“Fuck the patriarchy. Women are here, we rock now, we do everything.”
There are few places in the United States where social liberalism and a free-flowing, rebellious nature are more alive than in Seattle, long one of the epicenters for expressive individuals and artists alike. Home to some of the most game-changing companies and bands of the past 30 years, Seattle is somewhat of a Mecca for people aiming to challenge the status quo or break from the norm. One particular area where this is evident is in Seattle’s rock ‘n’ roll pedigree, of which its praise is well-deserved: Seattle calls itself home to some of the most legendary grunge and alternative rock acts to ever grace the airwaves.
Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Foo Fighters, Alice In Chains. If you’ve lived in Seattle, as I did for thirteen years growing up, those bands and their songs are forever burned into your brain, as omni-present as the 37 inches of rain that bombard car windshields and rain jackets in the city annually.
The next big name in rock coming out of the PNW, though, might be one that makes you do a double-take. If not for their strangely-familiar-yet-fresh sound so much as their band name itself, Molly Sides (vocals), Ruby Dunphy (drums) Leah Julius (bass), and Whitney Petty (guitar) are making waves in the Seattle scene as the controversial all-female rock quartet Thunderpussy.
If the name Thunderpussy and their new EP, aptly-titled Greatest Tits, initially make you chuckle, listening to a single song of theirs will surely wipe the grin right off your face. These women rock, and channeling a rebellious Seattle spirit, they’re shredding every “girl-band” label thrown in their direction.
On the backs of inking a deal with Republic Records in 2017, the Seattle-based group’s first digital EP released this past Friday across all platforms. I caught up with bassist Leah Julius on release day, to talk about the new EP, Thunderpussy’s message, and Seattle’s rock ‘n’ roll roots. Read the full interview below.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
EB: First, I wanted to say thank you for being able to do this so quickly.
LJ: “Yeah, you called us at the perfect time, we’re literally all together today in meetings anyway, so I just stepped out to talk to you.”
EB: What were the meetings about today?
LJ: “We released our digital EP – Greatest Tits – so it’s kind of a big day for us. A new single, “Gentle Frame”, came out with the EP, and this is kind of the first aggregate thing we’ve ever put out that’s not just standalone singles at the time. Today’s kind of just been scheming about that.”
EB: I included “Speed Queen” on my Thank God It’s New Music Friday playlist – I really enjoy it. Can you tell me a little bit more about the song?
LJ: “”Speed Queen” is a lesbian love story. The music video kind of solidifies that a little bit, but it’s vaguely a love story about Molly and Whitney – our singer and guitar player. They’re a couple. It’s kind of a loose idea based on them that the story came around. There’s a drifter in a bar, a love interest, and they ride off into the sunset together on a motorcycle.”
EB: Being a band in the Northwest, there’s an abundance of native rock ‘n’ roll inspiration: Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Heart. Do you have any inspiration from bands that called Seattle home?
LJ: “Heart – Oh my God – we all love Heart so much. It’s interesting, because we’re based in the Northwest, we all live in Seattle and we started the band in Seattle. But none of us are originally from the Northwest. It’s interesting that we came together here and started making music that was reminiscent of these other earlier Seattle artists. But it wasn’t necessarily intentional.”
EB: Speaking of female bands or female lead singers, who are some women in rock right now that inspire you?
LJ: “Me personally, my favorite musician is Laura Jane Grace, the lead singer of “Against Me!”. She’s just such a fucking badass. It doesn’t get any more badass than that. I still listen to Heart, probably almost every day. Anne and Nancy Wilson, there’s no one else like them. They will always be an inspiration. I dig Courtney Barnett, too. I was just talking to someone down in Portland who was saying Bishop Briggs is really cool. I haven’t really dug into her catalogue much, though.”
EB: Outside of rock ‘n’ roll, are there genres that you find yourself listening to that you’d pull in elements from? Or do you mainly listen to rock ‘n’ roll to create Thunderpussy’s music?
LJ: “I grew up listening to punk music and that’s still a big part of my life. I like punk music, hardcore music. I feel like I actually come to the band with a little different perspective than the other three, who grew up on Elvis, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles. My dad was a Deadhead, so that’s all I heard as a child. I think that’s what makes it kind of interesting, though, because sometimes I’ll pull in a punk rock bassline, but I also get the opportunity to go listen to some soul music and figure out how to really lay down the heavy backbeat and lock in with Ruby. It’s just fun getting the opportunity to play whatever we want. We’re rock ‘n’ roll, but we have ballads, dance songs, and that’s the fun of it.”
EB: How did Thunderpussy come together in the first place? None of you are natives.
