Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, October 26, 2001

Erin Smith, left, Alison Wolfe and Molly Neuman are Bratmobile.

Journey in rock rolls on
for Bratmobile drummer

By Gary C.W. Chun

Molly Neuman has grown up and has a responsible job, thank you very much. She and her husband co-own an independent record label in Berkeley, Calif., and she's also its general manager. But she still makes time to play the punk music in a trio that debuted a decade ago at the International Pop Underground festival in Olympia, Wash.

With her then-college age bandmates Alison Wolfe and Erin Smith, Bratmobile was just that -- driven and with what was once described as having an "unfocused frenzy of adolescence" -- and, in the true spirit of punk, they had more attitude than instrumental adeptness.

Flash forward, and Bratmobile is still rocking our world, even after a five-year hiatus. If nothing else, the trio's stronger musically, still spitting out smart-mouthed observations on bein' a girl.

"Ladies, Women and Girls" was released last year on Neuman's label Lookout!, and since then, she's switched between her businesswoman and drummer roles with regularity. Bratmobile makes its anticipated island debut starting this weekend, sharing a bill with The Locust, a San Diego grindcore band that Neuman helps with in business matters. "They're an awesome and unique band," she said by phone Tuesday, "unique because they have a keyboardist and a melodic edge to them."

Neuman is no stranger to Honolulu, however, since she was here four years ago with her then-band the Peechees (one she shared with her husband and business partner, Chris Appelgren). Since the album's release last year, Bratmobile toured with the Donnas (the label's popular, all-female rock band) in the U.S. and Ladyfests in Chicago and the U.K.

The Locust and Bratmobile with local bands

Today: The Quintessentials and Postmodern

Tomorrow: Bronson and Hutchinson

Halloween Wednesday: Kite Festival and Neural Void

Where: Pink Cadillac, 478 Ena Road

When: 7 to 10 p.m.; doors open at 6:30

Admission: $8, all ages (full bar for those 21 and over)


The Ladyfests are a combination festival/convention tailored for women. Kathleen Hanna, one of the more visible proponents of a separatist girl aesthetic in her role as frontwoman of the former Bikini Kill and now Le Tigre, once again put out the call of "revolution girl style now" at the Chicago fest. It was yet another attempt to bring what the mainstream media has dubbed "riot grrl" guidelines to women to seize the day and make their voices heard.

It's something Neuman wholeheartedly supports, but in a relatively quiet way. She and her bandmates were there at the movement's beginning, first hooking up as fanzine publishers, with she and Wolfe putting out Girl Germs and Smith out in Washington, D.C., with her pop-culture zine Teenage Gang Debs.

Neuman sees a line of consistency from those days, "one of them being is that there is still a lack of women doing stuff overall in the music business. Bands like Kathleen and ours' certainly set an example of what women can do, pushing aside these imposed limits," she said.

"I still have a feminist identity, but I consider it more my own. I've changed a lot personally over the years, now that I've grown up. I have a lot more patience with myself and with life in general.

"But I share the common feminist vision of getting more active female voices in music. It's just that our band in particular doesn't have any political tactics or some unified agenda to present. But I've always believed there are never enough bands with girls in them!"

Bratmobile's own origins were simple enough. "Back then, we were just beginning going to college, practicing and playing during summer vacation and college breaks." They put out two raw, memorable recordings on the Kill Rock Stars label, "Pottymouth" in 1993 and "The Real Janelle" in '94.

But after being together for three years, "once we were out of school, we needed to find jobs."

After the disbanding in 1994, Wolfe and Smith continued playing together in Cold Cold Heart, and Neuman did the Peechees thing. Five years passed before the three played together at an informal show in Oakland, where they agreed that Bratmobile should live again.

Neuman said she now "finds it strange doing the old songs in concert, now that we're better players and have a better idea of how we should sound. A quarter of our set is made up of old songs, favorites like 'Cool Schmool,' 'Panic,' 'Kiss and Ride' and 'Janelle,' and the rest is made up of the new stuff, which we're definitely more psyched about playing.

"Our core fans are still with us, but now they're telling us 'oh, my little sister loves you guys!' For that, I'm pleased that something that we did worked, considering how fleeting musical tastes can be, and at least some of our inherent instincts about our music panned out."

They're writing songs for their new record, planning to put in studio time in January 2002. And while still supporters of the Kill Rock Stars label, "it made more sense for us to sign with Lookout!, what with my working here, as well as Erin (Wolfe, who, when not out on tour lives in Washington, D.C.)."

"Lookout! started out as a homespun operation, working out of someone's bedroom." It was also the original label for such punk and ska favorites as Green Day and Operation Ivy.

"Now we have office space with 12 employees to support with benefit packages. We view ourselves as a national independent label, willing to sign a bunch of great local bands in the Bay Area, and other bands from elsewhere, like Bis (the Scottish trio that was recently with the now-defunct Grand Royal label ran by the Beastie Boys).

"It's expensive to be successful, to sustain a business where much time and money has to be invested. But it's worth it because, in working with our artists, I find it wonderful, intense and sincere."

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