Babes in Toyland (band)

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Babes in Toyland
A promotional shot of the band in 1992. (L-R: Lori Barbero, Kat Bjelland, and Maureen Herman)
Background information
Origin Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
Genres Alternative rock, punk rock, grunge, noise rock
Years active 1987–2001; 2014–present
Labels Twin Tone, Southern, Strange Fruit, Reprise, Insipid
Associated acts Sugar Babydoll, Pagan Babies, Italian Whorenuns, Crunt, Koalas, Katastrophy Wife
Members Kat Bjelland
Lori Barbero
Maureen Herman
Past members Michelle Leon
Chris Holetz
Cindy Russell
Dana Cochrane
Jessie Farmer

Babes in Toyland is an American punk rock band formed in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1987. The band was formed by Oregon native Kat Bjelland (lead vocals and guitar), with Lori Barbero (drums) and Michelle Leon (bass), who was later replaced by Maureen Herman in 1992.

Between 1989 and 1995, Babes in Toyland released three studio albums; Spanking Machine (1990), the commercially successful Fontanelle (1992), and Nemesisters (1995), before becoming inactive in 1997 and eventually disbanding in 2001. While the band was inspirational to some performers in the riot grrrl movement in the Pacific Northwest, Babes in Toyland never associated themselves with the movement.

In August 2014, Babes In Toyland announced that they would be reuniting, touring and possibly recording again. As of February 2015, the band has booked several shows.


Formation and early years (1987-1991)[edit]

Babes in Toyland formed in 1987, after frontwoman Kat Bjelland met drummer Lori Barbero at a friend's barbecue. Originally from Woodburn, Oregon and a former resident of San Francisco, Bjelland had moved to Minneapolis to form a band.[1] Over the following months, Bjelland convinced Barbero to play drums and formed Babes in Toyland in winter 1987. In its initial formation in 1987, in addition to Bjelland and Barbero, the band included Chris Holetz on bass and singer Cindy Russell.[2] After Holetz and Russell left, it is widely believed that the band briefly recruited Bjelland's friend - and former bandmate of the band Pagan Babies - Courtney Love on bass. However, it is known that Love had lied to the press on multiple occasions about her involvement with the band. Love, who later went on to form the successful band Hole, only stood in Minneapolis a number of weeks before realizing she was not apart of the band. Bjelland, in an interview, once stated:

“Courtney practiced with Babes in Toyland only once, and it sucked. After that, it was like ‘Bye, Courtney.’”

In reality, Love had often "hung around" the band's practice space until she was asked to leave. Members of the band, and friends, all have confirmed that Love was never in the band.

Michelle Leon was recruited as bassist.[2] It has been noted that several songs from the Babes In Toyland's debut album shared lyrics and verses with several songs by Hole, most notably Hole's first several singles, including b-sides from "Retard Girl" and "Dicknail".[3] It is thought that Courtney Love and Bjelland had collaborated on songs in their previous bands and during Love's brief time in Babes In Toyland, but in actuality, Bjelland was the sole writer of the lyrics.

The band achieved their initial notoriety through Bjelland's "babydoll" image — sometimes referred to as the kinderwhore look — which contrasted dramatically with the raw power of her singing voice and her aggressive lyrics. After a number of live shows in 1988, the band released their first single, "Dust Cake Boy", through Sub Pop records' singles club in 1989. As the single reached significant underground success, Babes in Toyland entered the studio in 1989 to record their debut album. Originally titled Swamp Pussy, Spanking Machine was recorded with grunge producer Jack Endino at Seattle's Reciprocal Recording[4] and released in April 1990 on Minneapolis' Twin/Tone Records.[5]

Bjelland performing with Babes in Toyland in Paris, France on tour with Sonic Youth, 1991

Other bands interested in the underground music scene — most notably Sonic Youth — were fans of the album, so much so that Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore invited the band to perform on Sonic Youth's 1990 European tour[6] to promote their latest album, Goo. The band also performed alongside Sonic Youth at 1991's Reading Festival,[7][8] which was documented by Dave Markey's music documentary, 1991: The Year Punk Broke.

