On day one of the whirlwind weekend that was LEVITATION 2022 I spoke with Donita Sparks, guitarist and vocalist of legendary hard rock band, L7.
Sparks and band members Suzi Gardner, Jennifer Finch, and Dee Plakas played at Mohawk on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022, as one of the music festival’s final sets.
With only twenty-four hours to prepare for my interview with Sparks, I was admittedly nervous to join our scheduled call that Thursday afternoon. While L7’s extensive and remarkable career was enough to intimidate an amateur journalist like myself, Sparks’ blunt and sarcastic nature undoubtably heightened my nerves.
As I combed through L7’s extensive press archives from the last 30 years, Sparks’ direct demeanor suggested a perhaps tenacious interviewee. Upon hearing the chime that signaled L7’s frontwoman into our meeting, I nervously cleared my throat and turned on my microphone.
Hoping to appeal to the guitarist’s plainspoken nature, I began speaking with Sparks about her three older sisters who she credits with introducing her to art and rock ‘n’ roll. I asked Sparks to elaborate on her family’s musical influence:
“I am influenced by show tunes. I love “The American Song Book,” I love all kinds of different music. I grew up in a great era of music, the late ‘60s and ‘70s, which is probably still my favorite era of music. I had a couple of older sisters who were very into avant-garde rock, and then I had another sister that was into stuff like Fleetwood Mac. My sisters are seven to eight years older than me, so I was very fortunate that I had cool siblings; I knew a lot of people that had no exposure and were listening to terrible crap on the radio and were really into square stuff.”
Sparks’ appreciation for art transcending beyond music has greatly influenced her songwriting, most significantly:
“When L7 was starting out, I was also doing performance art in Los Angeles with kind of a comedic bent – an absurdity bent. That absurdity has certainly stuck with me throughout L7. During the Pandemic, I did a video show called, “The Hi-Low Show with Donita Sparks,” which you can watch on Youtube. It’s also full of absurdity, which I love. I think all of the band members have a pretty decent sense of humor, and we do like to bring weirdness in.”
“Suzi and I are from the Art Punk world; people think we’re from this much narrower scene of just hard rock or hardcore punk. Suzi and I are a part of the dirtbag, art punk scene of Los Angeles; you know, people strung out on drugs, people struggling to pay their rent, people living in horrible lofts downtown – we’re from that. We didn’t go to college, we were never on a college campus playing rock. We were always playing these filthy, horrible places in Los Angeles.”
Sparks describes her most memorable experience while touring internationally:
“I would say the venue we played at in Bergen, Norway. It was in a cave that had been turned into a club, so it was like The Bat Cave. We were completely surrounded by stone – it wasn’t even masonry, it was just a friggin’ cave. It was sweltering because it was midsummer, which meant it never got dark outside.”
“We were playing in this cave and everybody was about to pass out. The college kids were handing out water and pouring water on people – it was an amazing, beautiful scene. They all had smiles on their faces, they were thrilled that we were there. This is probably in, like, 1992 – so we were getting kind of big then. For us to play this cave in Bergen, Norway, I still think of that show and it still brings a smile to my face.”
Releasing their first album in 1988, L7 has since produced 11 additional LPs, as well as a documentary, “L7: Pretend We’re Dead.”
“The film, “L7: Pretend We’re Dead,” is great because we shot a lot of it ourselves. I was highly involved in editing, we had complete control. It was our film – our footage. I don’t hand things over to people lightly. You can watch the film on Amazon, it’s a good little look into the early ’90s; It’s a cool story of cline and decline and cline again.”
With L7’s LEVITATION set being one of many dates included in the band’s “Bricks Are Heavy 30th Anniversary Tour,” Sparks discusses her experiences on the road:
“Our current tour began in Nashville on October 3rd or something like that. We went up the East Coast, across The Heartland, then down the West Coast. We’re very excited to play LEVITATION – I love the lineup! I think the overall vibe of LEVITATION is that it’s not the standard festivals that you see; it’s a highly-curated festival, which I respect a lot. I’m stoked that we’ve been invited because of the kinship we feel with these kinds of bands.”
After wrapping up our interview, I thanked Sparks and wished her luck on her Sunday set. Ending the call, I headed to Austin to cover The Jesus and Mary Chain at Stubb’s Bar-B-Que that you can read about here.
Before I knew it, I found myself standing in the audience of Mohawk on Oct. 30, 2022, anxiously awaiting the legendary band’s performance. Following the opening sets of the night, Austin bands DIE SPITZ and Pleasure Venom, the time had come to finally experience 35 years of authentic, unfiltered rock ‘n’ roll.
Except that’s not how it went. There’s something about waiting over a month to see a live show, only to find you’re unable to see the stage because of a bunch of hammered 40-something-year-olds. Were these irritating, middle-aged loiterers L7’s main demographic? There was only one thing I knew for sure: Mohawk’s Sunday night audience made up one of the most unbearable crowds I’ve seen in the last six months.
Though I couldn’t see the stage for most of the set, I was happy to find that the discography L7 performed sounded just like the record responsible for their tour’s namesake. Performing well known hits such as “Sh*tlist,” “Monster,” and “Pretend We’re Dead,” L7 certainly didn’t disappoint the few sober enough to remember.
L7 thanked their crowd, took their final bows, and exited the Mohawk stage as I made my way to the front doors. As I walked around the side of the downtown venue on the short walk to my car, we were surprised to see the building’s side entrance open. Painstakingly making their way down the awkward, exterior steps was none other than Dee Plakas, drummer of L7, followed by Suzi, Jennifer, and Sparks herself.
For a split second, I considered saying something. As I got closer to crossing paths with the band, though, I could overhear the once intimidating rockers grumpiness as they complained to one another about the show’s late end time. Although it was a brisk 11:30pm, I figured I’d let the members make it back to their hotel before burning more late night oil.
Ashley Farnie Assistant Music Director Pretty Sick made a pit stop at Mohawk in Austin in the midst of “The Makes Me Sick” tour. Although the band was accompanied by MILLY and Mitsubishi Suicide on tour, local Austin band Die Spitz took the place of the opening act for the night’s show. When I saw on Instagram that the band I interviewed the week prior was on the bill, my […]
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