Photo by Lisa Smith
Few rock bands have as heavy–or as deeply complicated–a legacy as that of 7 Year Bitch. Formed in Seattle in 1990, just as the music world was about to be flipped on its head by the explosion of grunge, 7 Year Bitch were, from the very beginning, a band hell bent on carving their own distinct path. The band was formed by drummer Valerie Agnew, vocalist Selene Vigil-Wilk, guitarist Stefanie Sargent and bassist Elizabeth Davis- Simpson. Unlike so many of their peers at the time, who were often tied to particular feminist punk agendas or a specifically grunge aesthetic, 7 Year Bitch were a much more visceral, back to basics punk rock band. Throughout the band’s seven-year run, they proved not only to be trailblazers, but also incredibly resilient. Much of the band’s most iconic work was colored by a series of terrible losses–the passing of founding guitarist Stefanie Sargent in 1992 and the murder of The Gits frontwoman (and longtime friend and mentor) Mia Zapata in 1993–events that powerfully informed some of the band’s most potent music. With the addition of Roisin Dunne–an old friend of Stefanie Sargent–joining the band as guitarist in 1992, the band was primed to enter into one of the most dynamic eras of their career. Less concerned with being feminist trailblazers than simply being an incredibly kick-ass rock band, 7 Year Bitch ended up being both. Their three studio albums–1992 debut album Sick ‘Em, 1994’s landmark ¡Viva Zapata!, and the band’s last studio album, 1996’s Gato Negro–rank among some of the best and resolutely bombastic records unleashed during the 1990’s, heavy as all hell rock albums loaded front to back with equal parts dynamic songwriting and a healthy dose of punk rock fury.
Now, nearly 20 years since the band played their last shows, 7 Year Bitch is set to release Live At Moe–a live album that documents the band at the peak of their powers. Recorded in 1996 at Seattle’s Club MOE (aka Moe’s Mo’Roc’n Cafe), the tracks on Live At Moe were originally broadcast on iMusic.com, the first website to routinely stream live music directly from a club. The recordings themselves were all but forgotten until producer and MOE Recordings impresario Scott Blum–the man behind iMusic, found the recordings (along with around 350 other master recordings) languishing in a box previously buried in his basement. According to Blum, it was the intensity of the 7 Year Bitch recordings that inspired him to create a record label that could bring these recordings back into the world.
“I found some really special performances, but the one that forced me to start MOE Recordings with Jerry Everard from Club Moe was 7 Year Bitch,” he says. “I was always a fan of theirs, but felt that many of their studio recordings didn’t match up to the energy of their live shows. And since I knew I had some great performances, I reached out to the band to see if they were interested in putting them out. We spent a lot of time getting the sound just right. When a live music engineer is doing the sound for a show, they respond to the energy of the crowd and tend to push the volume as the night goes on. Reigning that “on the fly” mixing in to a more consistent level for an album was a bit of a challenge, but fortunately the energy of the performances are so electric and undeniable, the music carries the album all the way through and it’s exciting to be transported back to 1996 when 7 Year Bitch was at the top of their game.”
For the band members, the discovery of these live recordings is not only a pleasantly shocking surprise, but also a nice way to pay tribute to both their career and their shared history as a band. “Hearing the tapes was cool as hell,” says drummer Valerie Agnew. “I hadn’t really been thinking much about those days and was excited to be reminded of the strength of our performance and pleasantly surprised by the fact that Scott had kept the recordings all these years. It felt like a very cool gift to be given. Putting this record out now feels important because nobody is going to tell our story for us. And because we were not active during the digital age, there is very little accurate info about our band on the internet so this feels like a cool way to document our history.”
For longtime fans, hearing 7 Year Bitch tear through some of their most classic material is to be reminded of just what a formidable live band they really were. On Live At Moe the band rips through a career-spanning set, which includes ferocious live renditions of audience favorites “The Scratch”, “Lorna”, and “M.I.A.”, as well as deeper cuts such as “Crying Shame” and “The Midst”. The tracks were mixed live at the time of the recording by longtime soundwoman Lisa Faye Beatty, who would later replace Roisin as the bands guitarist. The record not only serves as a testament to 7 Year Bitch’s live prowess, but to the diversity of their catalog.
“I think there was an impression that songs like ‘The Scratch’– a simple, straightforward rock song–was exemplary of our sound,” says bassist Elizabeth Davis, “but that’s not the case at all. Again, there is a lot more going on. This record shows a good mix of songs – slow and bluesy, punk, rock, weird time-signature shit. Our influences ranged from AC/DC to Jesus Lizard, Girls Against Boys to Black Flag to The Jim Carroll Band.”
“This recording feels really raw and fierce and true to me”, says Agnew. “There is a palpable energy and vibe between us as a band and also with the crowd. It’s remarkable to hear it after all this time. I don’t think any of our studio recordings capture the kind of intensity that often came out of us. I can feel how locked into each other we were. It’s like a cool little time capsule of rock and I love that we have it!” For a band whose history is forever tied up in a narrative that involves overcoming personal losses, there is something deeply cathartic–and profoundly powerful–about Live At Moe. Aside from simply being a document of a great live show, it also speaks to the ways that music can transmute pain into something both beautiful and intensely powerful.
“Oh my god, I don’t think I’ve listened to this live album once without crying,” explains Davis. “The one that gets me is ‘M.I.A.’ When I was listening to it with Valerie, Ro and Selene I was trying to hold in my emotions and then just couldn’t take it any longer and projectile tears flew out of my eyeballs. In that song the music and the lyrics come together in a way that grabs the rawness, the shock, the horror, and the desperation of a tragedy so fucking unreal it transcends words. Selene’s ability to get onstage and pour something out so intense combined with the sinister bassline, guitar stabs and the unexpected snare snaps is just devastating.”
“These songs are all near and dear to me in their own way,” says vocalist Selene Vigil-Wilk. “The tragedy that hits me from ‘M.I.A.’ and ‘Rock-A-Bye’ is just as intense to me today. The slow and low heartache in ‘Deep In The Heart’ is still here, and so heavy to me and the lightning-fast kick ass punk songs are like the medicine. Hearing these recordings now has made me realize how grateful I am to have been in this band with my friends.”
At a time when nineties nostalgia seems to be cresting at an all-time high, hearing Live At Moe is a remarkable reality check–a reminder of the urgency and spirit that informed so much of the best music to come out of that time. “In the 90’s, I felt like so much crazy stuff was happening at a frantic pace, like a runaway train,” recalls Davis. “We didn’t have the ability to focus and think about the future or context. We just reacted in the moment. I’m really proud of the genuinely unaffected spirit with which we did everything. It was chaos but we owned it–no bullshit, no airs. Just fucking punk. Zero fucks given.”
Live At Moe will be released on CD, digital download and limited edition 180 gram red & black split vinyl on January 15, 2016. The album is produced by Scott Blum and features the classic lineup of Selene Vigil-Wilk (Vocals), Elizabeth Davis-Simpson (Bass), Valerie Agnew (Drums) and Roisin Dunne (Guitar).
Tracklisting: 24,900 Miles Per Hour/ Crying Shame / M.I.A. / Deep In The Heart / Hip Like Junk / Miss Understood / Rock A Bye / The Midst / Lorna / 2nd Hand / The Scratch / Kiss My Ass Goodbye