Babes in Toyland (band)

Babes in Toyland (band)
Babes in Toyland

A promotional shot of the band in 1992.
Background information
Origin Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States
Genres Alternative rock, punk rock
Years active 1987–2001
Labels Twin Tone, Southern, Strange Fruit, Reprise, Insipid
Associated acts Sugar Babydoll, Pagan Babies, Italian Whorenuns, Crunt, Koalas, Katastrophy Wife
Kat Bjelland
Lori Barbero
Maureen Herman
Past members
Michelle Leon
Chris Holetz
Cindy Russell
Dana Cochrane
Jessie Farmer
Courtney Love

Babes in Toyland was an American alternative rock band formed in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1987. The band was formed by Oregon native Kat Bjelland (lead vocals and guitar), with Lori Barbero (drums) and Michelle Leon (bass), who was later replaced by Maureen Herman in 1992. Courtney Love — a close friend and former bandmate of Bjelland when the two lived in Portland and San Francisco - had a very brief stint in the band in 1987 as a bass player, before being kicked out and forming Hole in 1989.[1]

Between 1989 and 1995, Babes in Toyland released three studio albums; Spanking Machine (1989), the commercially successful Fontanelle (1992), and Nemesisters (1995), before becoming inactive in 1997 and eventually disbanding in 2001. While the band was inspirational to some performers in the riot grrrl movement in the Pacific Northwest, Babes in Toyland never associated themselves with the movement.



Formation and early years (1987-1991)

Babes in Toyland formed in 1987, after frontwoman Kat Bjelland met drummer Lori Barbero at a friend's barbecue. Originally from Woodburn, Oregon and a former resident of San Francisco, Bjelland had moved to Minneapolis to form a band.[2] Over the following months, Bjelland convinced Barbero to play drums and formed Babes in Toyland in winter 1987. In its initial formation in 1987, in addition to Bjelland and Barbero, the band included Chris Holetz on bass and singer Cindy Russell.[3] After Holetz and Russell left, the band briefly recruited Bjelland's friend - and former bandmate of the band Pagan Babies - Courtney Love on bass. Love, who later went on to form the successful band Hole, only lasted a number of weeks before being kicked out by Bjelland. After Love's departure, Michelle Leon was recruited as bassist.[3] It has been noted that several songs from the Babes In Toyland's debut album shared lyrics and verses with several songs by Hole, most notably Hole's first several singles, including b-sides from "Retard Girl" and "Dicknail".[4] It is thought that Courtney Love and Bjelland had collaborated on songs in their previous bands and during Love's brief time in Babes In Toyland, which resulted in the sharing of the lyrics.

The band achieved their initial notoriety through Bjelland's "babydoll" image — sometimes referred to as the kinderwhore look — which contrasted dramatically with the raw power of her singing voice and her aggressive lyrics. After a number of live shows in 1988, the band released their first single, "Dust Cake Boy", through Sub Pop records' singles club in 1989. As the single reached significant underground success, Babes in Toyland entered the studio in 1989 to record their debut album. Originally titled Swamp Pussy, Spanking Machine was recorded with grunge producer Jack Endino at Seattle's Reciprocal Recording[5] and released in April 1990 on Minneapolis' Twin/Tone Records.[6]

Other bands interested in the underground music scene - most notably Sonic Youth - were fans of the album, so much so that Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore invited the band to perform on Sonic Youth's 1990 European tour[7] to promote their latest album, Goo. The band also performed alongside Sonic Youth at 1991's Reading Festival,[8][9] which was documented by Dave Markey's music documentary, 1991: The Year Punk Broke.

British DJ, John Peel, was also a fan of the album citing it as his "favourite album of 1990." During the band's tour with Sonic Youth in 1990, Babes in Toyland recorded a radio session for John Peel, one of the many Peel sessions. The band also did a second session with Peel in 1991, and the sessions were released as The Peel Sessions - the band's second EP - in 1992. The band's first EP, To Mother, was composed of outtakes from Spanking Machine and was released in 1991 and received critical acclaim entering the independent charts and staying there for a thirteen weeks, ten of which the EP held the number one spot.[10]

Fontanelle, Nemesisters and mainstream success (1992-1995)

