Bjelland performing with Babes in Toyland, 2015
|Birth name||Katherine Lynne Bjelland|
December 9, 1963 |
Salem, Oregon, U.S.
|Genres||Grunge, alternative rock|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, bass, piano|
|Labels||Doomedelic, Treehouse, Twin Tone, Southern, Reprise, Sympathy for the Record Industry, Integrity, Rish|
|Associated acts||The Venarays, Sugar Babydoll, Pagan Babies, Italian Whorenuns, Babes in Toyland, Hole, Melvins, Lubricated Goat, Crunt, Katastrophy Wife|
Katherine Lynne Bjelland (born December 9, 1963) is an American singer, songwriter, musician and guitarist. Bjelland rose to prominence as the lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter of the grunge band Babes in Toyland, which formed in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1987. Bjelland had also been involved in musical projects prior, including a band called The Venarays, as well as the Pagan Babies, which she formed with Courtney Love in 1985.
Babes in Toyland officially disbanded in 2001 after releasing three studio albums, and Bjelland worked on several projects before forming Katastrophy Wife, releasing two studio albums. In 2015, Bjelland reunited with Babes in Toyland and began performing live shows.
Bjelland was born in Salem, Oregon and grew up in nearby Woodburn. Her mother was Lynne Irene Higginbotham; her father was Lyle Bjelland. Bjelland's parents divorced when she was young, and she referred to her stepmother in later years as "abusive" and having a great effect on her life. In the documentary, Not Bad for a Girl (1995), Bjelland revealed this:
You know, I really hate to talk about it because she's great now, but in my childhood she was very abusive... like I said, though, it probably did help my creativity a lot. I was always grounded. I hate to talk about it because I feel like she doesn't think that she did it, but she was [abusive] and it influenced my life quite a great deal.
Bjelland also claimed to have been beaten by her step-mother, and said she was told to "shut up" a lot and wasn't allowed to speak, which resulted in her outspoken nature as she grew into adulthood.
She attended Woodburn High School, where she was a popular student and cheerleader. As a teenager, Bjelland became interested in music. Her uncle, David Higginbotham, taught her to play guitar. Her first performance was at a small bar in Woodburn called Flight 99 (now defunct), with the band called The Neurotics.
1982–86: Early projects
Shortly after graduating from high school in 1982, Bjelland moved to Portland, and at age 19, bought her first guitar, a Rickenbacker 425, from a local pawn shop for $200, which she played throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s.
In Portland, she formed a series of bands, first The Neurotics and then an all-female band called The Venarays, which Bjelland has described as "rock with a '60s edge." The Neurotics were composed of Bjelland (rhythm guitar); her uncle David Higginbotham (lead guitar); Marty Wyman (vocals); Brian McMillan (drums); and Laura Robertson (bass).
After The Neurotics I got this band together with my best friends, so it was an all-girl band. We were called The Venarays. The name came from the word venary which means actively hunting out sex! We began as a way of having fun with each other.
In reality, the Venarays was not an all-girl band as drummer Dave Hummel, and later, Jack Rhodes, were men. The name 'Venarays' was taken from a television character called Vena Ray in an early 1950s program called Rocky Jones Space Ranger. After the band was named, some members of the band discovered the word 'venary' in the dictionary and became confused regarding the origin. After quitting The Venarays, Bjelland met Courtney Love in Portland, and the two started a band with bassist Jennifer Finch, called Sugar Babydoll. Love went on to form the band Hole, while Finch would be part of L7. Around 1985, in San Francisco, Bjelland and Love formed a new band called Pagan Babies with Deidre Schletter on drums and Janis Tanaka (later in Stone Fox and L7). When Love left, this lineup played under the name Italian Whore Nuns.
1987–2001: Babes in Toyland
In the mid-1980s, Bjelland moved from Portland to Minneapolis, where she formed Babes in Toyland. Kat met Lori Barbero at a barbecue not long after moving to Minneapolis in the mid-1980s, and convinced her to become a drummer – something that Lori quickly became very talented at. The pair joined with bassist Michelle Leon, and Babes in Toyland was formed.
Babes in Toyland's debut single, "Dust Cake Boy" b/w "Spit to See the Shine" was an instant hit. After touring Europe with Sonic Youth, the band recorded their abrasive debut album Spanking Machine, which was another success, and was positively compared to the works of The Birthday Party and New York Dolls.
Babes in Toyland would achieve minor success in the early 1990s. Bands such as Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and Sleater-Kinney have named the group as a main influence, while less political female bands like Jack Off Jill, 7 Year Bitch, and Fluffy have also cited Bjelland and Babes in Toyland as an inspiration. The band became labeled as part of the riot grrrl movement by association, although Bjelland denied having anything to do with the movement, which emphasized female empowerment. As she said in a 1992 interview:
I don't feel helpless or anything. I don't feel like I have to be like, "I'm a female and I can do this if I want to", cause, of course I can. I already know that, and I never felt being female hurt anything. If anything, it helped.
