Voices Behind the Music Podcast Episode 6 Maureen Herman
Behind every favorite artist, song, or lyric, is a story you've never heard. Music is highly personal, and our experiences with it shape our memories, thoughts, and desires. So much goes into every note and lyric behind the scenes, which is why we’re bringing you Voices Behind the Music to share untold music business tales. Our guests range from artists, producers, and managers to tech creators and more, each sharing their unique past experiences, current projects, and visions for the future. Voices Behind The Music is presented by Feed Media Group, the leading B2B music licensing platform.
Hosted by Jeff Yasuda, CEO, Feed Media Group.
Episode 6: Taking Chances, and Touring the World in a Female Punk Band – with Maureen Herman
Maureen Herman is a writer and the former bassist for Babes in Toyland. Her memoir will be published by Flatiron Books and out Fall of 2022.
Maureen: [00:00:00] I was working as a secretary at the English Department of Columbia College in Chicago. Laurie Barbera calls and says "Michelle quit. We're supposed to record a record, and then we're going on tour with Lush. Do you want to join?"
Jeff: Behind every favorite artist song or lyric is a story you've never heard.
In Voices behind The Music, we go much deeper than the front man you hear on the album or the guitarist you see on stage. People from all aspects of the music industry work together to make the business what it is and are often some of the busiest, but nicest, funniest, and smartest people out there. I'm Jeff Yasuda, CEO at Feed Media Group, the creators behind the leading B2B music licensing platform. Join me as I sit down with some of my favorite voices behind the music to hear their insider stories about what makes the music industry so exciting.
Today [00:01:00] we have the fabulous Maureen Herman on the show. Maureen is an accomplished writer and editor having worked at Musician Magazine and is a freelance journalist for Rolling Stone. Mo, as we call her, and I also had a chance to work together on my very first start up called Fuzz Artists way back in 2005. I can't even remember how long ago that was. Mo is probably best known, however, for being the bass player for Minneapolis based all female punk band, Babes in Toyland, which has signed to Warner and hit Lollapalooza by storm in 1993, along with former high school classmates, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, and Adam Jones of Tool.
Mo's also been deeply involved in the nonprofit world, having co-founded Project Noise, along with our mutual pal, Chris Caracas, to focus on social justice. Most [00:02:00] importantly though, Mo is just a downright awesome gal, a longtime friend, and just loads of fun, Mo, welcome to the show.
Maureen: Wow. Thank you for that intro, Jeff. That was very good. You hit all the points.
Jeff: And it's all true. And it's all true. So well for starters, tell me what you're working on? What are you doing now?
Maureen: So right now I'm working on a book, my memoir.
Jeff: And when are you planning to release that? I put the pressure on you Mo, you got to get this out.
Maureen: That's okay. I'm delivering it before, the goal is before the holidays and I really need to keep that deadline. So it's supposed to be out if everything goes as planned, it should be out Spring or Summer of 2022.
Jeff: Oh my gosh. Now, can you share the title or is that double secret probation?
Maureen: I can share the title, but I will have to - I won't swear, but it's called it's A Memoir Mother *coughs*.[00:03:00]
Jeff: Got it. Got it.
Maureen: That was a joke working title that I had because I couldn't think of a title. And then I put that in the version that I gave to my agent and he said, that's the title. And I'm like, no way, they're not going to go for it. And I don't even want that to be, but then the publisher wanted it. So it's in the, it's in my contract. Who knew.
Jeff: That is awesome. And it's so you. So, great. So you're working on that and then when you're not writing, what else are you up to?
Maureen: I have an 18 year old daughter and though she's in college, she lives at home. So there's still parental duties going on. And actually I've become kind of domestic and I've been, I'm into gardening and stuff and home decor.
No, I just finished kind of like getting my house situated. I moved to a small town in Illinois from Los Angeles in 2019 and it's actually [00:04:00] Tom Morello, of Rage Against the Machines, grandparent's house. He inherited it and it has been sitting empty for a long time and so it just kind of worked out and I moved to Illinois where I have some family.
Jeff: Let's go back. Let's go back to your high school days at Libertyville High School. My God, how was going to school with folks like Tom and Adam Jones of Tool. And it must've been a wild experience.
Maureen: Yeah. I mean, it was wild when we were adults because when we were younger, we didn't know where we would all end up. But it was still a very, there was this group of people and we're still a really hardcore group of people. It's the same people that were on the school paper together.
And so, they were also in the theater. I was not into that because there's no way I was going to get on stage at that time.
