Treefort, Boise’s annual indie-rock music festival, hosted a ridiculous 400-plus bands over the course of its five-day extravaganza this year. But one band name stood out on the festival’s lengthy lineup, depictions of which resembled a reading test from a doctor’s exam room: Thunderpussy.
Let’s get it squared away right now: The Seattle rockers - vocalist Molly Sides, guitarist Whitney Petty, bassist Leah Julius and drummer Ruby Dunphy - are getting sick of talking about their band name in interviews (even though there have only been a few; Thunderpussy are still unsigned). They’d rather talk about Def Leppard or their packed crowds, both of which we’ll get to in this article.
But, nonetheless, the topic has become the elephant in the room - in this case, a cramped set of corporate-looking quarters in the Treefort media hangout where the band is holed up hours before an evening concert.
Now, that’s not just because of the connotations of the name, which began as a joke among friends and invokes the band’s stadium-rock sound (albeit usually delivered in club settings) and their dripping-with-sex persona. It’s also because the moniker unwittingly roped Thunderpussy into a nationwide argument, currently sitting in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, about whether terms like “pussy” can be trademarked.
Another Pacific Northwest band, Asian-American dance-rockers The Slants, sparked the debate when they fought over the use of their name with the U.S. Trademark Office, which considered it offensive to people of Asian descent. The band claims they are trying to take back the anti-Asian slur and counterbalance a “submissive” stereotype of Asian Americans, even if it might allow American football team the Washington Redskins to use their name if the Slants win.
Thunderpussy, meanwhile, are keeping their eyes on how the Supreme Court case shakes out this summer. The band said in previous interviews that they didn’t want to make a statement when they formed in 2014. But now, thanks to the controversy they’ve wittingly or unwittingly attracted, they have to lay down a challenge to their audience of inspired girls, cowed men, and everyone in between who thrives on the rock.
When Drowned in Sound caught up with all four band members on the Saturday morning, Molly sides entered the room with a coffee cup. But java wasn’t inside; it was filled with a bloody Mary, done up right, with a stick of asparagus poking out. Bit of a hair of the dog to settle the nerves after partying hard Friday night. And so began our lively conversation in Club Pussy …
DiS: So you’re here for three shows, right? Camping out here for the whole weekend?
Molly Sides: Oh yeah. Two down!
Did tonight’s show at Hannah’s come together last?
Whitney Petty: Hannah’s was the first one. This is our third year doing this slot at Hannah’s.
MS: We asked for Rocci Johnson because she’s such a great entertainer, a great host.
WP: She’s the owner and then she plays every night because she has a band, the Rocci Johnson Band.
Leah Julius: They’re the best cover band.
WP: It sounds like you’re listening to the record, every single song.
MS: Like, every genre. From Blink 182 to like Skynard to Johnny Cash.
WP: We saw her wig collection and her hat collection last year.
Ruby Dunphy: I had a dream about her last night. She opened up her wardrobe and was like, “What do you want?” It was an assembly of the greatest jackets I’ve seen in my entire life.
MS: “You pick which one! No more dumpster-diving for you!”
Ruby, when did you join?
MS: Yesterday. She was dumpster-diving for blazers.
WP: I gave birth to her. Nine years ago. She came out of my pussy, drumsticks in hand. Splinters.
LJ: Whitney was like, “We need a drummer, so I’m going to birth one!”
MS: “I will it out of my Thunderpussy!”
WP: I’m going to send this interview to my mom.
I’ll use a Q&A format to keep the accuracy.
LJ: Well they [MS and WP] met first, forever ago.
WP: On Tinder. Yes, she’s my lover, it’s real. It’s not an act. It is an act.
MS: We met probably six years ago or so and reconnected through friends. Actually, our old drummer Lena is one of my best friends, and we reconnected at Lena’s birthday, and Whitney walked in, and we had a moment, and basically from then on we have been inseparable. And two years later, we started to really make music together. Ruby has the best story, though, because she showed up at a coffee shop arm in arm with another girl that heard we were looking for another drummer and had been in Seattle for what, a week?
