Bitches Story: A Profile of Seven Year Bitch

When interviewing 7 Year Bitch, you get four-for-the-price-of-one. Not only does each member of the band -- vocalist Selene Vigil, bassist Liz Davis, guitarist Roisin Dunne, and drummer Val Agnew -- have their own answers for each question, they tend to give them at the same time. Or at the very least, they finish each other's sentences. As they talk about their appearance in Mad Love, for instance, their words tumble out in a steady, overlapping flow:Davis: We only filmed one day.Vigil: Yeah, it was only one day....Agnew: Thank God!Vigil: ...it was like 12 hours.Dunne: They put us up at the Alexis.Agnew: We had a trailer with stars!Davis: We got to use our own song ["The Scratch"] and be ourselves. I don't think we would've done it if we were going to be...Agnew: ...playing some other band.....Davis: ...playing some other band and dressed differently and doing a song that someone else wrote.Agnew: The thing that was goofy was playing the same song over and over. Everybody's dead quiet, "Silence on the set!" and all of a sudden they're like, "Waah! Eaagh!"Vigil: And the whole crowd would ham it up 'cause they wanted to get on camera.Dunne: And they brought in stunt people 'cause they wanted to have stage divers,. and for insurance reasons they couldn't just have any Joe Blow leap off the stage. But one us said "Don't do it...."Davis: I said "Don't do it." 'Cause a guy comes up to me and he goes, "Look at me. Do I look like someone that would stage dive at one of your shows?" And I go, "No...."Mad Love, you may remember, was the set-in-Seattle film about Gen X'ers in love; one's crazy (Drew Barrymore), the other isn't (Chris O'Donnell), and the Bitches (who appear in a club scene shot at local club Moe) are easily the bestthing in the movie. And there have been other films the group has turned up in since the release of their last album, 1994's Viva Zapata. There was the low-budget Toast of the Gods, yet to be released ("I think we're the onlywomen in the movie that aren't hos," Davis cracks), then there was Hype, the "Seattle Scene" documentary, which premiered at Utah's Sundance Film Festival in January.Then there was Vigil's star turn in The Year of My Japanese Cousin, which premiered at last year's Seattle International Film Festival and has aired on PBS. Vigil plays an aspiring rock musician who comes into conflict with a cousin who starts out as her fan and ends up surpassing her in popularity. "I was worried because I thought I would be embarrassed," says Vigil. "It was really fun, but you never know; they shoot it, choose what scenes, edit it, and put the soundtrack to it, and you just hope it comes out looking okay."Rest assured, the film (and Vigil) did.Then there was plenty of touring in support of Zapata. Finally, it was time to start working on a new record, Gato Negro, set for release in March. Ask why it took two years for a new record to appear, and the Bitches are first playfully defensive: Davis: Well! It's a lot of working writing a record!;Dunne: You try it! -- then concede that touring took up a lot of time. "We didn't actually sit down and start working on completing the songs until last summer," explains Dunne. "Then we went in and recorded them last October."Gato Negro marks a substantial progression from the Bitches' previous releases. The punky underpinnings are still in place, but the overall sound is harder and slower. And there's another new element: the unmistakable presence of the blues. "Deep in the Heart" and "Whoopie Cat" swing along withthe ferocity of a whiskey-soaked backroom bar. "24,900 Miles Per Hour" (originally written for Mad Love) is a harrowing tale of life on urban mean streets. Distorted vocals on "The History of My Future" and "Miss Understood" (which also features some great growls from Vigil) heighten the darkeratmosphere.The album's also the first the group has recorded for a major label (Atlantic), which they say immediately allowed them greater freedom. "We had more room to pick where we wanted to record and who we wanted to record with," explains Vigil. "It wasn't like, 'OK, you have a $5000 budget, so basically you can record here or here, and with this guy or that guy, andthat's it.' It opened up more areas of what we could do."The band ended up in San Francisco's Brilliant studio, working with Billy Anderson as producer/engineer (the band co-produced). The Bitches had been introduced to Anderson by one of his former clients, Neurosis, and the fact that Anderson was a musician himself was an another plus. "Billy was a really good choice," says Davis. "He's our age and he understands. It just was really easy to communicate with him and he's really talented."Then there was the studio itself. "The room was huge!" says Dunne. "It was like a gymnasium," agrees Davis. "It has trees growing inside it." "30 or 40 foot ceilings, skylights..." adds Dunne. "Yeah," says Davis, "it was really fun. We had some cool parties there, and some jams. 'Cause you're in this big room, with all your instruments set up...." "...and you're done tracking for the day, and you're still wired," Agnew finishes. "You still got all this energy."Once again, the band found themselves finishing songs in the studio, something that also happened with Zapata, though to a lesser degree. "Normally, we try and play our songs live as much as we can before we go to record them," says Davis. "A lot of these we hadn't played live until New Year's Eve and our January show at Moe," says Vigil -- two months after the album was completed.The result was less concern with capturing the band's live sound. "We worked on actually getting the sound of the song, the feeling of the song to come across," says Vigil. "Not like the feeling of us playing live, but the sound of the song itself." The group also spent twice as long in the studio, recording for three weeks, and mixing for two. "We actually had more time than we needed," says Davis. "But I'm really happy with the way the songs came out. I think that they're superior songs, that show we've gotten better. I'm really happy with the record."Gato Negro isn't the only new recording from the group. "Mad Dash" also appears on the recent Home Alive compilation, a benefit record for the grassroots self-defense organization of the same name. Agnew is the member of the band most involved with Home Alive, and the compilation, and she expresses surprise at how the project has grown. "We thought it was it was going to be just a small independent release here," she says. "But once we started soliciting bands, we got an amazing amount of support. Way more submissions than we could possibly have used. And once we got some of the bigger bands confirmed and started getting courted by labels, it gave us the opportunity to take it to another level."I think part of [the amount of interest] was because the whole impact of Mia's death is still in people's minds," Agnew continues. "And Home Alive has been fairly active, it wasn't like something coming out of obscurity. And we have a lot of diversity on the record; there's bands that are already doing well, and then there's bands that haven't even been able to play out of Seattle yet."Though not performing at the Seattle release parties for Home Alive, the band will be on the bill for the San Francisco release party February 28. Then it's back home to Seattle for Gato Negro's release party March 6, followed by what they hope will be an extensive round of touring. A discussion about the nature of life on the road throws up a list a groups they'd like to share a bill with (Neurosis, Girls Against Boys, Rage Against The Machine, Davis drawing the line at AC/DC), as well as their thoughts on the encroaching corporate ogre -- which they may have to face one day, beingon a major label."I never would have done that 'Molson Ice Presents' thing," says Davis. That's just to me definitive of....""...wretchedness..." says Agnew."...the death knell of being an independent band," Davis continues. "I wouldn't do a Budweiser tour or something like that. I like the level that we're at. The level that we're at is pretty cool."Roisin would do a Budweiser tour!" says Vigil.Roisin agrees. "If Budweiser call me up and said, 'You play in the middle, there's an opener and some big headliner, and you get to play in Spain,' I'd go," she says."And drink a lot of Bud!" adds Vigil. "We heard Odwalla was looking to sponsor bands and I wouldn't mind getting Odwalla products! Or let's do the Cuervo tour! It just depends on what you drink."One thing they do agree on is a future that sticks to the basics: "Travel. Tour with the band. Write another record," as Agnew puts it. "I think each record sounds better," concludes Vigil. "I think what we're doing is getting better. And moving to Atlantic I think is a better thing, because people will be able to find our records. So everything is getting better. I guess when things start to get worse," she laughs, "we'll have to reassess the situation!"

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