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10 Mad & Memorable Moments From Punk Rock Bowling 2023
Tim Armstrong of Rancid performs at Punk Rock Bowling in Las Vegas

Photo: JoAnna Jackson

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10 Mad & Memorable Moments From Punk Rock Bowling 2023

From Rancid fans literally breaking barriers, to farewell sets from FEAR and club shows featuring Save Ferris and Alice Bag, get back in the circle pit and revisit highlights from Punk Rock Bowling 2023 in Las Vegas.

GRAMMYs/Jun 1, 2023 - 02:32 pm

Since its inception in 1999, the Punk Rock Bowling and Music Festival has become less about knocking down pins and more about making big musical strikes, showcasing the best in new and OG hardcore music. 

Following COVID cancellations in 2022, PRB came back more raucous than ever this Memorial Day weekend. The four-day event felt very full circle too, with its usual mix of newer acts in early slots and legends as the sun went down. 

The downtown Las Vegas event has grown with Sin City itself — especially the part of Vegas formerly known as the Old Strip, which is now the locale of choice for other big music fests including Life Is Beautiful and the rock and metal focused Sick New World.

Beyond the outdoor festival grounds, Punk Rock Bowling also felt like a reintroduction to Downtown Vegas. A plethora of punk shows were held at local clubs, while many of the big names playing the festival also made appearances as "tour guides" at the brand new Punk Rock Museum in the Arts District. 

Everyone played their ‘hawks off, but some really made an impression on this writer. Here, GRAMMY.com shouts out the most memorable moments of what has become one of the world's premiere punk events. 

Me First And The Gimme Gimmes Get Meta…And More

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes were the first band to ever play PRB back when it took place at local bars like Vegas’ Double Down Saloon — in 2023, they gave and gave. The super-group consisting of members from NOFX, Lagwagon and the Swingin Utters are known for rollicking punk covers of pop hits like Neil Diamond’s "Sweet Caroline" and Elton John’s "Rocket Man" and they served all the biggies during their main stage slot Saturday at PRB.

They also had a "secret show" at the Punk Rock Museum, where current bass player CJ Ramone did a guided tour prior to the set. The most meta part? The band played inside an exhibit — a replica of Pennywise’s garage practice room that was moved piece by piece and rebuilt by bassist and museum co-founder Fletcher Dragge. The Gimme Gimmes popped up at another surprise show at Fremont Country Club too, where they were joined by members of the Damned (also on the festival bill). Highlight track at all three weekend shows: an audacious cover of Paula Abdul’s "Straight Up!" complete with "Oh-oh-oh!" crowd sing-alongs. 

Save Ferris "Come On" Strong

Punk Rock Bowling feels like an immersive experience when you attend the pre-parties during the week and late-night after-bashes. Many of these club shows feature bands on the festival bill in smaller settings, while others feature bands you can’t see anywhere else.  At Thursday’s pre-party inside adjoining nightclubs Backstage Bar & Billiards and Fremont Country Club (FCC), a shining shindig was headlined by Save Ferris.

Singer Monique Powell’s saucy vocals were animated and elevated by the bouncing rhythms of her band, best-known for breaking out of the O.C. ska scene alongside No Doubt with hits like its vibrant cover of Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ "Come On Eileen," and for appearing in the teen classic 10 Things I Hate About You.  Angelo Moore of Fishbone brought his side-project Dr. Madd Vibe to the venue the same evening serving some cool funkadelic-flared jazz stylings. 

Alice Bag Is Nowhere Near Decline 

Women were well represented at the festival this year. Alice Bag (a.k.a. Alicia "Alice" Armendariz), frontperson for L.A. hardcore legends the Bags, might be best known for appearing in Penelope Spheeris’ seminal punk documentary "Decline of the Western Civilization," but she’s maintained a career beyond film as well. Today, Bag is an author, educator and musician. 

Bag and her band played a potent club set on Friday night at Fremont. Incorporating some Spanish songs into the mix and lyrics that deal with everything from sexual assault ("No Means No!") to ageism, the Bag band proved music with a message can still be escapist fun too. 

Lee Ving Bids "Fear-Well" But Still Sounds Badass 

FEAR’s Lee Ving may be older and greyer, but the ferocious frontman is no less imposing onstage, even with reported health problems. The 73-year-old singer (and actor, as seen in Clue and Flashdance) announced just last month that his band will stop touring in the near future due to health issues. 

Ving touted the band’s "Fear-well Tour" and Punk Rock Bowling appearance as significant for this reason and he’s not the kind of guy to pull a Motley Crue retirement fakeout. In any case, Fear’s early outdoor set at PRB Saturday lived up to any hype; while Ving didn't move around very much, he still sounded sprite and spot-on during classics like "The Mouth Don’t Stop (The Trouble with Women is)" and "I Love Living in the City."

The Adolescents Growl For The Grown Ups 

Southern California’s the Adolescents represent how punk has literally grown up, even as it holds on to its figurative youthful aggression. The O.C. punks formed back in 1980 and have gone through countless line-up changes over the years, but they seem unified in their seasoned years — especially after founding member Steve Soto’s death in 2018 (they played with a backdrop brandishing "Soto" in 2019 at PRB). 

Singer Tony Cadena remains one of the most tempestuous frontmen in music, and his growl felt feral as ever at PRB 2023. After all, there’s still plenty to be enraged about in our current world. From the brutal refrains of "Lockdown America" (written in 2018 well before the pandemic) to the familiar sing-a-long friendly choruses of the KROQ hit "Amoeba" and the early classic "Kids of the Black Hole" (about Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness’ punk squat apartment when the scene was new), the Ads showed that they aren’t kids anymore. But neither are their fans — and we all still need a release. 

L7 Top Our Hit List

Though they were the highest billed females on PRB, the thing that’s always made L7 so inspirational is the fact that their gender was and is beside the point. 

After a long hiatus, they got back together in 2015 and have been active ever since, releasing new material and playing diverse shows and festivals. Often lumped in with "grunge" bands due to the era in which they emerged, the band has major punk leanings which they showcased with ease and lots of energy during their main stage set at PRB on Memorial Day and the night before at their intimate and very late night Fremont club show. And both sets solidified "S— List" as one of the best punk anthems of all time. 

Fishbone Bring Boogie Back To Punk Rock 

Punk Rock Bowling regulars Fishbone always brings a refreshingly upbeat, dancey vibe to the festival, and this year was no exception. Since forming in the '80s, the L.A. band have influenced everyone from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to No Doubt — and always emanates a joyful and jammy vibe on stage. 

Seeing so many mohawked, patch-covered crust punks boogie to extended and reworked versions of Fishbone's most beloved numbers was quite the delight. Stand-outs at Saturday’s Monster stage show included "Alcoholic,"  "Pressure," "Bonin' in the Boneyard" and their biggest hit as a revelrous closer, "Party at Ground Zero."

The Exploited Explode On Stage 

The Exploited are an essential punk band that many music fans might know of, even if they don’t know their material too well. It’s safe to say the Scottish band’s logos (a skull with a mohawk) are iconic, as the imagery perfectly reflects the darkness and destruction that early punk music sought to convey around the world. 

During their Monday evening PRB set, the band, led by red-mohawked lead singer Wattie Buchan was defiant and debauched on stage… and it was a kick to watch. Meshing old-school street punk with the thrash-focused styles from later in their career, the Exploited kept the circle pit below them at the Monster stage whirling. 

And despite the hate towards politics and religion in their lyrics ( i.e. "F— the System, "F— the USA"), their set ended with a real love fest as dozens and dozens of fans joined on stage for singing, hugging and mugging. 

Rancid Offers Salvation After PRB Barricades Break 

If there was one bummer moment at this year’s Punk Rock Bowling festival, it had to be when the barricades broke about six songs into Rancid’s headlining main stage set on Sunday night. The energy the band was building was pretty much destroyed, and though Lars Frederiksen and Tim Armstrong tried to keep the crowd entertained — even doing a couple acoustic numbers, including a ballad-y take on "Ruby Soho" — the repair break dragged on way too long. 

