, or on the cover of Rolling Stone. [Turns to her bandmates] What do you think? Would you have blown someone?
FINCH Yeah, it's interesting, you know. I didn't know it was actually an option in our particular genre, but now, we're actually experiencing power. We have employees, so we make sure those employees understand and sign off that they're gonna get sexually harassed on a day to day basis. Men, women, trans — it doesn't matter. We're equal opportunity harassers.
SPARKS And offenders.
FINCH Oh yeah, offenders.
SPARKS Contact our attorney, Larry Parker.
GARDNER But seriously: It is good that the environment now is that you don't have to suffer in silence if you don't want to. Like, there's people who are speaking up. The pendulum is swinging and whacking us all, and I see that as a good thing.
WHO ARE SOME MORE RECENT BANDS THAT YOU'VE BEEN DIGGING LATELY?
FINCH You mean besides Imagine Dragons? [Laughs] No, which actually, secretly, I really like.
SPARKS I like FIDLAR, Tijuana Panthers, Bleached — and oh, there's a lot. There's a lot of music.
FINCH: We're big Peaches fans. There's a lot of stuff out there.
YOU'VE BEEN PLAYING TONS OF SHOWS RECENTLY, MANY OF THEM SOLD-OUT. HAVE YOU BEEN SURPRISED AT ALL BY THE TURNOUT AND RECEPTION?
SPARKS It's been very heartwarming. There are older fans and then younger fans, and the older fans are nice and thick and they can support the light ones very easily. Young kids are just flying around, and the older ones are just kind of sturdily holding them and catching them. So that's kind of cool.
FINCH: Most of our fans do do Crossfit, so ... [Laughs]
AND DOES L7 DO CROSSFIT?
FINCH [Raising hand] I have!
This interview has been slightly edited for flow and clarity.