After touring in 1991, the band entered the studio for a second time to record their major label follow-up to Spanking Machine. Bassist Michelle Leon left the group in December 1991, shortly before the recording of their second album, due to the death of her boyfriend, Joe Cole. Maureen Herman was recruited as her replacement. With this new line-up, Fontanelle was recorded in Cannon Falls, Minnesota and released in 1992, selling around 200,000 copies in the United States alone. The lead song on the album, "Bruise Violet," is said to be an attack on Courtney Love. The lyrics - which included the lines "you see the stars through eyes lit up with lies / you got your stories all twisted up in mine."[11] - supported this. However, in a more recent interview Bjelland has denied this, saying instead that "Violet" was the name of a muse to both her and Love. The song's video was shown on Beavis and Butt-Head, where the band was described as "chicks" who are "cool."[12]

In 1993, the band was chosen to take part in that year's Lollapalooza tour,[13] playing alongside such acts as Primus, Alice in Chains, Dinosaur Jr. and Rage Against the Machine. During dates at Lollapalooza, the band released their third and final EP, Painkillers, in June 1993, which was a re-recording of one of their most notable songs "He's My Thing", as well as outtakes from Fontanelle.

The band was the subject of the 1994 book Babes in Toyland: The Making and Selling of a Rock and Roll Band by Neal Karlen, which dealt with the band's signing to Warner and the recording of Fontanelle.[14] Bjelland described the book as being "like cartoon caricatures of us," while Herman said that Karlen "would make a great fiction writer."[15] The band also appeared in the 1995 documentary Not Bad for a Girl.[16]

On April 8, 1994, Babes in Toyland played a benefit show for Rock Against Domestic Violence with 7 Year Bitch, and Jack Off Jill in Miami at the Cameo Theater, the same day lead-singer of American grunge rock band Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, had been found dead in his Seattle home.[17] Around the same time, the band were featured on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, and were referenced in an episode of the sitcom Roseanne as well as an episode of Absolutely Fabulous.

More than a year later, in May 1995, the band released their final album, Nemesisters. Though receiving mixed reviews, the band described the album as "diverse", "experimental" and "spontaneous" and that the writing and recording process was "very different" as the band were working under pressure. Tours for the album took place throughout Europe - notably with a date at Denmark's Roskilde Festival - the United States, and Australia.

Herman's departure, Katastrophy Wife and breakup (1996-2001)

The band lost their contract with their record label when Herman left the band in 1996. Dana Cochrane, formerly of the band Mickey Finn, played bass with the band on live gigs in 1996 and 1997.[18] Original bassist Michelle Leon briefly rejoined the band for a short period in 1997, when Babes in Toyland were constantly breaking up and reforming. In 1998, the band was credited with the song Overtura: Astroantiquity/Attacatastrophy on the CD Songs of the Witchblade: A Soundtrack to the Comic Book, which Bjelland co-produced. Bjelland and Barbero played with a new bassist, Jessie Farmer, in 2000.[19]

However, a year earlier, Bjelland had formed a new band, Katastrophy Wife, which seemed to replace Babes in Toyland as her main musical project. Babes in Toyland performed a reunion show billed as "The Last Tour" on November 21, 2001 — which was released as a live album called Minneapolism - and this was not only the last Babes in Toyland show, but also the last official activity. Bjelland played a number of shows in Europe in 2002 under the title Babes in Toyland with a new drummer and bassist from the British band Angelica, however, Bjelland stopped using the name after Barbero and Herman raised legal issues.[20]


  • Michelle Leon - bass (1987–1991, 1997)
  • Maureen Hermanbass (1991–1996)
  • Cindy Russell - vocals[3] (1987)
  • Chris Holetz - bass[3] (1987)
  • Courtney Love - bass (1987)


Studio albums and extended plays

Year Title Type Label US Sales
1990 Spanking Machine Studio album Twin Tone Records 70,000
1991 To Mother EP Southern Records 50,000
1992 Fontanelle Studio album Reprise Records 220,000
1993 Painkillers EP 60,000
1995 Nemesisters Studio album 150,000

Compilation albums

Year Title Type
1992 The Peel Sessions Strange Fruit Records
1994 Dystopia Insipid Records
2000 Lived Almafame
Natural Babe Killers Recall Records
2001 Collectors Item Digimode Entertainment
The Further Adventures of Babes in Toyland Fuel 2000 Records
2004 The Best of Babes in Toyland and Kat Bjelland Warner Music Records


