Our local culture may fixate on The Replacements and Prince but put simply: Babes in Toyland were one of the most important and influential bands to ever come out of Minneapolis. Originally comprised of vocalist/guitarist Kat Bjelland, drummer Lori Barbero and bassist Michelle Leon, the punk band took the ’90s by force with their raw energy and snarling guitars. They were an all-female group singular to their environment, touring with the likes of Sonic Youth and becoming a known influence to riot grrrls such as Kathleen Hanna. Though they ended things in 2001, their music still resounds as loud as ever. So naturally, we are thrilled to have Lori Barbero as the veritable host of the Girl Germs Tribute Kickoff. These days Lori lives in Austin, Texas where she bartends at a honky-tonk, works as an assistant production manager for SXSW and helps run a small record label called Good Horse. Ahead of her return to the center of a rock-club stage, we talked with Lori about life in Austin and the women who shaped her.
Why did you leave Minneapolis to move to Austin?
I wanted to go somewhere new that had music and warmth. It was either Memphis, Nashville or Austin and Austin just kind of fell into place because a friend of mine had a house. Minneapolis is still my home. I have a house here and friends here. I just got seriously depressed for a while and doctors told me to go somewhere warm.
Are you happy there now?
It definitely took me a while but this year is the most I’ve loved it. At first It was really hard to be away from my friends and family and house . I was probably holding back from loving it, but now I’m happy. I have a boxer named Memphis and sometimes I like to take day trips. I work at the best bar in Austin, too. It’s called the White Horse and there is music all of the time.
Do you get nostalgic for the Babes in Toyland days?
It is in the past but I am very proud of my past. It was my life for a very long time. It’s the playing the drums, but also the world travel and the people you meet when you go to the shows. I think I just I like people more than other people do. It really was living the dream. I was playing music with my best friends and traveling and getting paid for it. But it’s not what I do now. I love where I work now and even in Austin I don’t really tell people I was in the band unless we’re sharing stories about travel.
What was the music environment in Minneapolis like when you were playing music?
There were a few all-girl bands playing like Pseudonymphs and Smut but there might have even been fewer than there are now. One thing is for sure and that’s that the music was more raw. There were more women who played instruments and didn’t just sing. I love women who play instruments.
Why do you think that’s changed?
I don’t know. I just think the music has changed a lot. A lot of it is done on computers now and that is part of it. I think rock music is dying. It’s really sad. But I think the majority of the music people like today is really boring. There’s not any soul in it anymore. Theres not many real rock ‘n’ roll bands anymore either. Queens of the Stone Age are one of the only ones. Most music seems like toe-tapping for grannies.
Do you think the experience as a women in the music industry has changed since you were in a touring band?
I really would like to know. It’s funny because i’m surrounded by it during SXSW but when you are managing production for multiple stages there just isn’t time to chat or reflect on how people interact. I would love to comb some of the artists’ ears one day. Where I work there are a lot of female artists who are really great and powerful, though. It seems more powerful because they’re playing.instruments.
Name some women who influenced you in your formative years.
Both of my grandmothers I admired a lot. I have a grandma who is 99 and still living in Wisconsin and up until last year she lived in an apartment and cooked meals for herself and her neighbor. She’s just strong. My other grandma had her voice box taken out. She was one of the first people to actually have that operation. But she was a strong woman in her own right, too. Back in the day when civil rights were in a very different state she said “the white man is the devil man” and then would invite all of the black people come over to her house. She treated them with human decency in the midst of segregation. I listened to Billy Holiday and Louis Armstrong because of her: music I love today. Musically speaking there are so many women who were important to me over the years. Patti Smith sticks out. I saw her play CBGB when I was in high school. Then there’s also Billie Holiday, Josephine Baker and Beth Ditto from The Gossip. Even locally there are people like Dessa and Lizzo. For me it’s always been the women who just do it. No fear. Just go for it.