Surprisingly, the spike-adorned audience did not riot nor fight, but there was yelling and boo-ing when a PRB rep came out on stage to ask for patience. But if anyone could come back from a lull like that, it’s the Northern California-bred punk rockers, whose music and style remains some of the catchiest of the genre, with ska and British rock influences infusing their noisy rants and swift tempos. 

"Roots Radicals" and "Maxwell Murder" warmed up the show nicely until the imposed break and a slew of gems brought things back including "Salvation," "Fall Back Down,"" I Wanna Riot" (again, we’re thankful no one did), and probably their biggest hit, "Time Bomb."  They even played "Soho" again, the right way, and debuted a new song, "Don’t Make Me Do It," from their forthcoming album Tomorrow Never Comes.

Suicidal Tendencies Prove They’re A Musical Institution 

Though Dropkick Murphys did a fine job as the closing night act at Punk Rock Bowling on Memorial Day, they could have (and maybe should have) switched slots with Suicidal Tendencies, who were billed just before them. The Venice Beach outfit consisting of Mike Muir and some new, very young members on drums and bass (including Tye Trujillo, son of former ST/current Metallica bass player Robert Trujillo), came on like gangbusters and never quit for a second, except for when the infamously expressive Muir discussed the band’s journey and controversy over its name. 

The set consisted of a full rendition of ST’s breakout Frontier Records self-titled release (though not in album order), including the still-relevant angsty favorite "Institutionalized" — a song that had the entirety of the festival screaming along with glee and capturing the spectacle on their cell phones. Two bonus tracks from the albums How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can't Even Smile Today and Lights… Camera… Revolution! rounded out the wonderfully rowdy show that proved Suicidal was always more about life than death. Just like punk rock itself. 

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10 Bay Area Punk Bands To Know: Dead Kennedys, Operation Ivy, Green Day & More
Tim Armstrong and Lars Fredricksen of Rancid perform at Lollapalooza in 1996.

Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

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10 Bay Area Punk Bands To Know: Dead Kennedys, Operation Ivy, Green Day & More

From pioneers the Nuns and Crime, to Pinhead Gunpowder and the Donnas, Hickey and Ceremony, the San Francisco Bay Area holds its own against any other punk epicenter.

GRAMMYs/Jan 17, 2024 - 02:02 pm

Punk was punk before punk had a name and, as such, has many great epicenters. From the Ramones, who rocketed out of New York City to London's sneering and spitting Sex Pistols, and Detroit rockers such as the MC5 and the Stooges who set the attitudinal tone for the genre, punk is often considered an east-of-the-Mississippi (and across the pond) phenomenon. 

But that thinking negates the very prolific West Coast, and generations of California uber alles. The San Francisco Bay Area, specifically, is home to a multitude of punk bands — as well as crucial venues like 924 Gilman and the Mabuhay Gardens, and revered pubs including Search and Destroy, Cometbus and Maximum Rocknroll, as well as festivals like Mosswood Meltdown — whose music helped define the genre from the late '70s onward. Detractors best take warning: From pioneers the Nuns, Crime and Flipper, to MDC, Pinhead Gunpowder and Capitalist Casualties, the Donnas, Ceremony and Scary Scare, the Bay's multifarious scene holds its own against any other punk epicenter. 

In honor of a new album from hometown heroes Green Day and major anniversaries of the group's seminal LPs Dookie (1994) and American Idiot (2004), press play and get in the pit with these 10 essential Bay Area punk bands. Welcome to paradise.

The Avengers

Crucial Album:The Avengers a.k.a. The Pink Album

Formed in 1977, San Francisco's the Avengers were among the first wave of Bay Area punk bands and remain legendary for their raw, anthemic tracks (see "Summer of Hate" and "We Are The One") and distinct vocals of Penelope Houston. They hold the distinguished honor of having opened for the Sex Pistols at their final performance at SF's Winterland Ballroom.

The quartet of Houston, Greg Ingraham (guitar), Jimmy Wisley (bass) and Danny Furious (drums) were "by far the coolest and youngest sounding" of Bay punks wrote music critic Byron Coley. "They roared without irony." 

The Avengers first and only release in their original lineup was a three-song EP from 1977, We Are the One. Released in 1983, four years after the Avengers broke up, The Pink Album compiles demos, tracks cut with new members, and takes from sessions recorded with the Pistols' Steve Jones. 

Dead Kennedys

Crucial album: Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables

Perhaps the early punk band most synonymous with San Francisco, the Dead Kennedys formed in 1978 as a quartet with Jello Biafra on vocals. The group was a staple at Mabuhay Gardens and other local venues, performing in a more "traditional" style before veering into hardcore and thrash in later years. 

As their name might infer, Dead Kennedys' music was often political and provocative — filled with satire about authority, national politics and the scene itself. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen panned the group in a 1978 column, writing "Just when you think tastelessness has reached its nadir, along comes a punk rock group called The Dead Kennedys which will play at Mabuhay Gardens on Nov. 22, the 15th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination." Some stores refused to sell the Kennedys' albums and, in the mid '80s, the band's Frankenchrist album became the center of an obscenity trial (which resulted in a hung jury).

Dead Kennedys released four albums and an EP before breaking up in 1986, and each release sounds a bit different. While your preference may vary based on your affinity for hardcore, their 1980 debut album Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables is a classic. Featuring their best-known tunes "Holiday In Cambodia," "California Über Alles" and "Too Drunk To F—," Fresh Fruit embodies a spirit of tongue-in-cheek brutal hookiness that flows through the Kennedys' entire discography. 

After multiple credit and royalty-based legal battles, Dead Kennedys reformed and performed without Biafria in the early 2000s. Biafria remains a musician, spoken word artist, and political activist.  Drummer D.H. Peligro — who joined the Kennedys in 1981 and was featured on three albums, later reuniting with the group in 2001 — passed away in 2023.

Crimpshrine

Crucial box set: Free box

Pioneers of the East Bay punk scene centered in Berkeley around the venue 924 Gilman, Crimpshrine was the brainchild of (pre)teens Aaron Cometbus — who also founded a popular, eponymous zine and would play with Pinhead Gunpowder — and future Op Ivy vocalist Jesse Michaels. The friends named their band after a girl with blonde, crimped hair. 

In a brief period, Crimpshrine would lay the groundwork for the East Bay punk sound typified by Green Day, Operation Ivy and others; as record label Numero Group eloquently put it, Crimpshrine sounded "melodic but full of feedback, and a singer who sounded like he gargled glass." 

Although the band first formed in 1982, Crimpshrine cut their first demo in '87 and released their debut EP, Sleep, What's That?, on the local Lookout Records. That and other releases — several split EPs, a second solo EP titled Quit Talkin' Claude…, and a single full-length, 1989's Lame Gig Contest — weren't as political as the Bay's punk forefathers tended to be. Rather, Crimpshrine penned fast, personal tracks that touched on friendship, romance, loneliness, homelessness, and drugs.  

Operation Ivy

Crucial album: Energy

Operation Ivy's ska-infused punk sound and raucous performances (mostly at 924 Gilman) led them to become one of the East Bay's most influential punk bands. Named for a nuclear weapons testing program code name and featuring Crimpshrine's Michaels on vocals alongside Tim Armstrong (also on guitar), Op Ivy quickly developed a cult following.

"The kind of ska Operation Ivy played was totally new territory. It went way beyond having punk elements," Aaron Carnes wrote in In Defense Of Ska. "Some Op Ivy songs were power-chord punk blasters; others were upbeat-driven ska songs. But it wasn’t a dance party. It was unleashed, unapologetic punk-rock fury." 

