You only have to glance at the news, or indeed out of the window, to know that the world needs L7 more than ever right now. Between 1985 and 2001, L7 were a wonderfully in-your-face, slightly booze-tinged, breath of fresh air. Purists may argue that they weren’t part of the Washington state-born riot grrrl movement because they were from right here in L.A., despite their clear political, aesthetic and sonic similarities, but that’s not an argument worth having.
What is important is the fact that L7 have been empowering women for decades, and shaping young heads. When frontwoman Donita Sparks removed her tampon at the 1992 Reading Festival in the UK and threw it into the crowd, it was a controversial move for the moment. But it also got people talking, and thinking, about the shame that gets attached to menstruation.
In 2014, 13 years after they split, L7 reformed and, five years later, they are preparing to release Scatter the Rats, due in May. It’s their first new studio album in 20 years, and their seventh in total, and it proves that a few years haven’t dampened this band’s ferocity and attitude. Sparks is understandably delighted with the way it came out.
“It sounds like us, but it sounds modern in a weird way,” she says. “I feel it’s well produced and suited to the band’s style and sound.”
The band released two singles over the last couple of years — 2017’s “Dispatch From Mar-a-Lago” and last year’s “I Came Back To Bitch.” Both were typically furious, with the former taking a jab at the current president. The fact that both were well-received took the pressure off when thinking about the new album.
“I felt like, well, we still have something to say and I felt that the band enjoyed making those tracks,” says Sparks. “We enjoyed the outcome of those tracks. When we decided to reunite, I purposefully did not throw a new album into the mix. I felt that there would have been way too much pressure. Let’s just get out there, play some shows, see how we do, and see if we enjoy doing it. That was the main reason we made an album, because we enjoyed doing it.”
The songwriting process saw all members come forward with ideas and even songs. Sparks says that she and guitarist Suzi Gardner co-wrote a couple, and all of the members collaborated on the title track. Meanwhile, there’s a new video for single “Stadium West,” the follow up to “Burn Baby.”
“You know, videos can be fun,” Sparks says. “Videos can be weird. That was a combo of both. I personally don’t like to be on a big set per se, and that was a little bit of a big set. This last one we did for “Stadium West” was just us out on the street, and we shot that just down the street from my place and in my living room.
“Stadium West” is a powerful single in that it sounds like classic L7 — punk fuzz and drone, with spit and fire in all the right places. The chorus is, “I’m your threat out of stadium west,” in a song that is all about viewing yourself as a threat to the powers that be.
“We don’t all have to be hopeless,” Sparks says. “It took me a while to get to that way of thinking too. It’s like, ‘I’ve got weapons and my weapons are sitting here writing a song. In my own little tiny space. Yet it’s gonna get out there.’ I’m a threat, you’re a threat. You write about this, you write about other stuff. We have weapons to combat all this violence going on, all this craziness going on. We have weapons too, but they’re not of a destructive nature. They’re of a creative nature. That was a definite light bulb moment for me, lyrically.”
It makes us very proud to remember that both Sparks and Gardner were on staff at the L.A. Weekly in the '90s, a time that the singer looks back on fondly.
“That period in my life was a great time for connection with other artists,” Sparks says. “L7 is from that art-punk scene, and there was a lot of incubation going on at the L.A. Weekly. We were not from the metal scene, we were not from the hardcore punk scene, so that’s a distinction that separates us from a lot of our contemporaries. It was a good time, and I think a lot of people in L.A. felt very disconnected from the city and disconnected from a scene. I felt very, very connected to a scene back then. It was before the Silverlake scene existed, then it became a music scene in the '90s. But I was living in Echo Park in 1985, and it was very rag-tag but cool.”
On May 10, the band embarks on a national tour starting at the Glass House in Pomona, then doing a huge loop and ending in Sacramento. Sparks is looking forward to it. Kinda.
“I don’t like being away from my cat,” she says. “I don’t like being away from my loved ones. But I think it will be a good run and I like that we’re playing some of these festivals with Rancid and Suicidal Tendencies. It gives us a little bit of a different flavor. We’re headlining everything else, but on those festivals we’re playing with those guys and it’s just a completely different scene and it adds a little variety to the tour, which is always exciting.”
They’ll be adding a few new songs to the set that they’ve been playing since the reformation, though, according to Sparks, not too many.
“We’re not gonna make it super heavy on the new stuff,” she says. “Everybody wants to scream ‘Shitlist’ anyway.”
After the tour? More shows.
“We have some shows coming up in August or September,” Sparks says. “I think we may be playing the Wiltern in August or September. More shows in the US. We may hit Australia later in the year but I’m not sure. We may just circle the wagons and figure out our next move. We’ve got another video to shoot before we go on tour next week. We’ve still got plenty of shit to do on this record, and then we’ll figure it out from there. But it’s cool, because you can still see our documentary on Hulu. We’re still out there and we’ll probably hit Europe next year. So that’s where we’re at.”
After so long away, touring and recording is exactly what we want from L7.
L7's new album, Scatter the Rats, is out on May 3 via Blackheart Records.