Meet: We Chat to L7’s Donita Sparks about the band’s upcoming tour of Australia

Donita Sparks

L7 is an American rock band that emerged from the thriving underground music scene of Los Angeles in the late 1980s. Known for their fierce attitude, raw sound, and feminist lyrics, L7 gained recognition as one of the pioneering bands in the grunge and alternative rock movements of the early 1990s.

Formed in 1985, L7 consists of members Donita Sparks (vocals, guitar), Suzi Gardner (guitar, vocals), Jennifer Finch (bass, vocals), and Dee Plakas (drums). The band’s name was derived from a slang term for a square or uncool person in the 1950s.

The band’s third album, ‘Bricks Are Heavy’ (1992) was produced by Butch Vig (he also produced Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’) and went on to be their most successful album. It was name checked in Rolling Stone’s May 1999 list of ‘Essential recordings of the 1990s’ and featured the screams of Yoko Ono on the song, ‘Wargasm’. The band split in 2001 but reformed in 2014 and have been active since then, most recently releasing the album ‘Scatter the Rats’ in 2019 through Joan Jett’s record label Blackheart Records.

L7 will be touring Australia in December and will be playing ‘Bricks Are Heavy’ in full.

Tickets for the tour are available HERE.

Backseat Mafia spoke to Donita Sparks (renowned for playing a Flying V Guitar) about the upcoming tour. Sparks is known for her uncompromising and outspoken attitude. During L7’s set at the 1992 Reading Festival in the UK, the band encountered technical difficulties with their audio equipment and were forced to stall their set. The Reading crowd became restless and began throwing mud onto the stage, repeatedly hitting the band. In a bold and defiant move, Sparks removed her tampon on stage and threw it into the audience, a gesture that was widely reported and shocked many. Later in 1992, Sparks dropped her jeans and underwear on live television, appearing nude from the waist down, during an L7 performance on the late night UK programme ‘The Word’.

Crowds at L7 are quite wild and the last time that the band played the Metro, I was amazed by the moshing and general chaos that ensued. Sparks tells me that she thinks that the crowds react in the way that they do because of the energy that the band brings to the stage. The band “throws down” on stage and the shows become a mutual “energy field” between L7 and their fans.

L7 do notice a lot of younger fans in the audience these days. Unfortunately in Australia, for this tour there are not specific all ages shows. Sparks tells me about how the most memorable shows that she saw were when she was a teenager and she is sad that younger kids won’t be able to attend the Australian gigs.

Despite this, L7 are garnering many new fans – Phoebe Bridgers recently wore a ‘Smell the Magic‘ T shirt when she made a surprise appearance at a Sza show at Madison Square Garden. L7 were really thrilled by this development. Bridgers received a lot of comments about the shirt and turns out that she is a fan of the band. L7 is now enjoying a positive “halo effect” because of the decision by the high profile Bridgers to wear the shirt. Sparks has even asked their merch guy to print more of the ‘Smell the Magic’ Shirts!

L7’s last album was released on Joan Jett’s Blackheart record label. Sparks was not really a fan of Jett’s band the Runaways, as a young woman, she tells me. She attributes this to the fact that she grew up in Chicago and feels that the city’s radio stations were slow to embrace new sounds, and as a result, the Runaways did not “filter down to her.” Sparks cites her main musical influences as the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Bowie, Beach Boys, Motown, Disco, funk, glitter rock and punk rock.

The band’s most successful single, ‘Pretend We’re Dead’ is about apathy and was written when Sparks was living in L.A. Sparks says that she was “flabbergasted” at the time when she found out that many of her friends were not registered to vote. This worried her because if people do not vote, she believes that “things start to slide backwards.” The song is a warning about being apathetic because Sparks believes that apathy eventually means that “shit will come down on you” and this has been borne out by the overturning of abortion rights in the USA. The song is about “being involved, being engaged and having your eyes and ears open and fighting the fucking power. Don’t pretend you’re dead,” she tells me.