British DJ John Peel was also a fan of the album, citing it as his "favourite album of 1990." During the band's tour with Sonic Youth in 1990, Babes in Toyland recorded a radio session for John Peel, one of the many Peel Sessions. The band also did a second session with Peel in 1991, and the sessions were released as The Peel Sessions — the band's second EP — in 1992. The band's first EP, To Mother, was composed of outtakes from Spanking Machine and was released in 1991 and received critical acclaim entering the independent charts and staying there for a thirteen weeks, ten of which the EP held the number one spot.[9]

The band is profiled in the book "Babes in Toyland: The Making and Selling of a Rock and Roll Band" (ISBN 0812920589) by Neal Karlen, a journalist for the New York Times and Rolling Stone magazine.

Fontanelle, Nemesisters and mainstream success (1992-1995)[edit]

After touring in 1991, the band entered the studio for a second time to record their major label follow-up to Spanking Machine. Bassist Michelle Leon left the group in December 1991, shortly before the recording of their second album, due to the death of her boyfriend, Joe Cole. Maureen Herman was recruited as her replacement. With this new line-up, Fontanelle was recorded in Cannon Falls, Minnesota and released in 1992, selling around 200,000 copies in the United States alone. The lead song on the album, "Bruise Violet," is said to be an attack on Courtney Love. The lyrics - which included the lines "you see the stars through eyes lit up with lies / you got your stories all twisted up in mine."[10] - supported this. However, in a more recent interview Bjelland has denied this, saying instead that "Violet" was the name of a muse to both her and Love. The song's video was shown on Beavis and Butt-Head, where the band was described as "chicks" who are "cool."[11] The "Bruise Violet" video was shot in the SoHo loft of photographer Cindy Sherman, who also appears in the video as Bjelland's doppelganger. Sherman's photos appear on the covers of Fontanelle and Painkillers, and the imagery was recreated on stage banners with the artist's permission.[12]

In 1993, the band was chosen to take part in that year's Lollapalooza tour,[13] playing alongside such acts as Primus, Alice in Chains, Dinosaur Jr. and Rage Against the Machine. During dates at Lollapalooza, the band released their third and final EP, Painkillers, in June 1993, which was a re-recording of one of their most notable songs "He's My Thing", as well as outtakes from Fontanelle.

The band was the subject of the 1994 book Babes in Toyland: The Making and Selling of a Rock and Roll Band by Neal Karlen, which dealt with the band's signing to Warner and the recording of Fontanelle.[14] Bjelland described the book as being "like cartoon caricatures of us," while Herman said that Karlen "would make a great fiction writer."[15] The band also appeared in the 1995 documentary Not Bad for a Girl.[16]

On April 8, 1994, Babes in Toyland played a benefit show for Rock Against Domestic Violence with 7 Year Bitch, and Jack Off Jill in Miami at the Cameo Theater, the same day lead-singer of American grunge rock band Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, had been found dead in his Seattle home.[17] Around the same time, the band were featured on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, and were referenced in an episode of the sitcom Roseanne as well as an episode of Absolutely Fabulous.

More than a year later, in May 1995, the band released their final album, Nemesisters. Though receiving mixed reviews, the band described the album as "diverse", "experimental" and "spontaneous" and that the writing and recording process was "very different" as the band were working under pressure. Tours for the album took place throughout Europe - notably with a date at Denmark's Roskilde Festival - the United States, and Australia.

1996–2001: Herman's departure, Katastrophy Wife and breakup[edit]

The band lost their contract with their record label when Herman left the band in 1996. Dana Cochrane, formerly of the band Mickey Finn, played bass with the band on live gigs in 1996 and 1997.[18] Original bassist Michelle Leon briefly rejoined the band for a short period in 1997, when Babes in Toyland were constantly breaking up and reforming. In 1998, the band was credited with the song Overtura: Astroantiquity/Attacatastrophy on the CD Songs of the Witchblade: A Soundtrack to the Comic Book, which Bjelland co-produced. Bjelland and Barbero played with a new bassist, Jessie Farmer, in 2000.[19]

