Welcome to The Drop, Refinery29's new home for exclusive music video premieres. We want to shine the spotlight on women artists whose music inspires, excites, and (literally) moves us. This is where we'll champion their voices.
Seattle-based rock group Thunderpussy is doing what they love — and if you listen to their music, you'll be able to tell. The four-member band — vocalist Molly Sides, guitarist Whitney Petty, bassist Leah Julius, and drummer Ruby Dunphy — is creating a musical sound that's all their own.
Thunderpussy's also gotten the attention of one high-profile fan in particular: Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready. After seeing the band perform at a Seattle music festival, McCready invited the band members to do a Sirius XM Radio interview with him, and eventually recorded their work on his label, Hockeytalkter Records. McCready is now close friends with the group, and he even makes a cameo in their "Speed Queen" video, which Refinery29 is exclusively premiering today. The band shot the entire video in just 12 hours, though you'd never guess it.
"The magic that happened the day that we shot 'Speed Queen,' the energy was non-stop," Petty says. "The excitement and the energy that people put in, because they want to be a part of something that they believe in, because they believe in you — there's something incredibly special about that. And I think that 'Speed Queen,' hopefully, shows a bit of that. Because there are a lot of people behind it."
Check out the video below, and read on for our Q&A with Sides and Petty about the video, their musical inspirations, and working with the legendary rocker.
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Refinery29: Did you both always want to be musicians?
Molly Sides: "That's such an interesting question, because, I don't think of myself as, necessarily, a musician. I think of myself as a creator of space, I guess. A performer."
Whitney Petty: "A space invader."
MS: "A space invader! But, yeah, I mean, I just always knew that I wanted to perform. My background is in musical theater and dance, and I sang choir when I was younger. But I think I always had the dream of being a rock star, or an actress, or a dancer, you know? And somehow, Thunderpussy just, we created a world where we can do all of it."
WP: "According to my aunt, apparently when I was seven, I wanted to own a nightclub. I've always wanted to be in music though, for sure, ever since I was a little kid."
I have to ask how you all came up with the band name, Thunderpussy.
MS: "Well, you know, that just happened. It's kind of hard to say where the words came together and where the phrase came from. It was just meant to be. It was fitting for what we were creating."
WP: "I said it, jokingly, to Molly one day. We'd been talking about a project for a while. We're both into writing music, and both kind of can fill the void that the other lacks. We've always been able to sing so well, and with me being able to play guitar, it's kind of natural for us to want to bring those two things together. And so — we live together, and we're together a lot — and we were throwing names around, and as soon as I said it, that stuck. And Molly was like, 'Oh, that's so you, that's it. That's the one.'"
MS: "No, I think you called me, and you were like, 'Molly, what about Thunderpussy?' And I was like, 'Absolutely.' And you're like, 'Really, are you sure?' And I'm like, 'Yep, that's it!'"
WP: "We both started laughing, and we were like, 'That's it! Fuck yes!' It kind of embodies what we wanted to be and who we are. Powerful, wanting to give a voice to women."
MS: "Larger than life. Plus, the power of the pussy, you know? It worked out."
Do you feel like it's a more relevant title in today's political climate?
WP: "The thing about the band is, everything about Thunderpussy is organic and evolved very organically, even the name. And like I said just now, it's kind of a joke, at first, to me. It's provocative in a playful way, I feel like. And it just became more than a name almost immediately. Because we didn't actually set out to have a girl group. It didn't really matter to us, what the gender of the other two people in the band were going to be. We had a feeling we were going to have a four piece…and the other two people just happened to be women. It could have been two girls and two guys, and it still would've been Thunderpussy. But then it was women, and it kind of took on this whole new life, and a different meaning."
MS: "I would actually disagree with you. I always knew that I wanted it to be all women... every time that a guy joined in with us — and they were our friends, you know — it just was a different kind of energy. And it was very clear that Thunderpussy was bound to be a female presence."
WP: "And then, of course, the pussy grabber takes the White House. We've had a lot of, I don't want to say controversy, because I don't really feel like our name is controversial. But we've had a little hiccup with the U.S. government trying to get our trademark. And a lot of people, because of that, wanted to talk about the name, and what it means to us, and what it means to the world at large."
MS: "And that's actually the coolest part about it, I think. Because even with the world of Thunderpussy, it has started off organically, and it does take off its own world, but the coolest part became how people actually react to it as well, and how it makes people feel so different, just the name. And then they see us, and then they either go a different way, or they're excited, they're lost in it with us."
WP: "We live in a world where people are questioning more the power of words, and it just seems like a cool time. It seems like the world is right for Thunderpussy. And to make people think about, Is it derogatory? Is it powerful? Is it vulgar? What is it? A lot of people are being forced to think about a lot of things right now. So I think it is a great time. Very timely."
