With the big Babes in Toyland show coming up on Saturday — which marks their first gig at First Avenue since 2001 — we asked the members of the righteous and Babes-inspired punk trio Bruise Violet to interview one of their musical heroes, Lori Barbero.
What transpired was over an hour of hollering, shrieking, giggling, gasping, and glee, as the three teenaged members of Bruise Violet made their way through a carefully constructed list of questions for the Babes in Toyland drummer and longtime fixture of the rock community.
Listen to their conversation in the audio player below, and read on for a transcript of their chat, edited for length and clarity.
Danielle Cusack: So, Babes played their last show at the First Avenue Mainroom [in 2001] and you’re playing it again this week. How does it feel? Are you excited?
Lori Barbero: You know, to be quite honest, I hardly think about things until they’re ready to happen. I’m super weird. I don’t even think something is going to happen until it’s in my very near future. I’m trying to think about what I have to do tomorrow. Of course I’m really, really excited. If I actually thought about it, I’d probably throw up. [laughs] So thanks a lot.
Danielle: We’re going to be there! We’ll probably be thrashing around screaming and crying.
Emily Shoonover: Like the last show.
Danielle: We went to Rock the Garden, and we were front row, crying the whole time.
Andrea Swensson: I can attest to that. I was watching from the side of the stage and I saw you guys, and I didn’t know you yet, and I tweeted, “There are these teenagers screaming along and crying, and it’s making me cry,” and they wrote back, “It’s us!”
Lori: I’m glad I didn’t see it, because with just you talking about it, my eyes are welling up. Because I really love passion. Passion is an amazing trait to have.
Emily: Ok, so totally different question, but out of all the instruments in the world, why did you choose drums?
Lori: I think, ever since I was a kid, I always listened to the rhythm, the beat, the pounding. I was told once by a psychic in New York City who works with Madonna, one of the first things she said to me is that I myself have my own intuitiveness, or psychic ability, and that when I walked into a room, that everyone knew I was there because of my distinctive laugh, and she also said that in my earlier life I was the woman in the tribe that everyone came to for advice and spiritual guidance, and she said, “And I believe that you are really strong like drummer women.” Because the first drummers were women. Ever since day one, when I saw my first live show, I always watched the drummer. Always.
Bella Dawson: As an all-female band, in Bruise Violet, at first we weren’t really taken seriously due to the fact that we have this aesthetic that’s wearing dresses and looking prettier but having really hard, angry music. For Babes in Toyland, was that ever a thing in the beginning? Did people not take you seriously?
Lori: That I don’t know, because I didn’t ever ask anyone. And to be quite honest, I didn’t ever care. Because in my heart and soul I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing, and I was playing with Kat [Bjelland, lead singer of Babes in Toyland] because we quickly became really close friends. Yes, we are very primal, we’re very — I had never played drums before, so the first time I’d ever played drums was with Kat and her style — but I didn’t really care if anyone came to our shows or not, because I was over the moon and just feeling fantastic about what I was doing. I was doing it for us, and not really anyone else.
Bella: That’s so amazing. I love that.
Danielle: So, when you released Fontanelle, it was released on Warner Bros., correct?
Lori: I believe so? I am so bad. I honestly don’t know the names of our albums, the chronological order, or what label they were on.
Danielle: Well I did my research I guess. [laughs] So you were getting all this attention. How did it feel? Was it really surreal? When all these bands in the grunge and punk scene were coming up, were you ever like, “This isn’t happening”? Because that’s what’s happening with us right now.
Lori: Yes. It just kind of snowballed, and it was really fun. A lot of the people [we went on tour with] I had already known, because before the band started I was kind of the Motel 8, you know, everyone stayed at my house and I had the parties after the shows, and I’ve just had the time of my life meeting everyone.
Still, now, I think back and just think, man, I am just the luckiest woman in the world. Because we really did play with pretty much all of our heroes. Sonic Youth. Dinosaur Jr. My Bloody Valentine. Alice in Chains. It’s like maturing; you just get older, and you get wiser, and you get more experience. It is really, really wonderful. You’ve just got to embrace it and say, “I effing deserve it. Because I work really, really hard.” That’s what you have to say. And everything happens because it’s supposed to.