Jeff: Okay. The irony is palpable.
Maureen: I know, I know, stage fright. But [00:05:00] I knew them all from the school paper. And so Libertyville is like this White suburb of Chicago. Fairly affluent, not like affluent affluent, but you know, upper middle class, middle class kind of thing.
So that was kind of the vibe of the school. Tom was one of three black people at the school and he was the first one. So.
Maureen: And his mother was the history teacher there, Mary Morello. And this is actually where she grew up, is my house. But anyway, everybody was just so smart and creative and I just didn't really appreciate how unique all were. You know, Tom and Adam, they were in a band called The Electric Sheep at that time.
But also like my friend, Jim, who's now the editor at Fair. And almost I'd say without exception, everybody is in the music or film or TV business that is in the group. In fact, they are. Every single person is and it's 20 [00:06:00] people.
Jeff: That's amazing. So I obviously want to hear all about Lollapalooza in 93, but tell us about how Babes in Toyland came together. How did you start playing bass? I want to hear all of it.
Maureen: So, growing up I loved music, but I took piano lessons, but it was more kind of like, I also took other kinds of lessons. It wasn't like this special thing to me, you know? But I liked it, but I wasn't very good at it, but I learned the names of the notes.
I learned where they were on the keys and all that stuff. So it was okay. It was good. We had a piano in the house but my brother at that time, he was in high school and he had a garage band and I don't remember the name, but they literally played in our garage.
He was a bassist. He had a bass guitar, and so he taught me Smoke on the Water one day just out of whatever, I guess he was bored or high, I'm not sure. He used to deal pot out of the window well of the basement where his bedroom was. So whatever, but no he was very colorful. He's sober now, but anyway.[00:07:00] So in later years, you know, he moved to Minneapolis. And so did I at one point after our parents did.
And he got his hand stuck in a pasta machine at work. He was in the basement and the guy who they hadn't opened yet, it was early in the morning.
And the guy, the only other guy who was there, was upstairs vacuuming. So he couldn't hear him screaming.
Jeff: Oh my God.
Maureen: When they finally got to him, when the fire department came, they had to manually take the machine apart because they couldn't roll it backward. So his hand was flattened for quite a while.
Jeff: Oh my God. Can he still use it?
Maureen: Well, he can yes. No, he can still use it but he couldn't for a while. And it was never quite the same. And so I had started dabbling in music. By that time I was in my early twenties and he just came over one day and he knew I was [00:08:00] like having people come over and play in the basement and stuff.
I lived in a warehouse. He just had this look on his face and he just gave me his base. He's like here. Where I'm like, okay, cause I was trying to teach myself guitar and stuff. So then I had a base. So then that's what I played, you know?
Jeff: Wow. Wow. So you started playing in other bands and?
Maureen: Interesting, because right after I got the base I didn't know how to tune the bass or the guitar that I had.
And I knew Kat Bjellan of Babes in Toyland. She lived over the walking bridge from me. I asked her if she could come over and teach me how to tune my bass. And so she taught me. I had no idea that years later I would be in that band because I was at their very first show in a basement at a party.
Jeff: That's amazing. Tell me a little bit how Babes in Toyland Toyland blew up.
Maureen: In 1991, Sonic Youth had booked a tour to Europe, so they were doing a running festival and a lot of big clubs. They were really hot then, they were [00:09:00] at their peak. And they tapped Nirvana and Babes in Toyland to be their opening acts, so they went overseas and they became huge.
But back in the States, the Babes were still kind of like this van touring band who weren't very well known and whatnot, but now they have this UK situation. So they started going over there a lot and then that started to bleed into getting asked to be on tours. They were already signed to Reprise. The Babes got signed to a major label long before Nirvana or any of those other bands. And it was just one of those things, it wasn't for a lot of money but they did get signed and they did have Warner Brothers Records, Reprise Records.
So anyway, they did really great in the UK and when they were supposed to record the first record, Michelle, the bass player, her boyfriend got shot and killed. He [00:10:00] was Henry Rollins' tour manager. So you may have heard the story, but she was just distraught. Good things didn't happen to me without somebody like either smashing their hand or dying, you know? So…
Jeff: Gosh, Mo.
Maureen: So she quit the band and they were already booked for a tour and they were supposed to record the record in weeks. And they happened to be playing in Chicago and they always stayed at my house when they played in Chicago, cause I lived in a warehouse and on the first floor, you could literally open the doors and you could drive your van in with all the equipment in it.
