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L7 were formed by Donita Sparks and Suzi Gardner in 1985. A year prior, Gardner had performed backing vocals on the Black Flag song "Slip It In". The punk rock duo were joined by Jennifer Finch on bass guitar and Roy Koutsky on drums. Koutsky left shortly after and Demetra "Dee" Plakas became the permanent drummer.

The band's name derives from a 1950s slang phrase meaning "square". The expression "L7" can be heard in the Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs song "Wooly Bully" ("Let's not be L7, come and learn to dance..."), in the Rick James song "Bustin' Out" ("L7- just a little too damn straight..."), in the Paul McCartney song "C Moon" ("I could be L7 and I'll never get to heaven if I fill my head with glue") and the Sex Pistols song "I Wanna Be Me" ("Don't wanna be L7 I've had enough of this").

In 1991, the band formed Rock for Choice, a Pro-Choice women's rights group that was supported by other prominent bands of that era including Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, and Rage Against the Machine.

Their 1992 third album Bricks Are Heavy, produced by Butch Vig, was featured in Rolling Stone's May 1999 list of 'Essential recordings of the 1990s', and was their most successful release.

L7's fourth album, Hungry for Stink, was released in July 1994 and coincided with the Lollapalooza tour, on which they shared the stage with other successful acts of the era including The Smashing Pumpkins and The Breeders.

In January of 2015, the band announced they would be reforming with the lineup of Sparks, Gardner, Finch and Plakas.