‘Starting a Riot’ episode 6: Don’t Call Me That

By Julie Sabatier (OPB)
July 13, 2023 1 p.m.
Sisters Lucia de la Garza and Mila de la Garza along with Eloise Wong and Bela Salazar (from left) make up the band The Linda Lindas.

Sisters Lucia de la Garza and Mila de la Garza along with Eloise Wong and Bela Salazar (from left) make up the band The Linda Lindas.

Zen Seizawa


Riot grrrl left a legacy and … it’s complicated. A lot of the bands that were inspired by the movement don’t want to be directly associated with it any longer. We’ll dig into that and hear from bands that are carrying on the legacy and the spirit of riot grrrl today.

“Board Up” is the only Fuck U Pay Us song available on Spotify. You can listen to the band’s live recordings here.

Voices in this episode: Musicians Corin Tucker, Tobi Vail and Jasmine Nyende along with Lucia de la Garza, Mila de la Garza, Eloise Wong and Bela Salazar of the Linda Lindas, and scholar and “Girls to the Front” author Sara Marcus.

Our theme music is by Ray Aggs.

Special thanks to Jerad Walker, JT Griffith, Polaris Hall, Nathan Fasold and Black Book Guitars


Fabi: Just a warning: You’re going to hear the F-word a lot in this episode.

Mila de la Garza: I’m Mila. I’m 12 and I play drums in the band.

Bela Salazar: I’m Bela. I’m 18 and I play guitar in the band.

Lucia de la Garza: I’m Lucia. I’m 15 and I also play guitar.

Eloise Wong: I’m Eloise and I play bass. I’m 14, yes.

Lucia de la Garza: We all sing.

Wong: Yes, we all sing.

Fabi Reyna: There’s one band that kept coming up over and over again during our interviews for this podcast.

Wendy Yao: The Linda Lindas

Nikki McClure: The Linda Lindas

Mimi Thi Nguyen: The Linda Lindas

Molly Neuman: The Linda Lindas

Katherine Paul: The Linda Lindas

Reyna: People light up when they talk about the Linda Lindas. There’s something really authentic about their approach to music. You can feel it comes from their heart, not something they overthink or want to show off. Bikini Kill drummer Tobi Vail had high praise for this all-femme band.

Tobi Vail: They’re very, almost intimidatingly fierce.

Reyna: The Linda Lindas first started playing together in 2018. The following year, they opened for Bikini Kill and played a set of cover songs for a crowd of thousands of people at the Hollywood Palladium. Remember, they are teenagers (and at the time three of them were pre-teens). And in 2021, they debuted a new, original song in a performance at the Los Angeles Public Library. The song was a response to a racist incident recounted by the youngest band member, Mila (MEE-luh) de la Garza.

Mila de la Garza: A little while before we went into lockdown, a boy in my class came up to me and said that his dad told him to stay away from Chinese people. After I told him that I was Chinese, he backed away from me. Eloise and I wrote this song based on that experience. So this is about him and all the other racist, sexist boys in this world.

Reyna: The video went viral. It racked up millions of views and landed the band invites on late night TV and a record deal with the LA punk label Epitaph Records. Countless magazine articles, tweets and TV talk shows have pointed to the Linda Lindas as a band that is carrying on the riot grrrl legacy. But how do they feel about that?

Salazar: It’s very, very flattering and it’s awesome. But also it’s like, you know, we want to make sure we’re doing good by it, you know?

Mila de la Garza & Lucia de la Garza: Yeah.

Mila de la Garza: I mean, like Bela said, it’s awesome that people have said that but it is like, I feel like there’s pressure there to live up to…

Salazar: the legacy or whatever.

Mila de la Garza: Yeah.

Wong: But I mean, at the end of the day, our band is just like, whatever we feel like doing, and it’s about having fun and as long as we’re, like, having fun with what we do and we feel like what we’re doing matters then, I guess we’ll just keep going, you know? Like we’re not trying to be riot grrrl or be one particular thing, you know, we just want to be a band that has fun and makes music and makes something that feels important to us.

