March 14, 2020
March 14, 2020
Erin Smith’s snippet of video from July, 2019 “MECCA NORMAL doing I WALK ALONE at Tobi Vail’s birthday party!! SO beautiful and perfect and intense to be able to see you do this at this time in this town with all of the people in the audience you have influenced so deeply. You were the first band I ever saw play Olympia in 1989, at Reko Muse Gallery with Tobi Vail and @mskathleenhanna in the audience along with me. THANK YOU MECCA NORMAL!! THANK YOU Jean Smith!!! This weekend has been nothing short of INCREDIBLE!!”
Snippet of “Man Thinks Woman” at Tobi’s birthday
New York Times Popcast: The Return of Bikini Kill and the Long Tail of Riot Grrrl
3 minute Mecca Normal segment of the New York Times Popcast about Riot Grrrl features “I Walk Alone”
We recorded “I Walk Alone” as it was written, and released it in 1986 on our first LP on Smarten UP! — the label I created using the same name as my fanzine (subtitled: a How to Change the World Publication). The album was re-released by K Records in the mid-90s.
The first LP (Smarten UP! Records, 1986) includes “I Walk Alone” re-released by K Records
“I Walk Alone Live” in 2015
Smarten UP!, my mid-80s zine was “a How to Change the World Publication”
Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill) Network, Toronto, 1992
It was interesting to hear one of the participants in the podcast lamenting the lack of live recordings of some of these bands, which is why David and I are thrilled about the new “LIVE in Montreal, 1996” album (Artoffact Records, 2019) which includes “I Walk Alone” as part of a 3-song feminist medley.
“I Walk Alone” has been in our set for most of the 35 years we’ve been playing. I almost always leave the ‘stage’ to go into the audience to sing it, something that has not been recorded and released until now.
Listen on Bandcamp Man Thinks Woman / Strong White Male / I Walk Alone “Live in Montreal, 1996”
Mecca Normal entry in the New York Times Riot Grrrl Listening Guide
Politically, riot grrrl blasted feminism into the future
Mecca Normal ‘I Walk Alone’ (1986)
“Because of their geographic, sonic and political proximity, the Vancouver duo Mecca Normal got swept up in the categorization of riot grrrl, but in fact, Jean Smith and David Lester had helped inspire Hanna to pick up a microphone. They have also survived the moment, still collaborating to this day. “I Walk Alone,” from their first album, set the tone for much of what was to follow. It’s the anthem of a woman staking her claim to independence, solitude, home, safety, the streets and freedom. Bold, blunt, raw and feminist, it remains timely and necessary.” – Evelyn McDonnell
“I Walk Alone” is also on our new album in a three-song medley with “Man Thinks Woman” and “Strong White Male”
LIVE in Montreal, 1996 is part of the CBC Radio Brave New Waves Sessions series (Artoffact Records, 2019)
I haven’t had any Riot Grrrl queries for a long time, but maybe there’s another round of new interest from what seemed to be new interest a few years back. I got a FaceBook message from 17 year-old Julia in Germany saying she’s working on a school project about Riot Grrrl, hoping I’ll answer questions.
“As I want it to be as authentic as possible and mirror the mindset of Riot Grrrl and show what it really meant for all those girls, I’m trying to reach out to as much people of the movement as possible. You are one of them. ”
Well… here’s my message back which intends to make a connection between “all those girls” and present day activities connected to RG as opposed to simply looking back at it as history. Done. Past.
Mecca Normal (my band) is frequently referred to as an early inspiration to the co-founders of Riot Grrrl, but we weren’t a Riot Grrrl band. We’d already been playing, touring and recording since 1986. We had our own thing going called The Black Wedge — anti-authoritarian poets and minimalist musicians on tour in an old school bus.
In 1986 some of the women who co-founded RG saw Mecca Normal perform in Olympia. Which is also when we met the guy who wanted to put out our records on his label. Here’s a link to the first Mecca Normal show in Olympia where a future member of Bikini Kill — drummer Tobi Vail — first saw us. I think she would have been about your age at the time — or younger! I was in my mid-20s.
We hadn’t done many shows at this point, but as we continued on with songs about feminism and social justice, I spoke more from the stage — and in interviews — to encourage young women to get together with their friends and start bands, to write lyrics about their experiences in the scene and in society. There weren’t very many women in bands at that point.
Our first album was out at that time (on my own label) and one of the main songs on it was “I Walk Alone” — which we still perform at our live shows to this day!
It seems there is a lot on the internet about Riot Grrrl. Maybe check this series of video interviews put out by the EMP museum (Experience Music Project) in Seattle. If you search through their material on YouTube you’ll see other Riot Grrrl interviews that should be of interest to you.
Here’s Mecca Normal opening for Kathleen Hanna’s band The Julie Ruin in Portland last year. A new song about feminism.
Good luck with your project, and I hope this helps!
Kathleen Hanna and Kenny Mellman talking about Mecca Normal during The Julie Ruin show in Portland, 2016
“Their music is still as relevant as it was 25 years ago when I first saw them. It makes me happy that their music is still relevant because they’re doing it better than ever. And their new songs are so fucking great and hilarious.” – Kathleen Hanna
Meeting Molly and Allison of Bratmobile for the first time.
An excerpt of my interview with Allison Wolfe (Bratmobile, Sex Stains, Ex Stains) in her home in Brooklyn in 2009.