“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.
MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER
JUNE 27 / CENTER FOR THE ARTS, JACKSON
Singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter has been capturing the heart and soul of America for 30 years with her honest ballads and warm, alto vocals. With five Grammys and two Country Music Association Awards for Female Vocalist of the Year, she’s mastered the art of storytelling through earnest and tender lyrics. Her latest album, Sometimes Just the Sky, features stripped-down versions of older songs, along with the new title track.
JULY 18 / KETTLEHOUSE AMPHITHEATER, MISSOULA
With nine Grammys in as many albums, Sheryl Crow is an American music icon whose style has ranged from road-worn ballads and good time rock music, to straight Nashville country. Her latest release Be Myself revisits her ‘90s sound with fresh eyes, and the result is a familiar sound with an honest look at the world today. Crow wanted to understand what made her early songs resonate with people as authentic and original. “So for the first time in my life, I made it a point to sit down and really listen to my old records,” she said in a press release. “But it wasn’t about repeating myself. It was about revisiting where I came from and seeing where that would take me now.”
RICKIE LEE JONES
AUGUST 1 / CENTER FOR THE ARTS, JACKSON
Two-time Grammy winner Rickie Lee Jones’ career spans five decades and includes 15 critically acclaimed albums. Her latest project, released on her own Thirty Tigers label, The Other Side of Desire, was inspired by her time spent in New Orleans during recent years. Unlike artists who focus on their most recent work in concert, Jones has indicated she’s likely to only play one song from her newest record on the current tour. For fans, that means a taste of the new and a full serving of her beloved hits.
Born in California, raised in Colorado and now living in Montana, Jessica Rounds believes that home is wherever you make it, and that the best evenings include campfires, storytelling and a lively crew. She spent most of her 20s freelance writing for publications including Ladygunn and Deluxe Swiss Made Magazine, but eventually traded freelancing for her role as vice president of production at Richter Media, a creative agency that focuses on animation.