Reyna: Thirty years later, the label “riot grrrl” feels fraught in some ways. Technically, the movement ended in the mid-to-late 90s when some of the original bands broke up and riot grrrl chapters started to dissolve. But I think it’s fair to say that it never really ended. Riot grrrl was so much more than music and zines. It’s an attitude, a feeling, a set of a political beliefs. And it left an undeniable stamp on our culture that’s still evident today. But some of the most successful bands inspired by riot grrrl have tried to separate themselves from the movement.

I’m Fabi Reyna, founder of She Shreds Media and this is Starting a Riot.

Reyna: Corin Tucker has a very specific memory from a show Heavens to Betsy played in the early 90s at a gallery in Bellingham, Washington. It’s not so much from the show itself, but what happened after the band got off stage.

Corin Tucker: We played our show and I literally was arguing with like six guys afterwards. They’re like, “You’re really sexist because you’re saying all this stuff about men and you’re putting women above men,” and you know it was met with a lot of arguments.

Reyna: After arguing with all those guys, Tucker was approached by a young woman named Carrie Brownstein.

Tucker: Carrie walked up to me and she was like, “Um hello, I would like some more information about riot grrrl.” And I was like, “okay, yeah, give me your address,” and I took down her address in my lyric book and never wrote her back, but we had this conversation where she was like, “yeah, I’m going to Western and I’m gonna drop out because I can’t stand it. I want to move to Olympia.” And I was like, “You should move to Olympia! You absolutely should do it.” And she did!

Reyna: Brownstein quickly became part of the riot grrrl scene in Olympia. She formed a band with some friends called Excuse 17. And she and Tucker became fast friends as well.

Tucker: Yeah, we started hanging out in Olympia and our bands would play together and go on tour together and I just was like, she is a smokin’ guitar player. She was really different. And I was like, I wonder if we can play together? And we did and it was I just got this like zzzzt. It was two really different players playing together and I was like, “This is cool! Let’s record this! Let’s make a song!” and it just started happening.

Reyna: It wasn’t long before Tucker and Brownstein left their riot grrrl bands to start one of their own. They named their new band after a freeway exit for a road in nearby Lacey, Washington: Sleater-Kinney.

Tucker: There’s a song from our first record called “Be Yr Mama” where Carrie is playing this riff that’s like and nahahnananahna and I literally remember I heard her, I was in the other room, I heard her playing that riff and I was like, “keep playing that!” And I joined in on guitar and I could play, I just brought those bar chords in and it just suddenly was a rock song. It was literally that moment where I felt like we were like greater than the sum of who we are, with writers, because of like the different abilities that we had, we were able to make this song that was like big and like it sounded like a rock song.

Tucker: You could hear the Bikini Kill in that song.

Reyna: Sleater-Kinney’s first two albums were released by Chainsaw, the Olympia label started by musician Donna Dresch. They’ve gone on to put out several more albums, becoming one of the most influential rock bands in the country. One thing Sleater-Kinney has always been super clear about is they are not a riot grrrl band.

Tucker: It was much more complicated at that point, right? Because riot grrrl was had become this scourge in the press of these snotty, you know, entitled … or it was just ridiculed to such a degree in the press that our band wanted to do something different. We just wanted to have this different identity. And I would still talk about riot grrrl sometimes because everyone knew that I was part of that movement, but the band itself was like, “No, that’s not us,” because we wanted a little bit of space from that.

Reyna: Feminist punks had never really been keen on media interviews. The DC riot grrrl chapter called for a “media blackout” sometime in the mid-90s and other riot grrrls followed suit. This was after numerous articles came out depicting the movement as a fashion trend or a musical style – “punkettes” or the girl version of “grunge rock.” (“Grunge” itself was a marketing term that many bands, including Nirvana, loathed.) The thing that pushed many people involved with riot grrrl to completely reject media attention seemed to be a 1992 Spin Magazine article. It ran alongside a rail-thin model with the word “bitch” written on her forehead. The subheadline read, “Revolution is in the air and, yes, it smells like teen spirit.”