Op Ivy were only together for two years, but played 185 shows, recorded 32 songs and even more demos. More than 30 years later, the band's sole studio album, 1989's Energy, is still a vibrant and resonant record of how punks constantly turn it around. Op Ivy's final show — fittingly at 924 Gilman, months after being offered a major label deal that they ultimately turned down — was also Green Day's first performance. 

Green Day

Crucial album: Dookie

Perhaps the biggest punk band to come out of the Bay, Green Day requires very little in the way of introduction. The four-time GRAMMY winners (and 17-time nominees) have been rockin' since 1987 when they were students at Pinole Valley High School. Originally performing as Blood Rage and then Sweet Children, Green Day first debuted under their new name during a show with Operation Ivy at 924 Gilman. 

Although OGs and Gilman devotees would certainly know the band's 1990 debut album 39/Smooth and the following year's Kerplunk, Green Day's third album was their first true crest into the mainstream. Released in February 1994, Dookie nearly topped the Billboard 200 and netted now-canonical hits "Longview," "Welcome To Paradise," and "Basket Case." The album also netted the trio of  Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool a GRAMMY Award for Best Alternative Music Performance. Today, it's sold over 15 million copies.

For the next 30 years, Green Day wormed their way into punk and not-so-punk earholes. The band's slew of hit singles and resonant albums further mainstreamed the genre, but consistently kept their unique sound. The band made their GRAMMY stage debut in 2005, performing "American Idiot" (which celebrates its 20th birthday in 2024) and the following year took home the golden gramophone for Record Of The Year for the thoughtful "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." That wasn't Green Day's final win at Music's Biggest Night: 2009's 21st Century Breakdown won Best Rock Album at that year's GRAMMYs. 

Although a lesser group could easily rest on their laurels, Green Day continues to put out new music. Their most recent release — and fourteenth studio album — Saviors offers 15 tracks of pop-punk goodness that prove the band are nowhere past their prime. They're also still true to their roots: Armstrong and Dirnt still live in the Bay and invested in local businesses (Dirnt was co-owner of Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe and Armstrong was one of the co-owners of local shop Broken Guitars (now Oakland Guitars).

Rancid

Crucial album: …And Out Come The Wolves

Op Ivy's Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman formed Rancid in 1991. They brought on Lars Frederiksen a few years later and, with a few lineup changes in the interim, are still going strong 30-plus years later. The group released their 10th album, Tomorrow Never Comes, in June 2023 and performed during that year's Punk Rock Bowling.

A cornerstone of the East Bay scene, Rancid picked up where Op Ivy left off, further fusing ska and punk with Armstrong's gravy talk-sing vocals at center. The band's lyrical themes followed suit as well, dealing in introspection, anti-authoritarianism and politics, with plenty of spotlight given to the Bay Area's scene. 

While there's plenty to choose from over a three-decade, double-digit album career, the output from Rancid's early years remains the most resonant. Sophomore album Let's Go and 1995's …And Out Come The Wolves are ska-punk masterpieces, with the latter's "Time Bomb," "Ruby Soho" and the musical chronicle "Journey To The End Of The East Bay" are a resonant salad years soundtrack. Released further into their career, Indestructible and Let The Dominoes Fall bring a bit more pop-punk into the game. 

Multiple members of Rancid have ventured into solo projects and new groups, including Frederiksen's eponymous Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards, Armstong's A Poet's Life project with L.A. reggae outfit the Aggrolites, brief project with Billie Joe Armstrong the Armstrongs, and punk/rap-rock supergroup the Transplants, which featured Travis Barker, Rob Aston, Armstrong and current Interrupters guitarist Kevin Bivona.

Frightwig

Crucial album: Faster, Frightwig, Kill! Kill!

Precursors to the riot grrrl movement, all-female group Frightwig left a lasting mark on both San Francisco and early '90s alt-rock/punk. (In fact, Kurt Cobain is wearing a Frightwig t-shirt during Nirvana's "MTV's Unplugged" sessions.) Founded in the early '80s by teen San Franciscians, Frightwig spent over a decade "screaming and shredding their way through glass ceilings and unapologetically leaving behind a pile of shards," according to their website.

Expectedly, the trio and sometimes quartet received a fair amount of attention for simply being young women in punk. They were known to turn the tables by inviting male fans onstage to dance and be ridiculed while playing "A Man's Gotta Do What A Man's Gotta Do."

"We really wanted to play with what the status quo of womanhood was supposed to be visually and also sonically. That’s part of our mission, to really challenge what people think about what a woman is supposed to look like and to do," guitarist/vocalist Mia d’Bruzzi later told SFGate.

The group — which experienced a number of lineup changes in its initial 12-year run — played many of San Francisco's major punk venues and toured with locals Flipper and Dead Kennedys, as well as Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth, and Bikini Kill. Raw, noisy, feminist and tongue-in-cheek, the trio recorded two full albums — 1984's Cat Farm Faboo and Faster, Frightwig, Kill! Kill! two years later — and several EPs before disbanding in 1994.

In 2023, a reconstituted Frightwig (with the expectation of long-time drummer Cecilia Kuhn, who died in 2019), released We Need To Talk. The 11-track album is a more polished, rollicking zip through the life of a 60-something empowered punk, with defiant tracks like "Aging Sux"  and "Ride My Bike," political takes such as "War On Women," and a re-recording of their popular "A Man's Gotta Do."

Jawbreaker

Crucial album: 24 Hour Revenge Therapy

Although formed in 1986 at NYU and briefly relocating to L.A., San Francisco’s Mission District is Jawbreaker’s spiritual home. (The band were even on two Bay Area labels: San Rafael-based Shredder and San Francisco’s Tupelo/Communion.) Despite often being labeled “emo punk," Jawbreaker has been always been so much more; the band's clever, personal and relatable lyrics courtesy of guitarist/vocalist Blake Schwarzenbach and their superb rhythm section with drummer Adam Pfahler and bassist Chris Bauermeister resonated with audiences throughout the West Coast. 

After moving to the Bay in 1991, Jawbreaker released Bivouac (1992) followed by fan-favorite 24 Hour Revenge Therapy (1994). The group were invited by Nirvana to open six shows on their 1993 In Utero tour, after which rabid fans and the underground music press were wary of Jawbreaker "selling out" and signing to a major like Green Day. Jawbreaker vehemently denied the possibility of signing to a major label in print interviews and even from the stage.

But by 1994, the group had signed to DGC and the backlash was immediate. Former fans would buy tickets to their shows just to turn their backs to the band while flipping them off. Their major label debut, Dear You, was a much slicker production and sold poorly. Despite a messy breakup in 1996, Jawbreaker remained underground legends and their 24 Hour a touchstone for generations of punks (emo and otherwise). In 2017, Jawbreaker reunited with a seven-song unannounced set at East Bay venue the Ivy Room and have been performing regularly ever since.

AFI

Crucial album: The Art Of Drowning

Today considered a pop-punk or emo group, East Bay outfit AFI have masterfully shifted between punk subgenres for three decades. Founded in the Northern California city of Ukiah before relocating to Berkeley in 1993, the (current) quintet of Davey Havok, Jade Puget, Hunter Burgan and Adam Carson were fixtures at Gilman and elsewhere in the East Bay, initially leaning into a hardcore sound. 

There's a little something for everyone over the course of AFI's 11 albums. Mid-'90s releases Answer That and Stay Fashionable, Very Proud of Ya and Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Eyes are snotty, speedy and cheeky punk, exemplified by songs like "I Wanna Get a Mohawk (But Mom Won't Let Me Get One)" and "He Who Laughs Last." Black Sails In The Sunset marked a move to darker sounds and melodic vocals, while 2000's The Art Of Drowning is dripping in horrorpunk themes and could be considered the group's take on the Misfits. Their commercial high point at the time, Drowning provided a dark counterweight for listeners coming of age in the early aughts world of pop-punk.

Future releases leaned into post-hardcore and emo: Sing the Sorrow, Decemberunderground and Crash Love, ushering the band further into the mainstream. AFI's last release came in the form of Bodies, an album of typically poetic lyrics, gothic imagery and attempts at a new wave sound. 

