You can't keep a good punk-metal band down. ''We wanted to be on Sub Pop, so we played the show,'' L7 frontwoman Donita Sparks says of a pivotal 1989 Seattle concert. ''And we put two of our friends who happened to be on acid in charge of the smoke machine.''
''All we could see was [Sub Pop cofounder] Bruce Pavitt's bald head walking for the door, waving his hands in front of his face,'' chuckles bassist Jennifer Finch. Says Sparks, ''We thought our career was over.''
In fact, Sub Pop did sign them, and the Los Angeles quartet has since been credited with four critically acclaimed records, a big-screen gig in John Waters' Serial Mom, and now a slot on Lollapalooza's Main Stage. Formed by Sparks and guitarist Suzi Gardner in 1985, L7 (beatnik slang for ''square'') initially shuffled through a revolving cast of rhythm players and established themselves as ''hard-rock misfits'' on L.A.'s country-billy and hardcore underground club circuit.
Once the lineup solidified with the addition of Finch in 1986 and drummer Dee Plakas in 1988, the band continued to defy the L.A. scene. ''It was like, 'When are they going to take their clothes off?''' says Finch. Being a chick band has been the cross L7 (often crankily) bears: ''We hate when people make gender into a genre'' has become their interview mantra. But with their first full-length album, 1992's Bricks Are Heavy, and its recently released follow-up, Hungry for Stink, the band has begun to crawl out of their pigeonhole. And rave Lollapalooza reviews have marked them as the fest's breakout act, gender be damned.
Hey, if fellow punk-turned-publishing tycoon Henry Rollins can become a media darling, why not L7? ''We're going to write a book of Suzi's home-cooking recipes,'' jokes Plakas. Adds Finch: ''And Rollins can publish it.''