Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Straight-Up Discussion with Members of 7 Year Bitch

Selene Vigil-Wilk rolls through a 7 Year Bitch song recently in Seattle. Also pictured is bassist Tommy Bonehead.
(Cat Rose photo)


By Andy and Cat

Bands have to start somewhere, so the seeds for 7 Year Bitch might as well have been sown while two of its members were working at an Italian import food shop at Pike Place Market in Seattle in 1990.

Drummer for the band -- which broke up in 1997 -- Valerie Agnew notes that she and her husband strolled through the market on a recent day, and the memories came flooding back.

Agnew worked side by side with vocalist Selene Vigil-Wilk -- both sporting tattoos and possessing an intense love for music -- and getting a band happening was one of the main ideas surging through their minds as the hours crept by and they anticipated an evening of raucous live music at local clubs.

"We would just shoot the shit about it while we were selling fig bars," said Agnew, sitting beside Vigil-Wilk on Jan. 15 at a Seattle hotel bar about seven blocks away from the market.

The singer's eyes light up and she cracks up when noting that she wanted to play violin in the group. The drummer shakes her head: nope that ain't gonna happen.

Apparently the ingredients in those fig bars were punk-rock friendly because along came bassist Elizabeth Davis-Simpson from her job upstairs at the market to buy the tasty snacks at the shop. Agnew and Vigil-Wilk struck up a friendship with Davis-Simpson over the counter while she was looking "badass" with her bullet necklace and other edgy attire.

Davis-Simpson was already cutting her teeth in a band, but she would soon team up with the other women. Eventually, Stefanie Sargent (RIP) -- who "waltzes in off the streets of San Francisco" back to Seattle, Vigil-Wilk said -- would befriend the trio.

Sargent was friends with Vigil-Wilk's boyfriend, and when the soon-to-be 7 Year Bitch guitarist showed up and yelled Eric's name, the singer liked her instantly. Sargent slept on their couch, quick bonds were formed and a band was in the works.

And what a band it would turn out to be, offering up three gut-wrenching albums and a handful of singles that dug into the emotions of the band, its friends and fans.


C/Z Records



'HONEST' SONGS

Agnew said that the feelings expressed in the songs could "universally apply to anybody who's had heartbreak of any kind."

The band spoke up, stood strong and laid it all out there.

"What struck me is that they (the songs) were very honest, they were very real," said Vigil-Wilk. "It's our experiences. People experience tragedy or loss or a relationship... I'm not gonna sit here and cry all day. I'm gonna go hit something. There's a lot of raw emotion and energy in it."

Twelve of those songs were released Jan. 15 on the "Live at Moe" album, which was recorded in 1996 in Seattle. The MOE Recordings release kicks off with "24,900 Miles Per Hour" and rips through "Hip Like Junk," "The Scratch," "Kiss My Ass Goodbye" and other crucial tunes.

Agnew, Vigil-Wilk, Davis-Simpson and Róisín Ross (who replaced Sargent after her death in 1992 and played guitar on the "Moe" album) were all in Seattle on Jan. 17 for an interview and signing at the EMP Museum.

7 Year Bitch at EMP. (Ben London photo)

"The new CD is fucking powerful!" said Andy Kessler (aka Joe Spleen), guitarist of The Gits. “They're my sisters and a great band. It's been so good to spend some time with them lately; they're family."

Added Ben London, guitarist/vocalist for Alcohol Funnycar and longtime band friend: "7 Year Bitch was such a pure example of DIY. They had such a strong perspective and natural talent that they willed themselves out of the audience and on to the stage. It was amazing to see them grow together and become the powerful band they were."

London also came up with the name 7 Year Bitch one day while drinking beers with the band at the Comet Tavern. Vigil-Wilk said with a laugh that Sargent wanted to call the band Pineapple Thunderpussy, but they went with London's moniker, which takes a clever jab at the Marilyn Monroe film.

Agnew reminisces about Sargent, who had a magnetic personality and was a big fan of the blond movie star: "We always called her the punk rock Marilyn Monroe," and they used an image of Monroe from "Some Like it Hot" on the first 7 Year Bitch single, featuring the songs "Lorna," "No Fuckin' War" and "You Smell Lonely."


'SURREAL' EXPERIENCE

Speaking of "You Smell Lonely," it was one of the four 7 Year Bitch songs that Vigil-Wilk belted out in December 2015 at two benefit gigs for Hammerbox bassist James Atkins, who is battling esophageal cancer, at Chop Suey in Seattle. (Editor's note: Sadly, Atkins passed away on Feb. 27.)

Backed by London, Alcohol Funnycar bassist Tommy Bonehead and drummer Jason Finn (Presidents of the USA, Love Battery), she smiled and slithered her way through the set, which also featured "The Scratch," "Crying Shame" and "Knot." We were there and it was fucking great.

While standing on the sidewalk chatting with Atkins in front of Chop Suey, Vigil-Wilk said she told her friend, "That was surreal," and he replied, "I know..."

