She attended Woodburn High School where she was a popular student and cheerleader. It was while a teenager that Bjelland became interested in music. Her uncle, David Higginbotham, taught her to play guitar, and her first performance was at a small bar in Woodburn called Flight 99 (now defunct), with the band called 'The Neurotics'. A Portland band called 'The Dots' opened for them.
Shortly after graduation from high school in 1982, Bjelland moved to Portland, where she formed a series of bands, first The Neurotics and then an all-female band called The Venarays, which Bjelland has described as "rock with a '60s edge":
The Neurotics were comprised of Bjelland (rhythm guitar); her uncle David Higginbotham (lead guitar); Marty Wyman (vocals); Dave Hummel (drums); and Laura Robertson (bass).
After The Neurotics I got this band together with my best friends, so it was an all-girl band. We were called The Venarays. The name came from the word venary which means actively hunting out sex! We began as a way of having fun with each other.
After quitting The Venarays, Bjelland formed a band with a new friend, Courtney Love, and bassist Jennifer Finch. Love went on to form the band Hole, while Finch would be part of L7. The band went by several names, including: Sugar Babydoll, Sugar Babylon and Sugar Bunnyfarm.
Around 1985, in San Francisco, Bjelland and Love formed a new band called Pagan Babies with Deidre Schletter on drums and Janis Tanaka (later in Stone Fox and L7, and with the singer P!nk) on bass. When Love left, this lineup played under the name Italian WhoreNuns.
Demo versions of songs that Bjelland and Love worked on together, including "Best Sunday Dress", which was later played by Hole on numerous occasions, are available on various Hole fan sites.
In the mid-1980s, Bjelland moved from Portland to Minneapolis, where she would eventually form Babes in Toyland, becoming their lead singer and guitarist. Babes in Toyland would achieve minor success in the early 1990's. Babes in Toyland's debut single on Treehouse Records ("Dust Cake Boy" b/w "Spit to See the Shine") was an instant success. Bjelland's lyrics about female empowerment soon earned her recognition as a feminist icon. Bands such as Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and Sleater-Kinney have all named her as a main influence, while less political female bands like Jack Off Jill, 7 Year Bitch, and Fluffy have also cited Bjelland and Babes in Toyland as a major inspiration. The Babes' career peaked in mainstream exposure when they headlined the Lollapalooza tour in 1993.
Love and Bjelland have had a long and complex relationship. They are sometimes referred to as "friends/enemies." In 1992, Bjelland accused Love of stealing the Kinderwhore look, which involved babydoll dresses and girlish vintage pieces paired with red lipstick and other sexualizing signifiers, while Love accused Bjelland of the same thing.
Bjelland and Love eventually made amends. Bjelland collaborated with Love on the track "I Think That I Would Die" on Hole's second album, Live Through This. In a recent interview, Bjelland was asked if the song "Bruise Violet" was written about Courtney Love, since one of Hole's hits was entitled "Violet". Her response was no, and that "Violet" was a muse that both she and Love wrote about.
With Babes in Toyland playing only sporadically in the late 1990s, Bjelland started the band Katastrophy Wife in 2000. The band toured at venues, such as Ladyfest, worldwide. Katastrophy Wife have so far released two albums, Amusia and All Kneel; as well as a new single Heart On on the Australian record label Rish in April 2007. Bjelland has also done some soundtrack work. In an update to the Katastrophy Wife website, Bjelland reported that "Katastrophy Wife have had a few incarnations but from here on I will only re-incarnate my self.