INTERVIEW: How Team Dresch is Living the Dream

Team Dresch pulls a fan on stage to sing “Hate The Christian Right” at Union Transfer. All photos by Amanda Silberling.

Before Team Dresch performs their 1995 anthem “Hate the Christian Right” at Philadelphia’s Union Transfer last week, singer and guitarist Jody Bleyle pulls a longtime fan from the crowd on stage. 

As the queercore legends get ready to rip into the next song on their long-awaited reunion tour, the fan – Marlene – yells into the microphone, breathless: “I want you all to know… Dreams do come true.” Seconds later, she’s dancing on stage, playing air guitar back-to-back with Kaia Wilson, screaming the decades-old (yet still relevant) anti-authoritarian lyrics: “You never wanted to care/You kill, you kill, you kill!”

Reunion is in the air these days  – there was Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill, and now, Team Dresch. As someone who spent the Riot Grrrl movement in diapers, I sometimes feel like the significance of these “triumphant returns” is lost on me. In the crowd, I listen to queer punks wax poetic about how it felt to discover Team Dresch – an all-lesbian punk band – in the ’90s, and how surreal it is to see them perform so many years later (only this time, they had to pay for babysitters). Whether you’re an old fan or a newbie, Team Dresch shreds – but now, a week after the show, I’m most affected by how it felt to watch Marlene’s “dream” come true – to see someone derive so much pure joy from the love of music.

Team Dresch plays Union Transfer. All photos by Amanda Silberling.

I find myself feeling jaded these days, which is worrisome, because I’m only as old as Team Dresch’s second record, Captain My Captain (1996). I work at an art museum – something I’ve dreamed of for all of my life – yet, something feels off when I listen to my coworker tell me about her exciting visit to another gallery last weekend. 

“Do you ever get tired of going to museums?” I ask her. “Since, you know, we spend so much time in one?”

“Oh, god no,” she says. 

It’s not that I’ve lost my passion (just recently, a Bruce Naumann sculpture made me openly weep). It’s just that the older I get, I find myself less excited about the things that I love so fiercely. I’m terrified. I used to line up outside of concert venues hours early, yet now, going to shows can feel like a chore, no matter how much I still do – and always will – love music. 

This is on my mind when Des Ark opens the show, reluctantly coming out of a sort-of-retirement as an homage to Team Dresch, a band that frontperson Aimée Argote credits with “saving [her] life.”

After years of touring – pushing through the physical and mental toll of being a full-time punk musician – Argote woke up one day in 2016 and realized she was burnt out. She tells IndyWeek, “I sat up and was like, it’s gone. It’s gone. It’s gone. That thing that you have inside of you that says, go to work, make music, do your thing. There’s nothing there.” Despite leaving the precarious, unrewarding lifestyle of punk rock behind, Argote’s appreciation for her longtime idols was still enough to get back on stage for one last mini-tour before she quits music for good.

Des Ark performing at Union Transfer. All photos by Amanda Silberling.

What must it be like to achieve “the dream” – to “make it” in music, develop a fan base, and perform night after night – only to discover that in this dream, something indiscernible feels wrong, and it’s kind of a relief to wake up in the morning? What does it mean that, for Marlene, the dream is to get on stage just once, yet for Aimée, living the same dream night after night isn’t as glorious as it seems? Is our collective dream – of spending day after day surrounded by our passions – one that deteriorates as you approach it, like when you get to the best part of your dream, only to wake up suddenly? 

During Des Ark’s set, Aimée Argote takes a moment to preface “Ashley’s Song,” a song about processing a sexual assault. The crowd is silent as Argote explains the pain of telling people what happened. Then, a voice shouts from the back of the room: “We believe you.” 

What’s so special about the bands who played that night – Team Dresch, Screaming Females, and Des Ark – is that, if you’re a fan, you’re probably not an asshole. So, if you showed up to their gig, you’re probably not an asshole. And maybe “the dream” isn’t so much about the music itself, but rather, the dream is to spend as much time as we can with people who aren’t assholes. 