Shannon and the Clams

Crucial album: Sleep Talk

Less straight-ahead punks than the majority of this list, Shannon and the Clams are proof that punk isn't a specific sound so much as an attitude. Fronted by powerful vocalist Shannon Shaw, the quartet released their first album in 2009 and soon gained attention in the Bay and beyond for their meld of punk, garage, R&B and doo-wop.

Their sophomore record, Sleep Talk, is filled with Ronettes-eque yips, surf guitar and memorable chanting choruses. Throughout, the record oscillates between whining early '60s style ballads ("Done With You"), snotty vocalized bops ("The Cult Song") and fuzzed-out ragers ("Toxic Revenge") reminiscent of early Ramones — an excellent showcase of the band's range of interest and ability. 

The expansion of punk and garage continued through Shannon and the Clams' well-titled further releases: Dreams in the Rat House (2013), Gone by the Dawn (2015), Onion (2018), and Year of the Spider (2021). True to prolific form, Shaw is involved in several other projects, most notably Hunx and His Punx and a magnificent solo project steeped in country and blues produced by Dan Auerbach.

5 Women Essential To Punk: Exene Cervenka, Poly Styrene, Alice Bag, Kathleen Hanna & The Linda Lindas

15 Must-Hear New Albums Out This Month: Janelle Monáe, King Krule, Killer Mike & More
(Clockwise) Kim Petras, Juan Wauters, Amaarae, Janelle Monáe, Tim Armstrong of Rancid, Maisie Peters, King Krule, Killer Mike

Photos:  Alberto Tamargo; Xavi Torrent/WireImage; Gonzalo Marroquin/Getty Images for REVOLVE; Rachpoot Bauer-Griffin/GC Image; Scott Dudelson/Getty Images; Mike Lewis Photography/Redferns; Jim Bennett/WireImage; Jim Bennett/Getty Images

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15 Must-Hear New Albums Out This Month: Janelle Monáe, King Krule, Killer Mike & More

From highly-anticipated debuts to long-awaited returns, check out 15 albums dropping this June from Kim Petras, Amaarae, Foo Fighters and many more.

GRAMMYs/Jun 2, 2023 - 01:39 pm

June is an important moment in the year, as it brings us Pride Month, Black Music Month and Juneteenth. It also marks the official start of summer, where rising temperatures invite late afternoons enjoying good music — whether it’s outdoors at one of the season’s many festivals or in the comfort of your own home.

As for the good music, this month brings us plenty of new releases by queer artists, like Kim Petras' long-awaited debut, Feed The Beast, and the Aces’ I’ve Loved You For So Long. Black musicians have much on offer in June as well, including Janelle Monáe (who is also queer) The Age of Pleasure, house music DJ and producer Jayda G’s Guy, and Ghana-born singer Amaarae’s Fountain Baby. Last but not least, June also marks the return of both Foo Fighters and Lucinda Williams after life-altering events, and the ultimate release of Bob Dylan’s 2021 concert film soundtrack, Shadow Kingdom.

To inspire you further with their bold artistry and moving stories, GRAMMY.com compiled a guide to the 15 must-hear albums dropping June 2023. 

Foo Fighters - But Here We Are

Release date: June 2

In dark times, humans often turn to art. Even if they have no answers for what the future holds, the transmuting power of expression reminds us that, sometimes, existing is enough. But Here We Are, Foo Fighters’ 11th studio album, does just that.

After "a year of staggering losses, personal introspection and bittersweet remembrances," as they state in their website  — referring to the sudden loss of longtime drummer, Taylor Hawkins,  and of frontman Dave Grohl’s mother, Virginia — they find both grievance and strength in what has been called "the first chapter of the band’s new life."

In support of this change, Foo Fighters have announced over 25 performances across the U.S. and Europe in the upcoming months. But Here We Are drops on June 2, and features ten new tracks, including promotional singles "Rescued," "Under You," "Show Me How," and "The Teacher."

Juan Wauters - Wandering Rebel

Release date: June 2

For most of his life, the Uruguay-born, New York-raised singer Juan Wauters was a rover — never for too long in one place. But as he sings on the upcoming titular track of his new album, Wandering Rebel, "During COVID I discovered/ that I like stability."

In a statement, Wauters reflected about moving back to his home country because of the pandemic, and the personal changes that came with it: "New York was the place I always came back to, but I never really had a 'home.' My parents left Uruguay, their home, when I was young. Now, [in Montevideo], I have a place to come home to, and people that are waiting for me."

The 12 songs on Wandering Rebel are defined as "candid reflections on subjects like career, romantic commitment, mental health, and the personal toll of touring," some of which can be seen through singles "Milanesa al Pan (ft. Zoe Gotusso)" and "Modus Operandi (ft. Frankie Cosmos)." As to not lose sight of his itinerant roots, Wauters will embark on a lengthy U.S. tour starting this month.

Bob Dylan - Shadow Kingdom

Release date: June 2

When the COVID-19 pandemic stalled Bob Dylan’s illustrious Never Ending Tour, he decided to baffle the world with something entirely different.

First released in 2021 as a concert film directed by Alma Har'el, Shadow Kingdom sees Dylan perform 14 tracks from the first half of his career in an acoustic, intimate atmosphere. In the setlist, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" from 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home marks the earliest composition to be featured, while "What Was It You Wanted" from 1989's Oh Mercy is the latest.

With little-to-no prior information, the film originally premiered on livestream platform Veeps, and swiftly disappeared 48 hours after. On June 2, an official soundtrack release will revive the experience for all those who missed it.

Rancid - Tomorrow Never Comes

Release date: June 2

Breaking a six-year absence of new music, California’s boisterous Rancid are back. Tomorrow Never Comes, the band’s tenth album, proves that the verve from one of punk rock’s biggest acts in the mid-1990s is still alive.

Produced by longtime collaborator and Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz, the record holds 15 tracks, but runs just short of 29 minutes — Rancid’s briefest album yet. But judging by singles "Tomorrow Never Comes," "Don't Make Me Do It," and "Devil in Disguise," quick-paced or not, the quality remains the same.

Right after the release, Rancid will kick off an European tour for the rest of the month, before hitting Canada and a few cities in the U.S. starting September.

The Aces - I’ve Loved You For So Long

Release date: June 2

Pride month celebrations have just gotten the perfect soundtrack: I’ve Loved You For So Long, the Aces’ third studio album, comes out on June 2. 

Preceded by the title track and singles "Girls Make Me Wanna Die," "Always Get This Way," and "Solo," the album marks the Utah quartet’s first release since 2020’s LP Under My Influence. According to a press release, I’ve Loved You For So Long is "rife with songs that celebrate their queer identities, juxtaposed by tracks that reflect on their early relationships with Mormonism."

The 11-track collection is also described as "a nostalgic look back at the formative experiences that shaped who they are as a band today, like pages straight from their diaries that will leave their listeners feeling seen and critics wanting more."

Janelle Monáe - The Age of Pleasure

Release date: June 9

Marking her return to music five years after 2018’s Dirty Computer, the chameleonic singer and actor Janelle Monáe ushers in The Age of Pleasure. Her fourth studio album features 14 tracks, including collaborations from Grace Jones, Amaarae, Seun Kuti, and others.

During an interview with Zane Lowe on Apple Music 1, Monáe said all the songs "were written from such an honest space," with the goal of being "so specific to this Pan-African crowd who are my friends. I want it to be a love letter to the diaspora."

If its two delightful singles "Float" and "Lipstick Lover" are any indication, it looks like Monáe has nailed her target — while also providing us a much-needed new era for the summer.

Amaarae - Fountain Baby

Release date: June 9

"Coming back after so long, I had a lot of time to think and reflect on what I wanted my message to be. Last time it was about confidence, this time it’s about love and faith," said Ghanaian-American singer Amaarae in a statement about her single, "Reckless & Sweet."

