L7 – Feminine Hijinx

l7L7 blazed a ferocious trail through the nineties, defying musical trends from cock rock through to grunge in pursuit of their no-bullshit, punk-tinged, (so called) ‘riot grrrl’ muse. Controversy was never far from the four-piece, and after a myriad of dramas and internal squabbles L7 disbanded in 2001, not reforming for intermittent live shows until 2014.

Guitarist & singer Donita Sparks is jovial down the line to SHANE PINNEGAR on a sunny Los Angeles afternoon, happy enough to trawl through her band’s back pages in advance of playing Capitol on Thursday, 6 November – almost nineteen years after their last visit to our shores – “we were at a festival with Primus and Jesus Lizard and I can’t remember who else,” Sparks says, probably referring to Mandurah’s Solar Stomp Festival, held on 13 April, 1998.

The band put years of backbiting and tension behind them after Sparks reached out to bassist Jennifer Finch about some footage she was preparing for a documentary on the band.

“Everybody needed to do audio interviews for the doc,” she explains, “and also coincidentally at the same time, our booking agent in the U.S. called up and said, ‘can I throw your name out there for festivals next year?’ I said, ‘well, we’re not even a band – I need time to let it sink in with everybody,’… and everybody said yes when I called them again nine months later.”

That documentary release is imminent.

“It’s called Pretend We’re Dead,” elaborates Sparks, “and… it’s still being edited. It should be finished – it WILL be finished – by November because it has to be, because it’s going to be in a couple film festivals.”

Sparks says the rough cut she’s seen so far stirred up a lot of memories.

“It made me feel… you know, just getting everybody’s stories is interesting. I found out stuff about my bandmates that I never knew, in particular why they might have left the band, which I did not know, and so it’s kind of interesting. I think in watching a lot of the old footage of us, I’m actually impressed with the band and maybe at the time what I thought were some of our flaws, I did not see.”

Sparks says that the reformed band’s live shows have found them playing better than ever, and they’re taking things more seriously than in their heyday as well.

“Our live shows are pretty tight, and we’re not screwing around. Sometimes when you play too much, you start to get bored – there would be inside jokes, and our roadies would come out and iron [clothes] during Pretend We’re Dead, and do silly things just to amuse me, really – but we’re not doing any of that kind of silly stuff at this time. We’re just packing in as many songs as we can as tightly as we can, so most people will hear their favourite tunes”

As mentioned above, wherever L7 went, controversy followed – especially in England, where some of the most notorious episodes in the band’s history occurred. It was in England in 1992, on The Word TV program, that Sparks dropped her pants during a live broadcast, and also in 1992 at The Reading Festival when she extracted and launched her tampon at a restless crowd. In 1999 in London, the band even raffled drummer Demetra Plakas off to their crowd for a one-night stand. Were L7 particularly volatile on tour?

“England will bring that out in a person,” says Sparks, drolly, and having lived there for a couple of years, I can only concur.

“I’m kidding, I’m kidding…” she quickly counters, before going on to explain. “No, I mean, you know, being punk rockers – and we’re also kind of from the art punk scene in Los Angeles, like the art punk ghettos that used to exist in Los Angeles – so getting weird was always part of the fun of it, you know what I mean, and that’s just the performance artist in us coming out. It’s not even a point of anger. It’s just a point of getting weird for the sake of doing something amusing, that’s so shocking that it’s funny. That shit that went down in England to me is also very John Waters. You know what I mean? It’s feminist and it’s funny at the same time.”

Well, I always found it amusing, but the majority of people didn’t. A lot of people found that really shocking.

“Well, understandably so,” laughs Sparks. “I don’t think anybody has topped me in the shock department with throwing out a used tampon. Come on: what do you got? Bring it. Bring your A game when you’re around L7, because we set the bar pretty high with that one!”