RD: Yeah, a week.
MS: And we said, “Where you from, girl?” And she said, “Chicago, Southside.”
Were you just visiting there?
RD: I just moved for school, the school Molly graduated from, she was just leaving.
MS: This girl Haley grabbed her by the arm and said, “You’re coming with me”, and knowing Ruby, you were probably just like, “OK.” They walked into the cafe and Haley’s like, ”This is going to be your new drummer,” and I’m like, “What’s up, how are you? Tell me more.” And you were like, “I dunno. I drum.” And then we played just a few shows...school was a big priority, so she left us again, but then came back.
LJ: We roped her back in good.
WP: Can’t get away.
And Leah, how did you meet Molly and Whitney?
LJ: I met Whitney playing in another band that I still play in called Sundries. We played a show with Whitney’s old band.
WP: Was that five years ago?
LJ: Yeah, it was five years ago last week. I didn’t play bass when we first met, I only played drums. I pretended to play bass in this other band, and they saw me at this amazing festival in Seattle called Doe Bay.
WP: And we thought, “She looks cool.”
LJ: And then after the show, the three of them - with Lena at the time - cornered me and said, “So we’re starting this band called Thunderpussy, and we need a bass player, and it’s you.” And I was like, “OK!” Whitney was like, “I’m going to call you when we get back to the city,” and I thought, “Whatever, sure, she’s never going to call.” And then the day after the festival I’m lying in my bed and the phone rings, and she says, “So, practice tomorrow?”
WP: We had just gotten back from the festival and wanted to show we were fuckin’ legit.
I saw the Main Stage show yesterday. Which did you feel more satisfied with, the Main Stage show or the club show at Neurolux?
MS: Neurolux was the warm-up performance in the morning, to get going. That one was kind of thrown together really quickly, so we didn’t know if people were going to show up or not. When people actually showed up, we’re like, “Fuck yeah, we really are ready!” In terms of bodies in outdoor space, [the Main Stage] was a pretty amazing sight, when people were coming from underneath the tent and out in the open, standing in the rain.
LJ: I was convinced in the morning no one was going to show up.
WP: I was looking up on the stage to see if people were filling in, but they were all under the tent. So I was wondering, “What if they all stay there the whole time? But at least they’re here.” But all of a sudden, there was this wave.
And I think the crowd size was twice as large by the time you finished.
LJ: It filled in, it was amazing.
And the reception you got was incredible there.
MS: Yeah, it was so cool.
Weren’t you freezing in your ThunderWear (bikinis and underwear)?
MS: Well, I don’t know if you noticed, but we all move around quite a bit too, so we generate some heat onstage.
WP: And the leather is pretty warm.
I saw your tour schedule, and you’re playing festivals for most of the rest of the year, is that right?
WP: We’re playing some weird shows.
MS: We like it that way. We like it weird. We’re finishing up our March madness and then have some crazy shows.
WP: We’re playing at the premiere of a film Molly starred in that we did over a year ago that’s done. The world premiere will be in Seattle April 13. It’s called Danger Diva. We’re going to play in the movie theatre afterwards. It’s in the Egyptian Theatre in Seattle, which is just the cool place.
LJ: It’s a historical landmark theatre, it’s really beautiful. We have no perspective on it really … we’ve known about it for so long now, but the anticipation … I don’t know what to think. Fuck, we’re in a movie, man.
How long did it take to make?
MS: We shot the whole month of August 2015. And then in January 2016 went to L.A. to do some ADR and overdubs. And still, it’s been a year since that.
WP: The editing process is insane.
MS: Who would’ve thought making a movie would take as long as it’s taken it? It’s our first feature, so it’s pretty cool. It’s definitely a campy sci-fi thriller. It’s perfect for what it is.
Very out of character. So is it going to be filed under “Musical”?
WP: I think [writer/director] Robert McGinley would like that, but I don’t think it’s a musical.
And you all performed in it?
So you shot that in August and then started recording your debut album the following year in September?
