Since their beginning in the early ’90s, Team Dresch have been stewards of the queer community. Founded almost entirely out of a need to play music with other like-minded individuals, Donna Dresch, Jody Bleyle, Kaia Wilson, Marcéo Martinez and Melissa York have been fierce and compassionate champions of sexual freedom and empowerment. “Our audience knows us,” says Martinez, “and they get what we’re saying and trying to do. They feel connected to us through our music. The message is still just as important today as it was 25 years ago.”
The band has mostly been absent (with the exception of a smattering of shows in the Pacific Northwest in 2014), but in speaking with them it’s clear that their return has everything to do with the deep love they have for each other, their music and their mission. “It’s like we are one big chosen family. We’re all in this together,” York says. “Strength in numbers helps [us] keep living to fight the fight.”
Current administration-ly speaking, there seems to be an endless thirst for their brand — which is to say the kind that’s audibly and visually loud and proud. While the band were often labeled as riot grrrl, with some members identifying as such, Team Dresch as a whole found a more liberating and positive way to rock, connect and communicate, and that was at the forefront of the queercore movement. If riot grrrl was a push, then Team Dresch were an embrace. During their creative time together, they’ve successfully oscillated between playing melodic pop and raucous punk — singing anthemic songs of love and longing, and fear and loathing. But it’s their unwavering ‘outness’ that’s helped build a community of people where everyone is welcome, and all are free to be exactly who they are.
Now with the release of a new song, reissues of their first (and only) two albums — the essential Personal Best and Captain My Captain — as well as both east and west coast tours, the Team is back in the game, and they want to hug it out, sweat it out, dance it out, and live it out with their people all over again.
Many people have said that Team Dresch’s music has saved them, and when they talk about that, it feels very genuine. Can you explain that deep connection between your fans and your music?
Kaia Wilson: It’s such an honor to get this feedback. The love we get from fans is a lifeline — a reciprocated celebration of being alive. We really don’t even consider people fans so much as just we are one big family sharing the love and camaraderie.
Melissa York: “Fan” is such a funny word. I really don’t see a separation between them and us. We are there for them and they are there for us. I think the deep connection comes from us being their mirror. They see us being out and proud of who we are and not really giving a fuck what people say about us.
Jody Bleyle: I think it stems from the way that we started the band out of this need to find each other. We all needed to play a certain kind of music with other dykes and meet people. You could say that we wanted to build a community, but what we really wanted to do was meet other queer people, hang out with them, have fun, dance and get sweaty. It’s as simple as that.
Marcéo Martinez: When we were playing shows and toured for Personal Best, I wasn’t super aware of the impact we were having on the queer kids who were coming to our shows. It took me some years to fully realize how much we contributed to helping them find their way through the fucked up mess of homophobia and transphobia. The moment I was able to take it all in was when we reunited for the first time at Homo A Go Go in 2004 and seeing the energy and emotion of the crowd made me feel so humbled and grateful to be a part of that moment. Looking back, that moment played a role in allowing my inner thoughts and feelings to surface that were struggling to come out as trans.
Do you feel that you were part of the riot grrrl movement or something outside of that?
York: I believe I was the only official riot grrrl. I was involved in RGNYC (Riot Grrrl New York City) and it was so queer and instrumental to me becoming me. Looking back, it’s impossible to not put Team Dresch into that category. We were all loud and proud.
Wilson: We were all were very much a part of a similar and overlapping political movement using punk music, art and zines as our forum for connecting and communication. I do think it’s interesting that folks who were more centered on queerness as their activism (like Team Dresch) will be so quickly filed under “riot grrl” by media, while folks who were centered more on the third wave feminism surge of the ’90s won’t usually find themselves filed under queercore, so in this way there’s something to dissect there. At the end of the day we were all in it together, and still are.
Team Dresch shows created safe spaces for queers in a time when it was needed, but also, those spaces are still sought out and needed. Decades have passed but it still feels a lot the same. What are you expecting audience-wise touring this go around?
York: Personally, I’m hoping for a love fest with sing-alongs, lots of face holding and hugs.
Wilson: Hoping for and expecting that we will have the same incredible queer-centered (and always super welcoming to all) smiley-dancey-emo-singing-along crowd to rock with us.
You recently released a new song called “Your Hands My Pockets.” Was it an older song newly recorded or a song written recently?
Wilson: We just wrote it, and we are so excited about it! We are total dorks like, “Look what we made! Yay!”
