One of her first bands was The Go Team, an experimental punk project started with Calvin Johnson in 1985. The group released several cassettes and 9 singles on the independent label K Records, mostly on the 7" vinyl format - a practice Vail continues to this day. Billy "Boredom" Karren was one of the rotating musicians who played with The Go Team, and it was in this band that he and Vail played together for the first time, later collaborating in several other bands like Bikini Kill, The Frumpies, the upallnighters, and Spray Painted Love. Other guest musicians included Rich Jensen, David Nichols, and Donna Dresch. They toured the West Coast as a two piece, adding Billy Karren for two U.S. tours.
“The Go Team was about process. Sometimes we'd deliberately leave stuff out to incite participation in the listener. Donna Parker Pop, our first K release, featured all instrumentals but included the statement 'Make up your own words and sing along' - and people did. We recorded with some of those people later. . . . On the one hand we were trying to demystify music and encourage people to play songs in public -- if they wanted to. On the other hand, we actually liked what we sounded like, and we hated most of the pro-sounding jam bands/shredding metal-punk bands that played parties in Olympia. We embraced chaos and rejected mastery."
Vail was also working as a DJ for KAOS (FM) and playing in an all-teenage girl band called Doris with Cheryl Hooper, Heidi Keys and Tam Orhmund at this time (1986-1988), which played shows around the Northwest with Beat Happening, Spook and the Zombies, Rich Jensen, Oklahoma Scramble, and Snake Pit. They made a demo tape, which was recorded by Steve Ross (Cactus Love, the Briefs) but never released. After the demise of The Go Team, Vail played in various project bands and made a record as the drummer for Some Velvet Sidewalk.
Vail is best known as the drummer of Bikini Kill, which lasted from 1990 to 1998. The band was often met with resistance and misunderstanding due to their chaotic live performances, controversial lyrics, and political zines which dealt with various activist-punk topics like anti-racism, vegetarianism, anti-corporatism, anti-capitalism, anti-heterosexism, and in particular feminist issues such as rape, incest, domestic violence, abortion, sexuality, body image and eating disorders, stalking, patriarchy, sexual assault, and sexism in general - all with a strong emphasis on community and DIY culture.
Despite frequent mainstream media misrepresentation and serious violence at shows, they continued for several years and today are largely credited (along with Bratmobile) with starting Riot Grrrl, a movement that merged Do It Yourself punk culture with feminism. The actual word 'grrrl' was coined in Vail's seminal journal, Jigsaw (1988-present), one of the first Northwestern punk zines to address gender issues explicitly. Prior to this, many influential female-centric bands like The Slits, Girlschool, and Bush Tetras had long resisted the notion of being thought of as "girl bands" and almost always avoided the word "feminism", with the occasional exceptions of bands like Poison Girls, Frightwig, and Au Pairs.
Bratmobile's Girl Germs and riot grrrl, Jigsaw and Bikini Kill (zine) are credited as the first manifestos of riot grrrl, reclaiming feminism for the punk scene in an attempt to disrupt the straight white male bias thereof, and rebelling against such annoyances as having the women at their shows fall victim to sexual assault when attempting to enter the mosh pits or even get closer to the stage, their bodies often groped, their clothes deliberately torn off. In response to such attacks, not only against the girls in the audience but often against themselves and their friends, Bikini Kill encouraged girls to stand at the front of the stage and start their own bands.
Although she continues to enjoy playing in some predominantly male bands, Vail still keeps with her DIY efforts to encourage more women into the independent punk scene as a founding member of Ladyfest, a volunteer-based music and arts festival for female independent musicians, performance artists, spoken word poets, visual artists, and authors, for which most of the proceeds are donated directly to non-profit organisations. The festival also holds workshops for girls on everything from music lessons, to how to make a zine, to self defense courses.
She is also one of the founders of Bands Against Bush, an international resistance network of artists and musicians dedicated to promoting and organizing activism and direct action against George W. Bush, his administration and the rest of the PNAC. It was inspired by the very first show she ever attended: a Rock Against Reagan benefit in 1983. A recent New York Times article claimed BAB was under surveillance by the U.S. government.
She also founded FAB (Feminist Action Brigade), a feminist book club based in Olympia that attempted to start an activist network using zines and the internet. Recent publications are Spider Magic, F.A.B. and Pogo for Peace.
Vail grew up in Naselle and Olympia Washington. She has been working in the mail order department of Kill Rock Stars since prior the breakup of her band Bikini Kill in 1997. She also writes KRS's weekly newsletter. Vail also maintains a blog, in which she discusses feminism and reviews music.
From July to October 1990, Vail dated her friend, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, with whom she had collaborated during her tenure in The Go Team on another side project called The Bathtub is Real. Some fallacy has been circulated about the relationship between Vail and Cobain due to Nirvana biographers and rock journalists relying largely on second-hand misinformation, rumors, and erroneous conjecture presented incorrectly as fact, as neither Vail nor Cobain ever spoke of their relationship publicly. Vail's friend Jenny Toomey relates, "Tobi refuses to speak publicly and participate in the exploitation of the Cobain myth by hack journalists trying to make a career, record companies trying to sell records, and feeble attempts made by ex-"friends" to mark their place in history." The only interview she's ever given on the subject of Cobain was for Everett True. True is the only biographer who actually knew both of them and he has derided Cross' book as the "Courtney-sanctioned version of history."
Sounds like a very solid person all-around to everyone here at the Drum Dungeon ~DD
Tobi Vail (born July 20, 1969) is a musician, influential DIY punk zinester, activist, and feminist theorist/activist from Olympia, Washington. She formed one of her first bands as the drummer for The Go Team when she was 15, later collaborating in several other groups like Bikini Kill, as well as being involved over the years with a prolific assortment of project bands, figuring prominently in the Olympia music scene. Currently she fronts the psychedelic-garage-punk band Spider and the Webs, plays drums in The Old Haunts, as well as running her own indie cassette label, Bands Against Bush, the Kill Rock Stars mail order department, and publishing various zines.
Vail was born on the day of the first moon landing, growing up in a very musical family, she started playing music early. “my dad and grandad were drummers - there are a lot of hillbilly musicians on my dad's side I started playing instruments and making up songs in junior high, played in bands in high school, started touring at 18"