MS: September of 2016 we went down to Ashland, Oregon, for a month and recorded our full-length. They renovated an old-school church, so we recorded it in …
RD: The Church of Divine Transformation.
Were you transformed?
LJ: Absolutely, we were.
MS: A month in the church, you bet. It’s almost done being mixed at this point.
And that was with a producer who also worked with Tool?
LJ: Sylvia Massy.
MS: She is amazing.
You had a relationship with her before, right?
MS: Our name got pulled out of a little hat, and we were part of this online educational forum called CreativeLive, and they asked us to be the band to play in the studio with Sylvia Massy. So that was how we met her. She didn’t know who we were, and we didn’t know who she was until we did some research, and we were like, “Holy shit!” And then when we got into the studio with her, this really magical moment happened where we had found the person. Up until then … I mean, we’re picky, we really wanted to make sure that everything is to our liking and in line with the vision. She was like this little light in the distance, and we were all like, “Oh my God, we’re all in it!”
LJ: So we spent two days with her, and Whitney cornered her after that and was like, “So we need to make a record …”
WP: And she was like, “You don’t have a record?” And we were like, “No, we don’t.” But she said, “You need a record.” And we said, “We need a producer, and we need you. Would you be willing to work with us?” And she got uber-excited and then we were all in the van driving home, high-fiving each other like schoolgirls. “We’re recording with Sylvia Massy!”
And did you have the [self-titled] EP at that point?
WP: We’d done a few demos but we never released anything and we ended up re-recording those songs. Some of them made it, some of them didn’t [for the LP]. We recorded more than we mixed and we wrote more than we recorded, so we went in with 30 songs or something, worked it out with her, and she helped arrange.
Well, that’s good. When you release the deluxe edition ten years from now, you’ll have all that bonus material to put on it.
So are putting it out on your own label or shopping it around?
LJ: That’s to be determined. [We’re taking it] step by step. So once we got back from recording our full-length, we became friends with Mike McCready from Pearl Jam, and he was like, “Hey, I really like your band, you should record some songs at my house. So we said, “OK!” And it also turned out to be an incredible recording experience. So our first official release will be a 7-inch we recorded with him, and that comes out in May.
What’s that called?
WP: The A-side is called ‘Velvet Noose’. And who knows what the B-side will be yet, so maybe we should just keep it a secret. Although we did play it yesterday.
So right now do you have a manager, booking, A&R?
WP: We have a cool team, but we don’t have an agent. We have a manager.
So you’ve been taking your time. You started in 2015?
WP: We started in 2014. We had a different drummer then and we played our first gig in April 2014, yep.
MS: April 31st!
Oh, that’s right, it was a leap year.
WP: We didn’t play many shows that year, I don’t think.
Yeah, but one of your shows got named best show in Seattle by a website.
MS: We beat out Beyonce!
WP: Guys, that was our second show ever.
MS: That was our second show ever, which was insane.
Wow. Had you rehearsed a lot?
LJ: I dunno, it was a good vibe. We haven’t played that room again [Chop Suey], and we get to play there in April, so I’m really excited to get to relive that.
MS: I think in terms of energy and space and sound and just the whole ambiance or atmosphere of that night was pretty unbeatable.
WP: It wasn’t just us, because there were naked stripper men delivering pizzas in the middle of our set walking up and down the stage.
Did you choreograph that?
MS: Well, yeah, it was Bobby Rich, who put on the show. It was her event.
WP: We should see if we can do that again, for old times’ sake.
That’s what I was going to ask you about yesterday’s show: Do you prefer to be up with the crowd or on a bigger stage?
WP: Yeah, it’s way more fun. But the sound is great when it’s big like that.
And behind the kit, Ruby, you still feel the connection to the crowd?
RD: Oh yeah, definitely.
Do you find your performance changes at all, in a club versus on a festival stage?
RD: Yeah, really big stages where Molly can’t touch the crowd per se …
MS: I try but I fall between the barriers …
RD: … I feel like I’m focusing on the sound, on my performance, which is valuable in itself. But when I can make eye contact with certain people and smile back at them, then I’m more about the crowd and like that more. I think everyone does.
