“You’re like the first person I think I’ve talked to today,” Allison Wolfe says groggily. “There’s been a festival going on in the neighborhood and something kind of crazy. And we played last night. Everyone’s just been drinking all day and staying out really late.”
Such is the life of Sex Stains, a punky pandemonium with songs such as “Don’t Hate Me ’Cuz I’m Beautiful” and “Land of La LA.” The quintet is co-led by Wolfe, venerated riot grrrl formerly of Bratmobile and a slew of underground upstarts destined to make feminist history. Her onstage partner is Mecca Vazie Andrews, a choreographer responsible for epic dance moves by Lady Gaga and Muse. Rounding out this raucous troupe are former Warpaint drummer David Orlando, punk legend Alice Bag’s guitarist Sharif Dumani and Prettiest Eyes bassist Pachy Garcia.
They’ve just released their debut album, Sex Stains on the antiestablishment Don Giovanni Records. (The company’s answer to “What is the future of the music industry?” “If the scientists are to be believed, at some point the sun will blow up.”) The music is true to Wolfe’s pedigree of 25 years of staccato vocals, cutesy yet cutting lyrics and high-energy instrumentation.
Andrews in particular adds a breadth of experience. In the Pixies-like “Oh No (Say What?),” the African-American woman laments being edged out of an elevator by an anonymous man. The most heartbreaking part is when Wolfe scoffs, “Can you believe he did that?” and Andrews counters, “Yeah, I can believe it.”
“When you’re a marginalized person, that informs everything,” Wolfe says of her band mate’s story. “Black Lives Matter is probably the most important group of resistance right now. … I think within this band, too, it’s trying to discuss issues of all sorts of things. But also, three of my band mates are people of color, or not white. Also, three of my band mates grew up in Los Angeles—which also, Los Angeles is a much more culturally diverse place (than Olympia, Wash., where Wolfe and other riot grrrls originally convened), and definitely within the punk scene and the history of punk here, too, as well. So I just think it’s a very interesting and exciting place to be.”
As Sex Stains gigged around L.A. for two years, Wolfe has been pursuing a master’s degree in journalism at USC. Her thesis will be the precursor to her upcoming oral history on riot grrrl. There have been many notable books as of late on the subject –
Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, Sara Marcus’ Girls to the Front – but Wolfe wants to provide prospective from the inner circle.
“There’s been a lot of nostalgia for riot grrrl and a lot of 20-year stuff, or 25-year anniversaries that are revisiting,” she says of the genesis of the project. “I think there’s a lot of ideas of what people think it is or was or whatever, and I think it was many things. I don’t think there’s just one truth. I still think the thing’s that’s missing is kind of like coming from the horse’s mouth—our personal stories and also where we came from and where we’re coming from.”
And for those who accused these feminist artists of lacking a sense of humor? “There are also a lot of funny stories in there. There are some things that people think were so politically aimed or whatever, like this purposeful thing or something, and a lot of times some things were just due to circumstances: some offhand remark someone made, or some weird relationship or fight between someone or whatever.”
Wolfe laughs, a warm cackle that crops up numerous times in our conversation. Someone who names her band Sex Stains has to have a funny bone anyway, and Wolfe’s good nature shines through onstage alongside her Sexy cohorts. She crows about living off bargain-brand mac & cheese as a child, and then decries domestic violence in just one stanza of “Countdown to…” Like Wolfe said of the original riot grrrl movement, the Sex Stains movement encompasses many things: levity, empowerment, great licks and diversity.
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