Year Title Album Label
1989 Dust Cake Boy Spanking Machine Treehouse Records
1990 House (None) Sub Pop
1991 Handsome and Gretel Fontanelle Insipid Records
1992 Bruise Violet Southern Records
1993 Catatonic To Mother Insipid Records
1995 Sweet '69 Nemesisters Reprise Records
We Are Family Nemesisters

Chart positions

Year Single Chart Peak Position
1991 To Mother UK Indie Chart 1
1992 Fontanelle UK Albums Chart[21] 24
1993 Painkillers UK Albums Chart[21] 53
1995 "Sweet '69" Modern Rock Tracks 37
We Are Family Hot Dance Music/Club Play 22

Other contributions

Year Title Album Label
1989 "Watching Girl" Every Band Has A Shonen Knife Who Loves Them Giant Records
1991 "Handsome & Gretel" Indie Top 20 Volume 13 Beechwood Music
"Ripe" New Season - The Peel Sessions Strange Fruit
"Flesh Crawl" Teriyaki Asthma Vols. I-V C/Z Records
House The Grunge Years Sub Pop Records
1992 Handsome & Gretel Best Of Independent Beechwood Music
Sometimes Volume 4 Volmume
1993 Dirty Milk for Pussy Mad Queen Records
Dust Cake Boy Sonic Youth In 1991: The Year Punk Broke (VHS) Geffen Home Video
1994 Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft If I Were A Carpenter A&M Records
Say What You Want S.F.W.
1995 Sweet '69 Alternative Final Mix 11 Warner Music
More, More, More Spirit Of '73: Rock For Choice 550 Music
Sweet '69 Triple J: This Is Twelve - Too Louder Compilation Australian Broadcasting Corporation
1996 Handsome & Gretel (Live) Volume Fourteen - Reading '95 Special Volume
1998 Overtura: Astroantiquity Songs Of The Witchblade DreamWorks


Year Title Author Label
1991 'Babes in Toyland Lyric Book Babes in Toyland Twin Tone Records
1994 The Making & Selling of a Rock & Roll Band Neal Karlen Avon Books


  1. ^ Shelton, Sonya. "Contemporary Musicians: Babes In Toyland Biography". E Notes. Retrieved October 12, 2010. 
  2. ^ Taylor, Steve. A to X of Alternative Music. Continuum International Publishing Group. 2006.
  3. ^ a b c d Gaar, Gillian (2002). She's a Rebel (2 ed.). Seal Press. pp. 389. ISBN 9781580050784. 
  4. ^ "Fork Down Throat" was performed as a Hole song in 1990 at their second and third shows, and verses from "Swamp Pussy" can be found in Hole's first recorded track, "Turpentine". Lines such as "spit to see the shine" and "my doll mouth to your deaf ear", which come from some of Hole's first singles, are found scattered in several songs from Spanking Machine as well as Fontanelle. It is possible that Love and Bjelland had written some of these songs/lines together.
  5. ^ Endino, Jack. Jack Endino Production Discography Retrieved from on June 11, 2010.
  6. ^, Babes In Toyland - Spanking Machine at Discogs Retrieved on June 11, 2010.
  7. ^ Lawrence, Chris. sonic youth concert chronology - 1990 Retrieved on June 11, 2010.
  8. ^, Reading Festival 1991 Retrieved on June 11, 2010.
  9. ^ phespirit, The Reading Festival Retrieved on June 11, 2010.
  10. ^ Southern Records, Babes in Toyland Retrieved from on June 11, 2010.
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Dispatches Latter-Day Grunge". Time. 1993-07-12.,9171,978840,00.html. Retrieved 2010-04-26. 
  14. ^,,303328,00.html
  15. ^ Herman, Maureen. Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 18, 1994.
  16. ^ "Not Bad for a Girl"
  17. ^ Baker, Greg. [1] "The Hits Just Keep on Coming" Miami New Times, April 06, 1994.
  18. ^ Groebner, Simon Peter (1996-07-10), "MMA Cribsheet", City Pages,, retrieved 2009-12-10 
  19. ^ St. Paul Pioneer Press, November 24, 2000
  20. ^ Scholtes, Peter (2002-03-20), "Babes in Conflict", City Pages,, retrieved 2009-12-10 
  21. ^ a b Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 37. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 

External links

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