Stylish, Faster, Wiser
Molly Neuman knows how it hurts when a band lives too fast and dies too young. "If you break up at your prime, you'll always be legendary," she says. "But it's a drag to see how special something is, and you know nothing else like it exists."
And she's not talking about her band Bratmobile. We're talking about Long Beach's Le Shok, whom she loves and who might rise from Band Undeath if we're all very lucky. But it's her story, too.
See, back during that other Bush administration, wink-and-a-sneer vitrioleuses Bratmobile helped put riot grrrl together from the bottom up. But three years of rock & roll finally took their toll. In 1994, the Bratmobile went up on blocks, leaving everybody wondering what could have been. And until 1999, that unhappy ending was all she wrote—until they realized that the world needed them, and they came screeching out of the Bratcave with sass and spirit honed sharper than ever. Don't call it a comeback; they just needed a little time to catch their breath.
"We were really wound-up kids, basically," says Neuman, remembering those supercharged summers in the early '90s. She met singer Alison Wolfe at the University of Oregon, where they'd crash frat parties together, guzzle free beer and hijack the microphones for not-quite-Bratmobile a cappella performances whenever the shitty hired bands took smoke breaks. Their first show was Bikini Kill's second—Neuman played everything, though not all at once, and Wolfe sang—and it was pedal-to-the-metal from then till the wheels spun off. Even now, Neuman remembers the energy as contagious.
"We knew something special was happening," she says. "There was just this wild spirit of activism and energy and knowing we had this sort of psychic connection with the girls in Bikini Kill—we were all wanting to change the world, really, you know? We had no idea that it was not that easy."
With cross-country pen pal Erin Smith recruited from D.C. to play guitar (and you thought your commute was gnarly, you slug), the '91 Bratmobile quickly and snugly fit right into the spearhead of what was turning into riot grrrl. Their amped-up, girls-in-the-garage, surf-trash (or something like that—if you've heard it, you'll know) songs and too-smart-for-you sarcasm were fundamental to that summer's sound, bridging Bikini Kill's unstoppable caterwaul and Heavens to Betsy's back-to-basics basement pop.
"My memories are just really of being wide-eyed and supersnotty and barking things out and trying to make things happen," she says. "Like, 'Let's break into a swimming pool with Bikini Kill and Nation of Ulysses!' Just really random—that was our world of looking for kicks. Drag racing in D.C. in the summer at like 4 in the morning, you know?"
And, of course, it got fucked-up, with the bubble bursting under personality crises and intense media scrutiny—especially the media, says Neuman, which could not figure out what girls were rioting about.
"We were just a freak show, but we didn't understand that," she says. "People were like, 'These girls are talking about how fucked guys are and how fucked the world is? Who the fuck do they think they are?' It's not like most rock writers are very smart—no offense—but most don't care and most don't like good music. You can tell people aren't going to get it right."
The final smashup came in '94 in New York during a to-be-final traumatic show, leaving the band missing and presumed dead through the great Lame Punk explosion of '95 and the subsequent years of deadly commercial fallout. Neuman went on to drum for the Peechees; Wolfe and Smith turned into the Cold Cold Hearts (and neutron-bombed out a scorcher of an LP that you all should have by now). And you know what they say about time healing all sucking chest wounds, and absence making hearts grow stronger, and distance equaling rate times time? Maybe a triumphant resurrection was inevitable.
"We didn't know how good it was," Neuman says. "We didn't know what we had."
So what if it's a different world now? They're not a time-capsule band, and nobody better say "nostalgia." The Bratmobile captured on new album Ladies, Women and Girls is leaner, meaner, smarter and harder than before, tempered by a little time and space apart. And some things don't ever change: Wolfe is still zooming cross-country for practice before tour.
"Hopefully, she's been listening to the record so she remembers the fucking lyrics," says Neuman, laughing. "I'm not ashamed to say that in print."
Bratmobile performs with De Facto, Pretty Girls Make Graves and Your Enemies Friends at Chain Reaction, 1652 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 635-6067; www.allages.com. Thurs., July 12, 7:30 p.m. $8. All ages.
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