Don’t Need You: A Conversation With Riot Grrrl Allison Wolfe

by | Oct 16, 2009 | MUSIC

It’s pretty empowering to be able to walk out of watching “Don’t Need You: The Herstory Of Riot Grrrl” straight into an interview with Allison Wolfe, one of the most famous Riot Grrrls, a legendary icon for punk feminism, and a focus of the documentary. She’s about to embark on an East coast tour with her latest musical act, Partyline, which mixes catchy beats with Wolfe’s signature chanting vocals and political overtones. We caught up over the phone, where we talked about Partyline, activism, and why bands keep using animal art.

It’s pretty empowering to be able to walk out of watching “Don’t Need You: The Herstory Of Riot Grrrl” straight into an interview with Allison Wolfe, one of the most famous Riot Grrrls, a legendary icon for punk feminism, and a focus of the documentary. She’s about to embark on an East coast tour with her latest musical act, Partyline, which mixes catchy beats with Wolfe’s signature chanting vocals and political overtones. We caught up over the phone, where we talked about Partyline, activism, and why bands keep using animal art.

Talia Miller: Partyline tends to tour and record in spurts. What inspired you to tour this particular time around?

Allison Wolfe: We didn’t exactly have a new recording. We haven’t toured the US for quite awhile, so we decided to do the West coast in August. I’m from Washington [state], and I like to get back for at least a week every year visiting anyway. So I asked the band what they thought about playing some shows out there and they were interested.

Actually though, we wrote three new songs and recorded them the night before we left for the West coast. We went to our friends Mike and Craig, they used to be in the band Hunchback, they’re really cool and they have a studio, really low-fi, really DIY. And they stayed up all night recording us so that we would have something to take on tour. I do think it’s important to have something to take on tour with you. Angela’s brother, Gene, is going to release the 3 songs as a seven inch on vinyl, on his label, called Moonflower Records.

This East coast tour is being followed by an Australian tour. Are you excited about that?

We are leaving November 15 to tour Australia and we will be back December 8. We got asked to play Ladyfest in Melbourne, Australia, by a woman we know. She fronted the money for most of our plane tickets and we just have to make up the rest through touring when we go. We really need to tour for at least two weeks to be able to make the plane tickets back. I’m really excited this time to play Melbourne because it has the biggest and best music scene.

I know that part of Partyline lives in New York and part of it lives in DC. How does that affect band dynamics?

The first person to move to New York was Crystal, our drummer, three years ago. I moved here two years ago. So already, before I moved up here, it was a little bit difficult. But now with two of us in New York, we practice even less, with Angela still in DC. We practice about once a month; back when we all used to live in Washington, we used to practice once a week. Usually Angela will take a bus to New York and we’ll practice here. We have to rent an official practice pad where you pay by the hour, it’s like $20 an hour, so just to practice can be really expensive. We try to practice right before we’re going to play a show, but sometimes it’s hard to.

Have you played with Noisy Pig before? How did you end up touring together?

Actually, it’s a one-man show. His name is Bernardo, he’s Italian, from Rome originally, but he’s been living in Berlin for several years. He was in a band called Goddess Wings, and has toured the US with them, and he was part of a booking group that booked European tours for American bands. He booked the Frumpies tour in Italy, and that was how we all got to know each other. He’s booked some Bratmobile tours and Partyline shows too. Now he runs a monthly queer night party in Berlin and we’ve played a few times, it’s really fun, it’s the biggest queer night in Berlin.

His solo act is called Noisy Pig, it’s electronic and he sings along to pre-programmed music on the computer and wears a costume. I sing on a couple of his songs, so sometimes when he performs I’ll do backups on the songs. I’m not sure what’s going to happen this tour though.

photo by Marshe Wyche

Can I ask you a non-Partyline question?


I’ve just come out of watching the Riot Grrrl documentary, and the room was just full of people there to see it, which was suprising in many ways. As someone who has been at the front of the feminist punk movement, of riot grrrl and of Ladyfest, what would you say to groups of women who are watching these movies and thinking about the direction of women in punk?

I don’t always have the answer to that. I think it’s important to learn our history, to read books, and watch documentaries, because we have been marginalized and written out of history, so we are often not even talked about or acknowledged as a valid movement or history maker. Frequently you have to search in alternative circles just to find information about the movement or groups of people or women’s achievements.

But I think it’s important as well to document your own stories, write your own lyrics, start your own band, write a paper or a thesis, or whatever it is. It’s important to try to keep feminism alive, as long as sexism continues, so must feminism; it’s all about survival and self-love. I think in order to do that then we need to keep the dialogue open but also keep the ideas fresh and new and be able to use new words and terms and language to describe new movements or activism. In a lot of ways, riot grrrl harkened to a certain era, a certain place. I don’t believe it’s dead or it was a fad; I think in a lot of ways riot grrrl is synonymous with feminism, it’s a punk rock feminism that particularly existed in the early 90s. In order to keep things fresh, we need to keep having new blood and new ideas in feminism, and new dialogue. I’m all for people creating new things and using new terms. I feel like Ladyfest was part of that, it was an extension of riot grrrl, but it was updated. It focused on creating an event that was participatory and non-profit and politicized and by, for, and about women. I’m hoping that all women can think of more ways to struggle and protest and be creative and have a dialogue and network. I don’t believe in throwing out the old, I believe in building on our past.

Speaking of building, do you have anyone or any bands that come to mind that are producing new things you’re really excited about?

One thing that’s a little hard for me is that sometimes these days I feel like a lot of bands aren’t that politicized. I would like to see something that’s a little more political than a lot of bands these days. I keep seeing bands trying not to talk about politics, saying things like, “oh, we’re just a band, we’re not girls”, or using animals in their art because they’re safe. Some things just feel a little too safe for me, or artsy, and there’s not any real political content. People are trying not to focus on that, and that kind of annoys me. Look, we just came out of the most horrendous Bush administration where there was evil all the time, and the very least we can do is speak out about it. We’re still completely fucked from that; our economy is completely fucked and everybody is really desperate right now. And if you’re just running around and being a noisy rocker and drawing pictures of animals and not even trying to make any sort of a connection, then fuck you. I’m actually offended people don’t want to talk about politics because we’re all really screwed right now, and how can you ignore that?

But of course, I also believe in everyone having a good time and creating art for art’s sake as well. There’s bands I really like, such as Mika Miko, and there’s a band called Finally Punk from Texas, and I really love Dynasty Handbags. She does performance art and she’s a musician; she’s been around for a long time, I think she’s really interesting. There are also people like Jean Smith of Mecca Normal, who I really appreciate. She’s always been confrontational and talks about politics and what she sees, and is interested in creating and playing with new sounds.

You can see Partyline at Gallery5, 200 W. Marshall Street, RVA on Friday, October 16 at 7pm. Appearing with Noisy Pig, the Two Funerals, Sexy Crimes, and the DJs of Cherry Bomb.

RVA Staff

RVA Staff

Since 2005, the dedicated team at RVA Magazine, known as RVA Staff, has been delivering the cultural news that matters in Richmond, VA. This talented group of professionals is committed to keeping you informed about the events and happenings in the city.

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