With bright red hair, a quirky vintage look and a vibrant personality to match, Echo Park local Allison Wolfe has long been a role model for empowered girls and women, beginning in the '90s when she fronted the well-known Riot Grrrl band Bratmobile. “The whole point of Riot Grrrl,” Wolfe explains, “was to make our academic feminism more punk, more real-life, maybe more girly, and to make punk rock more feminist. We could wear lipstick and sound like Valley Girls yet still be feminists and still need to have rights and be respected.”
Wolfe, 48, still performs in bands today, but after recently obtaining a master's in arts journalism from USC, her most recent project has been hosting and producing a monthly podcast for Tidal called I'm in the Band. She interviews female punk rock and indie musicians such as Donita Sparks (L7), Patty Schemel (Hole), Alice Bag (The Bags), members of The Raincoats and more, sharing their stories with sincerity and candor.
The podcast title is a play on the groupie mantra “I'm with the band” and also the title of a Bratmobile song. It is demonstrative of the fact that women and girls are much more than the wallflowers that rock & roll history has often portrayed them to be, and that they deserve to be viewed as equal participants.
Wolfe and her producer/engineer partner, Jonathan Shifflett, collect tales from those who have survived the punk-rock trenches and bring inspiration to those who are often without a voice. “There is no real canon,” she stresses. “We have to find it or create it. If we don't tell our own stories, we'll be erased from history. I'm trying to bring strong women's stories to the forefront and to show younger generations, 'hey, here's your history.'”
Condensed into a half-hour oral narrative, each episode focuses on a particular artist's experiences and memories and seeks her sense of empowerment. “All marginalized people need to see an example of themselves to feel that they can do it too and build from there,” Wolfe says. “With historical erasure, we don't have that. That's why we all have to be telling our own stories.”
With the current uncertain political climate, many people have been drawing lines in the sand and raising their collective voices. In particular, the #MeToo movement has reverberated locally, creating a new focus on women's rights and shining a light into often-misguided entertainment business practices. We have been clearly seeing that women's voices are best heard when eloquently expressed by a relatable insider, someone who is not afraid to speak the truth.
Wolfe has demonstrated that she is very much that insider. As an activist, she often participates in panel discussions, such as “Women of Rock: An Oral History Project” in January at Zebulon, while as singer of the band Ex Stains (previously Sex Stains) she continues the punk-rock tradition of opening people's ears while simultaneously opening their eyes.
A few years ago she began conducting interviews of key players involved in the Riot Grrrl movement, with the eventual intention of publishing an oral history book. “I want to be the one telling our stories, filtered through me, because I was there,” she explains. “But my main goal with what I do is to create inspiration for others, seeing someone who is strong, speaking her mind and isn't just toeing to the mainstream. I want to continue to create the culture I want to see.”