Number 16 on Afterellen.com’s “50 Most Important Queer Women in Music,” Kaia Wilson’s career has spanned two decades, three bands, and four solo albums. A founding member of legendary queercore bands Team Dresch and The Butchies, Wilson also created the now-defunct Mr. Lady Records with Tammy Rae Carland in 1997. She recently spoke to us about her musical history, playing competitive ping pong and raising awareness about LGBT issues.
photo by Desdemona Burgin
AfterEllen.com: You played two shows at Ladyfest Brazil this past spring with Team Dresch. How did those go? I know the band has had other reunions in recent years, but was there any specific reason why you (the band) decided to play then/there?
Kaia Wilson: Both shows, in Sao Paulo and in Santos, were incredible. We had no idea we had so many fans in Brazil! The kids were singing along to all our songs, it was such an awakening moment for us around how much our band had a positive affect on queer and misfit punks worldwide. We actually had wanted to play in Brazil and I guess our friend Elisa Gargiulo from the band Dominatrix must have felt our psychic vibes because she invited us to play — she organized the Ladyfest Brazil and the Santos show.
AE: As far as reunions go, is it ever strange to be playing with them again so long after the band “officially” ended?
KW: I think the first reunion show we did (in 2004 at Homo-A-Go-Go Olympia, WA) was so powerful and our music doesn’t necessarily feel "dated" — that’s the beauty of songs, they can live on and on forever, and the live performance of those songs has its own nature and importance — so it actually feels really just radical to continue playing the "oldies." Sometimes we try to throw in new songs, too.
AE: Is it worthwhile to hold off on a reunion that results in new songs? Do any of you ever write together anymore or is it even something you’ve talked about doing?
KW: When we did short East and West coast tours in 2006-2007 we played a couple new songs — we haven’t started to actually write together but we would like to. Jody just moved back to Portland so now all members from the Personal Best record live in the same town. We’ll see how it goes.
AE: I’m going kind of backwards here, but I’d really like to know more about how TD formed. How did the band come together? I know you were a member of Adickdid at one point; how did you go from being in that band to being in TD?
KW: When I was a struggling queer youth in rural Oregon back in 1989, I somehow found out about Donna Dresch and her zine “Chainsaw.” I wrote her letters and she wrote me back. Then after I graduated high school I moved to Eugene, OR and started Adickdid. Donna had been in several bands and was pretty much legendary in the Pacific Northwest music scene but I still hadn’t met her in person until Adickdid played in Olympia, with 7 Year Bitch, at the capital theatre in 1992 or 1993 and we finally met.
Both Donna and I had also met and were excited about Jody Bleyle from Hazel, and we talked about "jamming" with the 3 of us — which we did in September 1993. That’s when we officially became a band. We went through trying out different drummers until we found Marci Martinez who was perfect and in a band we all loved called Calamity Jane. Marci left the band in 1995 and we asked Melissa York, whom we had befriended on our US tour in ’94 because we played several shows with her band Vitapup from NYC, to play with us on our next record and the subsequent US/European tours of 1996 with Bikini Kill. There you have it.
AE: What were those years like? Stressful? Fun? Wouldn’t ever do it again?
KW: Those years were all of the above, and YES of course I would do it again! I keep doing it! There was a lot more turbulence in the punk scene because Riot Grrrl and Queercore movements were so loud and proud that of course we ruffled a lot of homophobic/skinhead punks’ feathers, but as much as there were difficult and super scary times (after Team Dresch’s first show Donna and Jody got queer bashed by some homophobe coke head dude) there was also an energy and super powerful community motivated feeling. In the early through mid 90’s there was a force that I haven’t ever experienced before or after.
AE: Did you ever think the impact you were making would last? By that I mean, obviously you were reaching and touching people at that time, but did you ever imagine another generation would hear and love and be spoken to by the music you were creating?
KW: No, I didn’t have the foggiest that our music would reach future generations the way it did. When Team Dresch had our first reunion show in 2004, we all cried when we performed. The energy and happiness and the profound affect that music can create and inspire in people is overwhelming, and all the music I have been part of making has been so rewarding to me for the fact that it has served as a source of visibility and validation for people to help them through rough times and/or to inspire them to create positive change in the world.
AE: How were the songs written? Was it a collaborative effort or would someone come in with their own song? How did you decide who would sing what? Out of what you wrote, which you were favorites?
KW: Jody and I often would bring in mostly to pretty completely finished songs, and Donna brought in some songs too, guitar songs without vocal parts or lyrics. Marci wrote the music/structure for "Growing Up In Springfield" and we all collaborated on the arrangement of each song. Of the songs I wrote, my favorites are “Fagetarian and Dyke,” “Freewheel” and “107.”