Lori Barbero Talks – Life, Music, and Legacy

Lori Barbero at the Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis

Photo courtesy Tony Nelson: www.tonynelsonphoto.com

Written by: Becca Martin

“Babes in Toyland get outta town, I’d rather listen to gerbils in a blender than Kat’s vocals from Hell!” How did the infamous tee shirt slogan come to be? It was from an anonymous City Pages reviewer. She went on to say how she loved it. “Oh my God! It was the best thing ever! Some people would go home and cry, and write an angry letter. I was like, this is the best fucking thing for promo! Didn’t affect me, any emotion is good, a lot of people don’t have emotions anymore, technology is killing the world.” She is concerned that as we progress technologically, we are losing the ability to really relate in a deep and real way. “People have to keep doing genuine, artistic acts, and not rely on technology, it will kill you. I am just not into it, communication is faster, but is it better? People have lost connections, looking at one another and talking.“

Luckily for me, she is a face-to-face type (see above) and met me at Bryant Lake Bowl (where she used to DJ) for a sit down and a drink. Barbero is in town visiting family, friends, attending the OB (original bass player of Babes)-Michelle Leon’s wedding, and hosting the upcoming Girls Germs Tribute to Women In Rock at the Mainroom First Ave. Friday May 30th. One thing tops her to do list, the Rock For Pussy show at First Ave. “Rock For Pussy is the greatest night of the year, I have only missed it once. It is all these Minneapolis musicians who normally would not be in one place as they are all busy with their lives, tours, and they all get together, guards are down, and it is so much fun.”

Girl Germs is something that she is excited to host, there are bands performing that she loves dearly, and bands that she has never seen being an ex-pat now. “The talent in this city is phenomenal. Pink Mink at Girl Germs will be great, L’Assassins are amazing, and friends of mine, but honestly I don’t know all of the bands. I’ve been away for seven years in Austin and I feel bad about it as I am representing them as the host, but what can I do? I really look forward to seeing all of the bands. This has always been a theory of mine: that the reason there are such great musicians in the Twin Cities is that it is so effing cold that you have nothing else to do but write songs, paint…The arts and culture here are renowned, the best of any large metro area. There is no choice when you have nothing to do but slice your wrists, you have to create, it is cathartic, and constructive.”

We talked about Austin and that although it is the place where she rests her hat, it can never be Minneapolis. She still has a home here, and her family. She talked about her 99-year-old grandmother in WI and how she would be visiting her soon. “It is hard to be away, I cry the whole time I drive back to Minneapolis after visiting my grandmother, so fearful that it is the last time that I will see her. I have friends in Minneapolis that I’ve had for thirty years that could never be replaced. I love Minneapolis, it will always be my home. I am in Austin now, my family there is at the White Horse, and the Honky Tonk that I work at. I have never worked with nicer people, or owners. I can tell you not even a furrowed brow, ever. When I moved there I didn’t talk about my band, it was kind of refreshing to be anonymous. I want to meet people on my own terms, I don’t live in the past, and it’s not my identity. I don’t regret a moment, I loved my bandmates, the traveling, all of it.”

Anonymity in Minneapolis is next to impossible when you were the drummer of the seminal, all female, rocking band Babes in Toyland. I grew up with their music, and others like them such as Bikini Kill, The Breeders, and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth. Female bands that weren’t afraid to be strong and fearless. They inspired a generation of women to be who they were and not be afraid to express themselves. Something so influential that I believe it will trickle down to the daughters this generation has given birth to. Barbero wouldn’t call herself a feminist, but said that she believed then as she does now in equality. “We didn’t go all we are women and we will show you men! We didn’t preach a lot of stuff.”

That led to a discussion about inequality in rock and roll. “I think there is still not a lot of all women bands, there are women fronted bands. Quite a few of them with tits, make up, and tiny outfits-degrading women. I love Beth Ditto (of The Gossip) she isn’t a small woman, and she declined a fashion magazine because they had never had a person who weighed more than 110 lbs in their magazine. She denied them, and that is the shit that I love. I love Lizzo, she my girl, she will wear a fanny pack or whatever she wants, she isn’t totally composed, I like taking it down. If it takes an hour for you to get ready, you aren’t as cute as you think you are. It isn’t feminism, it is just real. I love people for who they are, and don’t care if they offend, it is a wake up call for humanity.”

The status of not being represented, that is something that Babes in Toyland broke down in rock. Lori didn’t see the impact as it was happening, “Not during it, you can’t see it until after, like being in a relationship, you don’t realize if it was destructive or constructive when you are in it. You don’t see the impact because it is your life.” Even now she is hesitant to admit it. “Hmm, maybe, I guess…I know because people send me beautiful messages and I well up. The reason that I was in a band was the love of music, playing drums, songwriting, my bandmates, and the people that I met.”

Her own female rock icons are Patti Smith, Kim Gordon, Lizzo, The Slits, Joan Jett, Beth Ditto, Dusty Springfield, and Nancy Sinatra. In fact, she brought Kat and Michelle to her room where her record player was playing the L.A. band Legal Weapon and said, “This is the sound I want!” To me, Barbero is right up there as a drummer, she was fearless and a female version of Dave Grohl. She says Dave is a “better drummer, but that they are both bangers.”

Barbero is much beloved here, she supported the Minneapolis music scene like no one else. Her fans adored her for good reason. She was totally committed to answering every fan letter that showed up at the P.O. Box at the Burch Pharmacy on Hennepin and Colfax. She would call out injustice if she saw someone getting too violent at a show. At a now defunct local music shop across from Cheapo Records Uptown she was shopping one day with eight hundred dollars for a new drum kit. Having walked the shop for twenty-five minutes with no acknowledgement of any kind, she addressed the two “dudes” sitting on the counter who apparently worked there. “Hey” she offered and they answered: “yah, what you want?” Lori set them straight, and they just looked at her like “What a bitch.” They assumed that she must be someone’s girlfriend, NOT a musician, and in two weeks, the store was locked and done, BAD Karma.

Karma must be good for Minneapolis because she is back in her hometown. She has some things in the fire, but unfortunately not playing the drums, or a Babes reunion, although she spoke with Kat Bjelland for the first time in years recently. She has started a record label called Good Horse Record Company in Austin with three artists signed so far. The label is all analog, vinyl, and digital downloads. “I am super stoked, just mailed out the first two artists vinyl, sleeves, it will be out in July and tour here in July.”

Stoked, that is just the word to describe my brief time with Lori Barbero, and the fact that I get to be there to see so many local bands play the songs that made me love music. See you at Girl Germs tribute to Women in Rock!


Good Horse Record Company FB,

(Roster: Mrs. Glass, Ben Ballinger, & Carson McHone)

Thank you to Bryant Lake Bowl for the inspired location


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