Babes in Toyland formed in 1987, after frontwoman Kat Bjelland met drummer Lori Barbero at a friend's barbecue. Originally from Portland, Oregon and a former resident of San Francisco, Bjelland had moved to Minneapolis to form a band. Over the following months, Bjelland convinced Barbero to play drums and formed Babes in Toyland in winter 1987. In its initial formation in 1987, in addition to Bjelland and Barbero, the band included Chris Holetz on bass and singer Cindy Russell. After Holetz and Russell left, the band briefly recruited Bjelland's friend - and former bandmate of the band Pagan Babies - Courtney Love on bass. Love, who later went on to form the successful band Hole, only lasted a number of weeks before being kicked out by Bjelland. After Love's departure, Michelle Leon was recruited as bassist.
The band achieved their initial notoriety through Bjelland's "babydoll" image — sometimes referred to as the kinderwhore look — which contrasted dramatically with the raw power of her singing voice and her aggressive lyrics. After a number of live shows in 1988, the band released their first single, "Dust Cake Boy", through Sub Pop records' singles club in 1989. As the single reached significant underground success, Babes in Toyland entered the studio in 1989 to record their debut album. Originally titled Swamp Pussy, Spanking Machine was recorded with grunge producer, Jack Endino at Seattle's Reciprocal Recording and released in April 1990 on Minneapolis' Twin/Tone Records.
Other bands interested in the underground music scene - most notably Sonic Youth - were fans of the album, so much so that Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore invited the band to perform on Sonic Youth's 1990 European tour to promote their latest album, Goo. The band also performed alongside Sonic Youth at 1991's Reading Festival, which was documented by Dave Markey's music documentary, 1991: The Year Punk Broke.
British DJ, John Peel, was also a fan of the album citing it as his "favourite album of 1990." During the band's tour with Sonic Youth in 1990, Babes in Toyland recorded a radio session for John Peel, one of the many Peel sessions. The band also done a second session with Peel in 1991, and the sessions were released as The Peel Sessions - the band's second EP - in 1992. The band's first EP, To Mother, was composed of outtakes from Spanking Machine and was released in 1991 and received critical acclaim entering the independent charts and staying there for an thirteen weeks, ten of which the EP held the number one spot.
After touring in 1991, the band entered the studio for a second time to record their major label follow-up to Spanking Machine. Bassist Michelle Leon left the group in December 1991, shortly before the recording of their second album, due to the death of her boyfriend, Joe Cole. Maureen Herman was recruited as her replacement. With this new line-up, Fontanelle was recorded in Canon Falls, Minnesota and released in 1992, selling around 200,000 copies in the United States alone. The lead song on the album, "Bruise Violet," is said to be an attack on Courtney Love. The lyrics - which included the lines "you see the stars through eyes lit up with lies / you got your stories all twisted up in mine." - supported this. However, in a more recent interview Bjelland has denied this, saying instead that "Violet" was the name of a muse to both her and Love. The song's video was shown on Beavis and Butt-Head, where the band was described as "chicks" who are "cool."
In 1993, the band was chosen to take part in that year's Lollapalooza tour, playing alongside such acts as Primus, Alice in Chains, Dinosaur Jr. and Rage Against the Machine. During dates at Lollapalooza, the band released their third and final EP, Painkillers, in June 1993, which was comprised of a re-recording of one of their most notable songs "He's My Thing", as well as outtakes from Fontanelle.
The band was the subject of the 1994 book Babes in Toyland: The Making and Selling of a Rock and Roll Band by Neal Karlen, which dealt with the band's signing to Warner and the recording of Fontanelle. Bjelland described the book as being "like cartoon caricatures of us," while Herman said that Karlen "would make a great fiction writer." The band also appear in the 1995 documentary Not Bad for a Girl.
On April 8, 1994, Babes in Toyland played a benefit show for Rock Against Domestic Violence with 7 Year Bitch, and Jack Off Jill in Miami at the Cameo Theater, the same day lead-singer of American grunge rock band Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, had been found dead in his Seattle home. Around the same time, the band were featured on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, and were referenced in an episode of the sitcom Roseanne as well as an episode of Absolutely Fabulous.
More than a year later, in May 1995, the band released their final album, Nemesisters. Though receiving mixed reviews, the band described the album as "diverse", "experimental" and "spontaneous" and that the writing and recording process was "very different" as the band were working under pressure. Tours for the album took place throughout Europe - notably with a date at Denmark's Roskilde Festival - the United States, and Australia.
Lori Barbero (born November 27, 1961 in Minneapolis, Minnesota) was the drummer for the Minneapolis-based band Babes in Toyland. She subsequently played drums for the bands Eggtwist and Koalas.
She was also part owner of the now defunct Minneapolis label Spanish Fly Records, whose roster included Smut, Dumpster Juice, Milk, REO Speedealer, Sleep Capsule, and Likehell.
In 2006, Lori was awarded with an Artist of Distinction award by Sound Unseen for her continuous contribution to the Minneapolis Rock and Roll scene.