"I DON'T WANT TO SIT AROUND AND TALK ABOUT THE WIPERS!": Bratmobile Back in Action!
FROM THE WITHITGIRL ARCHIVE: Story by Cory Peipon Photos by Fernanda Steinmann
A long time ago, I was really into this band called Bratmobile. They had a 12" EP out that included a cover of the Misfits' "Where Eagles Dare". Later, I found a 7" record of theirs that had a song called "Cool Shmool" - so irresistible. My favorite Bratmobile songs were crazy-raw anti-anthems, bashed out by three young ladies at the height of Riot Grrl popularity.
Riot Grrl as a public novelty faded into the magazine stacks, and a lot of the bands who asserted its ideals broke up and went their separate ways. Bratmobile was one of them.
About a year ago, I picked up a copy of Punk Planet to find an interview with newly-reformed Bratmobile. The band's reunion brought back so many memories for me, and I had a great night seeing them play here in San Francisco last summer before they went into Louder Studios to record their most recent album Ladies, Women, Girls. To my delight, I was introduced to lead cheerleader Allison Wolfe around the same time, and she has been - more or less - associated with withitgirl ever since. Hopefully, you have been reading her tour diary here on the site for the past month or so. If not, check it out now! (*we are for tour diary in the withigirl archive) Fernanda and I had an opportunity to lunch with the ladies of Bratmobile right before their tour of the U.S. in support of The Donnas. Talking to Bratmobile felt a little like being introduced to people I already knew. But anyway...
Molly and Allison met in the dorms at the University of Oregon in Eugene in 1989. They shared an affinity for music, politics, and self-published magazines. They planned to do a radio show at the campus station called Girl Germs, but the plans fell through. Instead, Molly and Allison decided to put out a zine by the same name. As they put it, the zine was about music, girls, punk, and politics.
On February 14, 1991, Molly and Allison took it to the stage with an a cappella version of what would eventually become Bratmobile. Soon thereafter, they decided to move to the punk rock mecca of Olympia, Washington. At the time, all kinds of bands were forming, labels were starting up, and zines were flourishing. They found a great community in Olympia, and they also found Slim Moon who was just starting up the now-thriving Kill Rock Stars imprint. As KRS celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, so does Bratmobile with its debut as a full band at the now-legendary International Pop Underground festival hosted by Calvin Johnson's K Records.
Bratmobile's focus has always been at least two-fold: to have a really good time and to get a message across. Allison, Molly, and Erin are adamant that being an all-girl band is extremely important to them as musicians as well as politically aware individuals. They feel that the visual of three girls on stage making raw, garage-y punk music is a powerful message of independence, creativity, and fun.
Molly: The critique element and the political stuff is in there, but there's always this humor element that sort of makes you able to connect with it in a real way, whereas if it's just like a straightforward political thesis it's harder to get into it. So I think that's one thing that's really awesome about our band.
Allison: I think it's important to have a lot of different types of girl bands out there, and I think it is important to be all girls because it's sort of like a girl gang, to just put yourselves out there. I know the press or this society is just as hostile as ever towards women, and we do get backlash and we always did. A lot of guys just don't get it; a lot of critics just don't get it. They just want to belittle and demean you however they can. They want to be like, "Oh, they still can't play their instruments", or whatever. It's like well, you know, the thing about being girls and how we came to make music and the whole point of it: we were trying to challenge the ideas of what it means to be a musician or a professional or something. I think that women just have a completely different approach to making music. That's a generalization, and it's not going to be true for everyone, but I think that it's sort of challenging the idea of punk rock and making music in general: making it totally different.
Bratmobile embarked on its first tour in 1992 with Heavens to Betsy, the band that spawned Sleater-Kinney, in support of their first EP The Real Janelle. They released their full-length Pottymouth in 1993 and continued to tour until a bad night at a high-profile show in New York City. The Brats broke up right there on stage, with heroes like Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore looking on, as legend has it.
So what happened between the break-up and the 1998 reunion? Lots. Allison moved back to DC, Molly moved to Berkeley, and Erin remained in Olympia. Individually, the Brats have worked on many great bands in the meanwhile: D+, Lois, Unrest, Cold Cold Hearts, The Peechees. I asked them how their involvement in different bands and making different kinds of music influenced Bratmobile:
Molly: Playing different kinds of songs helps you have different ideas, and it helps you to get better at what you do.