Jody Bleyle says: “Every night I feel like I get more inspiration to just continue… being alive, but also just doing the work of being a person in the world that is on the left, and a freak, and fighting fascism, and having to live in this world that we’re living in right now, going into the streets, fighting climate change… All the shit we have to do day to day when you’re not at a show.” 

It’s tempting to view Des Ark’s farewell and Team Dresch’s reunion in contrast with one another, but they aren’t. Maybe the dream, like any progress, is not linear, nor is it static – I sympathize with Argote’s decision to leave music, especially given the misogyny that still infects even the most “alternative” of spaces. Even Bleyle openly admits: “Mental health issues drove me away from full-time rock.” Yet at the same time, even decades after their emergence, I feel immensely relieved to have a band like Team Dresch back on the road and recording a new album. We need more bands like Team Dresch (and Screaming Females, and Des Ark) in our lives to remind us of why we fell in love with music in the first place, and why every once in a while – even if you’re exhausted from the 9-to-5 grind – it’s worth it to get yourself out to a show.

When Marlene tells us, her fellow fans, that dreams come true, maybe she doesn’t mean that all of us will one day get to perform on stage with our favorite bands. Maybe the dream is more simple: to merely surround ourselves with the right people. And thank god that some bands have a knack for bringing the right people together.

Team Dresch performing at Union Transfer. All photos by Amanda Silberling.

Find the rest of Audiofemme’s chat with Jody Bleyle and Donna Dresch below

AF: What was your dream when Team Dresch began, and how has that changed after deciding to record another album after 23 years?

JB: I feel like, to me, the dream is similar to what it was when we started the band when we were younger, which was just… the need to find similar people, the need to find dykes to play music with, and not just any music, but the kind of music that I love. I think we all felt like we needed to find people that really, we could relate to, in terms of loving the same bands, in the way that you have that burning desire, but also dykes. It really felt like life or death. Like, “I don’t know how I’m going to move forward into life if I don’t find this.” And it doesn’t feel like that anymore, but it feels like the dream is the same in terms of just wanting to be with these people – wanting to play music with these people, having that be such a big part of being able to be happy, and feel good about yourself in the world. It’s definitely not about anything more than just wanting to connect with people, and being able to play shows, and being able to connect with everybody who comes to the show. 

AF: Each band on the lineup – Team Dresch, Screaming Females, and Des Ark – really did seem to have a knack for connecting with the audience. It was such an emotional moment when Des Ark introduced “Ashley’s Song,” and she was talking about coming to terms with an assault, and someone shouted, “We believe you.”

JB: Let’s assume that most people in that room have people at this point in our lives who believe us, but to have that next level where you’re in a room with some people that you know, but mostly strangers, who you can have that same feeling of intimacy and connection with – it’s just so deeply powerful and comforting. I don’t know, every night I feel like I get more inspiration to just continue… being alive, but also just doing the work of being a person in the world that is on the left, and a freak, and fighting fascism, and having to live in this world that we’re living in right now, going into the streets, fighting climate change… All the shit we have to do day to day when you’re not at a show. It’s hard! It’s crazy! 

AF: It’s tempting to say that all these bands from the Riot Grrrl era are reuniting because of who is President now, but I think they would have reunited either way, because there is always something to fight for. 

JB: It’s all the same river, and we’re all in it together. It never ends. Sometimes, people will talk to us and be like, “Can you believe that we’re still fighting the Christian right?” but you know, it never ends – the struggles to be seen, and help other people… It’s been going on for thousands of years, and it will keep going on. It’s in the river. 

AF: Is it weird to go between a day job and punk rock?

DD: I like my day job! I go there every day! 