And so Kat and Laurie were staying with me, but Michelle wasn't and I don't know. I showed them like, oh yeah, I've been playing in some bands and I've played in a band with some friends, you know, dah, dah, dah, whatever. It was no big deal. I wasn't like, you know, I didn't know anything was going on with them.
But then I got a call. I was working as a secretary at the English department of Columbia College in Chicago, Laurie Barbera called and [00:11:00] said "Michelle quit. We're supposed to record a record and then we're going on tour with Lush. Do you want to join?"
And actually, do you want to audition? It was kind of like wanting to just try it and see. So I'm like, okay. And so I go up to Minneapolis to audition and I'm really excited. And I'm meeting my friend at the coffee shop. As I'm leaving the coffee shop to go to the audition I get pulled over. Then I get arrested for outstanding parking tickets from when I lived there.
Maureen: Now this is before cell phones. So Kat and Laurie, they didn't know where I was. I was just in jail.
Jeff: Oh, Mo.
Maureen: So I could make one phone call. So I called, I knew my friend, John, who I was meeting for coffee, I knew his number by heart. And so I called him and during the coffee he had just told me like, oh yeah, I saved up a bunch of money to go to [00:12:00] Brazil and it's great. And dah, dah, dah. So I knew he had a lot of money too.
So I was like "John, I hate to ask you this but I'm in a spot. I need about $2,000 to be bailed out of jail." And he's like, what? But he had enough and he did it. And I got out and I finally was able to tell Kat and Laurie what happened. Of course they died laughing. They thought it was so hilarious.
Jeff: Oh, my gosh. And so you just didn't show up to the audition?
Maureen: I just no showed. But you know, significantly, before I left for the audition I was roommates with the Jesus Lizard, literally the whole band. So I was dating the bass player, David Simms and Dwayne Denison is the guitar player of the Jesus Lizard. And he sat down and he taught me all of the bass parts to the Babes songs.
Maureen: Like, he's a literal music teacher. He's got a degree in music.
Jeff: Oh, and he's so incredibly technical.
Maureen: He's super technical. And he just made sure [00:13:00] that I was going in, not knowing I could nail the parts and we just practiced and practiced. And he taught me and taught me. So when I walked into that audition, I could just play the songs and they were like blown away, And so it was just like, they were just like, okay, well yeah, you're in the band.
You were friends already.
Oh yeah. We were friends. Yeah. Kat and I had, I first met, oh this is a good story. I first met Kat, our boyfriends were roommates and she had, we were on the porch and she played me this tape of her "new band". And it was horrible and she's like, yeah, I'm going to start a band.
And I'm like, good luck with that.
That was like in 1989 or 86 I don't know when it was, but anyway. So she was determined to be in a band for a long time. So, yeah I was joining them, but at the [00:14:00] time I had a job and I was getting full-time benefits. And I was able to go to college for free at the place I was working at. I really liked my job and all I'd ever wanted to do was be a writer.
And I finally was able to be in a situation where I could make that happen. And then I was like, okay, now you have this other thing. People don't believe me, but I really had to think about it because it was just something I kinda did. It was fun, but I really wanted to be a writer.
But then, I talked like Steve Albini and some other people and they were like, touring, you're never going to get another chance like this to see the world and this kind of experience and just do it. And then you can always go back to school after. So I joined.
Jeff: And can you remind everyone who the great Steve Albini is?
Maureen: So Steve Albini, he was a producer. He hates that term. He was the engineer for Nirvana's In [00:15:00] Utero, their last album. He has done many great bands from the unknown to the super known, and everywhere from the smallest indie band you could ever hear and Paige Plants project.
He was a good friend. He actually was the first friend I made in Chicago when I moved there because we parked my U-Haul outside of his house. And then shortly afterward, my boyfriend went on tour. So Steve and his girlfriend kind of took me in and introduced me to the whole Chicago music scene.
So in the same way that I was thrust into the Minneapolis music scene, I also was in Chicago, which was at that time in the nineties, the late eighties, early nineties, just burgeoning with bands. You know, 11th Dream Day, the Jesus Lizard, Killdozer, Urge Overkill. I can't even think of all the bands.
Jeff: Well, and of course, there is Touch and Go Records.
Maureen: Yeah, I should've said Touch and Go Records, the indie label that was like one of like SST or sub pop. It was one of the [00:16:00] founding indie labels and Cory, the owner of the label, Cory Russ, when I moved I had a UHaul parked outside of Steve Albini's house until I could figure stuff out. And then all my stuff, we stored at Touch and Go, in one of the warehouse rooms.