Vigil-Wilk noted that only the words “I know” were necessary when communicating with Atkins and others about what transpired during those shows. “I know” spoke volumes of that special time when emotions were at the forefront both on and off stage.

Agnew and Vigil-Wilk laughed while recalling the gigs and scores of friends surrounding Atkins, band members and attendees.

I turned to Agnew and said that it’s possible that no words — only eye contact and nods of the heads — could have done the job in summing up what those shows meant to so many people. She and Vigil-Wilk agreed as smiles spread across the table.

The singer hadn't let loose on those songs since 7 Year Bitch broke up in 1997. It was high time that she brought her "stuff" back to life and shared it with the crowd again -- and with Atkins.

"It felt awesome," said Vigil-Wilk, who rolled through two 45-minute practices with the guys leading up to the shows. "I was excited. I wasn't over-the-top nervous. Right before I went on stage, it was like there was a hummingbird in my stomach (laughs while making screeching bird noises). But then once I got out there and the music started, I just felt like, 'I got this.' For some reason, I just felt this fricking confidence from out of nowhere. I think I was channeling Elizabeth because Elizabeth is always very confident."

Other 7 Year Bitch members chose not to perform -- and there isn't a reunion in the cards -- but they all gave Vigil-Wilk and the guys the go-ahead to go at it.

Vigil-Wilk turns to Agnew and notes that she was glad her friend was at the Atkins gigs. Agnew was her security blanket. Her partner in punk-rock crime even though she wasn't on stage like in the old days. Agnew was floored during the gigs and added that while watching the shows with Atkins and others, she gained a different perspective on Vigil-Wilk's style, since she always watched the singer from the stage while punishing her drum kit.

On the trio that rocked with Vigil-Wilk, Agnew said: "It was cool that it was such old friends. So having our brothers be the ones that were backing her up made it OK for us."

Agnew added that Atkins was stoked, and the collective, palpable energy from all the bands made the shows unforgettable. Some band members were sick, but they pushed through adversity, pulling it out in the end, Agnew said.

Also playing that night were Hammerbox (with Fiia McGann taking Atkins' place on bass), The Gits (with energetic singer Rachel Flotard bringing the spirit of Mia Zapata, RIP, to the stage), Alcohol Funnycar, Coffin Break, Gretta Harley and Stag.

"Everybody that showed up, the audience... everybody brought something and it was all positive and you just felt it in the room. It was an unbelievable experience that I get chills thinking about it right now, I do," Vigil-Wilk said.

"People were spontaneously crying throughout the night. It was heavy."

Agnew -- who moved out to Seattle with The Gits, London and others from Antioch College in Ohio -- said The Gits nailed it as she watched alongside another group of friends from her old school who were in town for the shows.


Trio of Cat Rose photos



Partial lyrics, music guide to "Knot"


ZAPATA'S SOUL

Zapata had a huge influence on 7 Year Bitch when they came crashing through the gate in 1990. They practiced above her bedroom at the Rathouse and she gave them words of advice from the get-go.

"She would say, 'You guys, this is rad; you guys, this is awesome.' She was totally our cheerleader, had our back, was so supportive of us," said Vigil-Wilk, who saw The Gits for the first time with her boyfriend at the Vogue.

The couple turned to each other and one of them said, "Things just got a whole hell of a lot more interesting." Vigil-Wilk went and saw them again, "and I just sat there and looked at her. I still remember the feeling, her raw, pure, soul -- singing."

Agnew said Zapata had the "ability to express human experience in a way that everybody could connect to. The lyrics to 'Cut My Skin'... I remember listening to a cassette tape of them before we moved out to Seattle. This is while we were all still at Antioch. I remember thinking, just listening to the certain lyrics and the way that she sung them, just having this feeling like she understood and was able to emote these universal things.

"Which is true of any great music," Agnew added, "That's why everybody's been mourning the loss of David Bowie and even Lemmy. That same thing where she just had it effortlessly, without it being self-conscious or contrived or preachy. We were fortunate enough to see her find her own stride and confidence, because she was sometimes really super confident and sometimes not."

Cat and I were fortunate to attend a Zapata solo acoustic gig in San Jose, Calif., in 1993 (we also saw The Gits a night or so before). We spoke to her and she said she was nervous because none of her people were there.

"We're your people," Cat said and bought Zapata a shot of whiskey. We had a group of friends there watching and rooting her on. It is one of our most fond memories to this day.

Agnew said: "I remember Mia was stoked about playing that acoustic show. She was stoked that she got paid. She was totally excited because she had been really nervous and she was pushing herself outside of her comfort zone, because as you saw with The Gits, their energy and their vibe as a band was they all played off of each other. I'm so glad that you guys were at that show."

Vigil-Wilk recalls 7 Year Bitch staying at the Hyatt on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles on Atlantic Records' dime, living it up and blown away by the scenario. They told The Gits to get over there and join them posthaste.

