Role Models: Le Pain Found Shonen Knife and Devo on The Powerpuff Girls

The LA band on the life-changing soundtrack.

Growing up, we didn’t have cable. Our mom, who works in marketing, admits she was terrified of us having too much exposure to commercials, worried about their corrosive impact on our little minds. It didn’t really make a difference — we still found a way to cram in hours of TV at our Grandmother’s house. While sucking down ice pops we’d watch Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon and inevitably find out about Nerf Guns, GoGurt, and Easy Bake Ovens. 

High off sugar, we’d come back to our parents house begging for more TV. They succumbed, and we were allowed to rent VHS and DVDs of our favorite shows, the almighty number one being Cartoon Network’s Powerpuff Girls. The show was about a trio of crime fighting sisters named Bubbles, Blossom, and Buttercup; They were made in a lab by their father Professor Utonium. who accidentally added a secret ingredient called “Chemical X” that gave them superpowers, which help them fight evil in the city of Townsville. 

The show was a meeting point for me and my sister/bandmate Olivia. We were about three years apart — which can feel like a huge difference when you’re three and six years old. We always fought over who was going to play Bubbles, the cutesy youngest sister with pigtails. Once, on a family vacation, my sister and I were messing around with the hotel safe and trapped her Bubbles doll, too scared to admit we had been playing around with such a scary adult thing. She was inconsolable, so in the car I offered her my foot to snuggle with as a replacement for Bubbles. She accepted, and held on to my foot for the car ride home. 

Our dad was our portal to music, and probably the reason why we are musicians. He was a stay-at-home dad when we were young, and I imagine he could only tolerate so many hours of Raffi. and found solace in bands like They Might Be Giants and Smash Mouth, who have a massive kid crossover with their lovably goofy songs and pop sensibilities. He picked up this incredible Powerpuff Girls compilation, Heroes and Villains, at our local Atlanta record store Criminal Records, and it became our go-to. We’d listen to it while driving around with our dad as he ran errands, buckled up in our carseats and absolutely jamming out. We had found the perfect soundtrack to our childhood, and it wasn’t dumbed down or pandering to kids. The Powerpuff Girls were a beacon of girl power that wasn’t too girly — it was creative and daring, showing that girls can be weird, similar to shows like Lizzie McGuire or Pepper Ann. Heroes and Villains exemplified the attitude of Powerpuff Girls perfectly, and you can feel a creative energy in the songs on the album. I think they were having fun making them, which is all I want from a band.

The compilation was released in July of 2000 and produced by Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo. It features original songs and covers by Dressy Bessy, Shonen Knife, Frank Black, Apples in Stereo, Devo, and other titans of 2000s indie. Heroes and Villains acted as a portal through which these otherwise adult artists related to children, resulting in delightfully silly power-pop ear worms, featuring Powerpuff Girls sound effects, and voice over intros and outros. It also led to a web of references to uncover: I realized in my early 20s that Dressy Bessy’s song on the album “Bubbles” is a cover of the Baroque Pop, late-’60s family band The Free Design’s 1970 song. I had the privilege to open for Shonen Knife a few years ago, and their encore was “Buttercup (I’m a Supergirl).” I only discovered when writing this that the elusive Japanese producer Cornelius was featured on the album. The album existed in its own world, outside the cultural zeitgeist — it’s not like I knew who the Pixies were when I was 7. Frank Black probably would’ve scared the shit out of me.

As a musician, I aim to make songs with cartoon sensibilities, creating worlds to build in without limitation on genre. I want Le Pain’s music to have a universal reach, so instead of focusing too much on what the overall sound of the band is, I look to this compilation for inspiration, treating each song as if it were inspired by a world I have yet to fully discover. I think it’s important to not take yourself too seriously, it’s exhausting trying to be cool and relevant. I want to celebrate imagination, whimsy, and humor with our music. Powerpuff Girls are a guiding light, reminding me that writing from a place of fun is a relevant and important approach.

(Photo Credit: Tsarina Merrin)

Madeline Babuka Black is an animator and musician currently based in LA, writing and performing in the new pop group Le Pain. You may know her from Yucky Duster, or from drumming in many bands including gobbinjr and Beverly.

(Photo Credit: Tsarina Merrin)