Erin: Just by virtue of practicing you have to get better. Just going out and playing shows and playing in front of people is a good thing.
Allison: I think playing with different people can give you different ideas. I never know if I've improved or not, though! (Laughs all around).
Although they have reunited as a band, the Brats are still separated by geography. Although Erin recently made the move from Olympia to Berkeley, Allison still calls D.C. home. As they noted, there are pros and cons to living far apart. It wasn't so when Erin and Allison formed the Cold Cold Hearts:
Erin: Bratmobile had been on two coasts for all of that time and we were hardly ever together. So with us all in one place we were able to practice several days every week. But we really accomplished about the same amount as Bratmobile, even though we had more time.
Allison: Cold Cold Hearts was the first band that I had ever been in where we all lived in the same town, so it was just really different. We practiced more regularly and stuff. It was interesting to be in a band like that.
And how has it been working since the Bratmobile reunion?
Allison: I think it works fine because we can each have our own lives and do our own things for a couple of months, and then we get together for a month or so.
Molly: We have not had an official master schedule, but it has sort of worked out with recording and touring and promotion and getting ready for touring. I mean, that's the one thing, since we are not all together, we have to get ready for the tour. We are doing that right now because we have someone new playing the keyboard. Her name is Audrey Marrs. She was in that band Mocket. We wanted to make sure that was going to be OK, and we are also playing bigger venues on this next tour. We want to make sure that we are really tight and stuff. But we went to Europe last year. We didn't practice before we went. We had like two months off and we met in Amsterdam. Our first show was a little bit rusty.
Erin: I think it's almost better because when we get together we have to do something. When we were all together and feeling like we had the rest of our lives to write a song, we never did it. So, the pressure has worked for us, I think. We've been able to do so much - the same amount that other bands do - in such a small amount of time.
Allison: But it's sad because I think of everything we've recorded, and sometimes later I will realize I want to change a song. Sometimes the stuff is a work in progress, which I guess is fine but sometimes I think, "oh, I wish I could record it now."
Molly: You think, "oh, I could play that so much better."
Erin: The guitar playing is always perfect.
Molly: Erin's really self-confident!
You may wonder, as I did, what the Brats do when they are not rocking out together:
Allison: I work at the Washington Post part-time in the style section; bringin' a little style to the style section. I also work part-time at Sculpture Magazine. It's really kind of cool. I am a news aid at the Post, and lord knows what I do at Sculpture, but it's nice that I have been able to have these part-time jobs in D.C. where they let me take off for tour and stuff. It's really important to have that, so it's cool. Occasionally I will try to write for a magazine or whoever. I was supposed to be doing something for withitgirl but: uh-oh! Now I'm going to be doing the tour diary for withitgirl. That will be funny. I ride my bike a lot, go dancing, hang out.
Erin: I do the radio promotion at Lookout! Records. I just moved here in May, so I am kind of new at it, but it's cool. I get to work our own record. Working with The Donnas is like the best thing that ever happened to me. It's what I wanted to do forever.
Molly: We spend a lot of time working on the band, even when we are not together.
Erin: I feel like I am doing it all the time; I don't feel like there is any break.
Molly: I am the General Manager at Lookout!, and a co-owner, and I also co-manage The Donnas. So I have a weird hodge-podge life of my band on the label that I own with my husband, who I used to be in a band with and the band that's most active on the label is the band I co-manage. It's all sort of nepotistic, and a lot of people could be really skeptical about how it could work, but it actually works really well. I feel really lucky that I get to do so many things with so many awesome people. That's really fun. I get to travel and hang out with my friends. I get to go to shows and play music. Even though it's really hard - and particularly today I am very stressed out - we are leaving in two weeks and we have the biggest record that we've ever put out coming out right now. We're trying to accomplish a lot without a lot of resources, and it's an ominous and daunting task and a lot of time: time is really the most valuable commodity.
Cory Peipon was the Editor in Chief at withitgirl who regularly uses the phrase "cool shmool" to make herself feel better.
Fernanda Steinmann was a Production Artist and later an Art Director at withitgirl and coincidentally helped to produce a Bratmobile segment on Brazilian MTV years ago. Cool!
© 2000-2021 withitgirl. All rights reserved. We appreciate your feedback!