Tobi Vail: Yes, everyone was talking about riot grrrl, but no one was actually starting a riot.

Reyna: Tobi Vail was disappointed with the way riot grrrl was being co-opted and diminished.

Vail: The term “riot grrrl” became so loaded that every time a girl in a band or a woman in a band would get interviewed, it would be under that framework and then they’d spend the whole time going, “I’m not a riot grrrl. I’m not that.” And so it almost became a burden, right? It was like, that’s the last thing you want it to be.


Reyna: Also, it’s just boring to be asked to talk about your gender over and over again. Riot grrrl became a kind of short-hand for a certain type of woman musician. If you were a woman playing punk or even a woman playing guitar, you were defined in the media as a “riot grrrl.” Now, it’s almost as though “woman musician” is treated as a music genre. For me as an artist and in my work with She Shreds, I want to evolve that dialogue while still holding a space that feels safe for women and nonbinary musicians. If we’re going to talk about gender in music, we need to talk about how people are getting paid, how they’re being treated by sound guys and venue staff, and whether or not they’re being represented behind the scenes as well as onstage.

Coming up after a break, I’ll introduce you to a band that’s holding these conversations, claiming space for women, gender-expansive people and Black folks in particular.

Reyna: Many people will say punk is dead. Punk as the format used to disturb and challenge social norms has become watered down in its mainstream iteration. But if there’s one band that I think is bringing punk back to life while utilizing the best of riot grrrl’s blueprint, it’s Fuck U Pay Us.

Jasmine Nyende: Hi, my name is Jasmine Nyende and I’m a vocalist for the band Fuck U Pay Us and also a textile fiber artist and writer.

Reyna: Fuck U Pay Us is a Black, queer punk band focused on reparations.

Nyende: Fuck U Pay Us for the wage gap. Fuck U Pay Us for this country that continues to profit and economically loot people every day. Fuck U Pay Us sex workers, Fuck U pay survivors. It’s all about this way of demanding what we need in this world and also doing it from a place of radiant rage and coming together and respecting each other in the space.

Reyna: I first met Jasmine and the rest of the band in 2018, when She Shreds partnered with our friends in the creative agency Joop Joop to book them for an epic all day event during that year’s Women’s March. My good friend Fran was obsessed with them. As soon as I saw the way they created and guided energy in the space I understood exactly why.

Nyende: I think that Fuck U Pay Us is about what punk music can mean for liberation for everybody, not just for select groups and yeah, “femmes to the front” is what I think really represents Fuck U Pay Us. It’s like about bringing us into this space and then also honoring us and the experiences that we have that are unique and inherently punk.

Reyna: Hearing Jasmine say “femmes to the front” and thinking about it as an evolution of “girls to the front” really resonated with me. “Femmes” holds such a broader, wider range of identities and it just feels more inclusive. Personally, even if I do lean more masculine I can identify with “femme” much more than “girl.”

Nyende: I think that “Board Up” is one of my favorites because it just brings out this almost lurking quality. It’s all about like this rumbling that kind of happens as you start to wake up to the injustice in this world, like first the lights start to come on and then doors start to open in your mind and then it’s like, okay wait I gotta go destroy some shit and then it’s just time to tear down the White House.

Reyna: The band’s first show was a “fuck the election” party in 2016. They’re now a four-piece, but at the time it was only Jasmine Nyende and underground hiphop artist Uhuru Moor. They had been practicing, and working on songs together, for a few months before the election day show.

Nyende: I feel like the name came first and then we just devised this way to live up to it. It definitely started in this way where in our band practices would be me, Uhuru, our instruments, our ancestors, our pain, our trauma, our joy, our jokes, maybe some beer and for me as a vocalist, I had to like create these new ways and even like knowing how to take care of my voice and honor my voice and sing these songs that aren’t maybe instinctual to maybe what you would think as punk music, but then were instinctual to me in my body and the way I wanted to express the power behind our music and behind what Fuck U Pay Us feels like.