The mystifying track gives a taste of her upcoming sophomore album, Fountain Baby, set to release on June 9. Following her acclaimed 2020 debut The Angel You Don’t Know, the album also features last month’s cheeky "Co-Star," and points to an expansion of the singer’s avant-garde Afro-pop sound, as well as a celebration of Black women all over the world.

Jayda G - Guy

Release date: June 9

Canadian producer and DJ Jayda G was only 10 years old when she lost her father, William Richard Guy. However, his memories shaped her life in significant ways, and now she is ready to share them with the world through her upcoming studio album, Guy.

Through a press release, Jayda said that she wanted the album to be "a blend of storytelling, about the African American experience, death, grief, and understanding." The singer also added that "it’s about my dad and his story, and naturally in part my story, too, but it’s also about so many people who wanted more for themselves and went on a search to find that. This album is just so much for people who have been oppressed and who have not had easy lives."

The first single of the project, "Circle Back Around," features archival footage of Jayda and her father — an endearing portrait that ultimately delivers an uplifting message. As she explains further in the press release: "I think it’s just a testament that it’s never too late to look at yourself and try to understand why you are the way you are, and strive to be better. Understanding the Black man’s experience, Black people’s experience in terms of America, and rising above what society tells you you’re supposed to be."

King Krule - Space Heavy

Release date: June 9

British singer King Krule was inspired by "the space between" his London and Liverpool commutes — both places he considers home — to craft Space Heavy, his fourth studio album.

Written throughout 2020 to 2022, the record was produced by Dilip Harris, and recorded alongside bandmates Ignacio Salvadores, George Bass, James Wilson, and Jack Towell. In April, the hazy "Seaforth" was released as the album’s first single.

King Krule, whose real name is Archy Marshall, will soon embark on a summer tour spanning North America, Europe, and the UK. The first stop is in Minneapolis on July 21.

Killer Mike - Michael

Release date: June 16

It’s been more than a decade since Killer Mike released a solo album (2012’s R.A.P. Music), but June brings forward new, exciting material from the Atlanta rapper and member of Run the Jewels. Upcoming LP Michael is said to be his "most autobiographical" work so far, and features 14 tracks that depict "an origin story," according to a statement.

2022 singles "RUN" and "Talkin Dat S—!" are also included in the album, as well as this year’s "Don’t Let The Devil" and "Motherless" — whose two music videos form a short film paying homage to Mike’s late mother, Mama Niecy. The rapper is also set to perform a 19-stop tour in the U.S. this summer.

Home Is Where - the whaler

Release date: June 16

Florida emo band Home Is Where built a reputation for delivering catharsis through their gloomy lyrics and angry melodies. Their upcoming sophomore LP, the whaler, takes that up a notch: It was defined as a project about "getting used to things getting worse" in a press release.

Produced by Jack Shirley and containing 10 interconnected songs, the whaler "paints a bleak picture of a world in an endless state of collapse — of ruined utopias and desperate people faking normalcy — [but] there’s a humanity-affirming undercurrent throughout that screams to break free."

Ahead of the release, the band shared the lead single "yes! yes! a thousand times yes!," and is currently gearing up for a U.S. tour through the East Coast and Midwest in July and the West Coast in September.

Kim Petras - Feed the Beast

Release date: June 23

The much-awaited debut LP of German singer Kim Petras, Feed the Beast, finally has a birth date: June 23. After struggling with the leaking and eventual scrapping of would-have-been album Problématique, Petras compiled 15 tracks for this new effort — including last year’s mega hit "Unholy" featuring Sam Smith, which earned them both a GRAMMY Award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.

In an interview with Vice, the singer said Feed the Beast marks "a transition from being an independent artist to being at a major label now. Spearheaded by singles "If Jesus Was a Rockstar," "Brrr," and lead single "Alone" featuring Nicki Minaj, Petras will celebrate the release with a performance at NBC’s TODAY Citi Concert Series, as well as live sets at Governor’s Ball in NYC and Life is Beautiful Festival in Las Vegas.

Lunice - OPEN

Release date: June 23

Described as a project that "focuses on the natural human ability and behavior of intuition, instinct, openness, flexibility, and adaptation," and also as "a bizarre ride through the Montreal underground," OPEN is the sophomore album by Canadian producer and TNGHT member, Lunice.

Following up his 2017 acclaimed solo debut, CCCLX, the new record aims to be even more dynamic, with every track conceived to be performed live. Featuring collaborations with Cali Cartier, Zach Zoya, Yuki Dreams Again, DAGR and GRAMMY-winning producer DRTWRK, OPEN drops on June 23.

"No Commas," the pulsating first single off the project, sets the mood to the upcoming folly. "This track is the result of multiple natural occurrences where the melody, drums, and vocal performance coincidentally fit with each other in the moment of creation without any prior motive behind it," Lunice said in a statement. "I find these instinctual moments of creativity beautiful and inspiring."

Maisie Peters - The Good Witch

Release date: June 23

British singer/songwriter Maisie Peters calls herself The Good Witch — the "keeper of the keys and the holder of the cards" to her own universe, soon on display through her upcoming second album.

Written last year while she was on tour, Peters explains that its 15 tracks represent a time when she was "searching for balance between career highs and personal lows," a quality that can be seen through "Body Better," the album’s acutely honest lead single. 

"This is my heart and soul, my blood on the page, the collection of stories that I’ve managed to capture in the past year," said Peters. "A true chronicle of my life in recent history, it is my own twisted version of a breakup album and it all draws upon the same couple of months’ worth of experiences and inspirations." 

The singer is also set to tour 27 cities in the U.S. and Canada from August to October.

Lucinda Williams - Stories From a Rock n Roll Heart

Release date: June 30

Lucinda Williams is living proof that getting older doesn’t mean getting duller. The Americana legend just celebrated her 70th birthday in January — and the last three years of her life have been some of the most tumultuous yet.

In 2020, her Nashville home was damaged by a tornado. Then, came the COVID-19 pandemic. And lastly, a stroke that affected her ability to play the guitar, therefore changing the way she writes songs. But Williams didn’t let any of that stop her — Stories from a Rock n Roll Heart, her 15th studio album, comes out on June 30, and shows that she’s only getting better.

The project already has three singles out: "New York Comeback," "Stolen Moments," and "Where the Song Will Find Me," and counts on backing vocals from artists like Bruce Springsteen, Patti Scialfa, and Angel Olsen.

Listen To GRAMMY.com's LGBTQIA+ Pride Month 2023 Playlist Featuring Demi Lovato, Sam Smith, Kim Petras, Frank Ocean, Omar Apollo & More

5 Women Essential To Punk: Exene Cervenka, Poly Styrene, Alice Bag, Kathleen Hanna & The Linda Lindas
(L-R): Alice Bag, Poly Styrene, The Linda Lindas, Exene Cervenka, Kathleen Hanna

Source Photos (L-R): Ruby Ray/Getty Images; Ian Dickson/Redferns; Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images; Paul Natkin/Getty Images; Daniel Boczarski/Redferns

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5 Women Essential To Punk: Exene Cervenka, Poly Styrene, Alice Bag, Kathleen Hanna & The Linda Lindas

GRAMMY.com highlights some of the culture-shifting women who changed the course of punk, spotlighting one band who is moving the genre forward.

GRAMMYs/Jun 3, 2022 - 07:14 pm

Challenging the status quo musically, lyrically, and visually, the pioneering women of punk made sure they were seen and heard. Punk rock didn’t require stellar musicianship or record-company backing; for the powerful women making noise in the genre, it was about overthrowing old tropes of women in music occupying sweet or subservient positions. These pioneers spewed and shared ideas, passion, poetry and individualism. 

