Newly reunited and playing together again for the first time in 18 years, American punk band Babes In Toyland are amping up for a short string of UK dates at the end of May. Cult figures on the underground music scene, the band arrived in 1987 alongside a wave of other pioneers; Jack Off Jill, 7 Year Bitch, Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and L7. Their return seems a timely one, too. Sleater-Kinney are back, L7 have reformed, and former Autoclave and Helium frontwoman Mary Timony has hit a new stride with Ex Hex. Nobody choreographed the takeover, but alternative American rock is back with vengeance for a second bash.
“We wanted to play again,” summarises front woman Kat Bjelland, speaking on the phone in between band rehearsals in the band’s hometown of Minneapolis. “I can’t really explain why. I missed the other girls, Maureen [Herman] and Lori [Barbero].”
Babes in Toyland haven’t always been on such good terms. The band barely spoke to each other after breaking up, amid fall-outs over Kat Bjelland continuing to use the name to tour alone. After Herman quit playing bass for Babes in ’96, and they lost their record contract, she had little to do with them. A reunion seemed throughly unlikely. In the summer of 2013, though, Herman impulsively invited Bjelland out to her family’s lake house in Wisconsin. Within minutes of meeting up, a reunion was fully on the cards. Babes in Toyland wiped the slate clean, and went back to the basic essence of the band - massive, dirty, hard-hitting punk tunes.
They also, says Bjelland, felt a sort of responsibility; to new fans who found their way into the band through a messy web of Sonic Youth ‘Goo’ t-shirts, maxed out Spotify accounts, and online rips of the now-iconic rockumentary Not Bad For A Girl. “One of the reasons that I wanted to do it was somebody showed me on the internet - and I don’t go on it very often - and I guess we had a whole new generation of fans,” explains Bjelland. “I felt obligated to, so that they could see us live.”
When Babes returned, fans didn’t just grab the opportunity. They scrambled for tickets and seized it by the collar. The band’s first live shows over in the US sold out at a lightening rate, and there’s a similar haze of giddy excitement surrounding UK dates. “I didn’t know what to expect, and it blew my mind,” a clearly humbled Bjelland says. “It was really emotional.”
Huge Babes in Toyland songs like ‘He’s My Thing‘ and ‘Sweet ’69,’ seemed to return to the band in a click, and their initial chemistry did too. If anything, the band felt more polished. “It was muscle memory, that’s exactly what it was,” Bjelland agrees, thinking back to their first attempt at playing together again. “We were laughing afterwards because we didn’t even think about it, we just did it. I feel like we’re better than we were before, for some reason, we’re a little bit more solid.”
Looking beyond their run of UK reunion dates, and a slot at Primavera, Babes in Toyland also have plans to release brand new material, and the wheels are already in motion. Though Bjelland won’t specify exactly what’s planned, there are a few things in the pipeline. “Me and Maureen have a practice space here in Minneapolis,” hints Bjelland, “and we’ve always written stuff together like that. We might do something after we tour,” she adds, more clearly. “We’ve written a few things. Maureen has a few ideas, and I have some.”
Babes in Toyland tour the UK later this month.