Portland Queercore Legends Team Dresch Are Coming Back Just When the World Needs Them Most

The band talks about what it means to play in the Trump era, breaking up and reuniting, and the possibility of new music.

For a band that established itself on a platform of demolishing the patriarchy, opposing the Christian right and standing up for the LGBTQ community, the members of Team Dresch are really a charming bunch of goofballs. Around a cramped communal table at Tannery Bar, singer-guitarist Kaia Wilson scats into group namesake Donna Dresch's iPhone, just to see how text-to-speech app translates her gobbledygook. Later, Wilson tries to explain the pervasiveness of white supremacy via a reference to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, while bassist Jody Bleyle regales the group with the story of an interview gone wrong.

But for all their lack of self-seriousness, when asked if they feel the world needs Team Dresch right now, they don't hesitate to agree. In the '90s, the Portland-based quartet—which also includes drummer Marcéo Martinez, who's out sick this evening—were figureheads of the fiercely DIY queercore scene, melding pop melodicism and gnarled punk guitars with lyrics that intertwined the political, the personal and the poetic. They broke up after two albums, but over the last decade-plus have gotten back together for occasional shows. While this most recent reunion was booked before the election, given everything the band stands for, it certainly seems well-timed. But as they explained, this gig is as much for them as it is everyone else.

On getting back together right after Trump's inauguration:

Kaia Wilson: You can never get away from the sound of a woman who loves you. That's our band. Our band is the woman who loves us. We'll take breaks and hibernate for two or three years, then it's like, "Let's play."

Bleyle: When you're in a band and you aren't actually broken up, and you all love each other and love playing, you're just going to play sometimes. It's not considered cheating. You're allowed to make love to your band sometimes.

Wilson: We knew we'd either be playing a show that was intense, resistance-style, "get people together who need each other in a scary moment," or it was going to be, "Phew, we dodged a bullet."

Marcéo Martinez: We decided it could be either a really amazing love-fest, feeling like we could celebrate our country electing it's first female president and know that we all came together to make that moment happen, or we could be grieving the fact that our country voted in a racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic fascist to be president. So, here we are playing this show that will allow all of us—fans, friends, and family—who are coming to this show to remember we have done this work before—hard fucking work—to fight oppression, [and] to remember we have even harder work to do now, and that this will be a time to celebrate each other and have a little light during a time of darkness. 

Donna Dresch: It reminds me how important community and activism is together. There's nothing that feels better than being around the people you love being activists. That's the part I'm really excited about.

On forming the band:

Bleyle: When I started going to shows in Portland when I was 18, there'd be two girls, and lots and lots of guys. We started the band because it was like, "I want to hang out with some gay people." Pretty much every gay person in Portland knew each other then. We probably all could have fit at one house party.

Dresch: We had the best luck, because we were able to put out that seven inch on Kill Rock Stars pretty quickly after we started being band, and just based off the buzz the seven inch got we were able to book a tour all around the country, and all the shows were well attended for some reason. I don't know how that happened.

Bleyle: We didn't really play in very many regular [clubs]. If we were playing in a bar, we'd have to advertise it as a "queer show." Otherwise, it'd be all-ages. Usually, we were playing in a church or a rec center or an art gallery.

Wilson: We didn't want to be on a major label. We knew that. We were very much not open to that. Plus, we were such a bunch of gnarly lesbians—in the eyes of the world—no one wanted to sign us, anyway.

On naming the band after Donna Dresch:

Wilson: We just had a big list going, and somehow we got into the idea of lezzy, sporty stuff. We just needed a name, and we were like, "Let's name the band after one of us."

Bleyle: Donna's not the singer, Donna's a little bit older than us and we all looked up to her. Kaia had been writing her letters through her fan zine. And we knew competition and jealousy with girls is a common cultural thing we wanted to break. Our friend can be our hero, and we can name the band after her. Not only are we not going to be competitive, we're going to acknowledge and celebrate her.

On Bleyle playing in Hazel at the same time as Team Dresch:

Bleyle: There were different worlds. Like, we were talking about this post-Nirvana landscape of touring, Hazel was in that world. We were on Sub-Pop right after Nirvana and stuff. Even just the world of playing at all the clubs…but Team Dresch was in a parallel universe. We'd play at colleges where feminists would put on the shows, or different anarchist groups. They were really different universes.  

Related: "The Legend of Hazel."

It took a lot of time and energy being in two bands, and I had a record label at the time. It was just too much. Even if I wasn't in Team Dresch, I'm going to see things at the Hazel shows other people in the band aren't going to see. When guys are grabbing women—when there's essentially sexual assault going on at the shows—and not only are people not calling it that, they don't even notice or see it as anything…If you're actually on the ground, talking to people at the show, people are grabbing bodies at shows, and worse. And that's happening in the pit at every show. At a Team Dresch show, or any of these feminist shows, we were really upfront about making it a safe space from the start of the show. That doesn't necessarily mean it will be, but we're consciously trying. And that wasn't going on at all at any of these other shows. So then, when I'd see it, I'd feel totally alone, and I would start dissociating while playing drums. I'd stop the show. There'd be a woman up front yelling "Stop! Stop!" and I would stop playing and try to help them and yell at people and get those dudes to stop.

On breaking up and reuniting:

Bleyle: It was a serious breakup. It was a serious, rock'n'roll, full-throttle, like, "the story will never be told"…But then we had a hug-fest and reunited a couple years later, in a parking lot in Seattle. Our friend Ed had this amazing festival called Homo-a-Go-Go, and he didn't every other year. The first year was 2002, and I think that was too close to hug-fest. I think that first Homo-a-Go-Go was amazing, and Ed was like, "Would you consider playing the next one?"

Wilson: And we had hugged. The door was open. Because that's how lesbians do it.

Bleyle: Team Dresch started with Donna, who had already done a fanzine, and Kaia writing to Donna saying, "I need to find you," and Donna's saying, "If you're looking for queers and freaks, write me." That's why I reached out to those guys too. So in that sense, we knew we had that scene and that culture. The fact it's stayed alive and grown and we'd able to play the shows we play in town, that's amazing.

On potentially coming back for real:

Wilson: It's hard to motivate us. We you were a kid, it's like, "We can do it!" We'd write the songs, and we'd have all the songs, and we'd work on them and have all the songs in a year.

Bleyle: I think we could make a really good record, but I wouldn't put any money on us actually doing it. It seems unlikely, but totally possible.

Wilson: We do have some new songs that are unrecorded. Well, we have one song we know how to play. It was written in 2007. It's about a dog that died. It's a really fun song!

On nostalgia:

Wilson: We are held in a certain time, and it's nostalgic for a lot of people, including us. There's a certain nostalgia in that time because we were young.

Bleyle: I don't think I personally feel nostalgic for the time, because I think I'm happier now. But because I've played in multiple bands, I think I have a sense of when I really like a song, and these songs I still do totally love. I appreciate playing it and listening to it in a different way than I used to. The vibe of being true to yourself and loving yourself no matter what, and finding the people you love, and hot, sexy queer love—all that stuff is still important to me, and it feels good to remember and sing about in an energetic way. And just to be loud and jump around. I used to do that all day, every day, and now I never do that unless we're playing.

SEE IT: Team Dresch plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., with Sex Stains, on Saturday, Jan. 28. 5:30 pm and 9:30 pm. Sold out. Early show all-ages, late show 21+.

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