Header photo by Christine Mitchell
By Shelly Simon
Thunderpussy’s drummer, Ruby Dunphy, is living her childhood fantasy. She was still in elementary school when, she says, “I knew I was going to play in a band forever.” Ruby Dunphy got her start hitting the skins at age 10 in the South Side of Chicago, where she was born and raised. Her first band during those formative preteen years was a duo called Black Karma.
Dunphy was always going to play percussion. “I liked being loud . . . I still do,” she admits.
She was heavily influenced by her musical education. She studied classical and jazz percussion for four years at Chicago High School for the Arts. She also attended Merit School of Music on weekends. There wasn’t really an “off” day for young Dunphy. People were always asking her the age-old question: Will you play drums in my band? For someone who really just wanted to be making music, it was always hard to say no.
“I was in like five bands, playing in torn down, gnarly growth-ridden houses about three times a week, getting into fights with dudes twice my size, and playing at twice their volume. I got into trouble pretty much constantly, but it was so worth it,” she recalls.
Her choice of studies reflect her accomplishments. Dunphy is the only female studying jazz instrumentalist drumming at Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts, set to graduate next spring.
“I had just moved to Seattle [in 2014] for jazz drumming school. I had told myself I wasn’t going to join any bands,” says Dunphy of her intentions at school. “Sure enough, within my first week of living there, this girl I barely knew—now my good friend—grabbed my arm, walked me down the street to a coffee shop that Molly (Sides, Thunderpussy’s lead singer) was working at, and said, ‘Molly, this is your new drummer.’ I was like ‘whatever’ at the situation at the time and told Molly I wasn’t looking for a band. Thank God Molly stalked me. I was such a cocky little drum snob.”
Thunderpussy includes vocalist Molly Sides, bassist Leah Julius, and guitarist Whitney Petty. The path to Thunderpussy’s world domination has been a steady, strong rise. The band formed in 2013, and for some time, the two founders of the band, Sides and Petty, put in hard, heartfelt efforts as a duo. Two years and two more musicians later, they have put in countless hours rebranding “cock rock” to incorporate more females.
It has been a brave new world for this northwest beast of a four piece. You can sell the band with its title alone! Though having no relation to the great Tom Petty, guitarist Petty looks to the late artist as a model musician for this defiant and determined group. The fundamental foundation of self-preservation and professional, political persistence is exactly the fuel for their fire.
“Within a year, I learned a lot about Thunderpussy. I learned the power that these women held, the power to provoke, empower, and enrage people—all by just existing and playing music. If people got it, they really got it, and if they didn’t, they were mad. It was right up my alley. I knew that I needed to be a part of it,” says Dunphy.
When talking about “being a female in the music industry,” Dunphy referenced a Carrie Brownstein quote. Brownstein was asked this mind-numbing, eye-rolling, unoriginal question: “What’s it like being a woman in music?” and retaliated with the most raw, realistic response: “Being asked questions like that.” At South by Southwest in 2017, between a string of interviews that reflected Brownstein’s sentiment, one stood out. Pearl Jam’s guitarist Mike McCready had a podcast that interviewed Team Pussy and focused on the most important element for a band: their music. He focused on their chord changes, their guitars and gear, and Molly’s too-good, make- you-look-twice dance moves. In fact, after seeing them perform at Sasquatch! Music Festival in 2016, he worked to get their music (the single “Velvet Noose”) recorded and released on his HockeyTalkter Records. A few weeks after that festival, Thunderpussy cruised over to Oregon to record with producer Sylvia Massy and engineer Josh Evans.
Dunphy wishes to share this story of the more challenging days of touring. “When I was 19, sub-drumming for Thunderpussy, barely knew Leah, Whitney, and Molly, we all flew for the first time all together to play a show in Sun Valley, Idaho. Going through security, already late as hell for our flight, all of our instrument cases got pulled aside and checked. They were calling our names through the intercom, and Molly and I raced to the plane while Leah and Whitney were still getting searched. I was laughing so hard at Molly running in ridiculous, dangerous boots. We got on the plane without Leah and Whitney and found out later that they wouldn’t let them on the plane: a) because they closed the gates, and b) because Whitney lost her boarding pass and ID. So, naturally, Molly literally held up the plane, standing in the doorway telling the flight attendants and pilot that we weren’t leaving without these two women. This is when I found out the power of Molly Jean Sides. So, somehow they got on the plane, and I was absolutely in awe. I was like, Damn, that’s my front woman.”
In November 2017, the group signed a multi-record deal with Stardog/Republic Records. Recently, the band headed to New York City to sign this deal and to play a Fuck Cancer fundraiser show for their dear friend, hairstylist and owner of Pickthorn Salon in Bushwick, Chelsey Pickthorn. They headed out on a legit tour bus filled with a media team consisting of photographers, videographers, and sound engineers, most of whom are their long-term collaborators and fellow women. Thunderpussy is passionate about raising up others with their performances, especially those who are kicking ass pursuing their own passions.
This article was featured in the Sex issue of Tom Tom. Purchase it online.
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