Michelle Leon Q&A

December 16, 2019
Michelle Leon remembers her time in legendary band Babes in Toyland.

“I felt an enormous responsibility to get the story right. I’ve gotten some backlash that I complained too much about Lori and Kat, but that was from fans who didn’t get the rock-n-roll story they wanted, which was me telling them all about the drugs and Behind The Music-story crap. I wanted to tell a story that was universal.”

Your book has such an interesting structure as it’s not just stories from your time in the band but also your childhood and time after the band. How did you arrive at the approach?

I originally was trying to get details on the page with the intention of going back and creating longer chapters. But when I went back, I loved the structure of the short pieces and realized that was it. I started out writing about living in New Orleans in the timeframe that takes place just after I Live Inside ends. My ex-husband and I bought this huge old fucked-up house, and the theme was my marriage falling apart, as this broken quiet house came back to life. It opens with these thick vines growing though the siding of the house, like veins that are breathing, alive, and they are both holding the house together and tearing it apart. And then a little thing called Hurricane Katrina. It was a very intense and formative part of my life. Telling these stories required understanding the layers, how it connected-who I was and who I became, all the things that happen in a life. I started writing about my childhood, and realized the very direct parallels of childhood and the band years, the ordinary being so much like the extraordinary.

Now with some distance, do you find yourself loving your memories of your time in the band or grateful to be done with it?

I love those memories so much. That’s why I wanted to capture them in writing so they would last forever. My family has an Airstream trailer now and we travel a lot in the summer, and this is a way to reconnect to that sense of freedom and adventure, and to create more of these kinds of memories in a very different way.

It’s frustrating to read about all the patronizing questions the band would get about being a female rock band. Did you ever feel like not just doing interviews after a while?

Yes, totally, I think we did actually stop after a while. We were never super career-driven, so we didn’t really care. I read a lot of those old interviews and it is clear that after a while we just checked out.

It was troubling to read your stories of disgusting men acting lecherous around you. How did you manage those threats? And do you feel things have improved for today’s women musicians in light of #MeToo?

As a woman in your teens and twenties, there is much more of a perception of you as vulnerable, that we have to constantly disprove, and behavior towards you aimed at that supposed vulnerability. So aging has changed that, but it comes with a different set of complexities. The rock world is a microcosm of outside culture. My generation grew up culturally conditioned to sexism, look at pretty much all aspects of popular culture from the time, so we have to question ourselves more. This generation has evolved in a lot of ways, and now those norms are constantly questioned, but then there’s the backlash, that “no one can take a joke anymore” or that “oh were you triggered?” shit. So it’s way too complex to sum up neatly, but I’ll say this: things have changed and stayed the same. Recently, I went to a local music store to buy a new bass. I had my 4-year-old with me, knew what I wanted and was trying to take care of it quickly. They had an Ampeg tube amp that was a lot like mine. I asked to play a bass through it, and the sales guy said I should play through a 75-watt practice amp instead. I said, then I won’t know how the bass will sound because I play loud. He confidently told me that I would know what the bass sounded like and would be able to feel how it played through the little amp. I thought, really, it’s still like this 30 years later? Another clerk recognized me and plugged in the big amp, but that maybe wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t still have a tiny speck of clout in an even smaller microcosm.

Was it scary for you to write about the real-life tensions that existed in the band? Or was it cathartic?

Yes, it was very scary. I am still scared. There was enormous amount of responsibility to get it right, and we know memory is warped and sketchy, at best. I’ve gotten some backlash that I complained too much about Lori and Kat, but that was strictly from fans who didn’t get the rock-n-roll story they wanted, which was me telling them all about the drugs, the Behind The Music-story crap. But I wanted to tell a story that was universal. I knew I had to let myself be by the most vulnerable if I was going to share vulnerable parts about them.

Do you still play? Will the bass always be a part of your life?

I do still play. I play in a band called The Fox Loves. It will always be a part of my life. I love it so much.