This summer is the 20th year since the release of an album that’s something of an underground classic; an album bound up in real-life tragedy and lingering resonance. That album is Viva Zapata! by the US punk-rock band Seven Year Bitch.
Produced by legendary Pacific-Northwest scene godfather Jack Endino and released at the end of June 1994 on Seattle’s C/Z Records, it was the band’s second album, its title and cover (and some of the songs) a tribute to the band’s friend, The Gits classic front-woman Mia Zapata, who was tragically raped and brutally murdered in July 1993.
The album also was released in the shadow of original band member Stephanie Sargant who had died of a heroin overdose, aged only 24, in 1992.
Two tracks in particular – ‘M.I.A’ and ‘Rock A Bye’ were written in regard to Zapata and Sargant respectively, the former being an unabashed call for vigilante justice towards Zapata’s brutal murderer.
For all that, however, it isn’t a particularly depressing or downcast album; though those emotional associations do cause it to resonate more and color one’s perception. The sad, harrowing events of that era in which the album was recorded and released continue to emotionally reverberate with those associated with the Seattle and Pacific Northwest music scene, as well as obviously with fans of the bands involved.
Curiously 7 Year Bitch were playing a benefit show in the wake of Mia Zapata’s death, Rock Against Domestic Violence, alongside Babes in Toyland on the same day Kurt Cobain’s body was discovered in Seattle – April 8th 1994.
I was listening to the album for the first time in ages recently and is still sounds great; raw and innocent, unpretentious, bad-ass punk rock that doesn’t age. ‘M.I.A’ and ‘The Scratch’ are particular standouts. I would’ve LOVED to have been able to see these guys perform live; preferably in a small club.
As far as I’m aware there’s no special commemoration or reissue of the album occurring this year; but anyone who’s never heard it should look it up.
The post-Stephanie Sargant line-up consisted of Selene Vigil-Wilk on vocals, Roisin Dunne joining the band on guitar for this album, Elizabeth Davis on bass and Valerie Agnew on drums.
On a not unrelated matter, NBC has recently filmed an episode of their series True Crime that reconstructs Mia Zapata’s tragic murder.
But The Gits drummer Steve Moriarty has lashed out at the programme-makers, citing their refusal to engage with the band members on various aspects of the episode’s handling.
Moriarty has said there is “nothing positive” about this re-telling of the singer’s death; and although I haven’t seen it, I imagine he’s right.