When you Google “Thunderpussy,” one of the first articles that pops up is from 2016, titled: “The women of Thunderpussy want to talk music, not feminism.”
“We are women who play rock music. We are definitely hella feminist,” asserts Leah Julius, Thunderpussy bassist, three years later.
It’s the morning after the band opened for Black Pistol Fire at the El Rey in Los Angeles, the first in a leg of shows accompanying the rock duo. This series of shows follows appearances at festivals in Big Sky, Montana and Telluride, Colorado, and incorporates into the band’s “Scandalous and Immoral Tour.” Julius joins me via phone call on a brief break from driving through the desert of the Southwest.
“I’ve actually had quite a few people ask me specifically about that interview, like ‘You guys aren’t feminists? You don’t want to do this?’ No, that’s not it at all,” says Julius. “But it was just at the beginning people were like, ‘You must’ve started this band to show all the guys in rock music that girls can do it too.’ No. That is not it. At all. We are women who happen to like playing music, who happen to like rock music, and we started a band. You guys are the ones who are labeling us as that.”
While music is the band’s top priority, they cannot avoid questions about their politics, which they’ve started to approach as a privilege.
“A lot has changed since early 2016 in terms of the political landscape and I think that as we’ve grown, you know, we’ve started to take the responsibility of that platform a little more seriously.”
That platform, it turns out, is a fight against the Supreme Court to defend their First Amendment rights; in 2015 Thunderpussy filed to trademark their name and were swiftly denied. The Patent and Trademark Office declared the band name “scandalous” and refused the trademark.
“We said ‘fuck that’ and started fighting, and it turns out a bunch of other people were fighting at the same time for different reasons.”
Julius is fully educated on the fight against the Lanham Act and tells me a story about how an Asian-American band called The Slants who were fighting to reclaim what had been historically a derogatory term, were also denied a trademark, and took the case to the Supreme Court.
“That was exactly what we were doing with the word ‘pussy,’ right? It’s been used against women and gay people and perceived as weak. So The Slants won, and at first it was like ‘Sweet, we’re getting our trademark!’ And then we got another letter that said ‘No, you guys are still denied because you’re also scandalous and immoral.’”
Soon enough, another case was brought to the Supreme Court; that of FUCT, a Los Angeles based clothing brand. The brand won their fight and Thunderpussy’s lawyers quickly followed up.
“We’re still waiting. It’s not a surefire thing. They could choose to deny us on some other grounds,” Julius sighs.
But Thunderpussy have taken this as an opportunity to use their aforementioned platform and speak up about something they truly give a fuck about.
“That has turned into a whole other issue on First Amendment, freedom of speech, the ability for women-owned businesses to make money—especially in the United States, as we like to equate money with speech. There’s just so many layers to it.”
It’s not exactly what you’d expect from a punk band: a feud with the Supreme Court over a First Amendment issue which is intrinsically an equality issue. But to equate Thunderpussy to any other punk band feels unfair. The heart and soul of Thunderpussy goes beyond that which can be achieved by a group of dudes shredding. The bond between the women of Thunderpussy is deep-seated and full of respect for each member’s individual talents. There’s a spark, a fervor, to being a group of women taking up space in a male-dominated genre. And Thunderpussy know how to use that ardor in their favor.
Formed in Seattle in 2013, and having undergone some slight turnover since, Thunderpussy is now composed of lead singer Molly, guitarist Whitney, and bassist Leah. “‘Thundermeow-meow.’ That’s what Molly’s [Thunderpussy lead singer] mom called us for the first few months,” she says. “And then as soon as she saw us play live she was like ‘Oh no, you guys are Thunderpussy, that’s the name that fits you.’”
After such an extensive discussion about the structure of the literal word, it bears asking about Julius’ relationship with pussy—figuratively, emotionally, grammatically.
“[Pussy] is everything. It’s the creation of life, right? Every living thing, except for some extenuating circumstances, came out of a pussy. It’s powerful. It literally keeps civilization going, I don’t know anything more powerful than that.”
The mission of Thunderpussy is as much about reclaiming a gendered misappropriation as it is about normalizing its presence in everyday life.
“We had a fan who was an eight or nine years old who wore their Thunderpussy shirt to school and the teachers pulled them into the principal’s office and were like, ‘What’s your shirt?’ and the kid was like, ‘Oh, it’s my favorite band, Thunderpussy!’ The word doesn’t phase a kid who’s never been taught that it means anything bad or derogatory.”
This, of course, happened in Seattle—the kind of place where Thunderpussy already has a trademark and elementary school administrations are more likely to allow their students to educate themselves on pussy extracurricularly. But a story like this only serves as encouragement that Thunderpussy could be deeper than just “scandalous and immoral”—that Thunderpussy can mean literally nothing but three women (with a trademark) who like to play music.
For now, Thunderpussy continues to tour across America and awaits a third and hopefully final response from the Patents and Trademark Office, although she jokingly assures me, “We’re working on that world domination path.” They hope to be featured in another international wide release, as their cover of “Takin’ Care Of Business” played in 2019’s FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY, and I almost can’t ask my final question out of unbridled excitement and awe: How does it feel knowing that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has heard your music?
“Oh my God, so fucking good.”