Friday, August 26, 2016

Riot Grrrl: Allison Wolfe of Bratmobile talks about zines, feminism and her new band, Sex Stains

from Dangerous Minds:

Photo by Conor Collins


Allison Wolfe, iconic 90s riot grrrl and Bratmobile member hasn’t stopped playing music since their break up in the early 2000s. In fact, she has gone on to be in several other bands such as Cold Cold Hearts, Partyline, Deep Lust, Cool Moms and most recently Sex Stains (whose debut album comes out September 2nd.)

I chatted with Wolfe about her new band as well as zines, Bratmobile, being a 90s female musician and an inspirational feminist.

Before Allison Wolfe and Molly Neuman started Bratmobile, they had a riot grrrl fanzine called Girl Germs:

“Molly and I met in the dorms at the University of Oregon. We weren’t in the same room but we shared a wall and we would knock on the walls. We became best friends and started plotting to do all of these things. We were fairly young girls who were getting politicized who wanted to have a voice and participate. We really wanted to have a girl programmed radio show but it turned out that the University of Oregon didn’t have a college radio so I think Tobi Vail encouraged us to do a fanzine. We started the fanzine before we started playing music or did the band. It was a good way to have a voice when we didn’t have any other means at the time. We didn’t really know what we were doing but it was fun. Our first issue had an interview with Calamity Jane. It had scene reports and a lot of it was a reaction to grunge which had completely taken over the Northwest and was too male dominated. We wanted to have a girly voice.”

Photo by Pat Graham


From there they began travelling to Olympia often to hang out. “We were a band in theory. We had been travelling up to Olympia on weekends and telling everyone we were in a band called Bratmobile.”

Calvin Johnson called them and told them he had set up a show for Valentine’s Day 1991 and wanted them to play with Bikini Kill. At this point they were not truly a band so they had to scramble to get songs together. “We went to our friend Robert Christie and were like ‘What do we do?’ He loaned us his practice space and let us use their equipment and but we didn’t know how to write songs. He said to listen to a bunch of Ramones records but I thought if all bands listen to the Ramones in order to start bands then I wouldn’t and I vowed to never listen to them which isn’t exactly accurate but I never owned any Ramones records or listened to them that much.”

Allison said she listen to a lot of female rap and hip hop before the band started such as Salt n’ Pepa, Yo Yo, Bytches with Problems, TLC and others. “That was a big influence on us, all these really awesome, kinda goofy but politicized women in rap and hip hop that weren’t commercialized yet. It was more politicized. They had messages that were pretty important. Also, the first Batman movie had come out and Prince did the soundtrack and the Batmobile was an influence on us naming the band Bratmobile.” Their first show, which was just her and Molly at the time, was pretty much a capella. “There was a little bit of guitar and drums going on but not much… We jumped off stage and Kurt Cobain walked in right then and I walked up to him and said ‘You missed us!’ and handed him one of our fanzines.”



At the time, most female bands were lumped into the category of riot grrrl while only a select few actually were. For example, true riot grrrls were Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear, Bratmobile and Heavens to Betsy while L7, Babes in Toyland, 7 Year Bitch and Hole were not. “Their music was different and they were doing a different thing and they certainly never called themselves riot grrrls. This was pre-internet and everything was so much more regional then. The riot grrrl network was based on who knew who and who hung out with who, which was based in Olympia or in DC whereas those bands didn’t live in any of those places. That whole division was really mostly created by the media. People listen to the public record and the public record is a bunch of lazy journalists who couldn’t think of anything else than to throw all women into riot grrrl. It was irresponsible and lazy and inaccurate and it turned us against each other when in fact each mixtape I made had a song by one of those bands on it. We all respected and like each other. I was pen pals a bit with Kat (Bjelland) and went to 7 Year Bitch shows when I could.”

In the late 90s a lot of the riot grrrl bands were breaking up. Wolfe that was hard because “it felt like it left a big hole.” However, she says “A lot of young women in punk and indie music were inspired by riot grrrl or awesome 90s musicians like 7 Year Bitch, Babes in Toyland, PJ Harvey and L7. That moved things forward a bit.”

Wolfe is also responsible for the creation of Ladyfest (a music festival that is still very popular today and happens in many different cities) which first occurred in Olympia in 2000.

“It stemmed from this riot grrrl gathering that had been organized by the EMP (Experience Music Project) who were about to start their museum in Seattle. They had approached me and asked if I would help them get former riot grrrls together to do an oral history. That was the first time a lot of us formal riot grrrls had been together in the same room and we just talked about riot grrrls. There was such a backlash at the end, everyone was trying to separate themselves from it or move beyond it. It was the first time we felt we could be together and talked about what had happened, but also feel validated. Out of that gathering I started talking with Corin Tucker a bit about how we were all still doing cool things separately and if there was somehow we could harness those old riot grrrl energies and do something together. I thought Olympia in 2000 would be the perfect place and statement.”

Photo by Debi del Grande


Today Wolfe is focusing her attention on Sex Stains. The band formed in LA when Allison kept getting asked to play in tribute nights. “I met various members of Sex Stains through those tribute nights. For each one, they were the person at those tribute nights that really stood out to me.” The band is made up of five members including Mecca Vazie Andrews, Sharif Dumani, Pachy Garcia and David Orlando. “I really wanted to be in a band with two lead singers.” Their record release show is September 4th at The Echo in LA. The album is being released by Don Giovanni Records. “They were the only label we approached. It just seemed like a good fit. We love the other bands on the label especially Downtown Boys, Screaming Females and Priests and we wanted to be aligned with other bands we believe in and that were slightly politicized.”



This September, Sex Stains hit the road. Tour dates include:

8/26: Los Angeles, CA @ The Echoplex (FYF Pre-Party show w/ Sheer Mag + Girlpool)

9/4: Los Angeles, CA @ The Echo (ALBUM RELEASE SHOW)

9/13: Brooklyn, NY @ Silent Barn

9/14: Baltimore, MD @ The Windup Space

9/15: Washington, DC @ Comet Ping Pong (w/ Coup Savage & the Snips, Governess)

9/16: Manhattan, NY @ Webster Hall (w/ Downtown Boys)

9/17: Asbury Park, NJ @ The New Alternative Music Festival (Don Giovanni Records)

9/24: Santa Monica, CA @ 18th Street Arts Center Beer and Art Festival

9/27: Los Angeles, CA @ American Legion Hall

10/23: Los Angeles, CA @ The Echo

Bonus video: Bratmobile’s “Eating Toothpaste”


Posted by Izzi Krombholz

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