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Turning Points: L7’s Donita Sparks

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After 16 years of touring their rebellious grunge punk, L7 ground to a halt in 2001. By this point they were notorious for more than their music; in their 90s heyday the band – consisting of Donita Sparks, Suzi Gardner, Jennifer Finch and Demetra Plakas – were renowned for their raucous live shows, political activism and pro- choice campaigning. Currently enjoying a surge of enthusiasm from fans, the band will play their first live dates in 14 years alongside the release of a crowd-sourced documentary entitled L7: Pretend We’re Dead. We spoke to Sparks about the band’s forthcoming reformation and the moments that shaped her fabled career.

1985: Forming the band

I moved to LA at 19 and met Suzie Gardner through my job at LA Weekly, she was playing the kind of music that I wanted to play distorted guitar and tough rock and roll, and I added my hookier side. They were rough times. We had no money, and Suzie and I struggled a lot just keeping the band together. At the time I found LA to be a borderline misogynistic town, especially in the rock world. Guys who wanted to play hard rock didn’t want to be playing with chicks. Our first drummer was a guy, he eventually got kicked out of the band for calling us cunts and bitches and not wanting to play a gay bar. When Jennifer came in she had a lot of drive, she was fearless in talking to people and asking for things. Dee was a very solid drummer, a very solid human being, and a very good friend. The sound really solidified then and became powerful, people started going crazy.

October 1991: First Rock For Choice concert

When we started to get popular, I thought we should do something for pro choice. I’ve always been a feminist and we were in this position of power as a female band. [LA Weekly journalist] Sue Cummings got us in touch with the Feminist Majority Foundation, who we partnered with. We were like ‘we know this band called Nirvana, and they’re getting really big and we think they’ll play for us’. Abortion clinics in the US were under attack – there were bombings, freaks protesting trying to block women going in, it was really intense. The response was great; people were like ‘hallelujah, somebody’s doing something about this.’

1992: Breaking the mainstream

Sub Pop brought us to an international audience, we played Europe, we were hot shit. Then we recorded Bricks Are Heavy when Nevermind hit the charts. We were friends with Nirvana and we watched their huge explosion, and suddenly we were blowing up too. Being in the mainstream was never part of the plan and that was just blowing our minds. It was a time when record labels had a lot of money and so many underground bands were getting signed. We were unique in the fact that we were women playing this very aggressive punk rock, our shows were mayhem and people really hooked on to it. That whole L7 ride was really great, until the end, which got really depressing [laughs]. But on the ascent it was fabulous.

1992: Controversial performance on The Word

From what I understand it’s a little bit of television history in the UK – people may not know who L7 is but they’ve heard of the chick who took her pants down on live TV, I’m fine with that, I had already thrown my tampon at the crowd at Reading Festival by this point. That show had weird stuff going on, they had a men’s bum contest and a hidden camera in Oliver Reed’s dressing room, showing him intoxicated with his shirt off, which was really fucked up. So I added my contribution to this craziness. We were never asked to do live television again.

2015: Reforming

We were doing audio interviews for the forthcoming L7 documentary and that got us talking again. When we posted on Facebook we started to get an immense response from fans – sheer enthusiasm from them, to the point of badgering, to get out and do some shows. You go away for a while and you don’t realise that people still really want to see you. There’s been an outpouring of support, it’s fantastic for us insecure artists to read positive remarks. This is all happening at the moment that it was supposed to happen.

L7: Pretend We’re Dead is due to be released later this year. L7 tour Europe this June

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