By Pamela Sternin
Tobi Vail is known for numerous artistic endeavors, none so much as being the drummer for the seminal riot grrrl punk band, Bikini Kill and creator of the zine, Jigsaw. Here on the eve of Bikini Kill’s 20th anniversary vinyl reissue of their debut 12″ EP available November 20th, you can look forward to receiving a limited edition poster if you are one of the first 200 pre-orders. All records come with a fanzine that folds out to a huge poster featuring interviews with Ian MacKaye and Molly Neuman, with excerpts from zines like Jigsaw and Bikini Kill along with a slew of photos.
Vail is busy with a number of musical projects such as Spider and the Webs (whom are recording four songs at the moment with more to come and hopefully a string of West coast shows next Spring). She also performs under the name Tobi Celeste (Celeste being her middle name) as well as being involved in two long-distance bands, Knife in the Eye and another band that has yet to be named where she sings and plays drums while guitarists bust out a wall of noise. In her hometown of Olympia, Vail enjoys female rock bands like Hysterics, Vex, Broken Water, Weird TV, Son Skull, Spiritual Warriors, The Family Stoned and Dead Head. I couldn’t agree more with her on Hysterics, that band is a must see. She also listed off Pussy Riot, Wild Flag and Grass Widow as some favorites as of late.
When it comes to the world of feminist activities, Tobi Vail describes herself as a feminist thinker/writer/critic and a cultural worker. She tries to make change happen through cultural work via bands, fanzines, songs, essays, documentation of feminism, community building (Ladyfest, feminist book clubs, going to protests, boycotting anti-birth control pharmacies, supporting women’s health clinics, writing letters to the editor of my local newspaper, blogging). When asked of her position on Pussy Riot and the recent prison encampment sentences handed down to two of its members, she says, “Pussy Riot is the only band that matters in 2012. They don’t have anything for sale and have pledged to never play an organized gig in a rock club and that is extremely radical. I oppose their prison sentence on the grounds that they are political prisoners who should be allowed freedom of speech. I don’t think the punishment fits the crime. Bikini Kill joins Amnesty International in asking for their immediate release.”
Bikini kill changed the landscape of punk rock as we know it. When asked to look back at the life and times of the band, I asked if there was anything she felt she could have done differently. “Yes. I would have recorded and released more of the early Bikini Kill material that Kathleen played bass on and Kathi played guitar on (pre-Billy) and I would have probably put out more 7”s early in the band. I also wish I had published more issues of Jigsaw – I wrote a lot but didn’t publish much writing from 1994-97 – maybe I will go through that at some point and put some of it out there for people to check out.” When it comes to Bikini Kill doing a reunion or a one-off run of shows, Vail looks at it like this, “We have talked about it but so far the timing isn’t right and I don’t see that changing in the near future mostly due to personal reasons and logistics. We are all active in other stuff and it would only really make sense as a way to promote the reissues. I’m not sure if that is a good enough reason or not – Bikini Kill was very much of a certain time and place. I’m sure I could play the songs well on the drums and everything but I’m not sure the original spark would be there. Plus it would be a little weird feeling like we were living in the past or something? I don’t know. I guess I’m really still on the fence about it even if everything lined up right timing wise. We pretty much did everything we set out to do and when the band was over it was over.”
The fanzine included in the reissue vinyl release is edited and designed by their friend Layla Gibbon who was part of UK riot grrrl band Skinned Teen in the early 90′s and was also involved in the zine Drop Babies and Maximum Rock and Roll. She writes about the band and interviews Ian MacKaye about recording Bikini Kill and Molly Neuman of Bratmobile. Gibbon also had the opportunity to go through some of Bikini Kill’s personal archive which includes photos, old fanzines and flyers which are all assembled on the poster sized pullout that comes with the reissued vinyl.
Outside of Vail’s musical life she pursues a myriad of passions such as writing, running and of course skateboarding (so cool). She’s a huge history buff and recently made a short film called Nostalgia that debuts on Sunday, November 18that the Olympia Film Festival. And when it comes to giving advice to someone who’s considering picking up an instrument, Vail has this to offer, “Play for fun or not at all. Not everyone can be a great musician but anyone can write a good song. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Music is a cool way to hang out with your friends and it is a great excuse to get to know and stay connected to people in your local community – it really doesn’t have to go beyond that – I mean if it does, great, but having friends come see your band play and going to see your friends band play is really what it is all about. Once it gets bigger than that things get weird anyway…humans have always played music and we shouldn’t let consumer culture or snobby values discourage us – sure, some people are gonna excel – and that is amazing – but that shouldn’t keep you from expressing yourself through song and having a real cool time.”
If interested in pre-ordering the Bikini Kill 20th anniversary vinyl reissue of their debut 12″ EP, you can pick it up here at http://bikinikill.com/