"We play music, ride motorcycles, date girls and lift heavy shit for a living."
BY JESSICA ROUNDS
The top bull riders in the world can be a tough act to follow, but the Big Sky PBR after-party on July 28 will surely keep the energy electric when Thunderpussy takes the stage. While the U.S. Supreme Court is deciding whether or not their name is too profane to be federally trademarked, Thunderpussy is kicking ass on the music scene, receiving accolades on NPR Music’s 2018 Slingshot Artists and “100 artists to watch” at Austin’s South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival.
The Seattle-based foursome—Molly Sides on vocals, guitarist Whitney Petty, Leah Julius on bass, and drummer Ruby Dunphy—make nothing but provocative music with classic rock, ‘70s punk and threads of blues all wrapped up in one high-octane, sexy, tongue-in-cheek sound.
“We play music, ride motorcycles, date girls and lift heavy shit for a living,” Julius told Trent Moorman in 2014, in an interview published by Seattle’s alt-weekly The Stranger. “And we don’t do them as a ‘fuck you’ to the male-dominated society, or in an attempt to advance women’s rights—we do them because we can and want to.”
"Generally, once people either listen to us, see us or hear what we are about, they get it and then the name is no longer a shock value thing and actually represents us really well."
At first, their controversial epithet, coupled with sequined studded bras, fishnet stockings, glittery boots and leather bodysuits could come across as gimmicky. Until they start playing. Seasoned and highly skilled musicians, Thunderpussy is a sonic tour de force. In 2017, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready dubbed them his favorite new band and even made a cameo on the track “Velvet Noose.”
The young, talented artists built a grassroots following with the support of Seattle’s KEXP nonprofit radio station, and held a private fundraiser to finance their first record, produced by Sylvia Massy, acclaimed for her work with Prince, Johnny Cash and the Red Hot Chili Peppers
Mountain Outlaw spoke to Julius minutes after she had touched the first copies of their new, self-titled vinyl album. She reflected on the band’s artistic process and how they’re looking forward to hitting the road for the “School’s Out” East Coast tour, before playing Big Sky the last weekend of July.
Mountain Outlaw: Given that your live performances are so powerful, do you think you were able to do justice to that kind of energy in the recording studio?
Leah Julius: We look at our live show and the studio as two different beasts. So when we approach the studio, it’s “what can we do to be as creative as possible in this space?” Is it keys, percussion, vocal melody, harmonies? And then when we are on stage, it’s the same question, whether it’s dancers, light show, costumes, [or] projections. Our last song on the record is basically just a jam. I’m really excited for people to hear it because we didn’t try to make it [like] anything you would feel at a live show.
MO: Can you tell me about the origin of the band’s name, and how it relates to the kind of music you make?
LJ: When people hear the name Thunderpussy for the first time, they might think it’s a joke. But it’s very serious. Typically in popular culture, the word “pussy” is used in a demeaning way to mean weak, but we’re trying to reclaim it to mean the opposite. It’s powerful. Pussy is where life comes from! Generally, once people either listen to us, see us or hear what we are about, they get it and then the name is no longer a shock value thing and actually represents us really well.
MO: Your music spans genres, combining soulful vocals with raunchy lyrics, and muscle rock peppered with blues. What are Thunderpussy’s musical influences?
LJ: I grew up listening to different music than the other three members. My dad was a Deadhead and we only heard Grateful Dead or NPR growing up. As I got older, I gravitated to punk music and played drums in a punk band. I still love more aggressive music. I bring that side of the table to Thunderpussy whereas Molly and Whitney were raised on the classics—Tom Petty, the Beatles, Zeppelin. Ruby comes from a jazz background so she brings a little bit of everything. I think what makes Thunderpussy cool is that we allow space for all of those influences.
MO: Can you tell me about the creative process and approach to making this album?
LJ: Generally songs begin with either Molly or Whitney creating a chord progression or a vocal melody or a vocal line. They are a couple so they live together and they usually hash it out into some sort of initial shape. Then we’ll bring it into the practice space with everyone and arrange as a band from there—build on ideas, change it and grow it and complete it together.
MO: Do you have any pre-show rituals to get you in the zone to perform?
LJ: We have a chant that we do together before we go onto stage. Molly, Whitney and I aren’t well trained classically—Ruby said we should learn a counting exercise so we can all get on the same page. That’s turned into a pre-show chant [that] gets us hyped and ready to hit the stage.
MO: We’re excited to have you in Big Sky this summer. Is there anything particular you want to do while you’re here?
LJ: We shot a music video recently [Badlands, that came out in May] and I got to ride a horse. Even though I’d ridden horses as a kid, it had been probably 15 years. But I’ve now decided I’m a horse person. So hopefully in Montana I can ride a horse. Maybe not in the rodeo, though.
A few other more well-known, celebrated female artists will be gracing stages in the Northern Rockies this summer. On the banks of the Blackfoot River, the KettleHouse Amphitheater promises thousands of concertgoers the quintessential Montana outdoor music experience, and Jackson, Wyoming’s Center for the Arts offers a diverse lineup in an intimate setting.