Reyna: Jasmine was born in LA in the nineties. When she was in high school, she discovered riot grrrl bands. And when she was deciding where to go to college, she felt very drawn to the Pacific Northwest because of its connection to punk and to the riot grrrl movement.

Nyende: I mean, I was in Compton. It’s interesting to think about how that culture even influenced me and met me where I was and inspired me to feel like I could go to Portland for college or whatever. But I would say that like what riot grrrl really represents is this way that you don’t ever have to be afraid of the music that you can make and or be afraid to change it up, switch it up and find new avenues of expression.

Reyna: When Bikini Kill reunited in 2019, they played four shows at the Hollywood Palladium. The Linda Lindas were an opening act for one of those shows. And at another one, Fuck U Pay Us opened.

Nyende: That show really inspired a lot of people and definitely just showed me the scale of how strong this message could feel and be for other people and I deeply appreciate that we did that show in that space, and that was one of the biggest crowds that the band has performed in front of, and I think that it was a really great experience in that way, but it was unfortunate that the space itself didn’t honor us, like the Palladium itself didn’t respect us, and there was some trouble backstage, but I at least appreciate that we got the chance to do a show like that. It will always be an amazing life experience to open for Bikini Kill.

Reyna: I wanted to ask Jasmine about the experience that she and her bandmates had at that show, not to single anyone out but because I think it gets at a bigger truth. Diversifying any space requires cultural shifts. The truth about the music industry and its venues, labels, institutions and other workplaces is that they were created by white men to uplift white men. You can’t just invite BIPOC folks into a space that’s been dominated by white people without thinking through equity and inclusion in an intentional way. Unfortunately most of these spaces hardly even have any women on staff.

Nyende: They wouldn’t let our bandmate back backstage. And of course, when you’re performing, you don’t have your badge. So they let me backstage because, of course I was up front, but they didn’t let Uhuru backstage. So that was just the first of the offenses. After that of course, my bandmate needed to go smoke and stuff.

Reyna: When Uhuru came back inside, it happened again.

Nyende: Another security guard. I will say, not the same security guard, but a different one, just refusing to imagine or conceptualize that that person would be on stage in a band, thinking maybe they were just trying to sneak back. And then we had to unload everything ourselves after the show, and when I tried to go back inside to go use the bathroom, they wouldn’t let me go use the bathroom after all that happened. We had just loaded all of our drums, all of our guitars, all that stuff. I went to go, literally, pee so we can go, they won’t let me back in. I pissed outside. They threatened to call the police on me. So, that’s the long story short, what happened at the Palladium.

Reyna: To be perfectly honest, I played that same venue in 2022 and I remember being able to walk in and out of the backstage door without being asked to show my badge. But again, I’m not Black. And that difference in experience should really speak to the specific anti-Black mentality in music spaces — especially outside of the hip hop, jazz and R&B genres. In general, and especially with sound men, venue culture in the music industry is aggressive and disrespectful to women, trans and nonbinary people. One time a band mate of mine was asked by the sound guy (and they are almost always guys) to hold the mic like she was holding a dick. And that’s just one of many insane stories. You end up really having to rely on your bandmates and the people you’re playing with for support. Jasmine said that Bikini Kill’s reaction to what happened was underwhelming.

Nyende: They didn’t really do much at all. They didn’t even issue us really an apology, like ‘oh I’m sorry. That really sucks.’ But again, I don’t really have no hard feelings because this was years ago. A whole pandemic has happened. I ain’t got much more emotion in me. But it did suck.

Reyna: Bikini Kill drummer Tobi Vail said her memory of what happened at the Palladium was a little fuzzy, but she did check in with her bandmates about it before our interview.

Vail: I think what happened is that they were having clashes with security all night and decided to leave while we were playing. So all the stuff that happened is stuff that we didn’t witness, which made it a little bit confusing at the time.

