Babes in Toyland is an American punk rock band formed in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1987. The band was formed by Oregon native Kat Bjelland (lead vocals and guitar), with Lori Barbero (drums) and Michelle Leon (bass), who was later replaced by Maureen Herman in 1992.
Between 1989 and 1995, Babes in Toyland released three studio albums; Spanking Machine (1990), the commercially successful Fontanelle (1992), and Nemesisters (1995), before becoming inactive in 1997 and eventually disbanding in 2001. While the band was inspirational to some performers in the riot grrrl movement in the Pacific Northwest, Babes in Toyland never associated themselves with the movement.
In August 2014, Babes In Toyland announced that they would be reuniting.
Babes in Toyland formed in 1987, after frontwoman Kat Bjelland met drummer Lori Barbero at a friend's barbecue. Originally from Woodburn, Oregon and a former resident of San Francisco, Bjelland had moved to Minneapolis to form a band. Over the following months, Bjelland convinced Barbero to play drums and formed Babes in Toyland in winter 1987. In its initial formation in 1987, in addition to Bjelland and Barbero, the band included Kris Holetz on bass and singer Cindy Russell. Following the departures of Holetz and Russell, it was believed that the band briefly recruited Bjelland's friend - and former bandmate of the band Pagan Babies - Courtney Love on bass. However, during a March 2015 interview with Andrea Swensson from The Current, the members of Babes In Toyland confirmed that Love was never in the band, with Barbero stating "She lived in my house, and one time I think when we were rehearsing she came down and probably picked up something and tried to play and we were just like, "get out of here."
Michelle Leon was recruited as bassist. It has been noted that several songs from the Babes In Toyland's debut album shared lyrics and verses with several songs by Hole, most notably Hole's first several singles, including b-sides from "Retard Girl" and "Dicknail". It is thought that Courtney Love and Bjelland had collaborated on songs in their previous bands, but in actuality, Bjelland was the sole writer of the lyrics as confirmed by close friends of Bjelland and Love who knew the two at the time.
The band achieved their initial notoriety through Bjelland's "babydoll" image — sometimes referred to as the kinderwhore look — which contrasted dramatically with the raw power of her singing voice and her aggressive lyrics. After a number of live shows in 1988, the band released their first single, "Dust Cake Boy", through Sub Pop records' singles club in 1989. As the single reached significant underground success, Babes in Toyland entered the studio in 1989 to record their debut album. Originally titled Swamp Pussy, Spanking Machine was recorded with grunge producer Jack Endino at Seattle's Reciprocal Recording and released in April 1990 on Minneapolis' Twin/Tone Records.
Other bands interested in the underground music scene — most notably Sonic Youth — were fans of the album, so much so that Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore invited the band to perform on Sonic Youth's 1990 European tour to promote their latest album, Goo. The band also performed alongside Sonic Youth at 1991's Reading Festival, which was documented by Dave Markey's music documentary, 1991: The Year Punk Broke.
British DJ John Peel was also a fan of the album, citing it as his "favourite album of 1990." During the band's tour with Sonic Youth in 1990, Babes in Toyland recorded a radio session for John Peel, one of the many Peel Sessions. The band also did a second session with Peel in 1991, and the sessions were released as The Peel Sessions — the band's second EP — in 1992. The band's first EP, To Mother, was composed of outtakes from Spanking Machine and was released in 1990 and received critical acclaim entering the independent charts and staying there for a thirteen weeks, ten of which the EP held the number one spot.
After touring in 1991, the band entered the studio for a second time to record their major label follow-up to Spanking Machine. Bassist Michelle Leon left the group in early 1992, shortly after the death of her boyfriend, Joe Cole. Maureen Herman was recruited as her replacement. With this new line-up, Fontanelle was recorded in Cannon Falls, Minnesota and released in 1992, selling around 200,000 copies in the United States alone. The lead song on the album, "Bruise Violet," is said to be an attack on Courtney Love. The lyrics - which included the lines "you see the stars through eyes lit up with lies / you got your stories all twisted up in mine." - supported this. However, in a more recent interview Bjelland has denied this, saying instead that "Violet" was the name of a muse to both her and Love. The song's video was shown on Beavis and Butt-Head, where the band was described as "chicks" who are "cool." The "Bruise Violet" video was shot in the SoHo loft of photographer Cindy Sherman, who also appears in the video as Bjelland's doppelganger. Sherman's photos appear on the covers of Fontanelle and Painkillers, and the imagery was recreated on stage banners with the artist's permission.
