Q&A: Thunderpussy Talks Female Energy, Unapologetic Performance, & The Power of a Name

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Rock & roll may be a man’s world, but Thunderpussy is here to storm the gates. Formed in Seattle in 2013, the four-piece all-female rock band came together after lead singer Molly Sides and guitarist Whitney Petty started dating. When making their creative dreams a reality, the pair committed to preserving the undeniably electric energy of a band of women, and the results have been explosive. Now complete with bassist Leah Julius and drummer Ruby Dunphy, the foursome perform with unapologetic swagger, just as blustering as their name suggests.

From an EP titled Greatest Tits, to lyrics like “my peach is getting ripe/open up and take a bite,” the group breathes bombastic new life into the genre by being wholly themselves. Rather than relying on gimmicks, these four women attract their fans with their fearless authenticity. Such bravado, conveyed almost exclusively by men up until now, has garnered Thunderpussy a loyal and enthusiastic following in their home base of the Pacific Northwest.

The past few months have been non-stop for the rockers, releasing a debut self-titled album and a leg of headlining shows across Europe completed. With a slot supporting The Struts on their upcoming US tour, this badass band is just getting started. With so much exposure on the horizon, it’s only a matter of time before the world of modern rock & roll is abuzz about Thunderpussy.

Thunderpussy guitarist Whitney Petty had a chat with Ones to Watch to talk songwriting, representation, and the thrills of touring.

OTW: Tell me a little bit about the band’s history. How did you guys all meet and come together? 

Whitney: We were all sort of in the right place at the right time, here in Seattle. Everybody is from somewhere else and everybody’s involved in the arts and music scene in some form or another. Basically what happened is that Molly and I started dating and wanted to start a project together. We enlisted our best friend who was living with us at the time, Nina Simon, our first drummer. And once we had that formula going, we thought it’d be really cool to get another woman in the band since we had never been in a band without a bunch of dudes.  

We found Leah and then it just clicked and felt so good and we love being in that sort of female energy. It just felt so different and so refreshing, so nice. And so we decided to call ourselves Thunderpussy and have it be a female band, and it just worked out. When Nina left to pursue other projects, we were like “well, we can’t get a guy.” But we ended up getting a couple men to fill in and it just changed the dynamic immediately. Then we were lucky enough to find Ruby [Dunphy] a week after she moved to Seattle to study drums and performance at the same college that Molly went to, Cornish College of the Arts here in Seattle. So it was the scene. The music scene in Seattle brought us all together at different times. 

OTW: I would be remiss not to ask you about your band’s name. What is the origin and the motivation behind naming it Thunderpussy?

Whitney: [laughs] We always say that we take our music really seriously, and we take our commitment to each other really seriously, but we don’t take ourselves really seriously. It was a name that I had heard a friend of mine come up with as a fake band name. We always talked about starting Thunderpussy but we never did. And it was funny even to us back then. It was already a powerful name, even though it was a fake band that we never started. We would joke about it and when we would mention it in front other people, they’d be like, “That’s a great idea!” So I mentioned it to Molly when we’d just started the project, as a joke, and she immediately was like, “That’s so good!” And that was before we even knew that we were going to be an all-female act.  We didn’t set out to have any sort of feminist angle or message or anything like that, and we still don’t, really. But it just sort of fit really naturally. It’s something that was interesting, provocative, powerful, tongue-in-cheek-all the things that we wanted to embody that we do as individuals. So it just stuck. And I think it’s helped define who we are in a really cool way.

OTW: One of the things that I really love about your group is how unapologetic you are about reclaiming over the top imagery and lyrics that have been pretty limited to male groups up to now. Would you say that larger-than-life persona was something that you guys set out to inhabit or something that you grew into?

Whitney: I think it’s something that we, Molly and I, were just born with. The first guitar I ever bought, I never even learned to play; I’d just jump up and down on my bed and practice my kicks moves. I was 10 years old and just wanted to be onstage like my idols, like my favorite performer Steven Tyler.  Right off the bat, Molly and I wanted to be this larger-than-life duo, like Mick and Keith or Steve and Joe. We wanted to have this persona. And it’s fun, and it’s trickled down now. Ruby and Leah I think at first were a little nervous about being someone else, being able to totally let go onstage, but that did not last long. Now when all four of us are onstage, we’re all completely free to be whoever we want to be, and I feel like that’s really important as what we’re trying to do with our music, because it’s more than music to us. It’s certainly other things. It’s the art and performance as well, so it’s definitely intentional.

OTW: It’s unfortunate, but all-female groups are still pretty rare. What do you hope that your presence as a badass female rock group can bring to both listeners and the industry as a whole?

Whitney: What do I think that being a bunch of women together brings? [laughs] It was really interesting for me and for Leah because we’d been in bands before where we were the only woman. Leah’s still in a band where it’s half and half boys and girls, and it’s just a really different dynamic when it’s all women; it’s inexplicable. I don’t really know why that is, but I think everybody can relate to it. If you think about it, as a woman, you want to just have a girl’s night, and it’s just different if there’s one man there, you know what I mean? It’s just a little different. 

I don’t know what that is exactly, but for us, since we’re coming from a place where we’re also trying to create and dive deep into our souls and expose this part of ourselves to ourselves, to each other, and then in turn to the world, there’s just this freedom that comes from doing it with your sisters. There’s something really interesting and sort of mystical about that. And so I think that it’s important for us to embrace that aspect of what we’re doing. I think that people hopefully are catching onto it as less than a novelty or not quite like it’s just a gimmick–I hope that what’s happening. I think the name helps to crystallize this. 