LJ: “Molly’s originally from Sun Valley, Idaho. She moved to Seattle to study dance at Cornish College of the Arts. That was eleven years ago or so. Whitney grew up down outside of Atlanta, Georgia. She was just working on boats as a deckhand, and ended up in Seattle, liked it here, and decided to stay. Ruby, our drummer, is from Chicago. She also moved out here to go to Cornish, but is studying Jazz drums. She’s about to graduate in a couple of months.”
“I’m the closest to a Pacific Northwest kid. I moved to Bainbridge Island when I was eight, so I grew up and spent my formative years there. For me, I listened to 107.7 The End. Nirvana, Soundgarden…All that shit was on the radio all the time. There’s just something about the Northwest that creates this rad rock music. But no one else in the band really listened to that stuff at all.”
“We’re just kind of taking hold of the Northwest.”
EB: What’s it been like living and performing while being based in Seattle?
LJ: “Playing in Seattle for us is the best thing ever. This city has been so incredible about embracing us and I really feel like Portland is starting to do the same. We’re just kind of taking hold of the Northwest. We try to be strategic about the number of shows we play here. We get tons of offers, but when we do a hometown show, we really do a hometown show:”
“For example, we did this past New Year’s Eve [in Seattle], and we sold out The Showbox. We put so much into that, and being able to sell that out was a huge goal for us. Now we don’t feel we need to play in Seattle for a little while, because we want people to be hungry to see us again, and maybe even play a bigger room next time.”
“We’ve done it all, we’ve played to literally one person in the UK when we toured over there. We still really run the gamut of shows we play. In Seattle we can play sold out shows, and the rest of the world we’re still building up a fanbase.”
EB: “Gentle Frame” is the new single on the EP. Can you tell me more about it and how you put Greatest Tits together over the past year?
LJ: “The EP came together as a result of us signing with Republic/Stardog Records. We originally recorded our full-length album well before the discussion to sign with them had begun, so these songs were already finished. Once we signed with them, they wanted us to put out this digital EP as a way to introduce us to the world.”
“We picked the first four songs that we thought represented the band in a diverse manner. We came out swinging with Speed Queen. That’s just a good straightforward rock tune, you know, like roll-the-windows-down. “Velvet Noose” just kind of kept swinging, just came out number two, also still rocking. With #3, “Torpedo Love”, we were really excited to show the world a different side of us that, unless you’ve been to our live show, you didn’t know existed. Because our online presence and all the music we had released were just bangers, in your face.”
“We have this whole other side where we can write ballads and tender love songs. That was the intention behind putting “Torpedo” third. Then “Gentle Frame” is just another in-your-face, pop/rock feminist anthem coming out at a really important moment. It’s kind of this song about unwanted advances and feeling empowered to say no, and I think the timing sits well with what’s going on culturally.”
EB: When you say really important moment, what are you thinking of?
LJ: “This year, in terms of women standing up and being done putting up with shit, you know, we’re over it. We joked last year that our hashtag was #yearofthepussy. This year we changed it to #yearofthepussypartdeux. It just really feels like the whole world was following suit, and it’s exciting to feel like we get to be a part of this movement of, “Fuck the patriarchy, women are here, we rock now, we do everything”.
EB: You’ve had some legal struggles with your band name, and there’s still a Supreme Court case going on to keep it. Can you tell me a bit more about how you came up with the inspiration for the name “Thunderpussy” and what that fight to hold on to it has been like?
LJ: “Whitney, she is brainchild of the name. Her and Molly originally started floating around the idea of starting the band, and the name Thunderpussy, Whitney brought it up. They were both in agreement that this was it, this was the one. They originally cornered me at a music festival, where they saw me play bass. They grabbed me and told me they were starting a band called Thunderpussy. I thought it was a joke, because the name was funny, you know. And then once we started I realized that it’s definitely not a joke.”
“The name is really important to us. Even though there have been struggles, we are still fighting the courts. We don’t own the trademark to our name federally – we have it in Washington State. That’s something that we’re not going to back down from at this point. It’s a big part of our identity and reclaiming the word “pussy” to be powerful, and not used to demean people. We’re really excited about the ability to hopefully change hearts and minds, and hopefully the government will follow suit.”
EB: You mentioned that the full-length album has been written for a while now. Is that something that you’re planning to release strategically as well? What’s its status?
LJ: “As of today, we get to legit talk about it, which is really exciting. The album is all done, and we’re in the process now of finalizing the artwork and fun stuff like that. It will be coming out this year.”
EB: Speaking of artwork, with the album cover on the Greatest Tits EP, whose idea was that? How did you come up with it? It’s very clever.
LJ: “I want to say it was Whitney. She had come up with a few different ideas for Greatest Tits. Our creative woman, Ashley, over at Universal Records – she’s fucking badass – we sent her over our ideas. Some of them were like a pig with really saggy tits, you know. So she sent back a few mock-ups of different things, and we all just laid eyes on the lemons, and it was perfect. You kind of have to double take ‘em for a second. It’s so good.”