Late ‘70s New York and London were two of the flashpoints of the nascent punk music scene that welcomed women into the fold. In NYC, Patti Smith was a pioneer who remains quintessential, along with the more New Wave-leaning musicality of Debbie Harry and Blondie. In the U.K., Poly Styrene, Siouxsie Sioux, and the Slits made waves on their own terms. Punk's DIY ethos allowed girls and women everywhere to rebel against the macho excesses of ‘70s stadium rock and '80s hair metal. 

Since its late-‘70s birth, punk has seen numerous iterations, and as an ethos and genre, it continues to thrive. And women remain an important part of the musical conversation.  From the from Riot Grrrl movement kickstarted in the Pacific Northwest in the early ‘90s until the present day, numerous lineups, including Arrow DeWilde of Starcrawler and the Linda Lindas, have taken up the mantle, bringing punk into a new era.    

GRAMMY.com highlights some of the pioneering, culture-shifting women who have changed the course of punk and one promising, up-and-coming band at the forefront of the genre’s future. 

Listen to GRAMMY.com’s official Women Essential to Punk playlist on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Pandora. Playlist powered by GRAMMY U.

Exene Cervenka

Graphic featuring photo of Exene Cervenka performing live in 1983

Exene Cervenka performing live in 1983 | Photo: Chris Walter/WireImage

Featuring the shared vocals and lyrics of Chicago-born poet Exene Cervenka and John Doe, X’s 1980 debut LP kicked Los Angeles’ ‘70s soft rock/ hippie era to the curb. Cervenka's enviable thrift-store style, pointed harmonies, bold vocals and personal, clever lyrics made her an unimpeachable icon of the L.A. music scene.   

X songs including "Your Phone’s Off the Hook But You’re Not," "I Must Not Think Bad Things," "4th of July," plus stellar covers of "Wild Thing" and the Doors’ "Soul Kitchen," and the quartet’s best-known tune, "Los Angeles" are a small part of Cervenka’s prolific output.   

In addition to eight X albums, including the most recent, 2020’s Alphabetland, Cervenka was in the country-leaning project The Knitters, while the first of several solo albums solo to date, 1989’s Old Wives,' was pointedly a record "for and about women," she told the Los Angeles Times.   

Auntie Christ and the Original Sinners are among the singer/guitarist’s other musical projects, while Cervenka concurrently pursued poetry with collaborators including LA’s "unofficial poet laureate" Wanda Coleman and Lydia Lunch. As a fine artist, the X singer has been part of at least a dozen exhibitions and mounted a one-woman show, "Exene Cervenka: America the beautiful.

Proof of punk’s —and Cervenka’s — endurance and influence? In 2017, the GRAMMY Museum at L.A. Live honored the lineup with an exhibit titled "X: 40 Years of Punk in Los Angeles," which showcased the uncompromising vision that took Cervenka and the band from grimy punk clubs to Dick Clark’s "American Bandstand" and Rolling Stone accolades. 

Poly Styrene

Graphic featuring photo of Poly Styrene, lead singer of the pioneering punk group X-Ray Spex, in 1977

Poly Styrene, lead singer of the pioneering punk group X-Ray Spex, in 1977 | Photo: Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images

An oral history of Poly Styrene’s life, DayGlo!, published in 2019, includes stories from the X-Ray Spex singer’s many admirers, including the Sex Pistols’ Glen Matlock, The Slits' Tessa Pollitt and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore.

Born Marianne Joan Elliott-Said, Poly Styrene was intensely individualistic, leaving home at 15, hitchhiking to music festivals and living in crash bands around her native U.K. In 1976, within a year of making her first demo, Elliott-Said saw the Sex Pistols, anointed herself Poly Styrene and founded X-Ray Spex. She was 19.

The band’s 1978 debut, Germ-Free Adolescents, has horns punctuating the speedy guitars and Poly Styrene’s cocky vocals. Still-memorable songs like "Germfree Adolescence," "Art-i-Ficial," "Identity" and "The Day The World Turned DayGlo" ensure the band’s legacy, which includes influencing bands from Romeo Void to the Waitresses.

Though Styrene died from cancer at the age of 53, daughter Celeste Bell (singer of Celeste Dos Santos and The Tabloid Queens) has helped cement her mother’s place in punk history. The award-winning documentary Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché, came out in 2021, and was co-directed by Bell. In the doc, Styrene's personal diaries are narrated by actress Ruth Negga, an artist who shares Poly Styrene’s Irish-African heritage and bold spirit.

Alice Bag

Graphic featuring photo of Alice Bag performing at the Mabuhay Gardens in 1978

Alice Bag performing at the Mabuhay Gardens in 1978 | Photo: Ruby Ray/Getty Images

The title of Alice Bag's 2011 memoir — Violence Girl, From East LA Rage to Hollywood Stage: A Chicana Punk Story — only hints at the stories the singer/songwriter, musician, author, artist, educator and feminist has lived.  

As lead singer and co-founder of the Bags (also featuring bassist Patricia Morrison) the vocalist born Alicia Armendariz found herself at the forefront of the original LA punk scene. The Alice Bag Band was featured in the Penelope Spheeris documentary The Decline of Western Civilization before Bag when onto stints in other groundbreaking lineups, including Castration Squad, Cholita and Las Tres.  

Bag’s speaking engagements, music, art and writing further the initial inroads made as young punk singer ‘70s and ’80s. Bag’s second book, 2015’s Pipe Bomb for the Soul in 2015 joined her memoir as a staple in gender, musicology and Chicana studies courses across the country. 

As a solo artist, Alice Bag’s self-titled 2016 debut album, featuring the sharp single "No Means No" and an updated feminist take on the "girl group" anthem, "He’s So Sorry," was named one of the best albums of 2016 by AllMusic and Pitchfork. Two more solo albums and acclaim followed, including the punky 2020 single "Sister Dynamite," with the trenchant lyrics "she’s so tired of fragile masculinity."  

She continues to inspire and influence: In 2018, the City of Los Angeles officially recognized Alice for her "profound influence on music and the punk rock scene in Los Angeles and her activism for the LGBTQ community and speaking out against social injustice."

Kathleen Hanna

Graphic featuring photo of Kathleen Hanna performing at the Celebration Of Music And Film during 2018 Sundance Film Festival at The Shop on January 20, 2018 in Park City, Utah

Kathleen Hanna performing at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival | Photo: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

With more than 24 million Spotify streams, Bikini Kill’s "Rebel Girl" is an enduring anthem for women of all ages and stages. When the tune dropped 1993, Bikini Kill singer Kathleen Hanna was already a voice for third-wave feminism thanks to her collaborations with like-minded young women on ideas, music and zines that launched the Riot Grrrl movement.  

That call to action for young women to embrace feminism, especially via the punk rock scene, arose alongside grunge, and still resonates powerfully more than 30 years later. By the time the band broke up in 1996, the frontwomen had a plethora of side projects and guest appearances with top indie musicians among her many accomplishments.  

In addition to spawning and empowering many bands, writers and artists, Hanna’s own commitment to art and activism remains strong. In 1991, she performed with Bikini Kill a Pro-Choice Rally at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.; in 2011 she gave a speech at a Planned Parenthood "Stand Up for Women's Health" Rally.  

A documentary about Hanna titled The Punk Singer chronicled her life and work up until its 2013 release. Fronting the groups Le Tigre and the Julie Ruin still with a DIY ethos, Hanna also reformed Bikini Kill for its first show in 20 years in 2019… and had the current wave Riot grrrls, irrepressible L.A. lineup the Linda Lindas, opening. The future’s unwritten, but the end is nowhere near.

The Linda Lindas

Graphic of The Linda Lindas as guests on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" in 2021

The Linda Lindas as guests on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" in 2021 | Photo: Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images

By the time the Linda Lindas’ Los Angeles Public Library performance of "Racist Sexist Boy" went viral in May 2021, the three teen (and one pre-) musicians were anointed with the mantle worn by previous all-female punk band groundbreakers including Bikini Kill.  