‘L7 Rock for Choice’ was a benefit concert series and campaign that aimed to raise awareness and funds for women’s reproductive rights and related issues. The initiative was a collaboration between L7 and various other artists from the alternative rock and punk scenes. It combined music, activism, and advocacy to address important social and political issues surrounding women’s rights.

The concert series began in the early 1990s and was an extension of L7’s feminist activism and advocacy. The legacy of L7’s involvement in advocacy and their commitment to women’s rights and social justice continues to inspire artists and activists alike. I ask Sparks why it is that none of the current bands have taken up the ‘Rock for Choice’ mantle. Sparks says that she doesn’t know why this is the case, given the outrage about the overturning of Roe vs Wade. ‘Rock for Choice’ still exists and is housed at the Feminist Majority Foundation in L.A. Sparks notes that pop stars and artists tweet about the erosion of female reproductive rights but believes that more needs to be done.

The band will be playing ‘Bricks are Heavy’ in full during their Australian tour. I ask her what the audience reaction is since they know the album and unlike with a setlist, know what song is coming up next. She tells me that ‘Pretend we’re Dead’ would usually be reserved for the end of the gig, but in the current show it is the third song that is played. Sparks jokes that L7 threaten to lock the doors of the venue so that the audience doesn’t leave after ‘Pretend we’re Dead’.

Sparks reflects on being on the 1994 Lollapalooza bill with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. She tells me that many people were intimidated by the Bad Seeds (including herself) but in reality she found them to be really funny. L7 and the Bad Seeds did their sets in the afternoon in the blazing sun, with no stage lighting. They did not enjoy this and it “wasn’t a part of their vibe”. The Bad Seeds always wear long sleeve dress shirts on stage and they were so hot after their performances that they would borrow L7’s T shirts to wear backstage. Sparks believes that L7 and the Bad Seeds were the “misfits” of that tour and so they hung out together a lot. Check out the documentary ‘Pretend we’re Dead’ for some hilarious footage of L7 goofing around with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

During the hiatus when L7 had broken up, Sparks toured the US with her band “Donita Sparks and the Stellar Moments”, they also put out an album. The band wasn’t hugely successful and Sparks found this quite humbling. She felt that she was never really into the business side of things and didn’t have many connections. During this time, she also wrote a pop culture blog called ‘The Spin I’m In’. She tried to keep the blog “clean” and so she edited it herself and resisted the temptation to just “let loose” on the blog.

In 2012, Sparks started work on rebuilding the L7 brand, realising that eventually young people would want to know what L7 was all about and of course this has now turned out to be true.

These days Sparks listens to NPR for leads on new bands. She heard about the Viagra boys this way and also Amyl and the Sniffers. She tells me that she thinks that Amy Taylor is amazing and a “force of nature”. She also likes the Chats, and notes that whilst the examples she has given are mainly in the rock vein, she has an eclectic taste in music and listens widely.

Sparks is currently working on a tribute record for Marianne Faithfull who is unwell post being infected with Covid. She has recorded a track by Faithfull who is struggling financially. It is hoped that the tribute album will raise some funds for Faithfull and also illuminate her situation and her importance in music. Sparks tells me that Keith Richards has been helping Faithfull for some time as well.

L7 will be releasing a new single in September called, ‘Cooler than Mars’ it will come out digitally and only on flexi disc. Two thousand copies of the single have been produced. Each copy features the face of one of the four L7 band members, so there are only 2000 copies but four different versions. Sparks says that the discs look really cool. The good news is that they will be available to buy when the band visit Australia.

Sparks plans to visit the Great Barrier Reef when they tour later this year to do some snorkelling.

According to Sparks Aussie audiences can expect a fun show in December. After they play the ‘Bricks are Heavy’ album, the band will swing into 40 minutes of playing their other hits.

L7 has a significant and lasting legacy within the music industry and beyond, characterised by their impact on the alternative rock scene, their advocacy for women’s rights, and their role in pushing the boundaries of both music and gender norms. Do not miss them when they tour Australia later this year.

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