Reyna: Vail said that Bikini Kill’s tour manager filled in some of the details. She also said that lead singer Kathleen Hanna reached out directly to try to get more information from Fuck U Pay Us, but didn’t hear back from them. Vail said that Bikini Kill did speak to the staff at the Hollywood Palladium. She remembers that they directly addressed the Palladium’s threat to get the police involved and told them…

Vail: …they can’t do that. They can’t. It’s completely unacceptable to put anyone in danger and threaten, the threat of police brutality. Kathleen remembers them agreeing, that the security agreed not to call 911. I don’t remember that happening. I remember it being a topic of discussion. But it is something that we ask now our security meetings – we do ask venues not to call or threaten to call 911 on people.

Reyna: Obviously, more than three years later, the details are a little murky. But Vail said that she and the rest of the band appreciated the opportunity to talk about it.

Vail: What I really want to say is that we really appreciated them playing a show with us and we’re really upset to hear they had a bad experience with the Hollywood Palladium’s security staff. We immediately went to the club, spoke with them about it and, obviously, we want everyone to feel welcome at our shows and, obviously, racism and transphobia is not okay with us. We will not tolerate it and we’ll do everything in our power to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Reyna: This situation is not unique to Bikini Kill and Fuck U Pay Us. I asked Jasmine Nyende what she would want other touring musicians to take away from her experience. Her solution seems pretty simple.

Nyende: Say, if I’m Bikini Kill, I spend maybe $200 out of my cut to make sure I hire a person of color whose job in their role is to make sure that everything is running smoothly for the bands who were opening for me, also for me, make sure security guards, someone that I call, because when that was happening to me, I’m over here, DMing Kathleen Hanna, because the security guard will let us inside? Like what? No, there has to be like someone who’s there who can kind of serve as that buffer.

Reyna: Making space for people of color requires white people to think about things from other perspectives. That’s as true for music as it is for universities or government agencies or community spaces. And just like riot grrrl bands demanded space for women in music venues and other spaces that had long been dominated by men, bands like Fuck U Pay Us are standing up for themselves in the music industry and beyond.

Nyende: When I think of some of our concept songs like “Burn Ye Old White Male Patriarchy,” that song was actually inspired by a spell that was very instrumental in helping the Haitian Revolution. “Burn Ye Old White Male Patriarchy, Burn Ye Old White Male Patriarchy,” It was a part of a spell that helped bring the nation to freedom. You can feel that story in the way that we sing it, in the way that we express it, in the way that the guitar would drone and it would feel like that song and we’d always go in there, never knowing how long it’s gonna be, how short it’s gonna be. It’s all about the energy that is cultivated and shared that kind of lets us know when the song ends or like how much to bring to it.

Reyna: Seeing Fuck U Pay Us live brings out something deeply internal and intuitive from within me.

Nyende: The thing that I think surprises people the most is how joyous the shows actually are. We be havin fun up there. We be havin a blast and I think that that energy of, wow, we’re talking about really intense shit. We’re really working through some intense trauma collectively. So people can feel the skills, but they can also feel the spirit. And people really can vibe with it. People you would never expect will be blasting some Fuck U Pay Us when the album comes out.

Reyna: The band is working on their first studio album. After a quick break: what do Miley Cyrus and Lizzo have to do with riot grrrl?

Reyna: In 2021 Miley Cyrus covered Bikini Kill’s most iconic song, “Rebel Girl” during her Superbowl halftime show. Tobi Vail loves how much people still love that song.

Vail: It’s a great pop song. It just sort of appeared. That’s the way (laughs). It’s like magic. And obviously it resonates with people.

Reyna: Riot grrrl is not yet dead. Actually sometimes it feels like the opposite. People are still finding out about it and getting inspired by the sounds and ethos that came out of that movement.

Vail: I think we need to focus on what are the goals? How can we come together in this political, historical moment, which is so horrific and move forward? And that’s one of the questions that we’re constantly thinking about and talking about as a band right now. And even if identifying with riot grrrl became complicated or uncool at some point in the late 90s, historian Sara Marcus says the movement managed to change the way a lot of people thought about feminism.

