It took a while to piece together, but the second coming of L7 feels like a victory lap, says frontwoman Donita Sparks of reforming with original members Suzi Gardner, Jennifer Finch and Demetra “Dee” Plakas late last year. When the metal art punk group disbanded in 2001, after 16 years together, they were “flat broke,” despite being signed to influential labels like Sub Pop and Epitaph Records, breaking into the mainstream nomenclature with songs like “Shove” in a number of soundtracks, and the band’s own cameo appearances in movies like “Point of No Return” and “Serial Mom.”
L7 When: 8 p.m., August 6 Where: Metro, 3730 N. Clark Tickets: $26.50 (18+over) Info: etix.com
“I think we had a unique set of circumstances,” says Sparks, who was born in Chicago and lived in the suburbs until the age of 19. She hints that an unedited look at the band’s history will be disclosed in an upcoming documentary called “Pretend We’re Dead,” which will debut in the festival circuit this fall. The artist spent her time away from L7 not only forming a solo project but also producing the film, which is “about the rise and fall of [L7] without being VH1 [Behind the Music] crap,” she jokes, saying it was filmed by the band in real time with their own archives and photos. “I think if I were just a person who didn’t know anything about us I would find it a bit fascinating.”
Organizing all the components of the film, including the promotion of a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $130,000 for the production, also in a way became a catalyst for the band’s reintroduction. “I didn’t know we still had a following,” admits Sparks. “It was not only our old fans chiming in, but also a whole new generation of fans who weren’t even born when we were around. That was exciting to see.”
Although the band had remained mostly amicable (Plakas also played drums in Sparks’ solo project), the reunion “wasn’t really possible until now,” admits the singer. Gardner had given up guitar for the most part to become a caretaker for her mother, while Finch had been battling cancer.
When they did reunite in the fall of 2015, including a well-received performance at Chicago’s Riot Fest, the timing was ceremonious in a year that had also resurrected a crop of associated feminist bands, such as Babes in Toyland, Sleater-Kinney and Kathleen Hannah’s The Julie Ruin. Though categorically L7 is disparate from the riot grrl scene, having formed five years earlier and in the art punk ghetto of Los Angeles rather than the politically charged college campuses that birthed the later community, Sparks says, “I understand why we get lumped together in the press a lot.”
With provocative lyrics and legendary stage stunts that often included brute physicality, stark nakedness, and even tampons, L7 has long been regarded as a main influence for riot grrl both musically and fundamentally — members of L7 were also pioneers in the Rock for Choice movement that campaigned for women’s rights.
Still, Sparks says, “It was probably just coincidence we all got back together at that time. I think all of us had seen a lot of our male peers reunite and do quite well because I think that young people really harken to that grunge era.” In fact, Sparks says grunge’s most underrated legacy is perhaps how many women were on the front lines playing music. “If the scene brought anything fresh it was that so many women were picking up guitars, drums and bass, and that’s not mentioned much. A lot of those women were getting on MTV without makeup and also fully clothed, and I don’t see that that much anymore. A lot of pop stars are really monopolizing the press now, but back then you could actually get in there.”
That’s exactly the message that L7 wants to bring to the new generation that has been discovering the band. Though they have since calmed the “shenanigans” as Sparks likes to call it, she says, “We’re still putting on a very physical show. We’re well-oiled machines now and taking it a bit more seriously because we know the fans want to hear these songs performed well.” As such, the set list largely includes the essential tracks like “Sh—–t” and “Pretend We’re Dead” from 1992’s blowout “Bricks Are Heavy” as well as a few from their last album “Slap Happy,” which was just re-released after being mostly ignored when it first hit in 1999.
When it comes to the idea of possibly creating new music together, Sparks is less certain. “There’s nothing in the works at this time. We’re just focusing on the live show and the documentary, but maybe in the winter we might think about recording,” she says. “For now we’re having too much fun without any of that pressure.”
Selena Fragassi is a freelance writer.