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Donita Sparks talks about her online variety show and L7’s new single with Joan Jett 

click to enlarge The Hi-Low Show with Donita Sparks, Fridays at 5 p.m. Mountain Time - We Are Hear: On the Air network, youtube.com/wearehear - JAN BRAUER
  • Jan Brauer
  • The Hi-Low Show with Donita Sparks, Fridays at 5 p.m. Mountain Time We Are Hear: On the Air network, youtube.com/wearehear

Last year, after a 20- year hiatus, L7’s career finally seemed to be back on track. Joan Jett had released the grrrl-punk band’s Scatter the Rats reunion album on her Blackheart Records label. To promote the album, an international tour was scheduled to kick off in Australia this month, followed by appearances in Europe and the States. Now, in the midst of a pandemic, all that has changed.

But L7 frontwoman Donita Sparks — whose career achievements have ranged from co-founding Rock for Choice to throwing her bloody tampons into the crowd during performances — is still keeping busy. Her most high-profile project at the moment — besides recording personalized video shoutouts for Cameo — is The Hi-Low Show With Donita Sparks, an online variety series that she hosts for Linda Perry and Kerry Brown’s We Are Hear: On the Air network.

Sparks, who now lives in L.A.’s Echo Park neighborhood, spoke to us last week about a wide range of topics, including L7’s newly released cover of “Fake Friends” with Joan Jett, the concept behind her absurdist variety show, and her thoughts about Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hanna’s “Riot Grrrl Manifesto.”

Indy: How did you first hook up with Linda Perry and Kerry Brown to become part of their We Are Hear network?
Donita Sparks: We know Linda and Kerry, and we were already talking about some other projects with them. And then the virus hit, so those other projects were put on hold. And they said, “Hey, we’re in talks with YouTube Live about doing benefit COVID programming, and do you want to do a show?” I told them I wasn’t interested at all in doing any kind of musical performance or interview type show, but if they let me do my own thing, I’d do this. So now The Hi-Low Show is one of the more unique things on their channel. I’ve been asking my art-punk and performance artist friends to contribute work. We’ve had Lydia Lunch doing some poetry. We’ve also had Dani Miller from Surfbort, we’ve had David Yow from The Jesus Lizard, we’ve had Arrow de Wilde from Starcrawler, and we’ve had Teri Gender Bender from Le Butcherettes.

Now that the L7 tour is on hold, have you given any consideration to doing a one-off livestreaming performance? A number of bands have been collaborating remotely, although I imagine it’s pretty hard to get much ambience or feedback that way?
I have no desire to do that. I like my rock ‘n’ roll in a club with amplification and stage lights and a crowd that’s energetic and pumped and drunk and screaming and, like, that’s how I am. You know, if I were Janis Ian, I would do an acoustic performance. You know what I mean? If I were Roberta Flack, sure, why not? Somebody like Prince could pull that off on a piano, absolutely. But like, L7 doing our shit sort of stripped down? We’re already pretty stripped down, and if you take away our distortion pedals and our drummer, then we’re just completely crap. [Laughs.] So, we’re not gonna fucking do that. You know what I mean? I mean, Bill, come on.

So here’s a question about Joan Jett. After a very long break, L7 finally put out the Scatter the Rats album on her Blackheart label. She’s also featured on your “Fake Friends” single. How did all that come about?
Well, we’ve known each other for a long time. She played a Rock for Choice show with us once, where we were her backing band, and we’ve kept in touch over the years. So we made this album, which we got funded through PledgeMusic, and then they went bankrupt and swindled everybody out of their money.

Did you get burned badly?
We got burned very badly, yeah, and so did our fans. Probably about 70 grand. So we had this record made with no way to put it out, and so Blackheart came in and they agreed to put it out. So that was cool. As for “Fake Friends,” I heard Joan play that in concert a couple years ago, and I always loved that song. So I just really thought it would be a cool song to do, especially now that we are a Blackheart artist. So that’s what we did back in January. It was supposed to be to kick off our May tour of Australia, and then that got postponed. And then our June shows in Europe got postponed, so we were like, “Ah screw it, let’s just put out the record anyways.”

After listening to L7’s “Dispatch from Mar-a-Lago” single, I went back and re-read Kathleen Hanna’s “Riot Grrrl Manifesto.” Do you mind if I quote a few lines, and get your take on it from the perspective of our current situation?
Sure.

Okay, here it is: “We hate capitalism in all forms, and see our main goal as sharing information and staying alive, instead of making profits or being cool according to traditional standards.”
Who wrote that? Kathleen wrote that?

She did. How relevant would you say that sounds today?
Oh, sure, I think that sounds relevant today. But, you know, listen, I’m not a big commenter on such huge topics as that. But yeah, we can’t continue ruining the planet. And, you know, I love Kathleen, but she has an incredibly comfortable lifestyle these days. She’s married to Adam Horovitz from the Beastie Boys — both very cool people — but, you know, that’s coming from someone who’s now like a multimillionaire. [Laughs.]

What a difference 30 years can make.
It can for some. But yes, it’s a great sentiment, and, uh, let’s move on.

Okay, so I was watching this week’s episode, the one where you do Salt-N-Pepa’s “Shoop Shoop” as a split-screen duet with Arrow de Wilde. And it occurred to me that both of your bands’ latest albums include tracks produced by Nick Launay, a name I’ve seen on classic albums by Public Image Ltd, The Slits and Gang of Four. Were any of those bands influences on you?
I’m a big fan of PiL.

Actually, your early vocals with L7 reminded me a little of John Lydon.
Interesting. Yeah, well, I think I borrowed some of his rolling Rs. [Sings the opening “R-R-R-R-RIGHT NOW” from "Anarchy in the U.K."] You know, that was from his Sex Pistols days. So yeah, I love his vocals. They’re angry, yet there’s humor to them. I like that approach a lot.

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