Bleyle: I questioned myself a lot on this song and was wondering what I could and could not say, and Kaia was being so brave and going for it. I needed that. If we write more songs, which I know we’re going to, I have to be more brave and honest. I don’t want to just write platitudes so that no one on the Internet gets mad at me.
Wilson: There are a million different songs about being alive and human and struggling and depression. People will find what they need to find in the songs.
Bleyle: Part of me doesn’t want to write more, because it’s a lot easier not to do it. But it’s how we challenge ourselves and feel alive, so we do it.
Has anyone told you that they bought Personal Best without knowing the music but based solely on the album cover photo?
Wilson: Yes! And, absolutely I would have totally bought Personal Best for the album cover photo had I not been in the band.
Donna Dresch: Nobody has told me, but if they have, that’s amazing! Right before we took those pictures we went to the bins and looked for “sports clothes.” We all picked up things that we thought would look good on the track, and when you see the actual pictures of us it’s like, “Oh, god. We don’t know what sport is at all!” … Except for Jody.
Bleyle: Honestly, nobody has told me that, either. But believe me, when we were taking those pictures, we were thinking about that, and that the record cover has got to be very gay.
Is the tour you’re doing now a one off, or are Team Dresch back to active duty?
York: The Team is off the bench at this moment in time.
Martinez: We are taking things day by day and enjoying ourselves. Right now, we are all so happy to be playing and creating music together. We just love the shit out of each other and know that we have more to say about the world and where things are today. That all reflects back to when we were just 20-, 25-year-old punk queers doing what we do best, which is write songs, play them well with tons of energy and passion, and speak our truth so that others know they are not alone in this dumb mess.
Wilson: Let’s say we’re on active duty. I like that!
Donna and Jody have both run record labels, Chainsaw and Candy Ass Records respectively — can you talk about the positives and the negatives of running those labels?
Bleyle: Donna and I didn’t really start record labels intending to start businesses. We just wanted to help our friends put out records. But then it becomes a business, and there’s money involved, and you’re doing it badly, and people are mad and you, and you’re mad at them, and it all becomes really difficult. In the beginning, the Chainsaw and Candy Ass offices constantly had random people hanging around and doing mail order and it was fun. There’s so much awesome stuff that happens when you’re young because you don’t think things through.
Dresch: When I started the label, I really liked the whole cut and paste and scissors and glue part of it. Making 7″s was super fun because you were at Kinko’s making covers. Then eventually it went to LPs, then CDs, and then in the mid-2000s no one wanted CDs anymore and everything was digital. I remember thinking, “That’s no fun.” There’s no scissors involved in it, and I had zero interest in trying to figure it out.
What a great reason to not want to do something anymore — there are no scissors involved.
Bleyle: I think so many people can relate to that. You can’t touch it anymore. It’s not tangible.
What has the Internet done for you as a band that has played and recorded music almost pre-Internet and now in a social media-fueled world? What does ’90s Team Dresch have over ’10s Team Dresch and vice versa?
Bleyle: Donna and I were on the Internet and on AOL message boards pretty early. We actually booked our first U.S. tour on the web and met so many people that we still know and our friends with today. Donna’s brother built Chainsaw’s message board, which was a really important part of our beginning and building our community.
Wilson: We are so lucky to have gotten the best of both worlds. We got to experience the magic of seeking out things and being hands on in making our music/queer/activist world. And now because of the Internet’s vast dissemination of info, our band has been kept alive and passed along so much more widely than it could or would have if the Internet never existed. We have all these new fans, a Wikipedia page, and there’s means to listen to and/or buy our music so easily. We got to come of age as a band in the days where things did feel more special and personally connected.
Martinez: When our friend/manager Rob [Jones] approached us about reissuing our records it was also so that we could get our stuff out in digital format, and of course for the vinyl lovers out there that can add cool new color vinyl records to their collection. For me it has been very important to have my trans identity recognized and not see my dead name all over those records. It’s so important and necessary and I feel seen! It’s awesome.
What would you like Team Dresch to be remembered for?
York: For always being authentic and sticking up for the people that needed it most.
Martinez: I would love for Team Dresch to be remembered as a band of queerdos doing our best to speak for and with the oppressed/disadvantaged/LGBTQIA folks through our music.
Wilson: I think I’d like us to be remembered for making heartfelt, rad-ass music, and for having a positive effect on helping people feel like they are OK, good, important and awesome.
Team Dresch are currently touring the east and west coasts in support of their new single and 25th anniversary reissues, which are available now via Jealous Butcher Records.