With the "Speed Queen" video and your work with Mike McCready — you first started working with him when he produced your first EP, right? Did he originally reach out to you all about getting involved?
WP: "So, actually, we met at Sasquatch! last year."
MS: "Yeah, which is a music festival."
WP: "It's a music festival at The Gorge. Mike saw us play. And basically, Mike and Chris [Adams, the band's manager] invited us to do an interview in the van for their Sirius XM Radio, and things just kind of evolved from there. We created this friendship that really just evolved. And he was like, 'I'm really interested in recording you on my label, Hockeytalkter [Records], and releasing a double side. I think he was shocked, and maybe Chris was also shocked, that we didn't have any music recorded... they generally don't, I don't think, record people for Hockeytalkter. They just will put out things that the band has. But since we had nothing, and since we hit it off and had a mutual respect, I think Mike was anxious to try to help us get something recorded, because he's such a generous guy."
MS: "And he's just as excited about music as we are! We can all geek out."
WP: "He's super fun. So, yeah, we spent a couple days doing, we ended up with four tracks and two of the singles. And we put that out, and we've been friends ever since."
What was it like when you first found out that you had such a high-profile fan?
WP: "I know when it hit me, because I'd never listened to Pearl Jam, really. I just kind of missed that era, is what I tell people. I really did. I grew up in Georgia in the '90s. I was listening to Brooks & Dunn, and Tanya Tucker, and Wynonna Judd, and country music. And then I discovered Def Leppard, but that's a whole 'nother thing. But when I got to Seattle, I slowly started to discover some of that music from the era, like Soundgarden, and Nirvana, and Pearl Jam. And I just, it didn't really occur to me. When Mike came up to me after the Sasquatch! set, he just wanted to know what kind of pedals I was using, and what my amp was. And I thought that was great."
MS: "None of us actually knew who he was until our friend was like, 'Hey, this is Mike, and he wants to take Polaroids with you.' And I was like, 'Polaroids? I love Polaroids! I've got my Polaroid camera!' And then they're like, 'This is Mike from Pearl Jam.' And we're like, 'Oh, oh, shit!'"
WP: "When we found out that Mike had been in Pearl Jam and was the lead guitarist and everything, we're like, 'That's fucking awesome!' We were headed to Ashland to record our record, and Leah, our bassist, was like, 'Let's put on some Pearl Jam!' Because we knew that we're going to go hang out with Mike and record stuff when we got back. She put on Ten, and then I, like, got really…"
MS: "We all did. We all were in the van, just like, I instinctively know every note to every solo on this record without even trying. It's such an iconic thing, and we started thinking about it, and we're like, 'That's a guy who we were just at his house! What the hell? That's crazy!'"
WP: "But there is this beauty in meeting somebody when you don't know their history. And then a relationship starts to blossom out of the genuineness of your love and passion for music and art and all things rock 'n' roll. And then you walk away, and then you start to tap into Google, or you start researching, and you're like, 'Oh my god, this person has pioneered sounds and organizations and music.' It's really incredible, and it's really neat to walk into it not knowing that, and then learning about it as the relationship evolves."
MS: "And Pearl Jam, as a whole, is just such a great role model."
WP: "Oh my god, they're so incredible for young musicians to try to emulate, to look at what they did, and their legacy. So it's been really cool, the way that it happened."
MS: "And the whole family — they really are a family. And they, kind of going back to what Whitney said in the '90s, listening, I also didn't listen to Pearl Jam or Soundgarden that much. And then when I moved to Seattle, it's like, no matter what, it will always, always exist there, because they have, Seattle's just so proud of all of them and that time that when you're in Seattle you're just sucked into it. And it's really cool to feel like you've been sucked into a part of history in Seattle..."
WP: "Pioneers, just pioneers."
MS: "Not just in Seattle, but in the world. And you don't realize the magnitude of it until you're in it. It's pretty cool."
Was it your idea his for him to have a cameo in the "Speed Queen" video?
WP: "We invited him to be in the video, for sure, because, well, because we wanted to use his car, I'll just be honest."
MS: "He knows that I love his car. We just thought that would be super cool. I mean, anybody could have driven the car. And he told me before, 'If you ever need it for anything, go for it.' But it's always really exciting for us to have Mike around. He has such great energy. So we thought it would be awesome if we could have him on set, just to have that little nod to Mike. Just to keep it going, you know? Maybe we can just have Mike be in a little bit of all of our videos."
How did you come up with the concept for the video?
MS: "Well, 'Speed Queen' is a bit of a love story, a cinematic love story. And both Whitney and I love motorcycles and vintage cars. My background is dance, and I think it's important to incorporate an element of dance or movement within our music videos, within the visuals. And we wanted to create this cinematic world."
WP: "It's in the lyrics."
MS: "It's in the lyrics, which tell the story. We wanted to tell that story. Not every song is going to be that straightforward, not every song has an actual narrative. I think that might be our only song that has a narrative."