LJ: Agreed. That is one thing about playing these stages with the barrier; we’re still not used to that thing.
WP: We need a catwalk.
MS: Yeah! And then we’re going to have Ruby on wheels, so she can drive down into the crowd.
RD: Yeah, Tommy Lee style. A roller-coaster would be so good.
I’m surprised you make that reference since you’re in your twenties.
WP: Well, that’s a lot of the music we listen to.
MS: ’80s butt-rock? Give it to me!
WP: Oh yeah, glam? Def Leppard’s one of my favourite bands.
MS: Oh my God, you and Def Leppard.
WP: I know, it’s weird, and I love ‘90s country, I love Tanya Tucker and the Judds. I can’t be helped.
You must like to be compared to those bands every now and then, given the fact that a lot of the articles I’ve read about you say, “Oh, they sound just like [insert other all-female band here].”
WP: I mean, fuck it, music’s music.
MS: I just want to be referred to as us.
Well, one of the questions I wanted to ask is that I know in some of the interviews you’ve done, you said you didn’t want to make a statement with your band name …
MS: Well, that’s not right. We wanted to make a statement …
WP: We just didn’t want people to come in and be like, “OK, well, let’s have a whole interview about what it’s like to be a girl in a band and a woman in the music industry and have a vagina in general.” It’s like, “We just want to play rock & roll music.”
MS: I want to be an interviewer and go to all the festivals and go to all the boy bands and be like, “How does it feel to have a dick? Do you ever feel like playing your guitar with your penis?”
MS: It’s just so funny, that divide. It’s just people.
Well, I wonder what kind of questions [now-defunct stoner-metal band Alabama Thunderpussy] got.
LJ: I just wanted to know if they got their trademark. They didn’t.
So how is the Supreme Court case going to impact you?
LJ: We’ll know more in June, supposedly.
WP: We’ve been waiting for almost two years.
It’ll be interesting to see if Trump’s pick for nominee [Neil Gorsuch, who was confirmed shortly after this interview took place], will be taking a seat by then or not.
LJ: I wonder if justices who weren’t around for the arguments get to actually vote on it or if they only get to work on new cases they’re involved in. Because otherwise we might be fucked just because of that.
WP: We own the trademark in Washington State and we have some copyright protections, but having the federal trademark would be the best thing. But actually, it’s pricey, so we have to choose wisely. We were talking earlier about applying in Europe, Japan, and other territories. So I think we’re just going to systematically go through and get all the other ones. And the UK is first because we’re going to the UK in June.
That’ll probably build a stronger case if you have to go to the U.S. Patent Office.
WP: That’s what I thought.
MS: If the Supreme Court rules against us, I think that’s the end of our …
LJ: [Our lawyer] was saying you can re-litigate.
MS: But it becomes really hard once the press is at the Supreme Court level.
LJ: And the money you spend.
WP: I can’t imagine how much money the Slants have spent on that case.
Yeah, because their case has been around for years. So they’re trying to take back the name “The Slants,” and with your name, you’re trying to take back the word “Thunder.”
Has the name become a distraction at this point, like you wish you hadn’t done it?
WP: No. Just the opposite. People come out of the woodwork to see us just because we’re named Thunderpussy. It’s worked like a fucking charm.
MS: It is also cool to see how people shift too, with the name. “I don’t know if I can say the name, it’s Thunder …” And then you’re like, “Yeah, it’s OK.” But a certain woman and her daughter wouldn’t say “Thunderpussy” to them, and seeing how people shift now. Yesterday, for instance, there were families coming to see us perform, and young girls in the front were [cheering]. My heart was out of my chest. It’s a powerful word but it’s a powerful thing. Your pussy is powerful and it’s fucking positive and amazing things come out of it!
MS: It’s just so funny that people are like, “Aaah, it’s so scary, we can’t say it! I can’t tell my child about you!” And yesterday, looking at all these people, how that shifts.
Didn’t you introduce one of the songs as “For the kids”?
