“This is really hard,” Donita Sparks tells TeamRock over the phone from her home in Los Angeles.
Given that we’ve tasked her with selecting the 10 defining tracks from her own band’s back catalogue, she might have a point. Having produced some of the most ferocious sounds of the early 90s, each of L7’s six studio albums are packed to the brim with snarling, snotty, unapologetic gems. That we end up with 11 tracks in total is testament to the band’s impressive legacy.
“I need to say, these aren’t in any particular order, because it’s like picking your favourite child which is not cool,” she says. “Also, it changes all the time, because sometimes your children are good, and sometimes they’re very, very bad.”
“Okay, alright, I guess I can do this. Are you ready?”
Dispatch From Mar-A-Lago (single, 2017)
“I’m going to start with our latest track, Dispatch From Mar-A-Lago, which just came out in the autumn of 2017. It was the first time Suzi [Gardner, L7 co-founder] and I had written together in 16 years or something like that, and we really had a lot of fun with the track. I think the lyrics are funny. A lot of people complain that you can’t understand the lyrics, but we don’t care, because it’s very punk rock. I’ve never shied away from vocals that are distorted or inaudible at times – I think that makes a song even more intriguing to me, to find out those lyrics.”
Uncle Bob (L7, 1988)
“Uncle Bob is a song off of our first ever album, called L7, which came out on Epitaph records. It’s monotonous and sludgy, and it’s just a riff over and over again for the most part, but it tells a true story of a Thanksgiving dinner that Jennifer [Finch, original L7 bassist] and I went to many, many years ago. It’s funny, because when we sing about people, a lot of times they’re based on true stories. I think a lot of people just think they’re made up things, but a lot of our stuff is semi-autobiographical – and that’s one of them.”
Fast And Frightening (Smell The Magic, 1990)
“This song is a rockin’ song – it’s fast, and I think I wrote some pretty good lyrics on this one. And I can tell, because people repeat certain lines when they’re in the audience – I think they become a bit anthemic, for women in particular. So I like a couple of lines in that song a lot – ‘She’s got so much clit she don’t need no balls’ is one.”
Shove (Smell The Magic, 1990)
“Even though I love Broomstick on this record, and I love Deathwish – actually, I really love Deathwish – Shove was an underground hit, and what shook the ground for us. Like an earthquake, it busted up the ground for us as far as clearing a path to get noticed, because before that we were not noticed. So, that was super cool, and Suzi and I wrote that one together, which was great.”
One More Thing (Bricks Are Heavy, 1992)
“I love One More Thing. Jennifer wrote this song, and it’s just really, really good. The vocals aren’t shouted, or screamed, they’re just Jennifer singing in a low register; sort of conversationally singing. It’s very hooky and I think it’s really great. We never performed this live back in the day, but we’re performing it live now, so we’re really digging it because it sounds very fresh to us.”
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Mr Integrity (Bricks Are Heavy, 1992)
“Oh, God. I love Pretend We’re Dead, but I love Mr Integrity, and I love Shitlist, too… Okay, I’m going to go with Mr Integrity, because I love surf music. This song is very surf, and it’s based on a true story. There was a guy, a punk rock hero who I got in a fight with – a verbal thing, y’know; he pissed me off. I thought he was very self-righteous, so this was my response to what I felt was a rude conversation way back in the day. And it’s got bongos, and hand-claps, which is always a plus for me. Even though Pretend We’re Dead was the hit, Mr Integrity I can really fuckin’ dance to.”
Andres (Hungry For Stink, 1994)
“This song is incredibly, uh… Are you familiar with The Flintstones? I think it’s very ‘Flintstones’ in its basic rock [laughs]. It’s not flashy, it’s a simplistic riff and to me it’s beautiful in its simplicity, and it’s beautiful in its humour. It’s based on a real story once again – Suzi and I wrote the song and it was actually a really shitty true-life story. It was an apology to a friend of ours, who was screwed over by another friend of ours. It was kind of our fault, because we brought this person into everybody’s life, and they were a fucking disaster, a leech and quite frankly a criminal, and he ended up doing some damage. So, this was a true apology to our friend, Andres, who ran a rehearsal studio that we rehearsed at in North Hollywood. So, ‘Down in North Hollywood, there’s a guy with long hair’ – that’s all true. Even though we don’t get into the darkness and the ugliness of it, it’s just ‘Andres, I’m sorry’. We kind of took lemons and made lemonade out of it, so what was really a dark, ugly story turned into an absurd, funny track. Andres’ in the video as well – he’s the guy with long hair wearing that face mask.”
Non Existent Patricia (The Beauty Process: Triple Platinum, 1997)
“I believe this was the only song I ever wrote on the road. It came to me during a soundcheck, then I went into the bathroom backstage, shut the door and finished writing it. So it was all written in between soundchecks and showtime, and it’s one of those things where you’re just channelling someone else up there. I really like this one. I think it’s very pretty; it’s got a pretty melody and it’s a bit of a departure for L7 with that very pretty approach – then it gets ugly [laughs], but it’s nice at the beginning.”
Me, Myself And I (The Beauty Process: Triple Platinum, 1997)
“Oh my God, Suzi wrote so many great songs on this record. I’m going to say Me, Myself and I. It’s peculiar, it’s poetic, it’s evocative, it’s just strange. I think Suzi was busting some avant-garde ground on this record, and this is one of the tracks she was doing that with. This song can stand up to any artist like Beck, who has weird tracks that are really great. It’s not a meat and potatoes rock’n’roll song; it’s a quirky, weird song. I think it can stand up artistically to anybody out there – and I can say that because I didn’t write it. As my songwriting partner, I was incredibly proud of Suzi on this record, because I think she really went to some weird places. I love this track.”
Freeway (Slap-Happy, 1999)
“Freeway is a song that came from a news headline here in Los Angeles. We had a lot of fun making this track and our fans either love it or they hate it. There are very few grey areas in between, and fuck ‘em if they don’t get it is my opinion. I think it’s really cool, and we had a lot of fun with the Casio on that one. It’s kind of like how The Beatles have [sings] ‘I read the news today, oh boy’ – it’s our Day In The Life, or whatever the name of that track is.”
Livin’ Large (Slap-Happy, 1999)
“This is Suzi and I – she sings the lead vocal, but I give her the response on some stuff, and I think it’s a quirky, pretty song. As my friend who mixed the track said, it reminded him of cruising out into the country for an outdoor summer hang out; jumping into a lake. It’s got a very summery, chilled out vibe. Also, it lyrically was stating our situation in our career at that time: we were livin’ large in our own little way – we never made it huge, but what a ride. I can look back at it now and think, wow, if we did have a swansong, even if it wasn’t consciously written that way, in retrospect, this was it.”
L7 play Download Festival this June.