And they were all helping me move, and so it was just like literally being thrown into this scene, you know?
Jeff: Cory Russ too, I think it's important to note, Touch and Go Records was so different than any other label. Right? Cory did most of his deals with a handshake. There was 50/50 ownership, if I'm not mistaken, of the masters which was radically different for most labels. The artists and Cory's team had fantastic long-term relationships. Which, as many artists will say, tended to erode with some of the larger labels out there.
So, Cory was probably very instrumental in the Chicago scene if I'm not [00:17:00] mistaken.
Maureen: Oh, yeah. Without Cory there isn't. I always referred to the triumph - Steve Albini, Corey Russ and Botch Billions, who were the booking agents. They all started there in Chicago, it started really small and started in the way that you described really being very, very artist friendly.
And thanks for pointing that out cause it was a really important ethic in that scene. So that was really, again, in the same way that Minneapolis had its kind of heyday, so did Chicago.
Jeff: So then the band started picking up and then of course came 1992 when Lollapalooza first kicked off. And then 93, tell us about how you got asked to perform on that show, on that tour?
Maureen: You know, it's a little bit of a mystery, but I think Ted Gardner, who was Perry Farrell's manager. Perry Farrell started Lollapalooza. Ted Gardner also managed Tool and my friend Adam Jones was in Tool.[00:18:00] I don't know if he had any sway or what the deal was or whatever. I know Ted was helping produce Lollapalooza.
But that year it was me, my band Babes in Toyland going on after Rage Against the Machine and then Tool was playing on the side stage. So we actually had the highest level in that show, Rage was first and then there was a band between us and then we went on. So I don't know, I think there was, I don't know. I mean, it was the time they always needed a girl band, so to speak, you know?
And so there we were, and we just put a record out. It was like, perfect timing, you know, dah, dah, dah. So it was a lot of things, but I just remember getting the call and we're like, yeah. Okay, great. Yay. Sounds fun. I mean, it really did. It was just like, oh, good. And I have my friends on tour and was just like, Everything was happening so fast in those days that it was just like another hill on the roller coaster.
Jeff: Well, and let's dive deeper a little bit in the [00:19:00] all female band. You guys were an all female punk band in a totally male dominated industry. Tell us a little bit about how that was. Was it empowering? What was your view on that?
Maureen: It was difficult only when it came to the press. Because Babes had established themselves as a band, they were not a gimmick band. They were not like, oh, look at the girls who can play guitar. The fact that I just said girl band earlier is hilarious because I was so against that term. But you know, most people understand what that means, but they had established themselves as a rock solid band.
And so that was the way that I always saw it, was like we're another band and not we're a female. Because it is kind of ghettoized. Like, oh, well you're not as good as regular bands so you have to be in the sub genre of girl bands. And so that's when it started to really irritate me because we started getting lumped together [00:20:00] with L7 and Hole.
Jeff: There's a story there,
Courtney Love, I know you've got Courtney stories.
Maureen: But you know, Babes have been around for longer than any of them. The press would just lump us all in, and L7 does not sound like Babes in Toyland. They're like pop metal. Babes are not that. Hole is, I don't know what you would call that stuff. It's different. And so I felt like our band was more like, in the indie rock vein of the Chicago and Minneapolis music scenes where we came out of.
They just wouldn't look at us as our own. They would pit us against each other, but there was a real situation between my guitar player and singer Kat and Courtney Love, the lead singer of Hole. I have to say that when I first saw it, I was in a record store and I picked up a Seven Inch and I was looking at it and I'm like, oh, Babes has a new single.
And I'm like, wait a minute. That's [00:21:00] Courtney? Why is she wearing clothes like Kat and have her hair bleached with a barrette in it, like Kat wears. Why does she look like, why does she have a Red Rickenbacker? Oh my God. And it was just like, oh my God, she stole her look. It was the weirdest thing to do.
Like, there's a lot of indie rock looks, man. You don't have to just pick that one.
It's so weird. And so that really screwed with Kat's head man.
Jeff: So there was animosity.
Maureen: There was a lot of hurt on Kat's part because she kind of stole her thunder without needing to, I mean, it was a weird thing. Why play the exact same guitar? Why bleach your hair and get the same haircut? Why dress the exact same? Why put your barrettes in the same place?
It's very strange. Same shoes. I mean.