Emily: Babes in Toyland was kind of roped in with the riot grrrl movement. Did you feel like your work was in any way invalidated because of that?
Danielle: You were even before the riot grrrl movement, is the thing.
Lori: We were. So yeah. We were playing before those two words were put together, and we were playing before “grunge” was a word. I mean, it was a word, but grunge was like when you didn’t clean your toilet for a week. It wasn’t a music genre. [laughs] Same difference, though, kinda. But it’s just that people don’t know how to explain something so they throw these words together and it just kind of sticks with you. Yeah, we were playing before the riot grrrl thing, and I think that it’s an empowerment thing — if people need to latch onto riot grrrl to empower themselves and to do things, it’s not a bad thing at all. But then just because there’s women in a band, they’re riot grrrl. That’s crazy.
It really shouldn’t make any difference what gender you are whatsoever. You just need to say, “I’m a musician.”
Emily: And there were also a lot of problems in the riot grrrl scene, like not including trans women or women of color, gay women, bisexual women.
Lori: Yep. I think it’s opening the doors more, now. On Saturday we will be having a table with She Rock She Rock.
Danielle: Yay, I work there! I love it so much.
Lori: So yeah, I believe in that stuff. And for She Rock She Rock, it’s for people who identify as women. I think it’s a really beautiful thing.
Bella: What are your plans with Babes in Toyland, for the future? Do you plan on releasing more music or going on tour?
Lori: I hope both. Like I said, I don’t know much about the future or what’s going to happen. I think after this we may be going to Australia, we might do that. And I know we need to write some new songs. I don’t know if we’re going to release and album or 7-inches separately, and then when they’re all released we can put it out as a box set, something like that. I like 7-inches because I DJ a lot, and that’s all I’ve ever spun for about 10 or 12 years.
I can’t imagine us going into the studio and saying, “Ok, we’re going to write an album.” That is in no way going to happen. Our attention span for putting something together lasts a couple of hours.
Emily: Do you guys write in the studio, or do you write in practice?
Lori: We haven’t written a new song in a million years, so I don’t even know what’s going to happen. But we used to just go to practice with a new idea. Kat nor I read or write music, so I just go, “Do-do-do-do-do,” and she just follows my voice with her guitar. Sometimes you come up with words first; sometimes music first. We don’t really have a rhyme or reason for anything we’ve done, ever since day one.
Danielle: So you’ve been in the Minneapolis scene for a while —
Lori: Yes, because I am now 666 years old.
Danielle: [laughs] How would you say that it has changed since you’ve been in it, and how has it changed? What has kept you here?
Lori: Ok, so I was born here. I moved out to New York and went to high school out there, 8th through 12th grade, and then I came back here because it is such a great, great city. I did love it out in New York; I was really lucky to graduate from high school out there in the ’70s, because I spent a lot of time in New York City and going to CBGB, seeing everyone from the New York Dolls to the Heartbreakers, Patti Smith, all that stuff. So that was where I got my foundation of the real punk rock scene, and the New York music scene.
Coming back to Minneapolis, I worked at the Longhorn, which was a punk rock music bar on 5th Street, downtown Minneapolis off of Hennepin, and that’s where I got my foot in the door for the Minneapolis music scene. From that moment, that was just the beginning of the story. Being here, meeting everyone, just experiencing the thousands of people I’ve met along the way, and listening to the hundreds of thousands of songs I’ve heard along the way, and the millions of experiences — it’s really hard to leave. It was really hard to be away. My heart was not in Austin, when I was there for 7 years. I mean, it was great, I met the greatest people, and worked for SXSW, but my heart has always been in Minneapolis. It is a melting pot of love.
Things have changed. Back in the ’80s and ’90s, people were more open to each other. You went out to see a band just to see a band. I think technology has kind of slayed the day; everyone’s gotten really lazy. They don’t go out. It’s gotten a little bit more closed circuit. Back when I ran around when I was younger, you saw the same people everywhere you went all the time, and people went to shows just because you loved music. It’s not because you loved that band. You just went out to be with other people and support each other and see something new.