It was late April 2019 when Amy Poehler saw the Linda Lindas open for Bikini Kill and recruited them for her 2020 film Moxie, where they perform Kathleen Hanna and co.’s iconic "Rebel Girl." In 2020, the Linda Lindas wrote a song for the Netflix documentary The Claudia Kishi Club.  

"Racist Sexist Boy" tells the true story of an experience Mila, the band's drummer, had when a schoolmate made a racist comment before the COVID-19 pandemic. When the tune became a social media hit, all the right people (Tom Morello, Thurston Moore) took notice, and the band scored a deal with respected punk label Epitaph.

Self-described as "Half Asian / Half Latinx. Sisters, cousins and friends who play music together because it’s fun!" the Linda Lindas "channel the spirit of original punk, power pop, and new wave through today's ears, eyes, and minds." Ranging in age from 11-17, the quartet have already played with punk legends the Dils, the Gears, and Phranc. Their debut LP, the aptly titled Growing Up, came out in 2022, leading to appearances on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, gigs in New York, and a tour with Japanese Breakfast and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.  

The Linda Linda appear to have a firm hold on their career and position, as a sort of musical cri de Coeur in the lyrics to "Growing Up" makes clear: "We'll talk 'bout problems we share / We'll talk 'bout things that ain't fair / We'll sing 'bout things we don't know / We'll sing to people and show / What it means to be young and growing up."

L.A. Punk Icon Alice Bag Talks New Album 'Sister Dynamite,' Respectful Listening & Reevaluating Life In A Pandemic

Alice Bag

Photo by Denée Segall 

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L.A. Punk Icon Alice Bag Talks New Album 'Sister Dynamite,' Respectful Listening & Reevaluating Life In A Pandemic

The Recording Academy talks to Bag about her vision behind 'Sister Dynamite' (out now via In The Red Records), the silver linings of this pandemic and what it means to "communicate, not indoctrinate"

GRAMMYs/Apr 28, 2020 - 02:20 am

When we called up revered punk artist/activist Alice Bag in March, the coronavirus pandemic was only just starting to pervade an increasingly dire news cycle. The feminist punk pioneer didn’t seem overly rattled by the poor timing, though. Unlike legions of artists going into panic mode over the idea of canceled tour dates and a drowned-out album cycle, Bag—who recently released her third solo record, Sister Dynamite—is keeping calm and paring down (and working out).

"I grew up poor," she tells the Recording Academy. "My first instinct was to buy a bag of beans and a bag of rice. If I run out of toilet paper, I know how to use water to clean myself. I have Tylenol if I need Tylenol. And I have shelter. So, I feel like I have everything that I need to stay alive, to keep myself alive, to keep my family fed. It's all just extras that we're spoiled with… I think it's forcing me to reevaluate how many different ways I've been spoiled over the past few years."

The last few years have been pivotal ones for Bag, who came of age in 1970s East L.A. and performed in the short-lived but highly influential first-wave punk outfit The Bags. In 2011, the 61-year-old former teacher released the must-read memoir Violence Girl, From East LA Rage to Hollywood Stage – A Chicana Punk Story, and five years later, in 2016, she unveiled her first official solo record. Her latest work, Sister Dynamite, is a pop-punk masterpiece of razor-sharp riffs and chantable turn-of-phrase. In the fall, assuming that the ongoing quarantine is lifted, she'll play a handful of dates with feminist-punk acolytes Bikini Kill.   

The Recording Academy recently spoke to Bag about her vision behind Sister Dynamite, the silver linings of this pandemic and what it means to "communicate, not indoctrinate."

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How are these last couple weeks been for you?

They've been kind of crazy. I played a show right before L.A. started shutting things down. So, my band and I were actually a little bit nervous that we were going to come back with [something] And we played in Seattle. So, my band and I have been checking in and making sure that nobody is sick. So far, so good.

This whole experience has really made me look at things from a different point, from a different perspective. It all seems like you know what? If I can't do a tour this year, I'll do it next year. If my record doesn't come out when it was supposed to, that's okay. It will come out when the time is right. It's all about keeping your eye on what it important.

Right. It sounds like you have a pretty Zen outlook about this. Do you foresee having to make any lifestyle changes this year, in light of all of these widespread music cancellations?

Yeah. I definitely am going to change. I already have, but I grew up poor. My first instinct was to buy a bag of beans and a bag of rice. And I thought, okay ... a big bag of beans and a big bag of rice. And I've lived on that. I have, in the past, managed to feed myself with that. If I run out of toilet paper, I know how to use water to clean myself.

And I have Tylenol if I need Tylenol. And I have shelter. So, I feel like I have everything that I need to stay alive, to keep myself alive, to keep my family fed. You know, it's all just extras that we're spoiled with. I can't have my Morningstar patties but I'm going to survive anyway. And maybe I was having them too often. I think it's forcing me to reevaluate how many different ways I've been spoiled over the past few years.

Also, I like to think that there's a silver lining—that people are changing their values. They're forced to spend time with their families. And it's going to be hard at times, but it could also be a really good thing and a time for growth in a different direction. People might have to change jobs because certain industries might not exist after this is over. People might have to look at other fields to get into. And those fields might be things that promote a healthier environment. I mean, I know it's going to be devastating, but I'm hopeful that there will also be good things that come out of it.

Assuming that Sister Dynamite does come out on time [editor's note: it did]—and it really is a killer record—can I ask who you were thinking about when you decided to call it that?

You know, a lot of time, I just write records. I mean, songs just come to me and I don't really have ... I don't think of it as a whole album. I just think of the individual songs. I think what happened with this is I was just writing. I write every day. And I was interrupted by a request from the band, Fea, in San Antonio to go out to Texas and produce their album. So, when I went out, I got to spend a lot of time in the rehearsal studios. And then, they recorded in a place in El Paso that is kind of a sleep-away camp. It's called Toxic Ranch. And you get to live in this very creative environment while you're involved in recording the record.

I felt totally revitalized. I've been a musician for so long that it's very easy for me to just let my imagination go wild and just say, "Oh, I want a flute on this song," or, "I want a violin or a cello." And just call somebody and say, "Come and play on this song." But because I had that time of bonding in the small group set, I really wanted to have this song be more about my band, about the people that I usually play with, people that I do live shows with. And I really wanted it to be just all upbeat songs instead of having some ballads. I love ballads. I could write those all day long. But I feel like ... I challenged myself to try and figure out ways to put more texture but with less instruments.

Theme-wise, I think there were just things that come up on a day-to-day basis where somebody will say something or I'll read an article and I'll start to write a song about it.

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Right. There’s been no shortage of infuriating news, even well before coronavirus. Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the onslaught of bad news out there when creating?

Definitely. I do feel overwhelmed at times. Right now, especially. When this whole coronavirus started making the news, I was glued to the television. I was like, "Okay, how many cases? When are vaccines coming? How is testing going to work?" I was expecting answers. And here we are a few weeks in, and there are no answers, but I feel like, "I have to stop watching because every time I watch, I just get more and more anxious." So now, I'll take little breaks. I'll check in on the news maybe once or twice a day just to see if there's anything really important. I know that I get texts from the governor's office and the mayor's office telling me this is what's happening. So, I feel like I am as connected to the crisis as I need to be, but I think for my sanity, I also need to have a little bit of insulation. It's like that one song about noise. There's a lot of noise. Only some of it needs to be getting to me. A lot of it is just causing anxiety.

I heard that the sequencing Sister Dynamite record felt important to you. Is that true?

Yeah. In the past I haven't really done that. I just gave myself a really free rein at first. And I think that came from the fact that I had been writing for years and years and I hadn't put out anything. So, I had songs in my little song folder, my little song binder, that were from five, 10, or 15 years ago that I actually, for the first album, that I pulled out and I was like, "This song is still good. I still like it. I'm going to put it on my first album."

