Feature Stories

L7's Donita Sparks, Grunge Royalty, Promises to "Deliver the Goods" In Dallas

Once dubbed the “Queens of Grunge,” Los Angeles rockers L7 are back out on tour, following a brief hiatus that interrupted last year’s long-awaited reunion.

Filled with snarling punk attitude and buoyed by scorching metal tendencies, the band — guitarists/vocalists Donita Sparks and Suzi Gardner, bassist Jennifer Finch, and drummer Dee Plakas — developed a near mythical status amongst its devoted fanbase.  

Their shows became legendary thanks in large part to their onstage banter and shock-value antics. These days, though, L7 is more about the music. Their mantra of louder, more boisterous and more fun is now the main focus. Ahead of Thursday's stop at Granada Theater, the Dallas Observer spoke with founding member Donita Sparks.

Dallas Observer: How is touring different today from the large, extensive tours you embarked on back in the 1990s?

Sparks: This era is perfect for us now because we’re older and we like our Netflix, you know. [Laughs] There was a beauty back in the day because you were all forced to hang out with each other, with the only escape being our Walkman. If somebody was getting on our nerves in the van, you would just put on your Walkman. Other than that, we would all listen to the same music and bond over the same experiences. Now, it’s just a little more separated, which is different, but okay. You know, also, on the U.S. leg of this tour, we’re avoiding those long, two-month stretches of travel. We’re flying in and doing sort of a regional weekend residency.

How much time and energy does it take for all four of you to feel like you are on top of your game?

There was a lot of rehearsal time last year and then we took a break which was extended into 2016 as we had to cancel some shows due to a family emergency. So, we picked up rehearsals again a couple of months ago and we’re now feeling pretty tight.

Are you working with a standard set list on this tour or do you tend to wing it from show to show?

We’ve always been a band that stuck to the setlist. On this tour, we took out some songs from the last set and put in some different ones for this run.

Do you have a sense of the songs that your audience will want to hear?

Oh yeah. The songs that make the crowd go the most ape shit are in there every night. We’re not going down the road of hitting the obscure shit. No way. We’re gonna play the meat-and-potatoes L7 set. Songs like “Shitlist,” “Fast and Frightening” and “Everglade” always get people the craziest, so of course we’ll play those. I mean, everybody goes ape shit on “Shitlist.” [Laughs] There are people who have been building up to that moment for years. They just wanna go crazy during that song.

With so many of L7’s contemporaries cashing in on '90s nostalgia, do you feel the pressure to bask in the same? Or are you too focused on the here and now?

We’re trying to play as much as possible with younger bands opening for us and they’re not always that easy to find. A lot of promoters want to pair us with bands from our era, but we like to get younger bands that sound different than us. We like something with a little more party sound to keep things youthful. We have a great number of young people coming to our concerts and I think it’s cool for them to see people of their demographic sharing a stage with us. I want them to be able to connect to their own era rather than long for a time that has passed. Man, if we were able to open a show like ours now, when we were in our 20s, we’d be doing backflips.
Are you comfortable as a mentor to these younger bands?

I hate giving advice, and I’m not super crazy about younger people, which is a horrible thing to say. I’ll give advice sometimes, but the times are so different in terms of technology and social media. You still have to wear many hats, just like we did back in the day. We made our own flyers, own backdrop, we had our own mailing lists, and now you still have to do similar things, but it’s in ways I am not that familiar with. Like Bandcamp. What the fuck is that? Kinko’s, I am familiar with.

Do your shows ever venture into political territory? 

Personally, I am an activist. I support a lot of causes, particularly in regards to the environment. Some of the more politically charged things are really kind of freaking me out. In fact, I thought of a brilliant idea the other night for a performance art piece, but then I thought: ‘You know what? I’m not even gonna go there.’ It’s just too weird. Call me a coward if you must, but I’m not going to put anyone’s ass on the line by doing something that we feel is funny or that is trying to sock it to somebody.

So, the audience at The Granada should expect a band fully ready and committed to rock out rather than one invested in making grand statements?

That’s right. We’re not going anywhere deep. Listen, people coming to our shows these days really need to rock out fiercely with huge smiles on their faces. We’re not gonna bother you with any kind of bummers, even though we feel them very deeply. We’re just there to deliver the goods. You all deserve it.

And that’s definitely appropriate for our city in light of what has happened in the past week.

It really is. And, if the crowd in Dallas wants to scream “Shitlist” at the top of their lungs, this will be the place to do it.

L7 performs with Sealion, 8 p.m. Thursday, July 14, at Granada Theater, 3524 Greenville Ave., 214-824-9933 or granadatheater.com, $29.50 to $39.50