However, a year earlier, Bjelland had formed a new band, Katastrophy Wife, which seemed to replace Babes in Toyland as her main musical project. Babes in Toyland performed a reunion show billed as "The Last Tour" on November 21, 2001 — which was released as a live album called Minneapolism - and this was not only the last Babes in Toyland show, but also the last official activity. Bjelland played a number of shows in Europe in 2002 under the title Babes in Toyland with a new drummer and bassist from the British band Angelica, however, Bjelland stopped using the name after Barbero and Herman raised legal issues.[20]

2014–present: reunion[edit]

In an interview with Lancer Radio at Pasadena College on July 26, 2014, Kat Bjelland and Maureen Herman confirmed that they were getting back together to write new material and play shows.[21] They played their first reunion show in Pioneertown, California at Pappy And Harriet's Pioneertown Palace on February 10, 2015.[22] They played their second show at The Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles, California on February 12, 2015. They were introduced by Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine who recalled on his experiences performing with the band at Lollapalooza in 1993. The show's other celebrity guests included Patty Schemel, Eric Erlandson, Brody Dalle, and Donita Sparks.[23]

Current members[edit]

Past members[edit]



Year Title Author Label
1991 'Babes in Toyland Lyric Book Babes in Toyland Twin Tone Records
1994 The Making & Selling of a Rock & Roll Band Neal Karlen Avon Books

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Taylor, Steve. A to X of Alternative Music. Continuum International Publishing Group. 2006.
  2. ^ a b c d Gaar, Gillian (2002). She's a Rebel (2 ed.). Seal Press. p. 389. ISBN 978-1-58005-078-4. 
  3. ^ "Fork Down Throat" was performed as a Hole song in 1990 at their second and third shows, and verses from "Swamp Pussy" can be found in Hole's first recorded track, "Turpentine". Lines such as "spit to see the shine" and "my doll mouth to your deaf ear", which come from some of Hole's first singles, are found scattered in several songs from Spanking Machine as well as Fontanelle. Although it is believed that it is possible that Love and Bjelland had written some of these songs/lines together, Bjelland originally wrote the lyrics alone after moving by herself to Minneapolis.
  4. ^ Endino, Jack. Jack Endino Production Discography Retrieved from on June 11, 2010.
  5. ^, Babes In Toyland - Spanking Machine at Discogs Retrieved on June 11, 2010.
  6. ^ Lawrence, Chris. sonic youth concert chronology - 1990 Retrieved on June 11, 2010.
  7. ^, Reading Festival 1991 Retrieved on June 11, 2010.
  8. ^ phespirit, The Reading Festival Retrieved on June 11, 2010.
  9. ^ Southern Records, Babes in Toyland Retrieved from on June 11, 2010.
  10. ^ "Babes in Toyland". Retrieved 2012-02-19. 
  11. ^ "Beavis and Butt-Head". 1997-10-10. Retrieved 2012-02-19. 
  12. ^ "Completely Punk Rock: Cindy Sherman’s (Nearly) Forgotten History with Babes in Toyland". Walker Art Center. 2013-02-07. Retrieved 2013-02-20. 
  13. ^ "Dispatches Latter-Day Grunge". Time. 1993-07-12. Retrieved 2010-04-26. 
  14. ^ "News Review: Babes in Toyland: The Making and Selling of a Rock and Roll Band –". Entertainment Weekly. August 12, 1994. 
  15. ^ Herman, Maureen. Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 18, 1994.
  16. ^ "Not Bad for a Girl"[dead link]
  17. ^ Baker, Greg. "The Hits Just Keep on Coming" Miami New Times, April 06, 1994.
  18. ^ Groebner, Simon Peter (1996-07-10), "MMA Cribsheet", City Pages, retrieved 2009-12-10 
  19. ^ St. Paul Pioneer Press, November 24, 2000
  20. ^ Scholtes, Peter (2002-03-20), "Babes in Conflict", City Pages, retrieved 2009-12-10 
  21. ^ DeVille, Chris (2014-06-27). "Babes In Toyland Reunion Is On". Stereogum. Retrieved 2014-11-13. 
  22. ^ Swensson, Andrea. "Babes in Toyland end their 14-year hiatus with ‘magical’ California desert reunion show". The Current. The Current. Retrieved 2/11/15.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  23. ^ Fonarow, Wendy. "Babes in Toyland Return as Ferocious as Ever at L.A. Comeback Show". Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 

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