So, the first album [2016’s self-titled], especially, has a lot of different instrumentation, different feelings. I mean, I don't want to dis that album, because I really like it, but it really is much more challenging for the listener because it switches from style to style. Because obviously, you can't be a 60-year-old musician—well 61 now—without going through different stages in your life where you were listening to different types of music and all those influences keep changing.

So, I think in the first album, you hear all those different influences. And then, now I think I really tried to hone it in on this more of a punk/pop influenced record.

I love it for that reason. I'm a sucker for anything pop-punk.

Oh good. Yeah. Whatever order it's in, it's got both those influences. And you know, the song “Subele” really reminds me of growing up and listening to Mexican pop with my mom. There's definitely certain ... when I was singing it, I felt like, "Oh, if my mom could hear this, she would like this song."

Of album opener "Spark," you had said that it was a meditation on attempting to tone yourself down a bit and feeling unsuccessful. Were you thinking of a particular time in your life had you felt like you had to do that?

I think it's definitely when I was younger and feeling like I have to be somebody else to be successful in this environment. Even when I was teaching, I felt like I wore a costume. I didn't let anybody know that I was in a punk band. But that was purposeful. That wasn't because I was ashamed of who I was... That was more like I was more like, "I'm not going to share this part of myself with you." 

When I was younger, I really felt like in order to be accepted in certain circumstances like school or work, I had to try and tone it down, like maybe not dress the way I did or not express certain things. But I couldn't. Even just yesterday, I was at the dentist's office because I have a crown that broke and I was looking on my phone and I saw that somebody had posted a nasty, misogynist comment on Facebook. And I thought, "Okay, am I going to ignore this or am I going to say something about it?" And I thought, "Do I want to invest my energy and get into this little war online with this person because they said this thing?" And I decided, "Yes, I can't keep quiet. I have to say something about it."

So, I think ["Spark"] is about that, about not keeping things in. And when I do keep it in, I always feel bad about it. There are times when it's worth walking away and cooling down. But there are also times when you just have to let it out or you feel like if I don't say something, then I'm going to just take all this poison in and let it fester in my body.

Nowadays, it’s not as common for me to feel like I have to tone it down. I feel like as soon as I turned 50, I felt completely liberated. It was a turning point for me where I felt like I could do anything I wanted to. I didn't feel like I had to look any way. I don't have to dress any way. I don't have to keep my thoughts controlled. I'm just going to say whatever I want and do whatever I want.

But then, there's a commitment that goes with that. If you're going to share your ideas, you have to be willing to commit. The same with your outfits. If you're going to wear a crazy hairdo and clothes that are loud, somebody is going to look at you and think, "Oh, you're a kook," or they might say things about you and you have to be self-confident enough to either ignore them or say, "F**k you," or whatever.

But it is a process. When you're younger, it's much harder to know that you're going to get to a point where it's like you really don't care and you are who you are and you're not going to let anybody dim your spark.

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It's definitely an evolution. Just hearing you describe that last thought—it made me think about the year I graduated from college and my father took me out to get some job interview clothes. He took me into a Banana Republic and I tried on this thick, grey wool dress that I would never have worn before that. It felt like a costume. Like I was wearing somebody else's clothes and go live somebody else’s life.

Yeah, I did the same thing. I have pictures of myself right after I started teaching, and I'm so playing the role of a prissy teacher. I have a picture where I look like I'm running for Congress. And another one where I have a little beret on and a blazer. I look really like just what I imagined a teacher was supposed to look like. But since I was a little kid, I've always loved playing dress-up. But I think that I actually got into this idea like, "Oh, this is my teaching costume and this is who I really am. This is the punk that comes out at night." It's almost like Batman or something or some superhero that has a daytime persona, and then, transforms into something powerful.

Looking forward a bit, you’re scheduled to do some live dates with Bikini Kill in the fall. You also opened for them at their first reunion show last year, and you teamed up with Kathleen Hanna a couple of years back in the "77" video. I’m curious, how did you and Kathleen originally connect?

Yeah, I met Kathleen Hanna just about two years ago, maybe three. I'm not sure. But I remember hearing Bikini Kill and Le Tigre and Julie Ruin. But I didn't know her personally. It was she was in L.A. and was going to have a party for a mutual friend. She sent word through Allison Wolfe and my friend, Rudy Blue, that she wanted to invite me. So, of course, I was going to go. So, I went to a party at her house and she came up to me and introduced herself and she told me that she had read my book, Violence Girl. We talked a little bit about that. She was just super friendly. Really, really cool person.

And then, I was, at that time, recording my album, Blueprint, and I remember inviting Allison Wolfe into the studio a couple of weeks later after I had been to this party at Kathleen's house. And she, Allison heard one of the songs and said, "Wow, this would be great for Kathleen to sing on." And I'm like, "Yeah, it would be but I don't know her that well." And Allison said, "I'll ask her." So, Allison actually took the initiative and asked Kathleen and Kathleen said yes. And then, we got to hang out in the studio and we got to hang out at the video shoot for "77."

I'm really impressed by Allison Wolfe and Kathleen. When they talk about being feminists, they live it. And I have to just throw in Shirley Manson [of Garbage], too.

Ah, yes. I love her.

Shirley, she totally came out of the blue. She hadn't been in the studio or anything. I had just met her at a party also. It was the night before we were going to shoot "77" and we were in a little coffee shop planning out the next day's schedule. The person who directed the video for "77," his name is Scott Stuckey. He was going through the schedule and I said, "In the film 9 to 5 there's a character of the two fast to the boss. Right? This woman that's kind of spying on what the three main characters are doing." And I said, "It would be great if Shirley wanted to come by and do that."

And he's like, "That's a great idea. I'll ask her." And he asked her that night, and the next day, she showed up at the video shoot. In her own outfit that she planned at home, fully ready to go.

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That’s amazing. All of those women seem to embody the "communicate, not indoctrinate" mantra you mentioned in your press materials. Can you tell me a little more about the meaning of that phrase?

I was volunteering for the Literacy Campaign and I spent some time just living with a Nicaraguan family, which is another reason that I'm very confident that I can live on beans and rice forever. During my experience there, I realized that education can be a really liberating tool if you help people make their own decisions—if you facilitate exploration and ideas. It's so easy to come at people and say, "This is what happened. Learn it. Spit it back." This refers to "banking education," which is just filling people up with information that they're supposed to assimilate.

The kind of education that I saw taking place in the mid-'80s in Nicaragua was all about people making their own decisions. Taking all the information in, having constructive dialogue, learning how to listen respectfully. And not necessarily having to win the argument. Everybody wins if everybody is thinking for themselves and making their own choices. We do have to come to agreements about stuff, but if everybody is just listening to each other and making their own choices, then it's much more productive.

In the past year or so, I've been asked, "How do you feel about this or that candidate?" And I'm like, "I'm not going to say anything about any candidate. There's so much information about all of the candidates. All you have to do is listen, read, stay informed, and then, make your own choice." 

In the past, there have been times that I want to shake people up and say, "Do this," but I don't. I have to resist because that's not the way to go. It doesn't work in education. It doesn't work when you're being a parent. It doesn't work when you're a partner in a relationship. It doesn't work in society either.

Yeah, I think that we could all stand to listen a lot more. When you meet someone who you know doesn't agree with you, you may not be as inclined to listen to them because you just think, "Well, I already know what they're going to say."

I totally agree with you. That happens a lot. You think, "I know what that group of people thinks," and you don't.

Because I lived in Arizona for a long time, which is very conservative—there are a lot of very conservative people that were my neighbors. I don't consider myself a very conservative person. But these were people that I became friends with that were my community and they had made assumptions about me and I had made assumptions about them. And yet, we could get together and play Scrabble or go for a walk or do something. It's like, "Wait, you need to really see me and I need to really see you. And I need to understand why you're making the choices you're making. And you need to know that your choices are affecting me this way." So, it's really about teaching people to talk to each other and to listen to each other because that's the only way we're ever going to have peace.

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