JB: I like my day job too. I don’t mind the balance, like… your life might not be exactly as you planned that it would be or whatever, I don’t know. As I got older, I personally started to really feel like I really needed and appreciated having balance in my life, of different things. It’s always a question of figuring out how much I need at a minimum of which different things, and to just kind of keep it all in balance, you know? Like, I don’t have to play music with Team Dresch every day of the year, but if I didn’t play at all, I’d be really sad. But I like having my day job too, because, I don’t know, when I was only playing rock, it drove me over the edge. I’d already had two surgeries from rock music by the time I was 26, and I was like, “Whoa, I’m not going to make it!” And I have kids, and I really appreciate being home with them. I think it would be really hard. Even in my other job, I don’t choose to travel, so I feel like I have a good balance going, and I think a lot of people as they get older appreciate that balance, because there’s always going to be more than one thing in your life. Although, at that age, I do remember being like… You just give your life to music and nothing else matters. Your health doesn’t matter, your girlfriend doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter whether you have kids… It doesn’t matter if you die by the time you’re 29. Nothing matters but writing the next song. But then you’re like, you know what else is fun? Buying a down comforter and having a really cozy bed. 

AF: Full-time rock is hard!

JB: Mental health issues drove me away from full-time rock. 

AF: Was it difficult to bring the band back together?

DD: We hang out all the time anyway. This is my family. If I need to talk to my best friend, I call Jody. We get together, like, one of us has an idea like, “I want to play in Brazil,” and once a year, every other year, we learn the songs again and play them.

AF: Now that you’re recording a new album, what have you learned since the last record you released? 

JB: We learned a lot of things that you just learn as you get older. We have to be patient with each other, we have to practice with each other and understand who we are and respect each other. We have to be better with our communicating, we have to be better with our boundaries, and we have to learn things that lucky people learn when they’re 14, but we learn when we’re in our mid-to-late 30s, possibly 40s. Of course, taking a break, you appreciate it more – because we don’t play full time, we don’t take it for granted. It’s so special to get to play these shows with people. It’s so incredible to hear people sing songs you wrote, to have people give you the love they say you’ve given them… It’s incredible. We’re really lucky.


PET POLITICS: Meet Sundance Kidd, Brooklyn’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Cat Sitter

Sundance Kidd shreds on guitar, bass, and the mic. Ze never misses a note on guitar and seems to automatically learn any song by ear. You may have seen them in a whole slew of Brooklyn’s rock bands as of late, such as Gesserit and Darkwing. Ze has also made numerous guest pop-up guest appearances singing in bands like Whiner, Halloween cover sets, Lost Boy ?, and Gustaf. You’re just as likely to see Sundance Kidd behind the camera, capturing the many action-packed moments in a live set: musicians carrying each other on their shoulders, diving off stage, rolling around through beer drenched cables, or perfectly posing for press shots. This past fall, Sundance Kidd hosted a photography show at Two Boots Pizza Williamsburg, displaying some of these raucous photographs in order to raise money for The Russel Efros Foundation to support cinematography and photography students at SVA. In their spare time, Sundance Kidd has another passion: cats. Though ze isn’t currently a pet parent, ze gets their feline fix in caring for fellow Brooklyn musicians’ cats. I present to you Brooklyn’s Rock N’ Roll Catsitter.

AF: What was your first favorite band?

SK: Led Zeppelin. They were my first tattoo as well.

Sundance Kidd’s Tribute Tat! (All photos courtesy of Tui Jorda unless otherwise noted)!

AF: When did you start playing music?

SK: When I was 13. My dad showed me a documentary about Jimmy Page and I told him I wanted to play like that. It’s funny because I played classical guitar until I 16 and bought my own electric guitar and amp. It was Korean Gibson Les Paul knockoff. But my dad helped me buy the amp which was an Orange Crush FX Amplifer that still works and has lived with me in every apartment I’ve called home. So that’s 12 years of me practicing on the same amp – wow!

Sundance Kidd’s first rock set-up.

AF: What was your first instrument?

SK: Cello! I played in my elementary school orchestra into freshman year of high school.

AF: Where did you grow up, and did you have any pets?

