Kathleen Hanna is an influential NYC-based musician, writer, and activist. Both through her work in the bands Le Tigre and Bikini Kill, and as a vital voice in the punk/DIY-infused Riot Grrl movement in the early/mid-90s, Kathleen has played an important role in shaping a feminist dialogue that continues to inspire, empower and educate. Last year she donated much of her archive, including a significant portion of her own personal writing/journals/zines, to the Fales Collection (housed at New York University’s Bobst Library), for a collection they’re curating which chronicles the Riot Grrrl movement. At the moment, Kathleen and her new band, The Julie Ruin, are recording a full-length album (they hope to release a 12″ in August) and Oscilloscope Laboratories has just released the DVD “Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre On Tour,” which chronicles Le Tigre’s 2004/2005 international tour. We’re really happy that Kathleen agreed to answer some questions from Derick Rhodes, one of the Listgeeks co-founders (and a huge fan of her work). After you read through the below, be sure to check out her lists!
Derick Rhodes/Listgeeks: I’ve been thinking about the impact of your work, and concepts like “nostalgia” and “legacy,” and I wonder if, for you, it feels like the issues you and others were addressing have changed significantly, or if you feel we’re still dealing with the same fundamental problems/tensions? In the recent NYTimes piece, there’s a sense of looking back on the riot grrrl days almost as if a set of conclusions were reached collectively, somehow, but it also feels like the work resonates today as much as it did at the time, and that there’s still such a long way to go.
Kathleen Hanna: I think RG stuff IS really resonating for girls/women today in a way it didn’t five years ago. I am guessing it has something to do with kidz being into “the 90’s” and that opening up the Riot Grrrl door to a new audience. I am happy when people get interested in feminism however that happens, nostalgia style or whatever. I am most excited about these girls who’ve been doing this project called International Girl Gang Underground because they are trying to use RG stuff as a platform to build something new for their generation that is smarter and better than what we did, rather than just fetishizing our clothes or our records. I do feel like things have changed, especially when I go to shows and it seems normal to see women on stage and in the audience.
DR/LG: As a father to two young girls, I spend a lot of time thinking about their exposure to different models/potential sources of inspiration. I feel like they experience a broad range of positive female influences, from all-girl teen pop/punk bands like Care Bears on Fire to compelling, DIY artists like Robyn and Khaela Maricich (The Blow), but at the same time they’re also clearly drawn to more manufactured pop music/singers (Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, etc.). It’s a little disorienting at times, because I want to both support their interests/expose them to a wide range of things and encourage them toward things that feel more healthy (especially in terms of body image/sexuality) at the same time. I realize you’re not an advice columnist, but . . . any thoughts?
KH: I played with Barbies till I was 15 and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. What damaged me most was not being able to tell the adults in my life the creepy shit that neighborhood boys/older men did and said to me. I think the important thing is having your kids trust you and want to tell you when they are happy/angry/upset because they know you are interested in what happens in their lives, the good, the bad and the ugly. To me having good communication with them is way more important than what music they listen to. I mean if they like Katy Perry that’s what they like, it doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. But I played with Barbies till I was 15 so do you really want to listen to me?
DR/LG: Oscilloscope Laboratories released “Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre On Tour” (directed by Kerthy Fix), which chronicles Le Tigre’s 2004/2005 international tour just last week, and at the moment you’re making your first post-Le Tigre album with your band The Julie Ruin. How far along are you in the recording process at this point? Could you describe some of the differences between how it felt to work/perform with Le Tigre and how it feels to work/perform (so far) with The Julie Ruin? Are you enjoying being back in the studio again?
KH: We have the basic instrumental tracks to like 13 songs done and one song has vocals on it and is almost all the way done. We might put a 12″ out with the new Oscilloscope Laboratories record label in August, which is super exciting. It’ll be one song and hopefully a remix. We still need to do final vocals, mix and record maybe 3-4 new songs from scratch. It’s really easy for us to write songs together which is a blessing and curse because we really could just keep writing into oblivion. It feels great to be singing with live drums again and I really like how Carmine, our drummer, plays. He is always ready with a snare roll to let me know when I am supposed to jump into the song. It’s different from Le Tigre because Le Tigre didn’t “jam,” we were electronic, which meant a lot of singing into a computer, which is super fun but a different animal. The main difference is that when we play live now we can change the songs in the moment, create longer intros etc…whereas in Le Tigre we played with backing tracks so you couldn’t just change things on the fly.
DR/LG: How does this version of The Julie Ruin relate to the earlier album you did on your own in 1998, which eventually led to getting Le Tigre together?
KH: The Julie Ruin solo record I made in ’98 sounds more like demos or sketches for songs than a complete album to me. So I guess what we are doing with this record is fleshing things out a bit. I’m writing from the same personal place and starting with loops and melodies just like the first record and then we work together to fill out and expound upon the ideas.
Le Tigre started because Johanna and I wanted to play the Julie songs live and we just ended up writing new songs. This band started in a similar way. We learned how to play almost the entire Julie Ruin album and then started writing the follow up. Transforming the original songs into arrangements for a 5 piece band really showed me how much this project could open up my songwriting. Hearing a new take on the songs I wrote solo style in my apartment so long ago was a revelation! They became brand new things but with the same basic ideas in tact. I think that’s what the album in turning into, it’s like each song starts as an empty room and then we decorate it as a team. Sexy rockabilly guitar is figured prominently, which makes me pretty happy!