According to out musician Lesli Wood, who heads up the ingeniously named rock quartet Ms. Led, the band’s moniker, much like her songwriting, is rooted in the politics of feminism. "It’s a play on the word ‘mislead,’ giving it more of a feminist stance with a statement on how so many people give the word a negative connotation," Wood said. "Some women are misled into an archaic notion of what women are supposed to be."
The Seattle-based Ms. Led, which has been together since 2000, recently released its second album, Shake Yourself Awake, on Wood’s own Fish the Cat Records. The band’s name is taken from a song she recorded on a previous solo record.
Ms. Led’s sound has a Seattle rock edge to its poppy post-punk, and Wood is not shy on the mic. Both a practicing attorney and outspoken song lyricist, she would have fit right in with the radical ways of early 1990s Seattle, when the city was rapidly becoming a musical Mecca.
Back then, the riot grrrl movement was emerging in nearby Olympia, Wash., care of bands such as Bikini Kill and Bratmobile, and grunge music was shoved from the underground to the main stage with the success of Nirvana and Pearl Jam. It was the perfect time to relocate from the barren Midwest to the happening Northwest, and Lesli Wood couldn’t wait.
"I had just graduated college, and I think, honestly, being queer was part of it, too," she said. "I really wanted to hang out with a bunch of lesbians [and] there’s a great music community where it seemed easy to get your foot in the door."
A decade later, some things have changed. In Seattle, riot grrrl "is definitely seen as passé," Wood said. "It’s became so diluted. We’re more well-rounded as far as our general political statements than when we first came out singing with the whole feminism thing. Now I have a broader political perspective, and I don’t make it the only platform."
Wood is as much an activist as she is a singer. Tracks such as "New Agenda" highlight the social issues that Ms. Led aims to publicize through its music. The band has mastered the art of pop politics with a creative combination of rhythmic guitar riffs and Wood’s call-to-action crooning. In "New Agenda" she declares: "We’ve got to educate, communicate, organize, criticize/demand to know why, unify, rectify."
However, Wood isn’t all work and no play; she is also a master at crafting tunes about love and loss. "Up to the Old Tricks" is about a relationship that’s too little to late: "I always want to stick around for one more round/but you don’t and you’re worried that you’re letting me down." She can switch from pleasant and pretty to pissed and punk in a matter of three minutes, and that’s something to be admired.
Shake Yourself Awake was recorded in London Bridge Studios in Seattle, where Pearl Jam and Brandi Carlile have also recorded.
"The fact that we finished writing all the songs before we went into the recording studio [is different this time around]," Wood said. "I am good at jumping the gun with deadlines, planning studio time before the album is even written, and then I’m cramming and freaking out. This time we really spent time considering who we wanted to record it and mix it and master it. We also researched the studio and were really picky about the room."
Despite being a member of a band that’s 75 percent queer (bassist Matt Menovcik is the sole straight member), Wood says she doesn’t consider Ms. Led a "gay" band, nor does she think there is such a thing.
"I think because we put being musicians first, we try not to have our music defined by our gender or our sexual orientation," Wood said. "We’re outspoken and have played every Pride festival, but even at the Pride festivals we’ve played, we’re the only band in our genre — that’s a rock band."