MS: Yeah, for the “Thunderkitties.”
LJ: But we usually play 21 and up shows, so getting to play when there is a younger audience is so exciting, so fun.
Molly, wasn’t it your mom who had reservations about saying the name at first?
MS: Yeah, who will be there tonight, reppin’ hard in her Thunderwear, of course. She wouldn’t say it, she’d say, “Thunder MeowMeow.”
WP: I don’t think anyone’s mom was stoked …
MS: You mom would be like, “Kitties? How are the kitties?”
WP: My grandmom hopped on it faster than my mom, honestly.
MS: Well, that’s because your grandma fuckin’ rules.
WP: Well, she also liked to piss off my mom too. “I don’t have a problem with it.”
And she’s from Idaho, right?
WP: I’m from Idaho, I grew up just two hours from here.
And you’ve played here quite a bit in Idaho.
WP: Probably more than anywhere else, honestly. This is our third time playing this festival.
How have you seen the festival change?
WP: Oh gosh. It’s so much bigger …
MS: There’s definitely something to be said for the beginning stages of a festival or a project or a creation and it’s really special because you’re seeing the first moment it’s happening. And then the evolution starts getting bigger and bigger and bigger.
WP: I hope it’s plateaued.
MS: Yeah, I hope it doesn’t get too much bigger.
LJ: I don’t know how much bigger it could get in Boise. They’ve exhausted literally every room that you could put a band in around the city. Like, I saw a show in the weirdest event space last night that I hadn’t been to before.
LJ: Mardi Gras?
Yeah, I was there. Did you see Touche Amore?
MS: You guys!
That’s a pretty big space.
LJ: And there weren’t many people there. Like, that band sells out rooms all over the country and all over Europe, I was so surprised that there were not more people there.
Well, I guess that’s what happens when there are 15 stages happening, you’re going to run into that situation.
WP: Yeah, that wasn’t the case the first couple of years. There were maybe seven venues total and that was it. There weren’t that many bands and everything was pretty close. I mean, even Hannah’s wasn’t a venue yet, and Shredder wasn’t really a part of it. Don’t become South By please!
MS: I like that you’re doing the panels, kind of …
Were you down there in Austin last week?
LJ: No, I’m allergic to that festival. Whitney and I have both done it with other bands we’ve been with in the past, and we’re kind of over it for as long as we can be, I think.
WP: I feel like if we haven’t done it by now, we probably don’t have to do it. What am I saying? We don’t have to do anything we don’t want to do. When we get our helicopter and shit, we can just chopper the hell out.
MS: Like Kobe Bryant!
That’s something I’ve come to admire about you as a band: How you really have created your own path and cut out so much of the industry garbage that you don’t have to do anymore.
WP: Yeah, our business model is just …
MS: … If you killed it, they will come.
WP: … continue on as if no one else is going to do anything for you. You have to do everything for yourself. And if the help shows up, that’s great, but we’re just going to continue with our heads down and go towards the vision.
MS: World domination.
WP: Yeah, and not get bogged down in all the glad-handing and kissing babies and all that.
MS: We love kissing babies, by the way.
LJ: I’ll kiss puppies!
MS: You guys and your fucking kitties.
WP: National Kitten Day is every day.
LJ: This is our dogs versus cats division in the band. But we’re all warming up to each other.
Does having day jobs you enjoy - Molly, pilates instructor; Ruby, sound studio assistant; Whitney, gardener; and Leah, creative marketing - take the pressure off having to rush the band?
WP: I like having a paycheck. I’m not good at the starving-artist thing, I’ve learned that about myself …
RD: I’m trying it out. It’s not fun.
WP: … but I can’t complain. I have the best boss in the world who lets me leave for a month to tour and make records and still have a job. The goal is to not have that job by the end of the year.
To conclude, what are your ambitions for the year and after that?
WP: Yeah, tour. Put out this record and make music all the time.
And hopefully not have to change your branding.
MS: Oh, HELL NO!
For more information about the band, please visit their official website.
Photo credit: Sunita Martini