Lily Richeson didn’t find punk. Punk found her.
“Someone handed me a weird flyer at the mall in the suburbs, and here I am,” says the singer of Olympia punk band Bad Sleep.
This week, the band plays Santa Cruz’s anarchist bookstore SubRosa on a tour supporting its debut album. The self-titled record plays like the Thermals gone riot grrl, filled with scrappy, vulnerable pop-punk anthems about life, love and science fiction. Barely clocking in at 20 minutes, Bad Sleep is a testament to the enduring power of good, raw, honest punk.
“So much of my adolescent joy was from discovering DIY punk and being like, ‘What is in this room? What is happening?’” says Richeson.
Richeson is now an active part of that world, connected to her fellow musicians through a DIY network of community spaces, fanzines and small labels.
“It’s totally an access point,” she says. “You just kind of stay in it if you’re committed to it, and the community. I want to play music and create art, but also want to be connecting with other people who are doing like-minded things and have like-minded politics.”
Before starting Bad Sleep, Richeson was living in Boston. She had toured the country in the band Parasol and got a taste for the national underground scene. After visiting Olympia on tour, she decided she liked its scene enough to move.
“I kinda knew Cailey, the drummer, through punk,” she says. “I had just moved to town and was without a project, but I was like, ‘I have these songs. They’re cheesy pop songs. Do you want to hear them?’ I was super nervous. But she was like, ‘Totally!’”
In 2016, Bad Sleep emerged out of Olympia’s vibrant underground scene with a five-song 7 inch. Jammed with concise power-pop nuggets like “Bad Rep” (which squeezes three choruses and two guitar solos into less than two minutes), the 7 inch was the first sound of a promising new band. The next year, they followed it with the No Fun cassette. More punk than its predecessor, No Fun signaled a step away from power-pop, and a step toward the riot grrl roots of their hometown.
“I’m kind of a nerd about bands from Olympia,” Richeson says. “Even though I’ve only lived here for four years, the music that I love and grew up listening to is from here.”
After a European tour in 2017, the band hooked up with UK label Specialist Subject, and began planning an album. In the summer of 2018, the group took to the studio. Then, life got in the way.
“Our bass player moved away literally a week after we got done recording,” says Richeson.
The timing was unfortunate, as it came on the tails of Bad Sleep’s strongest release so far.
The album kicks off in high gear, opening on a riff that recalls the Exploding Hearts’ “I’m a Pretender.” On album highlight “Don’t Have To,” Richeson turns on the spigot, letting flow all the anger building from years of interactions with men’s rights activists, incels and otherwise terrible dudes: “I don’t wanna tell you my name, there’s nothing wrong with my personality/ It’s you that sees me and the world around you like something is owed, like I have no value,” she sings, her words coming to a froth and pouring over into the chorus of “Ooo, I don’t have to.”
It’s a powerful, confrontational moment, exhilarating in its honesty. While punk has changed a lot in the last 40 years, there is still something to be said for an honest statement delivered with volume and passion.
“I feel a little like I’m aging out—which is ridiculous because I’m only 31,” she says now. “A lot of my friends have been doing this for 10 years longer than me, and they’re still doing it. They’re like, ‘Shut up, wait till you’re 40.’”