Sara Marcus: What I think is awesome is the way that riot grrrl made it okay to fly a specifically feminist flag. Riot grrrl I think pushed to make it like not uncool to just go all the way there and talk about feminism and so from Lizzo to like other pop stars like claiming feminism, I do see reverberations of riot grrrl in that in particular.

Reyna: Feminist still feels like a loaded term to a lot of people. I put myself in that category. I remember in 2014, Time Magazine included “feminist” as part of a poll on words to ban. People lost their minds in opposition to that of course. But, to me, the word “feminism” actually does feel outdated. It’s not inclusive of intersectional concepts and identities such as trans rights, Indigenous and Black sovereignty movements, or the health and care of the earth. In my opinion, these should all be feminist issues but unfortunately when I hear people use the word “feminism” I don’t think they’re thinking about these things. Beyond specific labels, music has definitely expanded and become more inclusive over the past three decades.

Tucker: I think there’s so many more doors that are open now for musicians, you know, thinking about what my kids are into and the music that they listen to, it’s just it’s not that big a deal to see a female artist now who’s like completely in control or a trans artist. I took my daughter and her friend to see Cavetown at Crystal ballroom and it was off the hook.

Reyna: Cavetown is a trans singer-songwriter from England. He doesn’t sound necessarily like a riot grrrl band. And that’s not the point.

Marcus: The first time I saw Lizzo play, she was actually opening for Sleater-Kinney.

Reyna: Yes, that Lizzo – the one with her own reality show, who plays to sold out crowds at huge, stadium-sized venues. Way back in 2015, when Sleater-Kinney reunited after a 10-year break, they brought Lizzo on tour as their opening act. The pop star’s 2022 album “Special” features a song called “GRRRLS” (spelled with no “i” and three “r”s). The song references Lorena Bobbitt, the sexual assault survivor who made headlines in 1993 for cutting off her abusive husband’s penis. Sadly, Lizzo declined to be interviewed for this podcast. So we don’t really know how she feels about riot grrrl. But we do know that she is a proud feminist. And so are the Linda Lindas.

Wong: Yes, we’re feminists

Reyna: The Linda Lindas’ first album, “Growing Up,” came out in 2022.The songs are catchy, clever, silly, and angry.

Salazar: I like “Why,” the song “Why” because that’s one of those ones that you can like head bang to and you could march around and do just a bunch of stuff. It’s just a very fun song to be angry at. I don’t know. I feel like I do better if I’m pissed off while playing that song.

Lucia de la Garza: I didn’t know that.

Reyna: Part of my excitement towards bands like the Linda Lindas is getting to see that political, emotional, and mental growth that even my generation just didn’t have access to and definitely didn’t have support for. It’s incredible to witness people, and especially women and trans folks of color, getting to be free in their expression and in their creativity earlier in life. When we were talking about the Linda Lindas’ relationship to riot grrrl, Lucia de la Garza articulated something that I’ve always felt too.

Lucia de la Garza: It’s pretty powerful that there are all these women that created a movement that is still lasting today, though. Like that’s something that’s really admirable about the riot grrrl movement, is that even though its legacy is mixed, it really did, it opened so many doors for so many people and we would definitely not be here today if not for that movement.

Reyna: To me, one of the most fascinating and incredible things that this movement helped thousands of people do, and continues to teach us about, is the power of anger as an energy, and the impact that acknowledging, and recycling that anger through music can have on communities – the impact it can have on culture and the doors it can open for people to experience joy. Riot grrrls taught themselves, and anyone who was willing to listen, a different way to be unafraid. They used community as fuel, and music as a shield, building tools along the way that created a strong foundation not only for women to be strong and safe, but for the concept of belonging to continue to be accessible to everyone, even if you have to fight for it. Thirty years later, while we’re still fighting for the rights to our own bodies, and the opportunity to exist beyond just surviving, understanding how to move through such an intense feeling like anger allows me to have a vision and take action. As a musician and as a person, I’m grateful for the tools I’ve accessed through the school of riot grrrl.