The band garnered wider exposure in the alternative rock world after touring Europe with Sonic Youth in 1991, a tour which was documented in the film 1991: The Year Punk Broke. Following this, Babes in Toyland peaked in mainstream exposure when they performed on a portion of the Lollapalooza tour in 1993, and released their second album, Fontanelle. Bjelland is prominently featured 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. This was one of the first time a hardcover book had been written about an all-girl rock and roll group. Babes in Toyland was featured on the covers of Entertainment Weekly and USA Today.
In 1993, Bjelland moved to Seattle and began a side project called Crunt with new husband Stuart Gray (aka Stu Spasm), formerly of Lubricated Goat. Bjelland played bass and Gray guitar, while Russell Simins of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion was the drummer. In February 1994, the band released a self-titled debut, along with its first single, "Swine". During this time, Bjelland also co-wrote the track "I Think That I Would Die" on Hole's breakthrough album Live Through This (1994) with Courtney Love and guitarist Eric Erlandson.
In January 1995, Bjelland and Gray divorced and Crunt disbanded; Bjelland turned her focus back to Babes in Toyland, and the group released their third and final full-length album, Nemesisters in 1995. After this, she moved to Brooklyn, New York. and contributed to the 1997 album Songs of the Witchblade: A Soundtrack to the Comic Book, for the Top Cow's comics of the same name. She composes, plays and produced most of songs, with many rock and metal artists like Megadeth or Peter Steele (Type O Negative). Babes in Toyland maintained a cult following throughout the rest of the decade, and in November 2001, played their last live show in their hometown of Minneapolis. Their body of work included three studio albums, two EPs, nine compilation albums, and seven singles.
2002–2014: Katastrophy Wife
With Babes in Toyland playing only sporadically in the late 1990s, Bjelland started the band Katastrophy Wife in 2000. The band toured at venues, such as Ladyfest, worldwide. Katastrophy Wife have so far released two albums, Amusia and All Kneel; as well as a single Heart On on the Australian record label Rish in April 2007. The single was intended as a trailer for a forthcoming album, Pregnant, Katstrophy Wife's vinyl debut was on an Independent label compilation called "The Tundra Sessions." Her song on the album was "Sweetheart" and is the first version of this song and not the same as the album version. There was an outtake entitled "No Thing" and both songs were recorded by Tim Mac. although as of 2011 the album has not been released. Bjelland has also done some soundtrack work. In an update to the Katastrophy Wife website, Bjelland reported that "Katastrophy Wife have had a few incarnations but from here on I will only re-incarnate my self." She produced the album The Seven Year Itch for the band Angelica, released in 2002.
2015–present: Babes in Toyland reunion
In 2014, Bjelland reunited with former bandmates Maureen Herman and Lori Barbero and began rehearsing material. In February 2015, the band played their first live show together in fourteen years in Joshua Tree, California, and booked further shows for an international tour in 2015.
Bjelland has cited Cocteau Twins, The Miracle Workers, The Wipers, The Rats, and the Boys Wondersase early influences on her. She has also cited Leonard Cohen and Frightwig as important to her.
Bjelland was married and divorced twice and had a son, Henry (born 1999), with her second husband. In 2007 Bjelland had a schizophrenic episode and had received treatment. Bjelland commented on the event, saying: “I don’t know how I’ve progressed musically as such but a major influence in my writing was dealing with my whole schizophrenia episode. I actually haven’t spoken to anyone much about this. Dealing with multiple personalities was extremely difficult because some days I didn't know who I was or where I was at. I was very lucky that Adrian stuck by and helped me through it all. So obviously that was going to affect some of what I wrote about." She has later told she has a schizoaffective disorder.
In her 2010 episode of Behind the Music, Courtney Love reflected on her formative years in rock music in Portland, Oregon, and said, "The best thing that ever happened to me, in a way, was Kat", noting their friendship and musical collaboration. Because of the on-and-off nature of their friendship, Bjelland had flown to Seattle immediately after Kurt Cobain's death in 1994 to pay respect alongside her. Bjelland also participated in the Behind the Music segment on Love in 2010.
- Babes in Toyland
- Spanking Machine (1990)
- To Mother (1991)
- The Peel Sessions (1992)
- Fontanelle (1992)
- Painkillers (1993)
- Dystopia (1994)
- Nemesisters (1995)
- Lived (2000)
- Devil (2000)
- Viled (2000)
- Natural Babe Killers (2000)
- Minneapolism (2001)
- The Best of Babes in Toyland and Kat Bjelland (2004/2005)
- Crunt (1994)
- Katastrophy Wife
- Larkin, Colin (2000). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Nineties Music. Virgin Books. p. 28. ISBN 978-0753504277.
