Team Dresch is all the way back.
by Ben Salmon
Team Dresch is back. Really.
Not “sort of back” or “sometimes back,” which are fair ways to describe the Portland-based queercore band’s off-and-on status over the past 15 years. No, Team Dresch is all the way back, just as they were in the ’90s: writing and recording songs, playing blistering shows, speaking truth to power, and generally being a kickass beacon of hope for queer, nonbinary, and otherwise marginalized punks everywhere. (And for plenty of straight and cisgender people, too.)
“We have lots of muscle memory,” the band’s namesake, Donna Dresch, says in a phone interview. “The fingers just go where they’re supposed to go without even thinking about it.”
It’s harder, however, for Dresch and her bandmates—Jody Bleyle, Kaia Wilson, Marcéo Martinez, and Melissa York—to answer the question, “Why now?”
One explanation, certainly, is the enthusiastic encouragement of Rob Jones, founder of Jealous Butcher Records, which is reissuing the band’s only studio albums: 1995’s Personal Best and 1996’s Captain My Captain. Each is a thrilling collision of abrasive punk and melodic pop that bridges the gap between the riot grrrl movement and the Pacific Northwest’s post-grunge indie sound.
“[Jones has] been very inspirational and helpful,” Wilson says, “to getting us to be, like, ‘Oh yeah, we could just go ahead and be a band again! Why not?’”
Beyond that, Wilson hasn’t been happy with Team Dresch’s previous explanations for what motivated the current surge of band activity, so she decides to try a new one: her midlife crisis.
She’s kidding. Kind of. But not really.
“Where I feel like I’ve had the most pleasurable experience doing something that merges creativity and activism and a sense of community and being cooperative in a band [is] Team Dresch,” she says. “I just feel like I missed it so much. And before we know it, we’re all going to be getting our senior discounts. So, it just feels like, ‘Okay, I still have this in me.’ I think we all still have a lot of passion for this.”
For Bleyle, the spark of the band’s comeback can be traced to a concert organized by Sleater-Kinney’s Janet Weiss shortly after Donald Trump was elected president in 2016. She remembers it viscerally.
“It felt so good to play and the music sounded so good to me, and I thought, ‘I really want to explore writing new music with Team Dresch,’” Bleyle says, leaning into her words. “That’s really the main reason that I want to do it. We hang out all the time. We’re family. But I think at the core, I’m just really excited about [seeing] what we can come up with.”
The band recently released its first new song in nearly 20 years, “Your Hands My Pockets,” and Dresch, Wilson, and Bleyle all agree a new album is likely to follow. In the meantime, Team Dresch is not only celebrating its two ’90s records, but also their place in the punk canon as well as the hearts of their fiercely loyal fans.
“To have music that you wrote 25 years ago still be loved and appreciated, it’s so special that it actually makes me kind of choke up just thinking about it,” Bleyle says. Wilson finishes the thought: “We have the most special, beautiful, lovely people who come to our shows. I feel insanely lucky. It feels like a family reunion.”
While the music and sense of community have remained the same over the past couple of decades, the world around Team Dresch has changed. Touring in the ’90s was intense and stressful, according to the band, because of the element of fear and potential violence at queercore shows.
“Having to be on alert all the time,” Bleyle says, “really took a toll on me.”
But Team Dresch’s touring environment is radically different these days, in part because the band is touring major cities and playing mostly for their fans.
“Now, everyone is there to see us and they’re excited,” Dresch says. “We’re better people… and better musicians now than we were then, too. I think the shows are way more fun and exciting now.”
There, perhaps, is the truest answer to the question, “Why now?” Team Dresch is a band widely known for their inspirational power and their intensely devoted fans. The excitement and energy that flows back and forth between the two sides is more than enough to bring the whole big, beautiful thing back to life.
“I’ve been connected to the broader queer community all these years, but when we’re doing things in Team Dresch, that connection is more alive, and I want to be a part of that,” Bleyle says. “The reasons are the same as they were when we started, really: wanting to be connected to people, and wanting to make music with these people.”