"'Razor Blades & Sunshine' is the name of a song I wrote in 2009," says Marie Litton about the title track of the new Lil Thunder album. "I was having a really rough time. I felt like it was one of those songs that was like, 'Fuck my life. I hate everything.' I always think of young girls — or maybe me as a teenager — cutting themselves. A lot of troubled teens do this, me being one of them.
"So I know," she continues. "I was a cutter. But it was this thing, like if you could cut, you would just feel better, like a release. If you can cut yourself, it feels good to bleed it out. It bleeds out hurt and depression, and it takes your mind off when you're so upset. I feel like a lot of abused people do this.
"The song just reminded me of being an adult woman and still feeling like I could cut myself with a razor blade and feel better," Litton continues. "But then what are they going to say about me at work? I can't do it anymore, because I'm not sixteen. So what am I going to do now? I'm just going to drink instead. I feel like a lot of people feel like 'Razor Blades & Sunshine.' I don't think I'm the only one out there. Self-destruction makes you feel better when you're hurting, even though it probably really makes it worse. But that's what 'Razor Blades & Sunshine' was all about."
Lil Thunder, with Indigenous Robot, the Knew and Native Daughters, 8 p.m. Friday, September 13, hi-dive, 7 South Broadway, 303-733-0230, 21+.
This uncommon frankness is part of Litton's charm. She speaks with an honesty, directness and humor that may be off-putting to some but is refreshing to most. Litton grew up in Pueblo, the daughter of a musician father who played classic-rock covers around town and at the state fair. Litton sang for her father's band once in a while, when the group played songs by Pat Benatar or Blondie or the like, but Litton says she received far more encouragement from her mother in her musical endeavors.
In her teen years, Litton became connected with the Pueblo punk scene, which was centered on a DIY space known as the Indy House. That's where Colorado's first grindcore band, the Fanatics, lived, and also where Litton rubbed shoulders with the guys in Jeño, which included current Black Lamb member Tim Vigil.
Litton married at nineteen and moved to Colorado Springs, where her husband was stationed at Peterson Air Force Base. The couple moved to Denver around 2000, and the marriage ended a short time after. Around that same time, Litton began forming her earliest bands, including the indie-pop-oriented Clever Elsie, with Sara Thurston and Megan Lix. At a fateful house show on her birthday a few years later, she met Matt Bellinger of Planes Mistaken for Stars. The two hit it off and started writing songs together, tunes that would later become Ghost Buffalo songs.
For about five years, from 2004 to 2009, Ghost Buffalo had a good run, making music that reflected Litton and Bellinger's mutual taste for twangy music with pop underpinnings. Ghost Buffalo put out a handful of noteworthy releases before long-brewing tensions between the two became too much and they ended up parting ways, both romantically and as a songwriting team.
Litton got through that tough breakup by doing one of the only things that seemed to bring her any real peace in life: writing music. She got together with a succession of drummers — the final one being Dan Fox — and initially formed what became Lil Thunder, named after the first Ghost Buffalo EP, with former Backbeat scribe Jason Heller. When Heller became too busy, Litton tapped longtime friend, former Ghost Buffalo bandmate and Jagtown guitarist Tom Ventura, who reluctantly agreed to play a couple of shows. It didn't take long for him to realize that he loved the direction of the music; he also recognized the chemistry among the bandmembers, which by then included bassist Joey Coloroso.
A year or two back, Fox sustained an injury that prevented him from drumming, so Litton ended up forming the more country-esque PrettyMouth, which gave her an active outlet for her songwriting. Still, she was proud of the songs that Lil Thunder had written, and so this past spring, she presented what could be described as a friendly ultimatum to Ventura: Either they record the material, plus five new songs, and be a real band, or they would not be a band at all, so that she could put all her energy into PrettyMouth. Timing was good, as Fox had healed from his injury. After three months of writing, the quartet headed into Chris Fogal's Black in Blum studio this summer and knocked out a record in five days.
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Razor Blades & Sunshine, the album that came out of that whirlwind recording session, is a vividly realized collection of pop songs with some grit and intelligence infused into the finely crafted melodies — like something from one of those great '90s bands that combined punk with pop in an alchemical fashion rather than as a stylized affectation. The cover (designed and drawn by Litton's friend Aaron Ray) is like a totemic symbol, with a girl wearing what looks like the upper part of an alligator head for a headdress, connecting the emotionally harrowing themes of Litton's lyrics with youthful personal mythology and dreams.
"It's the band's record, and it's my lyrics," Litton explains. "Here I am on this journey from little girl to woman, and 'Razor Blades & Sunshine' identifies with teenagers and just being a human. I'm taking everything in very femininely. I'm embracing that in my life right now because I think it's important. I feel like a lot of girls don't have too many female role models. I know for a fact, because I am surrounded by men constantly. When I go to shows, people think I'm so-and-so's girlfriend; I'm not even in the band. 'What can we get for you, honey? You're the girlfriend? You're the wife?' 'No, I'm in the band, thanks.'
"With all this tying together, I needed there to be some kind of female aspect on the cover art, and I wanted to identify with young girls. I want to identify with them because it's so important to me. I know being a little girl was so hard for me. The way this world is for women, you gotta be skinny, you gotta have big tits, you can't be old. I've struggled with getting old, too. Not that I'm old right now. I'm happy to be 33, but it's still terrifying for me, because pretty soon, no one's going to care about me, because I'm going to be a woman and old. In America, that's the worst thing you could ever be. You can be a man and old — it's fine. Men get laid, they can get hot chicks, they can be musicians. Women can't. Well, we can, but it's very, very hard. In magazines, it's all around us, and it's shoved down our throats since day one.
"I'm just really trying right now, even with my own horrible problems, with my music, if I can, to be some kind of inspiration to someone," Litton concludes. "Just keep the ball rolling with the ladies, and maybe we can change some young girl's idea about what she might want to do. What she can do if she wants to. I always looked at the Patti Smiths, the Siouxsies and the Exenes and thought, 'Fuck, they're doing it.' They went out on a limb, and they did it because they wanted to do it. Just knowing in my head that they were inspirations to me, I want to give it back."