Babes In Toyland
Some band's influence is far greater than their position on the Billboard 200.
Babes In Toyland got rolling when vocalist guitarists Kat Bjelland moved to Minneapolis (from Oregon) and was introduced to drummer Lori Barbero at a barbecue. The initial '87 line-up also included bassist Chris Holetz and singer Cindy Russell. But Holetz nor Russell stayed long.
That led Bjelland to reach out to a former bandmate, Courtney Love, to play bass. The future Hole frontwoman didn't make the cut but she appeared to have an impact on the group's lyrics. Following Love's dismissal, Michelle Leon was recruited.
After a series of live shows Babes In Toyland released their '89 debut single "Dust Cake Boy," through Sub Pop's singles club. It turned enough heads to warrant an album. Originally titled "Swamp Pussy," "Spanking Machine" was recorded in Seattle with Grunge producer Jack Endino and released in '90 on the Minneapolis-based Twin/Tone Records.
While Babes In Toyland was an inspiration to some in the Riot Grrrl world, they never associated themselves with that movement. But the band did achieved their initial notoriety through Bjelland's "babydoll" image with her long blonde hair, pouty yet innocent look and slashed clothes. It contrasted with her powerful vocals and aggressive lyrics.
Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore was impressed enough to bring Babes In Toyland along on his group's '90 European tour.
British DJ John Peel named "Spanking Machine" as his "favorite album of 1990."
Following the recording of Babes In Toyland's sophomore set, "Fontanelle," tragedy struck. Leon's boyfriend, Joe Cole, an author, actor and roadie for Black Flag and Rollins Band was murdered in L.A. He was shot in the face after attending a Hole concert at the Whiskey A-Go-Go with Henry Rollins. A distraught Leon left the group and was replaced by Maureen Herman.
The band was profiled in Neal Karlen's book "Babes in Toyland: The Making and Selling of a Rock and Roll Band" which dealt with the band's signing to Warner Bros. and the making of "Fontanelle." Bjelland described the book as being "like cartoon caricatures of us," Herman chimed in stating Karlen "would make a great fiction writer."
"Fontanelle," a '92 release, proved to be Babes In Toyland's most commercially successful album, moving over 200,000 copies.
The final album in the group's initial run was '95's "Nemesisters." The album, different from its predecessors, 'more experimental', dug a hole for the group that sunk deeper when Herman walked away in '96. As a result, Warner dropped them.
On the plus side, Babes In Toyland were among the acts featured in '95 documentary, Not Bad for a Girl, which focused on women in alternative music. Courtney Love was another artist chronicled.
Dana Cochrane played bass for '96 and '97 live shows before Leon briefly rejoined the band in '97.
At this point, Bjelland busied herself with solo projects and it wasn't until '01 that Babes In Toyland reunited for the "The Last Tour," which produced the live album, "Minneapolism." Bjelland played a number of shows in '02 European shows under the Babes In Toyland moniker (with a new drummer and bassist) before Barbero and Herman raised legal issues. And that was it for the next twelve years.
In the summer of '14, Bjelland and Herman confirmed that they were getting back together to write new material and play shows. Along with Barbero, Bjelland and Herman began rehearsing in L.A. with the goal of playing shows in '15.
Why did they decide to revive Babes In Toyland? "It was brought to my attention that not only do we have a lot of diehard fans from back in the day, but also a whole new generation of kids - my son Henry included - that were eager to see us live," said Bjelland.
1990 Spanking Machine