- Brian, Burrows (July 11, 2000). Natural Babe Killers (CD booklet). Babes in Toyland. United Kingdom: Snapper Music. p. 2.
- The Rickenbacker 425 model, as seen in all photographs and live concert performances, was Bjelland's sole choice of guitar.
- Pop/Jazz; Post-Punk Angst of Babes in Toyland. New York Times. March 27, 1992: "When she was 19, Ms. Bjelland got her first guitar: "I got an acoustic, which I didn't want. I wanted a rock guitar." Her uncle, who had been part of the San Francisco hippie scene in the 60's, taught her some chords, and they began playing together at a local pub. "It was this funny surf band, plus we would do punk numbers," Ms. Bjelland said. "I started writing songs. I'd take them to my uncle and say, 'Is this a song?' Because I wasn't sure. He'd say, 'Anything's a song.'"http://www.nytimes.com/1992/03/27/arts/pop-jazz-post-punk-angst-of-babes-in-toyland.html
- "I started a band in Woodburn, Oregon with my friends, called the Venarays, and also with my uncle, called the Neurotics, and that was kind of like a surf band.… I didn’t start until I was 19, and when I started the band I didn’t even know how to play, I just wanted to make racket with my girlfriends. I asked for an acoustic guitar in 2nd grade—or I asked for a guitar, and I got an acoustic. I wanted an electric. So I was really bummed out. But my uncle kind of taught me a little bit, and I guess my first boyfriend taught me some stuff too." Kat Bjelland on Babes in Toyland and her long and winding career. The Current. March 10, 2013. http://blog.thecurrent.org/2013/03/kat-bjelland-on-babes-and-toyland-and-her-long-and-winding-musical-path/
- "And Minneapolis is where Bjelland eventually found her punk-rock calling after growing up in nearby Woodburn, Oregon, listening to metal and playing in her uncle's band, the Neurotics." Return to Toyland. Portland Mercury. September 2, 2015: http://www.portlandmercury.com/portland/return-to-toyland/Content?oid=16398284
- Apriam, Lisa Rose. Not Bad for a Girl Documentary (1995).
- True, Everett (September 22, 1990). Spanks for the memory. Interview with Kat Bjelland.
I remember one time I was listening to my mum's Kenny Rodgers album and I took it off and there was a scratch on it [...] I just noticed it, you see. I got beaten for that- like WHHAM! – It was horrible. Another time I wasn't folding the bags right for the jar lids. Instead of, like, indenting the bag and folding it, I was scrunching it – I got beat for that
- Kat Bjelland self-written bio at Katastrophe Wife: https://www.facebook.com/katastrophywife/info
- "The Venarays". Portland Show-Guide (PC-PDX.COM. Retrieved July 21, 2012.
- St. Thomas, Kurt; Smith, Troy. Nirvana: the chosen rejects. St. Martin's Griffin/Macmillan Press. p. 92. ISBN 978-0-312-20663-5.
- Bjelland, Kat. E! True Hollywood Story: Courtney Love. E! Networks.
- True, Everett (September 22, 1990). "Spanks for the memory". Melody Maker.
- Bjelland, Kat. Not Bad for a Girl (1995) documentary; Horizon Unlimited [VHS]
- Karlen, Neil Playboy Magazine 1/96 Nirvanafreak.net
- New York Times. POP MUSIC; The Return of the Punk Girl Native. 1994
- Swensson, Andrea (March 10, 2013). "KatKat Bjelland on Babes in Toyland and her long and winding career". The Current. Retrieved 2015-02-14.
- Liner notes of Live Through This (1994) by Geffen Records/DGC
- "Crunt – Music Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
- FasterLouder.com: Katastrophy Wife's KatBjelland gets her Heart-On, May 2007
- Gaar, Gillian G. . She's a rebel: the history of women in rock & roll. Seal Press. 2002.
- http://katastrophywife.com/kat.html Katastrophywife.com Retrieved on 05-10-07
- Hkam, Hso (February 10, 2015). "Babes in Toyland Reunite 18 Years Later: Can They Take Us By Storm Again?". LA Weekly. Retrieved 2015-02-12.
- "KAT BJELLAND – BABES IN TOYLAND – PUNK'S NOT DEAD". Rockstrojeni. June 11, 2015. Retrieved 2015-10-02.
- "Heart on Katastrophy Wife". Faster Louder. May 3, 2007. Retrieved 2011-03-10.
- "Babes in Toyland Reunite, With a Little Help From a Tech LLC". Rolling Stone. 2014-11-18. Retrieved 2016-05-06.
- Vh1. Behind the Music: Courtney Love. 2010
- Behind the Music: Courtney Love (2012). Vh1 Networks
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