SK: I grew up in North New Jersey, twenty minutes from Penn Station. I always had pets. My parents were really into Chihuahuas so that’s all we had growing up. We always had multiple pets in the house at all times. I think the most dogs we had at the same time was five. Not to mention we also had other animals as well. We had Zebra Finches (Jagger, Keith, Watts, and Beep), a black cat (Styx), and my mom had this fantasy of owning horses so we had two of those (Brenden, and Cinnabar). They were very expensive pets and you could probably write an entire separate article about me being the clichè “weird horse girl” growing up.

AF: What was your first pet’s name?

SK: My first dog that was mine and bonded to me was a short-haired chihuahua named Chloe. She was 18 years old when she died and I got her when I was three.

AF: How did you get into photography?

SK: I always was interested in photography from an early age. I had a Polaroid camera when I was young child and I always have and still take so many photos on my phone where ever I go. I have a pretty crappy memory overall so I think for me photography became so important because it reminds me of things I’ve done. I can always look back at the photos I’ve taken and it jump starts my memory and takes me back to that moment.

Photograph of Lost Boy ? by Sundance Kidd

AF: Did you start off as a visual or musical artist?

SK: I think they happened at the same time. I didn’t start playing in bands until I’d say 2014/15 so pretty late in life. I didn’t start challenging myself with photography until this past year though. I think I was waiting for the right time for me to feel confident enough to show everyone my work and music.

AF: What brought you to Brooklyn?

SK: A fresh start, an opportunity to turn over a new leaf and find a sense of purpose and belonging.

AF: How did you get involved in the Brooklyn music scene?

SK: The first friend I made in Brooklyn who encouraged me to go out and meet his friends was Rich Gold of Darkwing. His friend Luke played in a project called Wolf Diamond and for about six months I was switching playing bass and drums with the three of them. That’s also how I met Lyzi Wakefield who is the brilliant mind behind Gesserit. I definitely consider her and the rest of the band my favorite people in our music community. Other than that, I’ve been friends with the members of What Moon Things, Whiner, and Smøck before I moved here. So having familiar faces around me along with the new was very comforting.

Gesserit playing at one of Our Wicked Lady’s Thursdays For The Cause Events (Photo credit: Caspar Jacobs).

AF: Can you give us a run-down of your musical projects in New York?

SK: Currently, my main dedication and primary project is Gesserit. I’ve filled in on bass and drums in other projects in Brooklyn like HARMS, Wolf Diamond, and High Waisted. I occasionally write music with my other people but it’s never a solidified unit that goes out and plays shows or records. I’m very open to the idea of playing in a second project. I’m just very particular on who I play music with. For me it’s definitely a certain chemistry that has to be present with the other players and it’s never personal. It’s just an instinct.

AF: You recently recorded in Georgia with Gesserit. What was that like?

SK: It was an incredible experience working with Drew Vanderberg (who has worked with Toro Y Moi, Of Montreal, Ra Ra Riot, and Mothers). He is one of the kindest people I ever met and extremely encouraging and patient to work with. We went together as band for about two weeks to record in the middle of nowhere in a very old Church called The Portico Study Center . To be honest, it’s long hours spending every day doing take after take. The experience overall was very rewarding and I really felt like I bonded with Lyzi, Tarra and José. It taught me a lot of self discipline as an artist and allowed me to focus on the music as well as myself without the distractions of my normal daily life in New York. Also, Drew owns two beautiful fur babies named Tallulah and Sweetpea. Sweetpea is a very special cat who has a tail that’s the size of her body. She is extremely playful and very cuddly!

Lazer Beam, daughter to Lyzi Wakefield of Gesserit and long-time pal of Sundance Kidd.

AF: One of your cat clients is Lyzi Wakefield’s kitty Lazer. What is she like?

SK: Cat Clients isn’t the word I’d use to describe the people I catsit for. They’re all very wonderful friends of mine who trust me enough to take care of their fur children while they’re away. I love animals so much and many people know how well I treat them. It’s a real privilege to be asked to take care of someone’s babies. Lazer Beam is a furry angel brought down here to Earth to protect and love Lyzi. She is such a wonderfully charming lady who loves to be cuddled and  sweetly talked to. Lazer Beam is an older cat and loves to lounge in her usual window spot and is very particular about her nap times. I love Lazer because of how expressive she is. Lazer Beam loves to smile!