And I don’t think recordings are a very good representation of someone’s talents. Seeing someone live is a much different story than listening to it on record. I believe that if you listen to a record and you go see a band and they sound just like a record, I call that boring. [laughs] I should have just stayed home. So I really like live. I like the energy, I like if something effs up, I like banter. Who cares if you fall down backwards, or you break a string? When we did that at Riot Fest, I just said, “Oops, we pulled a Replacements!” Because that’s all they ever did. That was the thing that made them the greatest show to see live — you just didn’t know what was going to happen, ever.
Danielle: Who are some of your favorite up-and-coming bands?
Lori: Hmm. Well, you know the night I saw you at the Triple Rock? That was the night that Clara [Salyer, the new bassist in Babes in Toyland] was there with Howard [Hamilton III], and I was there, and then Kat was there, and I didn’t know she was going to be there. And I introduced Kat to Clara. So that’s where that happened.
And also, guess what else? We play a song now because of you guys that we didn’t play before.
Danielle: What?!? Which one?
Bruise Violet: Ooooooohhhh!!!!
Lori: [laughs] I played it with you at the School of Rock, and now it’s one of our favorite songs to play now. And it’s because of you guys.
Bella: If you weren’t a musician, what would be doing?
Lori: You know, I’ve been DJing for many years. I really like DJing. I’m really into the ’70s and ’80s English music, a lot of Rough Trade stuff, and I used to have a half-pipe in my backyard, so lots of skate music. So probably DJing. Or I’d probably be doing something with animals, which I love. Because I love animals, more than people most of the time. Ever since I was a kid I was like, “I’m going to be a veterinarian!”
Danielle: We in Bruise Violet like to have fun, so we brought some fun questions! We are really passionate about food. Where do you like to eat?
Lori: I have a few of them, but my go-to is probably It’s Greek to Me on Lake and Lyndale. It’s so, so good. Another place that I really like that’s a little bit newer is Sober Fish, on Franklin and 28th St. It’s the best green curry, so good. And another place I go is the Lowry, they have a dish there that I really crave there, it’s steak and pierogis.
Emily: What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened to you at a show?
Lori: There’s a couple of them, but I don’t know if I want to talk about those. [laughs]
Danielle: I hit myself in the face with a drumstick last week.
Lori: Oh, I know! At the Uptown Bar, we played, and — my father passed away about 23 years ago now, but he jumped on stage, I didn’t even know that he was there, and my dad crawls up on the stage at the Uptown Bar, old Jerry, and he had toilet paper streaming out of his ears, and he was pretty lit, and he was like, “My daughter’s the drummer!” And the sound engineer put reverb on it, so it was like “Drummer, drummer, drummer, drummer.” I was so embarrassed. I didn’t even know what to do. So embarrassed. In fact, I remember that because I was so embarrassed that I put my hand on my face and the end of the drumstick went right up my eyelid. So I was holding my eye and yelling, “Dad, get off the stage!”
Bella: Would you rather never be able to write a song again, or never be able to play a show again?
Lori: Never be able to write a song. Because playing shows is fun, and there’s plenty of songs that we’ve never played. So you can just keep playing.
Danielle: What advice would you give your younger self?
Lori: Go with your intuition. Because there was a lot of times that I was intuitive about something, and then I thought, “Oh, but I should do this,” and it ended up really bad. Intuition is one thing that we have, and our reproductive rights can be taken away, our voting rights can be taken away, our homes can be taken away, but our intuition cannot be taken away. And you have to stick with that. It’s a true thing.
Emily: This is the most important question we wrote. Would you adopt us, please?
Lori: Aw. Yeah. If I had three pockets in my purse I’d throw you in there and take you home.
Bruise Violet: [squeals]
Lori: I’d pour you in.
Emily: Liquify us.
Babes in Toyland play the First Avenue Mainroom on Saturday night, January 30, with Kitten Forever. Tickets and info on our event calendar.