In 1993, the band was chosen to take part in that year's Lollapalooza tour, playing alongside such acts as Primus, Alice in Chains, Dinosaur Jr. and Rage Against the Machine. During dates at Lollapalooza, the band released their third and final EP, Painkillers, in June 1993, which was a re-recording of one of their most notable songs "He's My Thing", as well as outtakes from Fontanelle.
The band was the subject of the 1994 book Babes in Toyland: The Making and Selling of a Rock and Roll Band by Neal Karlen, which dealt with the band's signing to Warner and the recording of Fontanelle. Bjelland described the book as being "like cartoon caricatures of us," while Herman said that Karlen "would make a great fiction writer." The band also appeared in the 1995 documentary Not Bad for a Girl.
On April 8, 1994, Babes in Toyland played a benefit show for Rock Against Domestic Violence with 7 Year Bitch, and Jack Off Jill in Miami at the Cameo Theater, the same day lead-singer of American grunge rock band Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, had been found dead in his Seattle home. Around the same time, the band were featured on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, and were referenced in an episode of the sitcom Roseanne as well as an episode of Absolutely Fabulous.
More than a year later, in May 1995, the band released their final album, Nemesisters. Though receiving mixed reviews, the band described the album as "diverse", "experimental" and "spontaneous" and that the writing and recording process was "very different" as the band were working under pressure. Tours for the album took place throughout Europe - notably with a date at Denmark's Roskilde Festival - the United States, and Australia.
The band lost their contract with their record label when Herman left the band due to hip problems in 1996. Dana Cochrane, formerly of the band Mickey Finn, played bass with the band on live gigs in 1996 and 1997. Original bassist Michelle Leon briefly rejoined the band for a short period in 1997, when Babes in Toyland were constantly breaking up and reforming and planning on releasing a fourth studio album. In 1998, the band was credited with the song Overtura: Astroantiquity/Attacatastrophy on the CD Songs of the Witchblade: A Soundtrack to the Comic Book, which Bjelland co-produced. Bjelland and Barbero played with a new bassist, Jessie Farmer, in 2000.
However, a year earlier, Bjelland had formed a new band, Katastrophy Wife, which seemed to replace Babes in Toyland as her main musical project. Babes in Toyland performed a reunion show billed as "The Last Tour" on November 21, 2001 — which was released as a live album called Minneapolism - and this was not only the last Babes in Toyland show, but also the last official activity. Bjelland played a number of shows in Europe in 2002 under the title Babes in Toyland with a new drummer and bassist from the British band Angelica, however, Bjelland stopped using the name after Barbero and Herman raised legal issues.
In an interview with Lancer Radio at Pasadena College on July 26, 2014, Kat Bjelland and Maureen Herman confirmed that they were getting back together to write new material and play shows. They played their first reunion show in Pioneertown, California at Pappy And Harriet's Pioneertown Palace on February 10, 2015. They played their second show at The Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles, California on February 12, 2015. They were introduced by Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine who recalled on his experiences performing with the band at Lollapalooza in 1993. The show's other celebrity guests included Patty Schemel, Eric Erlandson, Brody Dalle, and Donita Sparks. In Minneapolis, where the band formed, the trio played on the Walker Art Center's lawn for the two-day Rock the Garden festival, June 20–21, 2015.
In August 2015, bassist Maureen Herman was fired from the band, for originally unspecified reasons. In December 2015, Herman revealed that the reason she had been asked to leave the band was due to an article she had written for the website Boing Boing on the sexual assault of Runaways bassist Jackie Fox by manager Kim Fowley in 1975 and Joan Jett's denial of having witnessed it. Herman said that because of Barbero's business connections with Jett, namely Barbero producing an album for a band under Jett's record label, Blackheart Records, Herman was kicked out of the band for what Barbero believed to be hurting possible future business between Barbero and Jett.
|1991||'Babes in Toyland Lyric Book||Babes in Toyland||Twin Tone Records|
|1994||The Making & Selling of a Rock & Roll Band||Neal Karlen||Avon Books|
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