"They came over. They were on that tour that you guys were at. We're just sitting there because now Atlantic is looking at them and it was so exciting. We're just like 'Holy shit, we can't believe this is happening.'" the singer said. "Everything was in a good space right then after she had done that (acoustic set). There was a lot of really exciting things going on."

There was a weeklong 7 Year Bitch/Gits East Coast tour in the works, Agnew said as her voice trails off and she glances at Vigil-Wilk as they mention Zapata's passing on July 7, 1993.

"She was an absolute inspiration, as well as cheered us on. She was in the front and the back of us..." Vigil-Wilk said.

"Leading and supporting. She was an amazing human," Agnew said.

"I think we should do a cheers," said Cat, in honor of Zapata, as glasses clinked together.

After a few seconds of silence, Vigil-Wilk continued: "I wanna talk about her, I like talking about her. It brings tears to your eyes...I want more people to know about her and hear their music."

7 Year Bitch's album "¡Viva Zapata!" is dedicated to Zapata and Sargent and features a painting of The Gits singer on the cover.


C/Z Records



'LIVE AT MOE'

Now that a live 7 Year Bitch album has been unleashed, Agnew and Vigil-Wilk have been talking about those songs and gigs like they were written and took place yesterday. They're thrilled about this project and to be hanging out with each other.

MOE Recordings co-founder Scott Blum found the live recordings in his basement, contacted the band members about two years ago and got the ball rolling.

Agnew laughs while thinking back to the project's infancy.

"Our really good friend, our old manager who has a very dry sense of humor, very real person, was like, 'Well, you guys need to know that it's possible that nobody's gonna give a shit, right?' And we were like, 'Yeah, thanks Kevin, we know it, fuck you, dude,'" she said.

Vigil-Wilk interjected while busting up: "We don't care. We give a shit. We're putting this record out, alright?"

Agnew jumped back in: "We wanna do it for ourselves, and then if other people end up caring about it, great."

Davis-Simpson's immediate answer to why they wanted to release the record was, "Because we made it," according to Agnew, who added: "Because we have it. Because it's there. If you paint a painting, you wanna hang it up on your wall. It's kind of like the same thing."




They don't remember the specific shows that were recorded, but Vigil-Wilk loves the banter on stage that's displayed on the recording.

"A lot of it's Elizabeth. Elizabeth was way more talkative on stage than me, like she could shoot the shit. I was just like, I don't know, dwelling in my own crazy head. She's funny."

One song's missing a verse and the singer wondered if she fell off the stage or something, but a friend noted that some dude jumped up on stage, bashed into Ross, a security guard intervened and the mayhem continued from there.

They noted that close friend Lisa Faye Beatty (RIP) was the soundwoman on the recording -- and on many of their tours -- and she later joined them on stage as 7 Year Bitch's last guitarist.

"It was really cool to have her be part of it," Agnew said.

For Agnew, the magic about playing music is cementing a connection with your bandmates, your friends. Writing riffs and lyrics that strike a chord with others. For instance, "No Fuckin' War" sprouted from the band and countless others protesting the Gulf War.

"We had been in the streets yelling that and protesting, and everybody was. With the music and they're playing it and I started screaming, 'No Fuckin' War!' It was at that time and that's what we were doing and the lyrics shot off of that," said Vigil-Wilk, who was bashed in the head by a cop while protesting at the Federal Building in Seattle.


EARLY BEGINNINGS

As we drained our drinks and finished nibbling on the pumpkin fritters with green curry sauce at the hotel bar, we took Agnew and Vigil-Wilk back to their childhoods and had them discuss their earliest music experiences. A junior version of 7 Year Bitch, if you will.

When Vigil-Wilk received a text from a friend informing her that David Bowie died, she burst into tears. The image that came into her head was when she was 7 years old.

"I was in the basement of my house jumping around with my brothers and sisters, flying off furniture," she began. "And it was late night, my parents were probably out. Our cousin who lived with us and babysat us (was there), and David Bowie came on TV on some late-night music show. I remember it was Ziggy Stardust, and I remember we just stopped and stared at the TV. We were like,'Whoah!'"

She also recalls her dad's album collection and getting "blasted out by Led Zeppelin" in front of the stereo speakers at age 5.

As for her mom, she treated her six kids to some Johnny Cash and a ton of pancakes on Sunday mornings. And there was Motown music, too, and the kids "just danced our butts off."

Agnew's turn: "My first memories of records, my mom was really into Pointer Sisters, the one with the little high-heel tennis shoes with buckles on the shoes; she was really into Carly Simon and The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac and all that stuff."

"As far as when I started exploring music myself, the first album I ever bought was Ted Nugent 'Scream Dream' and I think it was because of the cover. I remember being obsessed with the Donna Summer 'Bad Girls' album cover and the KISS records covers... I would be like, 'What are these people doing? I wanna know.'"

Now, Agnew's got a new album cover of her own to check out. And some songs that stand the test of time.


Cat Rose photo




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