Welcome to The Legends Corner! BUST’s Associate Editor Callie Watts got to sit down with the seminal riot grrrl band Bratmobile and The Prince of Puke, John Waters who will all be hitting the stage at Mosswood Meltdown in Oakland on July 1st and 2nd. Check out part 2 of our Legendary Legendary Legendary interview series here and keep an eye out for Bratmobile’s “What You Watching” list for all the pop culture they are consuming right now!
The original riot grrrl Brat pack is back! Bratmobile is set to play their first public show in 20 years at Mosswood Meltdown (hosted by John Waters- Check out our most recent interview with The Pope of Trash here) in Oakland on July 2nd. This is a ‘90s riot grrrl dream!!!
The line up will include the original vocalist Allison Wolfe and drummer Molly Neuman along with Audrey Marrs on keys, Marty Key on bass and Rose Melberg will be sitting in for original guitarist Erin Smith – who can’t join the reunion due to scheduling conflicts.
Bratmobile formed in 1991 when Wolfe and Neuman met at the University of Oregon and were later joined by Smith. The trio went on to become one of the original riot grrrl bands alongside Bikini Kill, Heavens to Betsy and other feminist punk bands of the ‘90s. We spoke with Wolfe and Neuman about the reunion, how feminism has evolved and what it was like touring in the ‘90s.
Callie: How did this epic reunion come about?
Allison: Well, the Mosswood Meltdown festival organizers have been asking us to play for several years in a row. And it didn’t really make sense for a while because Molly lived in New York, and I lived out here in LA. But since then, Molly’s moved to L.A., and we hang out a lot more now.
Molly: I mean we are in a different phase of life then we were in 20 years ago for sure. And I think it is important to me, and one of the things we have talked about a lot during this process, is it is important to see women in all phases of life having fun, being creative, celebrating themselves and being on stage. And I think that there is some certain anxiety about it. It’s almost like the way we started the band, if we don’t do it, nobody’s gonna do it. So let’s just do it. It’s also in the wake of some of these really horrible realities that we’re all experiencing. An antidote, you know, like that feels reasonable for us to be able to have.
C: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s like, we’re right back where you were in feminism in regards to abortion and…
A: Oh, no, we’re worse. In some ways. It’s worse.
M: We were born before Roe was decided, and now we’re living through it being taken away. Like, that’s fucked up.
C: BUST is turning 30. We just had our 30th anniversary issue come out. Bratmobile started in ‘91, BUST was ‘93. I know my feminism has changed a lot through the years. And I was wondering how your feminism has changed, if at all? How do you view the landscape of where feminism is at?
A: I think people change in certain ways, but then also, you’re kind of always who you always were, so I don’t know, I think it’s more like the landscape changes and the dialogue changes and things like that, whatever the circumstances are and what’s going on. That’s what changes, you know. I think a lot of things are being discussed more in the, I don’t want to say mainstream, but it’s just become more of the larger conversation now, due to social media and things like that.
M: I think we didn’t have the same conversation around intersectionality. I think we had the values of fighting racism, specifically, or the language and ideas. But I don’t think we had that kind of clarity that we should do it together. And, you know, certainly fighting for trans rights wasn’t part of the active conversation. When, when we were starting out, and obviously, the critical need for it is so important. I guess, I would say, personally, my feminism, I don’t think has changed, specifically, but we’ve expanded the way to apply that. And, and that certainly has evolved and it continues to with every painful new issue that we’re presented with.
Photo Credit: Pat Graham 1999
A: Riot grrrl was very gendered in conversation. Like, gender binary, and it wasn’t, something intentional, you know like “let’s leave trans people out”. I think we felt like it was us girls against boys, you know, looking back you can see how gendered the language was and how now you’re like, oh, well, that might exclude, or potentially alienate and be failing a lot of these people.
C: You had previously discussed how the media at the time was trying to take control of your own narrative. Has the way women are portrayed in the media now changed since then?
A: I think a lot of times back then the writers and editors didn’t get it. Or even if the writer did, the editor had so much control and would be like, well, where’s the conflict here? We have got to pit these girls against each other. I don’t really see as much of that happening, and not as much tokenization either, where it’s like, “Well, we already have that one girl band covered in this issue”. Also, their insistence on calling every woman in music in the ‘90s a riot grrrl, you know, then having all these other women mad at us because [they did not label themselves as that]. One thing about the media is that we didn’t necessarily feel like there was a need for [doing press] at first because the whole point of riot grrrl was, quote, unquote, taking over the means of production, to represent ourselves, right? That would be through fanzines, lyrics, all this kind of stuff, our voice on stage. We didn’t really see at the time how the press could get people to our shows or sell our records. It had been all word of mouth. I felt like they were really “defanging” and “declawing” our message.
C: I wanted to ask if you had any crazy or just memorable stories from the early days?
M: One show I missed was probably something I’ll regret for the rest of my life, which is when Babes in Toyland played in Seattle and Allison, and like a bunch of girls went up there. And there’s like a really great photo that you have, of you and Kat and all of the girls that went to the show. And like, you know, I’ve been thinking about that band a lot lately. And, the fact that I was like, whatever the fact that I had something better to do and then get to the show, I’ll regret that.
A: Yeah, that was great. Yeah, that is a great photo like Kat, surrounded by riot grrrls. I don’t know if she thought it was great. [laughs]
M: They were a band that got lumped into it, without wanting to be. They had their own identity and deservedly so.
A: That first tour in 1992 was kind of amazing. I was able to book it all from landline. Back then if you didn’t have a booking agent, so you’re booking the whole thing yourself. You get some kind of printout from the record label luckily, a potential people to contact. And then when you got off tour your whole thing was you were really supposed to report back to K Records or Kill Rock Stars or both? What’s changed? Like now who’s booking there? Or did they change their number. The whole trick is to call in the middle of the day when they had a day job, because then if you could get them to call you back on their dime in the evening, that saves money. And I confirmed all the shows by sending out a postcard to each place. You didn’t know at the time where you’re going to be staying necessarily. So then you had to call ahead the day of or day before to get directions to the next place. And you had to write them out by hand.
C: You essentially started a rumor that you were a band before you even played together?
M: Oh, yeah, we were a band in theory for quite a while before doing it.
C: And then it started with a zine essentially.
M: Yeah, Girl Germs. Yeah. Yeah.
C: All of a sudden, you were part of the birth of a movement. And at what point did you realize you were doing something so important?
A: Well, I felt like it was kind of right away. Even though we were kind of mostly talk for a while. I think we knew it was important. Grunge was huge in the Northwest at the time, we knew we’re up against some kind of long-haired sexism. And we also had Bikini Kill. We were in Eugene, Oregon, at university together. That’s where Molly and I met. But we would go up to Olympia, my hometown, on weekends, Once a month or so. And we would hang out with people like Tobi Vail and Kathleen Hanna, and they were super politicized and interested in community-building within the “punk girl scene” or getting a punk girl scene together really.
M: We were craving seeing women in music in some form, right.? Whether it was on a record or on stage. And for me that was the real impetus of “we’ve just got to do this”. Because there just needs to be more and there was no limit on trying. It was like, well, it’s literally better than nothing.
A: You have to kind of create or be part of the culture, you want to see. What you want and the community you want to be part of. And don’t just let someone Co-opt anything that you’ve ever been a part of, and then sell it back to you at some high price in some way.
We are highkey losing our shit over here for this reunion and the entire line up. Dust off your old fanzines and head over to Mosswood Meltdown to grab tickets asap because this festival is going to be soooo Cool Schmool.
Top Image: courtesy of the artist