Hags to Riches

They're tough. They're rowdy. And they're on the way up. They're L7.

The members of L7 have exactly one thing in common with the Bangles and the Go-Gos: they're women -- or rather, to filch a description from their press kit, "four talented hags."

This year's most overworked word in rock criticism, "grunge", cannot be avoided when attempting to describe the band's sound. Think sweat, crank, Drano, estrogen-burn. Think L.A. underground, Seattle garage. L7 have been knocking around since 1985, recording a self-titled album for Epitaph Records in 1987 and an EP, Smell the Magic, for Sub Pop in 1990. And if the mention of Sub Pop brings with it the scent of teen spirit, well, L7's latest release, Bricks Are Heavy, was produced by Butch "Nirvana" Vig, and Nirvy bassist Chris Novoselic, who sported an L7 T-shirt during his band's appearance on Saturday Night Live, has gone on record as a big supporter of the hags.

L7 is the kind of band that gets accused of selling out when they sign with a label like Slash Records. But, according to drummer Dee Plakas, "Good thing Slash came along when they did. Next on our agenda was a cut for a tribute to `Men Without Hats'." Still, the perception exists that because L7 is a "girl band" the required dues have not been paid. Bassist/vocalist Jennifer Finch is quick to point to the band's three low-budget U.S. (and one European) tours, not to mention years of sleeping on floors and countless gigs at underground L.A. venues.

If Bricks is a sellout, then fans of L7's earlier releases should be summarily quarantined and straightjacketed for their own good as well as that of society at large. Picture a four-piece band where every player is Patti Smith. Vocals are spewed rather than sung, guitars crash and wail, drums thunder, and bass lines pump. Metal edge, punk sensibility, in-your-face lyrics: "My diet pill is wearing off/I think the swelling is going down" (from "Diet Pill"), "I've been letting you slide/you're just along for the ride" ("Slide"), "She's an infection..." ("This Ain't Pleasure").

L7 do not shy away from having or expressing strong political opinions, either. Band members are big supporters of Rock for Choice, and would love to help secure women a bigger role in the male-dominated music industry. Their lyrics rail against all forms of oppression -- personal, political, or artistic. "Tie a yellow ribbon 'round the amputee/ Masturbate, watch it on TV," they sing on "Wargasm," their derisive analysis of Desert Storm. Got a bone to pick with the band? Listeners to "Shitlist" are forewarned: "When I get mad and I get pissed/I grab my pen and I write out a list/of all the people who won't be missed."

L7 provoke strong reactions. "We're getting lots of requests for them," confirms T.M. Smith at WVUM, "`Pretend We're Dead' was a big hit and `Everglade' is a really good song."

Mary Giordani, venerable "hard-core person" at Y&T Records, begs to differ. "Foul diesel dykes from hell!" she blurts when asked her assessment of the band, and she doesn't mean that as a compliment. "They're the least cool of all the girl bands. Babes In Toyland and Dickless are better. If they were guys they would have never gotten signed." Jeez, Mary, just say what you think.

Rolling Drone gave Bricks Are Heavy three stars and Spam predicts big things from the band, yet Giordani has a point. The members of L7 are not the most accomplished instrumentalists in the history of rock; of course, neither were the Sex Pistols or the Clash. But what those bands lacked in chops they made up for in energy, originality, and sporadic lyrical brilliance. The Pistols were fuck-it-all anarchists, the Clash more cerebral and militantly left-wing. L7 are pro-choice and anti-oppression, but groundbreaking neither lyrically nor sonically. Their strongest point is not what they are, but what they are not -- another sha-la-la-la, wink-and-cleavage, Josie and the Pussycats clone. Loud and hard (one wag dubbed their sound "foxcore"), L7 shows are more likely to be characterized by sweating and moshing in the pit than by make-up application in the ladies' room, and for that if nothing else we should probably be thankful. But L7 are shooting for a lot more than just being known as a female grunge band that can rock as loud as the guys, and that is where they could stand to put on a few pounds of musical muscle.

On the other hand, L7 win a lot of points from critics and interviewers for their wit-to-bile ratio. Exhibmention years of sleeping on floors and countless gigs at underground L.A. venues.

If Bricks is a sellout, then fans of L7's earlier releases should be summarily quarantined and straightjacketed for their own good as well as that of society at large. Picture a four-piece band where every player is Patti Smith. Vocals are spewed rather than sung, guitars crash and wail, drums thunder, and bass lines pump. Metal edge, punk sensibility, in-your-face lyrics: "My diet pill is wearing off/I think the swelling is going down" (from "Diet Pill"), "I've been letting you slide/you're just along for the ride" ("Slide"), "She's an infection..." ("This Ain't Pleasure").

L7 do not shy away from having or expressing strong political opinions, either. Band members are big supporters of Rock for Choice, and would love to help secure women a bigger role in the male-dominated music industry. Their lyrics rail against all forms of oppression -- personal, political, or artistic. "Tie a yellow ribbon 'round the amputee/ Masturbate, watch it on TV," they sing on "Wargasm", their derisive analysis of Desert Storm. Got a bone to pick with the band? Listeners to "Shitlist" are forewarned: "When I get mad and I get pissed/I grab my pen and I write out a list/of all the people who won't be missed."

L7 provoke strong reactions. "We're getting lots of requests for them," confirms T.M. Smith at WVUM, "`Pretend We're Dead' was a big hit and `Everglade' is a really good song."

Mary Giordani, venerable "hard-core person" at Y&T Records, begs to differ. "Foul diesel dykes from hell!" she blurts when asked her assessment of the band, and she doesn't mean that as a compliment. "They're the least cool of all the girl bands. Babes In Toyland and Dickless are better. If they were guys they would have never gotten signed." Jeez, Mary, just say what you think.

Rolling Drone gave Bricks Are Heavy three stars and Spam predicts big things from the band, yet Giordani has a point. The members of L7 are not the most accomplished instrumentalists in the history of rock; of course, neither were the Sex Pistols or the Clash. But what those bands lacked in chops they made up for in energy, originality, and sporadic lyrical brilliance. The Pistols were fuck-it-all anarchists, the Clash more cerebral and militantly left-wing. L7 are pro-choice and anti-oppression, but groundbreaking neither lyrically nor sonically. Their strongest point is not what they are, but what they are not -- another sha-la-la-la, wink-and-cleavage, Josie and the Pussycats clone. Loud and hard (one wag dubbed their sound "foxcore"), L7 shows are more likely to be characterized by sweating and moshing in the pit than by make-up application in the ladies' room, and for that if nothing else we should probably be thankful. But L7 are shooting for a lot more than just being known as a female grunge band that can rock as loud as the guys, and that is where they could stand to put on a few pounds of musical muscle.

On the other hand, L7 win a lot of points from critics and interviewers for their wit-to-bile ratio. Exhibit A: Guitarist/vocalist Suzi Gardner's retort to the sellout question, "...who really cares what those whiny, crybaby, flannel-wearing, indie purists think when you're wearing pink satin Midol tour jackets?" Exhibit B: Guitarist/vocalist Donita Sparks's portrayal of producer Vig as "a masturbating animal with the patience of a saint...wonderful creative input, but in the loose screws department he makes Phil Spector appear to have the emotional stability of Dr. David Viscot." How could any self-respecting music writer not be charmed?

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