Jeff: Wow. Wow. And then the tour itself, so it was Rage Against the Machine, it was [00:22:00] Tool.
Maureen: It was Primus, who was the headliner. We had Dinosaur Jr., Front 242 who strangely went between Rage and Babes. They were like electronic noise, it was the weirdest thing. Arrested Development, Alison Chainz. Yeah, and then there were side stages. But yeah, and Timothy Leary was also alone on the tour.
Maureen: You know, one of the great things that started right at the beginning was the very first show, Timothy Leary came up to us backstage and we had never met him or anything like that. And he just started, he said I'm such a big fan. And apparently his son had been a big fan and had introduced him to Babes in Toyland and he loved our band. He started playing air bass.
I mean, it was just the most, it was surreal. And then he asked if he could introduce the band. And we said, yes. And so he introduced our band for the whole tour, every night.
Jeff: That is [00:23:00] incredible.
Maureen: It was funny cause midway through the tour, one night I went down to the hotel bar and he was by himself and then I didn't know if he wanted to stay that way. So I didn't sit and he's like, get over here. And so we have this big talk, and it was just a wonderful night. And then at the very end of the tour, he said, I just want to thank you for being so authentic.
And that was one of the best conversations I had on the tour. And I was like, oh my God, that was such a compliment. It felt so good.
Jeff: Well, you are authentic. That's why we love you Mo, geez. Geez. Oh my gosh. On that note, a couple of wrap-up questions, rapid fire. What was your first album that you purchased?
Maureen: The Long and Winding Road by the Beatles, it was a single. The first album, I stole all my albums from my sister so I don't remember what I first bought.
Jeff: Okay. Okay. Fair.
Maureen: But I was listening to Bread and like, Cheap Trick and stuff like that.[00:24:00]
Jeff: Okay. Okay. Well, since you're an artist I can ask, what was the greatest show you ever performed?
Maureen: Greatest show. Probably the Redding Festival in England, because there's something about the power of a crowd. I always described it as like the conduit of energy that is like a loop between the audience and the performers and the sound. When that's like being locked in with a huge crowd who knows all the words and stuff like that, it's quite amazing. You know, I don't know if that's how it was for everybody, but they seem like they were having a lot of fun and we certainly were having a lot of fun and we really had our things together by then and we were playing really well and, you know, we had a good catalog by then.
Jeff: Awesome. Okay. What was the greatest show that you have ever seen?
Maureen: Any Jesus Lizard show that has ever happened.
Jeff: Wow. I did not know you were such a fan. I mean, they're amazing.
Maureen: The best live band I ever saw, ever. [00:25:00] Always. Nobody's beat him. I tried.
But yeah, I would have to say that Jesus Lizard back in the nineties.
Jeff: Amazing. You've had many, but there has to be one star struck moment that really sticks out for you?
Maureen: Oh yeah. I asked the president of our label to introduce me to Neil Young and he said, okay, just okay, I'll do it. But just don't say anything about being a fan or, you know, just be cool. And I'm like, oh, of course, you know, I'll be cool. So he introduces me, before he goes on stage and I go, oh my God, I'm such a big fan. I listen to Harvest all the time. And he looks at me like, oh my God. And Neil just looks at him, like, why did he do this to me? It was just so.
Jeff: Interesting. Did Neil say anything?
Maureen: He just kinda was like, ah, you know what somebody has said a million times, but yeah.
Jeff: [00:26:00] How funny. Well, it was fantastic to have you on the show, the stories were phenomenal. Is there a website? Is there somewhere people can learn more about your upcoming book or do we just need to stay tuned and wait?
Maureen: I keep a regular writing on my Patreon page, it's a patreon.com/maureenherman. So it's just my name and I write in there. You can subscribe for as little as $2 or for however much you want. And it's just, it's more intimate writing. Some of it is book excerpts and that's a good place to kind of, if you want to follow along and hear more stories, that would be where I would go.
Jeff: So that's patreon.com/maureen herman, correct? All right, well, thank you again for being on the show, Maureen Herman. We look forward to your new book and the stories as always were incredible.
Maureen: Thank you for the time Jeff. It was [00:27:00] fun.
Jeff: Thanks for listening to Voices Behind the Music, a Growth Network Podcasts production presented by Feed Media Group. We're on a mission to make it easy, fast, and legal for businesses to use music to power the most engaging customer experiences. Make sure to subscribe to the podcast wherever you get yours and learn more about us at feedmediagroup.com.
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