WP: "It just seemed like the thing to do, because it is an important thing for Molly and I. When I was writing the lyrics to the song, I was envisioning Molly being the speed queen. There's a couple lines in there that are definitely indicative of a relationship. And when Molly became the speed queen, I penciled myself into the role of the narrator, because Molly's my girlfriend, she's my lover. So we thought it would be nice, and a cool way to present the band, to actually have us play, loosely, ourselves in these kind of roles, and ride off into the sunset together."
MS: "It is kind of fun when I'm writing music, or writing the lyrics to a song, and I imagine it thematically. I really love film. Do I want people to visualize the song, or feel it atmospherically? You want to be in it, and having the music video as a musical component is a great way to expand the story even more. And we have a pretty awesome community in Seattle, so throwing out the ideas, you know, 'I want to choreograph this, and make sure that we have the gangs, and the Sharks meet the Jets, and then we have the love story happening over here, and we've got the bar over here, and a fight breaks out.' Having other people be on board and want to be a part of the story makes it even better. And we had just watched Road House."
Was it more challenging to write something as personal as this song is for the two of you?
WP: "That just came out, you know? That line at the end of 'Speed Queen,' 'I was looking for her, and she was looking for me,' I mean, that's really true. I've always thought that about Molly and me. We have this really intense love for each other. So that is a really personal piece of the pie... We were talking about, 'Oh, we're definitely going to make a choice so that we're going to kiss, and we're going to ride off together.' I went home, and I was like, 'Molly, can I do that? Just make this gay love story music video, right out of the gate?' And she's like, 'Fuck yeah, it's who we are!' And I'm like, 'You're so right, I don't even care. Let's just do it.'"
MS: "But I think, going back to writing something that's so visceral or personal, I think that's the beauty of writing and making art. Because no matter what, we're all connected through feelings. We all feel the same way, in different ways. We're all born the same way. We die, we love, we hate. We feel these things, and that's the incredible thing about writing a song or making a dance. It's like you're pouring your emotions into something, and you're hopefully able to share it with others. And for us, this is a different kind of love story that's able to be shared at a time where not everyone may agree, or where both characters are women, and they both happen to be in love. But, you know, it's important to stay who you are... I just think that no matter what, there's a part of you in everything that you do."
WP: "Those tend to be the better songs, I think. When you write a song, if you're really feeling like you're vulnerable in writing it, and you're scared, maybe, to even play it for your close partner… Like, Molly and I all the time. We'll be like, 'I've got this song, but I can't show it to you yet.'"
MS: "I do that all the time. 'I need to flesh out the lyrics a little bit more.' Those are the best ones."
Who would you all say are some of your musical inspirations?
WP: "Well, like I said, I used to listen to a lot of country growing up. And not just like, contemporary country. My parents were really into great songwriters like Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash, Charlie Pride, all that stuff. And I always loved that. I still love country music. And then I got really into '80s rock, somehow. I love Def Leppard so much. But I think, too, because I hadn't really heard a lot of that kind of rock 'n' roll — my parents would listen to Marshall Tucker, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and that kind of stuff. The Allman Brothers Band, too, I still really love. But then I heard Def Leppard, and it was like, Oh, there's a whole 'nother kind of rock 'n' roll out there. And that actually led me into '70s rock. And so I love, Aerosmith is my favorite band. And Led Zeppelin. And I love Janis Joplin, Big Brother and the Holding Company, just that era of '70s rock. And then you have Jeff Beck, and all those great guitar players who came out of that tiny little era in England. Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Texas blues. Molly and I really love the blues."
MS: "I grew up on a lot of blues. Blues and rock, but my dad was an Elvis person all the way. Elvis films, records always spinning. But my mom was a rocker babe. I pretty much went to mostly all of my concerts with my mom growing up. But yeah, Led Zeppelin, Heart, Crosby, Stills & Nash. I really love Bob Dylan, too. Tom Petty, so many. But I do have to say, as I think about this more and more, it's not just the rock and the blues. I love them — and thank you to my incredible parents for having music playing at all time at our house — but also, because of my friends, and VH1 pop-up video, I also loved Madonna and Paula Abdul, because they incorporated dance... but the range is there, from blues to rock to certain types of '90s pop. I think it all influences us, whether we think it does or not."
WP: "Yeah, we soak it up. Hooks, like in hip hop, I love Outkast. A lot of stuff, production-wise, will influence us now. And, of course, we're making records now, so now we're dissecting songs far more than the normal human being should, almost to the point of not enjoying things. Because you're like, 'What is that sound at 2:56? How do I get that? Do you hear that? It sounds like a helicopter! I need that!' I also was going to say that Billie Holiday and Etta James were big influences for me. And Patsy, of course, hello! Patsy Cline! We could go on, but they all were absorbed."
MS: "We're kind of music nerds."
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
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