Sloppy Jane's Haley Dahl: "Defending Kim Fowley Is Hardwired Into My System"
Sloppy Jane frontwoman Haley Dahl gets a tattoo, surrounded by her bandmates
Photo by Felisha Tolentino
"The reason that I started playing this kind of music is because I had a really, really bad temper throughout all of childhood," says Haley Dahl, 20-year-old frontwoman of local punk band Sloppy Jane. "Like when you see a little kid kicking and screaming on the floor in the grocery store and you’re like, 'Fuck, I’m so glad I don’t have kids.' It was like that, but a 16-year-old, who isn’t even with her parents — just with her friends who like, can’t help on what's going at all."
Sure, music is an outlet for tons of people. But for Dahl — who admits she's not nearly as pissed off now as she was at 15, when Sloppy Jane came together — performing involves thrusting audience members into one another to make a mosh pit, stripping naked and vomiting blue paint all over herself. Sometimes she throws milkshakes at people.
"My shit comes unplugged a lot onstage because I’m jumping around in the audience and climbing on people. And for the most part I don’t even stop down to fix it because I don't feel as though people are really listening as much as watching," says Dahl, describing how important the live aspect is to the band. "I don’t even think that people really go to punk shows to listen to music, they go to have a really crazy time. And then if they have a really good time, they’ll go home and listen to the music on their own." (Which you should do; there's a preview of Sloppy Jane's latest single below.)
Clearly, they've got that whole "crazy time" thing on lock. In fact, watching Sloppy Jane is a bit like riding a roller coaster — exhilarating, terrifying and swelling with nauseous tension. Their band bio on Facebook reads "Caution: May induce vomiting." But they're not just tossing inhibition out the window for their own sake — Sloppy Jane goes all out so that their fans can, too.
"One of our biggest criticisms of the scene is just being so fucking bored at shows," Dahl says. Her bandmates — Phoebe Bridgers (bass), Sara Catherine (guitar) and Imogen Teasley-Vlautin (drums) — nod in agreement. She's talking about people standing onstage with their hair in their faces, just staring down at their pedals, and people being too afraid to dance because the wrath of teenage judgment is, like, the worst thing imaginable. But Dahl knows you want to dance, so really, her erratic behavior is for your benefit.
"I kind of made the decision that it’s your role as a frontman to be the first person to look stupid so that everybody feels comfortable having a good time," she says. And it's true, it's a little tough to be self-conscious when there's a naked girl riding someone's shoulders. "I do my best right at the beginning of the set to really put myself out there and start dragging people around so they know this is a space where it's OK to be aggressive and have a good time."
"I was always scream-y and yell-y," says Dahl, describing the band's beginnings in 2011. But she wasn't always interactive; "I only started touching people a year or two ago." Over time, though, she's learned to command more and more attention from her audience, a talent she developed with advice from the late, controversial producer and band manager Kim Fowley, who helped arrange one of the band's first photo shoots with legendary photographer Brad Elterman (who said the shoot reminded him of shooting The Runaways way back when.)
Fowley showed up at one of the girls' first gigs, back when Sloppy Jane consisted of Dahl, Teasley-Vlautin and one of the eight bassists they've had over the years. Dahl missed the chance to speak to him at the performance, so she "emailed him like probably 30 times" and asked what he thought of the show. "Stop trying to sound so California when you're obviously from New York," he said. He hit the nail on the head, too — Dahl was born in New York and spent much of her childhood there. From that point on, a mentorship arose. (L.A. Weekly initially interviewed Dahl shortly after Fowley's death and long before the recent Huffington Post article alleging that Fowley raped former Runaways bassist Jackie Fuchs in 1975.)
“We went to this burger place somewhere in West Hollywood, because that’s where he always was," says Dahl, reminiscing about one of her first meetings with the music mogul. "He, without explaining anything to me, went up to the front register and was like, ‘Listen, I’m here with my granddaughter. We made it all the way to California, U.S.A., and I only have two dollars to my name, but I really want to buy my granddaughter lunch.’
“He got us free meals. They gave him the food," she continues. "And when we sat down and as soon as they walked away he ducked really close to my face and said, ‘If you want to be great, everything has to be a hustle.’”
Since that initial meeting with Fowley, Dahl has taken his words to heart. Sloppy Jane isn't just her excuse to scream and roll around on the floor, and her band has become very savvy about investing in its career. In fact, all the members of Sloppy Jane pitched in and bought a Slurpee machine so they could sell "Slurpee Janes" at their shows, something they all say has been really lucrative — sometimes even paying more than the shows themselves do.
"He did teach me a lot as a young person, and a young woman … and just as anybody who's trying to do art," says Dahl. "Every single thing you do, you kind of have to fight for. And you need to know that what you’re doing holds up and is important enough that it’s worth continuing to fight for all the time."
Dahl continues, expressing a relationship with Fowley that went beyond strictly business but ventured into the area of friendship, and even fathering: "He was the kind of person who would call you at 4 in the morning. Like, he would be able to sense that you were up and sad and by yourself at 4 in the morning and call you and be like, 'Hey, we’re bonded through the universe.'"
After the Huffington Post story broke last week, L.A. Weekly contacted Dahl and asked if she wanted to change or clarify any of her previous comments about her relationship with Fowley. She responded with the following statement:
"I did not know Kim Fowley in the 70s. The Kim I knew and adored was, while still being a crass and charismatic powerhouse, an older and more nurturing person than he once was. To this day he is the one and only person I have worked with who never faltered in treating me with respect and as an equal. Caring for Kim and wanting to defend him is hardwired into my system, and without him being alive to give his side, I'm finding it physically impossible to sever my allegiance towards him. I would never be one to stand against a victim, either, but when you were close with the accused and miss their words, it gets more complicated. I have heard 8 versions of the same night. A lot of people want my opinion. I am eternally grateful for the Kim I knew and everything he gave me. He is my roots, and because of that, anything I become he is a part of. I am emotionally incapable of speculating further. I hope everyone involved in this mess finds peace in whatever way they need to so everyone can heal from this point forward."
Dahl's bandmates, Sara Catherine and Imogen Teasley-Vlautin, issued their own statement: "Both Sara and Imogen unequivocally support the victims of Kim Fowley and admire their courage in coming forward." Phoebe Bridgers could not be reached for comment.
Though Sloppy Jane may wish to separate themselves from the present controversy surrounding Fowley, as of today, it would be impossible — their newest cassette EP, Sure-Tuff (out July 14 on Lolipop and produced by the "behind-the-scenes indie king" Joel Jerome), is dedicated to him, a decision the band made long before news of Fuchs' accusations arose. It also features a cover of Napoleon XIV's "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haa!", a song Fowley himself recorded in the '60s. Listen below for an exclusive premiere of their first single, "Aunt Rosie's Garden," and click here to listen to Sure-Tuff in full.
Sloppy Jane kicks off a West Coast tour July 19 with a tape release show at the Smell.
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