“I wouldn’t even call it a ‘reunion,’ we’re just playing shows again.”
You likely know of Olympia, WA, as the flashpoint for Bikini Kill, arguably the forefront of the riot grrl movement. Alongside riot grrl’s rambunctious, rebellious feminism and the sweeping popularity of grunge, a community of queer people went about achieving their own cohesive success through the local music scene. At the head of this “Queercore” movement lay Team Dresch. Founded in 1993 by Donna Dresch, the band released two albums, Personal Best and Captain My Captain, through Dresch’s own Chainsaw Records, which is responsible for many a Sleater Kinney album. Within the LGBTQ scene and zines of Olympia, they describe their eventual formation as inevitable.
“There was a small amount of us punk queers,” says vocalist and guitarist Kaia Wilson. “We were definitely all gonna find each other, and at the time we were all in different bands. We’d be like ‘That’s the dyke who’s in Hazel.’”
Their mutual respect and reputations brought them all together, and it seems to keep them together today. Wilson describes percussionist Melissa York as an “amazing, fucked up good drummer” and founder Dresch as a person “still making beautiful love to her guitar (she’ll hate that quote).”
“I’ve known Donna (Dresch) since I was 15,” recalls Wilson. “I got my hands on one of her zines, this fan-zine Chainsaw, when I was 16. I pen-palled her when I was in high school – 200 pages of teen angst.”
This story prompts another recollection from the band’s drummer, Melissa York. In the same way Dresch provided an outlet and safe space for Wilson in her teenage years, York remembers the ways in which she found strength in figures within the queer community, and the times where she became that same figure.
“You [Wilson] had the same experience as some of our fans,” say York. “I have, too, you know, with people that saved my life. Remember when I met Kate Pierson?”
Wilson remembers not only meeting Pierson, but also, “several boxes of Kleenex later,” meeting Team Dresch’s own number one fan.
“She totally teared up to us in a similar fashion,” recalls Wilson. “It’s this circle of queer fandom.”
Similar to the reunions of Outkast, the Replacements and Bikini Kill before them, Team Dresch’s return elicits a strong reaction, at least from those who understand the magnitude of their work and talent. Already, Personal Best earned Best New Reissue at Pitchfork. After “threatening to release new music since 2006,” they recently unleashed “Your Hands in My Pockets,” their first since 2000; it attracted coverage from Rolling Stone, Paste and Brooklyn Vegan. It would seem all at once, that people want to hear from Team Dresch again.
“We’re so grateful because it’s all like “Really?” It’s just so rad that people like us,” says Wilson.
York says she feels akin to Rip Van Winkle, arising from a decades-long slumber to return to a world that never forgot them: “I don’t feel any older, but I am. It [touring] is very familiar to us.”
Both York and Wilson agree the feeling of creating and performing largely feels the same, the only difference really being aging and the internet, the latter a phenomenon which grew alongside Team Dresch’s own career.
Initially, they express a slight disdain for the internet and the ways it has irrevocably changed music and peoples’ mentalities. But as they realize a large portion of the current Team Dresch fervor stems from the internet’s archives, Wilson changes her tune.
“I guess we got the best of both worlds,” she reflects. “We got to be part of this time and energy that happened back in the ‘90s, and then we got to reap the rewards of how the internet can reboot a scene that was a bit niche.”
The wonder they talked about during their initial formation sounds evident in Wilson’s own attitude towards the worldwide web. Unlike many established musicians who bemoan every aspect of the current state of things, Team Dresch carry themselves with an adventurous attitude and a willingness to embrace new ways of thinking. At one point, Wilson calls her band a group of “Pioqueers,” and there’s really no better way to define them.
When asked what brought these Pioqueers back for a 2019 return, Wilson says it came about from a push from their label.
“It may have stemmed from an idea of Rob Jones (of Jealous Butcher Records) to re-release our old records,” says Wilson. “He’s helping manage our fucking asses, which is no small feat, goddess bless him.”
As Wilson describes it, the latest set of Team Dresch concerts hardly constitutes a full reunion.
“We started doing reunion shows for a while now, since 2004, so I wouldn’t even call it a reunion show,” admits Wilson. “We’re just playing shows again.”
You hear in their voices the amount of love and respect they share for each other. In the time since the band’s formation in the early ‘90s, the members have spent much of that time involved in other bands and careers.
York now lives in Durham, NC, where she lives with her partner and child (“Kaia was there for her birth,” York remembers). Meanwhile, Wilson works with dogs, training them for something called canine freestyle (“Look it up!”). She sounds as enthusiastic as for her bandmates’ pets as she is for her own, likely because all of the bandmates genuinely love each other.
“Kaia’s a forever friend to me,” says York. “But so is all of Team Dresch. Donna is amazing, as are Jodie and Marcéo. Just the other night we Facetimed and it was the most fun time.”
“We cried a lot through that laughter too,” adds Wilson.
With nearly a dozen shows set for 2019, it appears further excitement lies in store for them and the rest of Team Dresch. If it resembles anything like this highly entertaining promo video made by Dresch, it’ll be a thrill for everyone in attendance, largely because Wilson sounds willing to explore a lot of options.
“We should do scavenger hunts at our shows, or something exciting like an Indiana Jones theme,” she offers. “The promo video made it seem like the Tomb Raider.”
She also promises plenty of “ridiculous stage banter,” Dresch’s cool hairstyles, and plenty of harmonizing, a quality evident on “Your Hands in My Pockets.” York considers even bringing out her Madonna mic (a headset mic) for old time’s sake.
“And you know, just fucking down with being queer,” York pledges, “because it’s not over yet.”