On the Fly: Lori Barbero

MINNEAPOLIS, MN MAY 23: Lori Barbero at the Bryant Lake Bowl Theater May 23, 2014 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. © Tony Nelson
MINNEAPOLIS, MN MAY 23: Lori Barbero at the Bryant Lake Bowl Theater May 23, 2014 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. © Tony Nelson
Lori Barbero at the Bryant Lake Bowl Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota. © Tony Nelson

Lori Barbero is Minnesota’s Rock n’ Roll Princess. A raw and gritty drummer, she cofounded the legendary Minneapolis punk-rock band Babes in Toyland—the seminal all-girl group that paved the way in the 1990s for other important female rock acts: Bikini Kill, Hole, and L7 to name a few.

Like all fairy tale princesses, Barbero has had quite an adventurous journey. She moved to Austin, Texas, to start a record label (the late Spanish Fly Records), bartended, and worked as a DJ. Now back in Minneapolis, she’s poised to begin the next chapter. After a 12-year hiatus, Barbero and her two Babes bandmates, Maureen Herman and Kat Bjelland, have reunited with a new album and a world tour.

Robyne Robinson, arts and culture director for the Airport Foundation MSP, recently caught up with Barbero preflight (she and the Babes are off to the United Kingdom and Europe later this month) to get her take on music, Minnesota, and travel. Here’s what they drummed up.

RR: How does it feel to reunite with Babes in Toyland?

LB: It’s fantastic to work and create with your best friends, and we’re all in much better places now. Life is great.

RR: What first attracted you to the drums?

LB: The drums have always been in my heart. My parents used to scold me because I was forever drumming on the table with my hands and shaking my legs. When I started going to live shows in New York City in high school, I always watched the drummer. I thought it was the coolest thing anyone could ever do.

RR: What are your favorite Minnesota music haunts?   

LB: I used to work at the Longhorn Bar, a punk-rock club downtown Minneapolis on 5th Street, right off of Hennepin Avenue. I would go between there and Uncle Sam’s, which is now First Avenue, every single night in the early 1980s. These days I love Turf Club, the Hexagon, Triple Rock Social Club, 7th St. Entry and, of course, First Avenue.  

RR: You’ve just won five days off and 300,000 frequent-flyer miles. Where do you go?

LB: Costa Rica with a friend. Whenever I read a travel magazine and marvel at the fantastic images, 90 percent of the time they’re of Costa Rica. If I had more than five days and 300,000 miles, I would hike through the rainforests of Southeast Asia to see all the beauty and wildlife that exists only there. 

RR: What are your travel essentials?

LB: My beloved engineer boots, which I’ve had for 25 years, and photocopies of my passport and other important documents. I learned the latter the hard way. Once, when touring with the Babes in Spain, we drank an entire bottle of absinthe (not a good idea—it’s much stronger there than in the States), and we somehow lost our passports. When we were questioned at the American Embassy as to why we had all lost our passports, I said, simply, “absinthe.” They just shook their heads and gave us new ones.

RR: What’s on your airplane playlist?

LB: I don’t have one! Yes, I’m super strange. I have never downloaded anything off of iTunes. I own thousands of records, and when I DJ, I only play vinyl. That’s the only way I listen to music unless I’m in the car, listening to the radio.

RR: What’s your advice for those visiting Minnesota?

LB: Take in as many museums and art galleries as you can. The Walker Art Center, the Weisman Art Museum, the Museum of Russian Art, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Science Museum of Minnesota, and the Minnesota Historical Society are just some of our spectacular offerings.

Check out this classic Babes in Toyland video, “Sweet 69,” directed and animated by Minnesota creatives Phil Harder and Dan Picasso.