People see it as this really fierce, powerful but very feminine energy that is emanating from stage, from the records. I feel like that’s priceless. Hopefully that can trickle down and just help to normalize. Like what you said, unfortunately it’s mostly a man’s world like James Brown said. But I feel like by banding together, by normalizing it, by just not even acknowledging it as a thing, we’re hoping to give women a voice that they haven’t had in the past in such a male dominated industry. And hopefully turn the tides. I think it’s just important for women to stick together, to be proud of what they have. And like I said, to not really look at it as doing something weird. Everyone should do it. Men have been doing it for centuries.

OTW: You guys recently released your debut self-titled album. What has it been like to finally see years of creative work finally out in the world and available for listeners?

Whitney: It’s really crazy. It’s been a long process so it’s still kind of surreal and comes to me in shockwaves and in pieces of like, “Oh wow, that’s done, that’s something that we accomplished.” I couldn’t be more proud of it honestly. We really took our time and made sure that we made the record that we wanted to make, and we marinated on it for years and the songs were meticulously crafted to be exactly how we wanted them to be. I’m actually proud to listen to it, unlike a lot of the other things I’ve made, other bands and other pieces of art I’ve made. Sometimes you just know you’re a different person, and you keep evolving and changing and then you listen back to something you’re like, “Oh geez, I’m not that way anymore. You know what I mean?” And you’re like, “Ah, I wish maybe I hadn’t done that,” but I feel like in this case we encapsulated a moment that we’re all super proud of. So I couldn’t be more stoked on the record. 

OTW: I’m sure it changes a lot, but what does the most typical writing process look like for you guys? 

Whitney: Well, who knows where the seeds of songs come from. They come from many different places, but each seed of every song contains the blueprint of how it will get developed. It’s kind of half and half between Molly and I. A lot of times Molly will come up with a vocal melody or a lyric, and sometimes I’ll come up with a piece as well, like a riff or a chord progression or a lyric, and we’ll meet in the middle and hash it out. I’ll go to her, she’ll come to me with this part and we’ll ask the other one, “What is this? Is this a bridge? Is it a chorus? Is this a verse?” And then we’ll build the song around that piece. Other times she or I will come to the other person with a completely developed piece, and we’ll sit there and I’ll figure out the chords to what she wrote, or she’ll figure it out the words to what I wrote. Other times we’ll just be working on something, talking about it, and in the middle of working on that something else will pop up, and that thing will take off and become a song right away, just right there spontaneously. 

Once we get this to a place where we’re feeling good about it that we can share it, we’ll take it into the studio with Ruby and Leah. We’ll show it to them, and they’ll write their parts and figure it out. We get this really nice layer of cushion of feedback before the songs get done because Ruby and Leah both have a great ear; they’re super talented. So it’s a very collaborative process in the end. 

OTW: You just finished up a tour. What are some of your most memorable tour stories? 

Whitney: There were a lot of really good things that happened on this tour, sort of extracurricular activities that we did on this last tour were really amazing because we went to some great cities. Molly got to see her first Broadway show.  Molly, who always thought she would be on Broadway. When we were in New York, we saw Kinky Boots, which was really fun. When we were in Cleveland,  we all went to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for the first time, which was like a religious experience. We got kicked out at 5:30 when they closed after three and a half hours, and I could really have used another three and a half hours and we all could have. 

We played a party in Connecticut at the end of this tour where we all got to go up in a hot air balloon, which is freaking amazing. We got to watch Gogol Bordello with like 100 other people on this amazing, amazing stage…that was fucking unbelievable. We got to see Esperanza Spalding up close and personal. We got to meet Andrew Bird–really inspiring musicians that we got to hang out with and watch them do their thing, always really cool for us. And speaking of which, when we were in Toronto, we got the opportunity to go see Robert Plant, which was like, I swear to God, that man is a golden god. It was just so inspiring to get to watch other people that you look up to you. It’s so crazy because you’re on tour and they’re on tour and you’re like, “Wow, we’re both doing this thing, we’re both out here grinding it and maybe you’re having a really bum day like I just did two weeks ago, but you’re still out here inspiring me!” It’s just really magical to get to watch artists do what they do best that, that you look up to. 

OTW: What artists are you personally or you as a band digging right now? Who are your Ones to Watch?  

Whitney: I’m bad at this because I just listen to like 70s funk! But I think for us right now, the Greta Van Fleet phenomenon is really interesting to us. This young rock band out of Detroit; I feel like we’re kind of on these parallel paths. I love their record, but what I’m so interested in watching is just how exactly they are, like us, trying to bring the thought bubble of classic rock back into the mainstream. 

We were just on tour with Black Pistol Fire, and I’m also really excited to see how those guys fare in the next coming year, for the same reason. It comes in waves, the rock & roll phenomenon. I remember when I graduated high school in 2003, it was The Strokes and The Hives and The Vines and The White Stripes and it was like, “Oh my gosh, rock explosion!”  Everyone was like “rock & roll is back!” and it’s so funny.  It never goes away, but it definitely does come in little waves. I think what’s cool to see now is who’s coming up in this, hopefully, little wave right now. I feel like Greta’s taken the lead in tugging rock & roll bands back into the limelight, which is really cool. 

Also a lot of female artists that are making news right now too, which is really interesting. We definitely listened to more Lizzo on this last tour than anything else. She’s absolutely amazing. I’m just really curious what’s going to happen with rock and with female fronted acts right now.

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