An edited version of this interview originally appeared on Venus Zine’s website in January of 2008.
With L7 on the backburner, the guitarist-vocalist talks about the ’90s flashing controversy, Rock For Choice, and her forthcoming solo album, Transmiticate.
By Bess Korey
On the afternoon, during early-October 2007, that I had made a date to call Donita Sparks for a phone interview, I found myself incredibly nervous. Her former all-female band, L7, had changed my life when I was a teenager, and I had always found Sparks’ tough, rocker chick image to be admirable. But, at the same time, I found it to be quite intimidating, hence the sense of anxiety when I made my call. It turned out that my initial perception of Sparks was completely wrong. This Rock n’ Roll veteran, whom has paved the way for so many other female musicians, and has helped prove to the world that women can rock just as hard and as well as men, if not better, was about as modest and friendly as could be.
L7 had an amazing 16 year run, which lasted from 1985-2001, and during that time, they put out 6 studio albums, including 1992’s Bricks Are Heavy. That album featured the Sparks penned, hit single, “Pretend We’re Dead”, which landed the band on MTV, and launched them to international superstardom. A definite influence on the Riot Grrl movement, both musically and politically, L7 decided to use their fame for good by founding the Pro-Choice Organization, Rock For Choice.
It may seem as if Sparks hasn’t been in the public eye as much since L7’s disbandment, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been busy. She has spent quite a few years working on her solo debut, Transmiticate, which is due to be released in January of 2008, and has also added the title film composer to her lengthy resume, a recent example of this being her scoring work for the film, The Life Of Reilly. During the Fall of 2007, she embarked on her first tour as a solo artist, and had her new band, the Stellar Moments, backing her up. This may be a new phase in Sparks life, but the fact that she has chosen former L7 bandmate, Dee Plakas, to be the Stellar Moments’ drummer, proves that her musical past is never too far behind her.
BK: After being in an all-female band for so many years, what has it been like for you to switch to a co-ed line-up with the Stellar Moments?
DS: I think it’s been great. With L7, we were all equal partners, and with this [band], I’m in charge. It takes on extra responsibility, when you have to be boss, and that’s been interesting. As far as the co-ed thing, I’ve found that the guys in the band have been really respectful. It’s been totally cool.
Do you see any major differences between playing with male and female musicians?
I don’t think I’ve played with enough different musicians to have an opinion on that. L7 were all women for a very long time, even though our first drummer was a guy. He was problematic because he was an alcoholic. Was he problematic because he was a guy or because he was an alcoholic? I don’t know. I just haven’t jammed with enough people, I’m not a big jammer, I get a band together and that’s what I stick with. I can’t really say gender-wise if there are issues or if there are just personality differences with each individual person.
How do you think you’ve changed the most, as a person and artist, since you stopped working with L7?
I used to work out a lot of my aggravation with songwriting [for L7], and I haven’t done that as much. I guess if I do it [let her aggressions out], it’s always been in a humorous way. I think there’s more spirituality on this record, there’s more of a spiritual level to it than L7. L7 was about a lot of raw emotion, and this is a bit more about channeling some other strengths.
There has definitely been much anticipation for the release of Transmiticate. And during your fall 2007 tour, you sold a sampler EP at your merchandise booth that gives a preview of some of those songs. It definitely shows off how much you can rock, but it also gives us a peek at your softer side, as well as the fact that you have great pop sensibilities. How much of this is reflected on the new album?
The songs we didn’t put on the EP, that are going to be on the record, there’s a lot more pop and there’s some really slow pretty songs. We made the EP for the tour Rocking, the rest of the record is a little bit of that, and some other stuff too. We wanted the Tour EP to pack an exciting punch, and the rest of it is going to be exciting in a different way. It’s newer directions for me.
Do you still consider yourself a political person?
When L7 started Rock For Choice, a lot of the shift interview-wise started to go to politics, and it got really frustrating for me, as an artist, because I wanted to talk about the music. I have no problem with playing benefits, and I’m really glad we started Rock For Choice. I think activists are great. I’ll vote and I’ll go to marches, but at this time, I don’t feel like getting involved in any organizations. I think it’s a very heartbreaking industry to be in. You have to have a lot of strength to fight the power, and it’s really fucking tough, and I’m going to leave that to the activists. I just want to be an artist and contribute in that way.
When you were in L7, there were some rather shocking incidents that occurred which led to you getting unwanted media attention, such as flashing your vagina on Live TV in Europe, as well as a separate incident where you threw a used tampon at the audience during an L7 show. Do you think these things were blown out of proportion?
Dropping my pants on Live TV was part of the absurdity of the show. They had a buns contest going on with a bunch of guys. I’ve always been an absurdist. People are like, “Oh, what’s that supposed to mean?” But I just felt like doing it. It was absurd and it amused me. And the tampon thing too. We were having a bad show, and I wanted to amuse myself and do something completely absurd. I got a little performance art in me. They were throwing mud at us, and I went performance art on their ass. As far it being blown out of proportion, I don’t know. I guess it is pretty shocking. I wouldn’t want my mother to know about it, and I don’t think she does.
Do you feel the need to have shock value on stage today?
Well sometimes you just get in a zone and do weird shit on stage. It’s kind of an out of body experience. As far as something like that now, I don’t feel the need for it [shock value] and I would purposely not throw a tampon. I had never done it before [the incident] or since. It was a bad time. It’ll never happen again, and it certainly won’t be part of my act.
Do you see L7 as being permanently broken up?
As John Lydon says about the Sex Pistols, I reserve the right to do L7 whenever I want to. That could be next year, that could be whenever. I’ll do it when I want to, and hopefully it would be with the original people who were involved, or whomever. Right now I don’t want to do it, but you never know how you’re going to feel in 5 years.