Sundance Kidd enjoys some cuddles with Lazer Beam.

AF: Has a (non-human) animal ever been the subject of your art, either visual, musical, or cinematic?

SK: I’ve taken some really great pet photos of my dad’s dogs and the cats I meet throughout my life.

AF: What is your favorite song about (non-human) animals?

SK: “Ozma” by Shannon and the Clams. You think it’s a love song because you can’t really hear the words she singing, but then you listen closer and you realize she’s singing about missing her deceased bulldog, and then you get even more emotional.

AF: What is your spirit animal?

SK: People have told me I’m very puppy-like, but I don’t think I’m energetic or friendly. Personally, I think I’m a baby harp seal. I am very cute, a little chubby, a prankster, curious, and I love being stationary and lounging around (I do ten things at once most of the time so when I do get a moment to myself I love to be lazy).

AF: If you were a cat, where would you sleep? And would you be a back snoozer or more of a loaf-kitty or crescent sleeper?

SK: I would sleep cuddled up with my person because I love cuddles. I think I would be a crescent sleeper. I like to take up the entire bed and all the space to myself!

AF: You also cat-sit for Jess from High Waisted. What is her kitty friend like?

SK: Baby Burger is forever a youthful kitten! She is extremely affectionate and very vocal. She is a very good listener and usually will talk back to you. She loves to be held and cuddled which is why she is my favorite cat to sit for. She also is a total HAM for photos and poses for you!

Baby Burger, daughter to Jessica Louise Dye of High Waisted, and little buddy of Sundance Kidd.
Sundance Kidd and Baby Burger.

AF: Any other feline friends to note?

SK: The Kirch Kittens whose mommy is Natalie of Sharkmuffin [and author of this column] and daddy is Davey of Lost Boy ?…

The Kirch Kittens (Photos by Natalie Kirch)

… Sweetpea, whose daddy is Drew (our Gesserit producer)…

Sweet Pea
Sundance Kidd embracing Sweet Pea.

…Poopy whose mommies are Tine (of Gustaf) and Helena…

Sundance Kidd and Poopy (Photo by Tine Hill)

… Also, not a cat but I love her – Harriet whose mommies are Angela (of Gustaf) and Marisa.

AF: You are clearly an animal lover. Why haven’t you adopted a kitty of your own in Brooklyn?

SK: Because my landlord wants a ridiculous amount of money for a pet fee. But next apartment will definitely be pet friendly.

Sundance Kidd probably crying because their landlord won’t allow pets.

AF: Share one of your funniest tour stories.

SK: The final day of recording in Athens, Georgia I felt so satisfied playing that final take I went and canoed like five miles down a river and just cried out of bliss.

Sundance Kidd’s Georgia canoe ride.

AF: You just performed with Gustaf at The Haybaby Cat Farm on New Year’s Eve and Our Wicked Lady. When can we see you perform next?

SK: January 13th at Baby’s All Right with New Myths and Darkwing, February 7th at Secret Project Robot with Shadow Year, Parrot Dream, and Dances, and February 3rd at Baby’s All Right with Cindy Cane, Gustaf, and Glove.

AF: Any other shows, concerts, or releases we should look out for in 2019?

SK: I’m just stoked to see my friends doing what they love live and always discovering new music while making friends! However there are some bands (also my friends) who I’d particularly love to give a shout out to because of how much they’ve done for me this past year – these bands have either asked me to take photos of them, booked shows with me, played countless shows, and overall be consistently wonderful friends: Sharkmuffin, Gustaf, HARMS, What Moon Things, pecas, Smock, Shadow Year, Looms, Whiner, Dead Tooth, Cindy Cane, High Waisted, THICK, Half-Wet , and Nice Knife.