Bjelland performing with Babes in Toyland, 2015
|Birth name||Katherine Lynne Bjelland|
December 9, 1963 |
Salem, Oregon, U.S.
Katherine Lynne "Kat" 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.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Career
- 3 Musical style
- 4 Personal life
- 5 Discography
- 6 References
- 7 Works cited
- 8 External links
Bjelland was born in Salem, Oregon to Lynne Irene (nee Higginbotham) and Lyle Bjelland. She was raised in Woodburn, a small town near Salem. Her parents divorced when she was young, and she claimed to have been physically and verbally abused by her stepmother. In the documentary, Not Bad for a Girl (1995), Bjelland revealed: "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."
She attended Woodburn High School, where she played basketball and was a 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. After graduating from high school in 1982, Bjelland briefly enrolled at the University of Oregon, but dropped out after her freshman year and relocated to Portland at age nineteen. During this time, Bjelland worked as a stripper to support herself.
1982–86: Early projects
At age nineteen, Bjelland purchased 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). Commenting on the band, Bjelland said: "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. She 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 became talented at. The pair joined with bassist Michelle Leon, and Babes in Toyland was formed. Bjelland has said she intentionally sought out bandmates who had no instrumental experience: "Lori didn't know how to play when I met her. Michelle didn't know how to play. I was self-taught. Hopefully, from being technically inexperienced, you can use your imagination, and play the drums like an instrument instead of just being a beat-keeper. And play the bass like you feel it, from your gut, instead of saying, 'Here's my scales.'"
After signing to Reprise Records in 1991, Babes in Toyland's debut single, "Dust Cake Boy" b/w "Spit to See the Shine" was well- received. After touring Europe with Sonic Youth, the band recorded their debut album Spanking Machine, which also was well- received, and was compared to the music of The Birthday Party and New York Dolls.
Babes in Toyland were commercially successful in the early 1990s. Bands such as Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and Sleater-Kinney have credited the group as a main influence, while less political bands like Jack Off Jill, 7 Year Bitch, and Fluffy also have credited Bjelland and Babes in Toyland as an inspiration. The band has been misidentified as part of the riot grrrl movement, even though Bjelland has denied having anything to do with the movement, which emphasized female domination. 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 more commercial success in alternative rock 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 commercial success when they performed on a portion of the Lollapalooza tour in 1993, and released their second album, Fontanelle. Babes in Toyland were 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 composed, played and produced most of songs, with many rock and metal artists like Megadeth or Peter Steele (Type O Negative). Babes in Toyland maintained a loyal following throughout the rest of the decade, and in November 2001, played their last live show in their hometown of Minneapolis. Their music includes 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 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 also has co- created on soundtracks. On the Katastrophy Wife website, Bjelland stated 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 performed more shows on an international tour in 2015.
Bjelland has been noted by music critics for her unique screaming vocals. Journalist Richard Cromelin noted in a 1992 Los Angeles Times profile that "She retches her enraged lyrics, her screams skid across the beat and collide with the blunt riffs. Her voice erupts into laughs and gargles, then croons down low with eerie detachment." Commenting on her musical aspirations, Bjelland said: "It should sound like nothing that you've heard before. That's my intention... Like my singing, all I try to do is I just push myself into things where I think I can't reach notes and stuff. Sometimes it sounds really ridiculous, but then you just kind of work on it." In Babes in Toyland, Bjelland's instrumentation and songwriting have been described as "ugly, crunching post-punk," supplemented by "rudimentary" guitar chords.
Bjelland has credited Cocteau Twins, The Miracle Workers, and The Wipers as early influences on her, and also said she listened to Billie Holiday as a teenager. She also has credited Leonard Cohen, Frightwig, and Diamanda Galás as important artists to her. She also has credited Girlschool and Motörhead as influential, and also stated she listens to Rush and other '70s metal bands.
Bjelland has married and divorced twice and has 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 was 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 Kat's closeness with Kurt Cobain, Bjelland went to Seattle immediately after Kurt Cobain's death in 1994. Bjelland also participated in the Behind the Music segment on Love in 2010.
Babes in Toyland
- Crunt (1994)
- Larkin, Colin (2000). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Nineties Music. Virgin Books. p. 28. ISBN 978-0-753-50427-7.
- Schoemer, Karen (March 27, 1992). "Pop/Jazz; Post-Punk Angst of Babes in Toyland". The New York Times. Retrieved November 4, 2017.
- 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.'"https://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
- True, Everett (September 22, 1990). "Spanks for the memory". Melody Maker.
- Apriam, Lisa Rose. Not Bad for a Girl Documentary (1995).
- Brian, Burrows (July 11, 2000). Natural Babe Killers (CD booklet). Babes in Toyland. United Kingdom: Snapper Music. p. 2.
- Gaar 2002, p. 388.
- Swensson, Karen (March 10, 2013). "Babes in Toyland". The Current. Retrieved November 4, 2017.
- Lore, Mark (September 2, 2015). "Return to Toyland". Portland Mercury. Retrieved November 4, 2017.
- Gaar 2002, p. 389.
- "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.
- Gaar 2002, p. 390.
- Bjelland, Kat. Not Bad for a Girl (1995) documentary; Horizon Unlimited [VHS]
- Andrews, Charlotte Richardson (February 3, 2015). "Cult heroes: Babes in Toyland's Kat Bjelland – overlooked 90s punk powerhouse". The Guardian. Retrieved October 31, 2017.
- "POP MUSIC – The Return of the Punk Girl Native". The New York Times. August 28, 1994. Retrieved November 4, 2017.
- Swensson, Andrea (March 10, 2013). "KatKat Bjelland on Babes in Toyland and her long and winding career". The Current. Retrieved February 14, 2015.
- Liner notes of Live Through This (1994) by Geffen Records/DGC
- "Crunt – Music Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
- Bann, Chantel (May 3, 2007). "Katastrophy Wife's KatBjelland gets her Heart-On". FasterLouder. Retrieved November 4, 2017.
- "Ordeals and Schpiels of the Catastrophe Wife". Katastrophywife.com. Archived from the original on June 18, 2006. Retrieved May 10, 2007.
- Hkam, Hso (February 10, 2015). "Babes in Toyland Reunite 18 Years Later: Can They Take Us By Storm Again?". LA Weekly. Retrieved February 12, 2015.
- Cromelin, Richard (November 25, 1992). "Year of the Kat : Kat Bjelland's penchant for purging her emotions brings Babes in Toyland to the brink of alternative rock stardom". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
- Mundy, Chris (May 18, 1995). "Q&A: Kat Bjelland of Babes in Toyland". Rolling Stone. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
- "KAT BJELLAND – BABES IN TOYLAND – PUNK'S NOT DEAD". Rockstrojeni. June 11, 2015. Retrieved October 2, 2015.
- "Babes in Toyland Reunite, With a Little Help From a Tech LLC". Rolling Stone. November 18, 2014. Retrieved May 6, 2016.
- "Courtney Love". Behind the Music. Viacom Media Networks. June 21, 2010. VH1.
- Gaar, Gillian G. (2002). She's a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock and Roll (2nd ed.). Seal Press. ISBN 978-1-580-05078-4.
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