Kathi Wilcox is a busy woman. During and since her time as bassist of Bikini Kill, she’s also played and recorded with The Frumpies and The Casual Dots, introduced us to the brilliant world of Pancake Mountain, become a mother, and sewed a bunch of great clothes. Kathi is now now reunited with former bandmate Kathleen Hanna (along with Sarah Landeau, Carmine Covelli and Kenny Mellman) as The Julie Ruin (not to be confused with Hanna’s solo album under an identical name, which spawned Le Tigre), and the group’s debut album was released just a few days ago. On their first leg of their first tour, Kathi chatted with us via email about her thoughts on all of the above.
Riot Grrrl is much bigger than Bikini Kill, but it’s often narrowed down to just that, especially in pop culture. Do you see this as harmful to future potential movements?
I think the media did tend to portray our band as simply an extension of Riot Grrrl, and vice versa. It bothered me at the time. Our band existed before Riot Grrrl started so I just saw them as two separate but related things. But now making that distinction come across as nit-picky or seeming to want to distance BK from RG, which is not at all the case. It’s more an issue of historical accuracy. But yes, Riot Grrrl was/is much more than just one band.
Have you guys talked about how you’ll act with the audience if/when it antagonizes the band?
The Julie Ruin has a different interaction with the audience than Bikini Kill did, so I’m not anticipating any of that hostility directed toward this band. We haven’t talked about what we would do, but now I know Tae Kwon Do so, you know, I’m prepared!
Other than experience, what has changed the songwriting process the most in the past 20 years? Are we going to find similar themes or emotions invoked?
I think Kathleen and I have gotten more interested in songwriting in general. It’s also a totally different crew of people in The Julie Ruin and they are all bringing their songwriting talents to the process. There are some things going on sonically and attitude-wise with this band that are similar to the other musical projects Kathleen has done. Some songs sound like they could almost be Bikini Kill songs, some sound a little like Le Tigre, some sound like her solo record. I think the biggest difference with this band is that Kathleen is sharing the singing duties more, especially with Kenny. They sing together on a lot of the songs, and Sara and I sing backups on some. That is different from Bikini Kill, though not for Le Tigre — they had the group-singing thing going on.
What do you think of the current state of Riot Grrrl? I think a revival (or maybe a new movement inspired by it) would be a great resource for women at a time like this, but I think it’s seen more as a thing of the past.
I actually don’t know what the current state of riot grrrl is now. I would imagine that there are things going on that were called something else, not going by that name, but I don’t know. I dont’ think it’s so important to try to resuscitate the past exactly. I think people can take what worked from something and go from there, using their own experience to make something that makes sense in this era. You know, make it their own thing. It doesn’t have to be called riot grrrl.
What’s your relationship with internet activism? A lot of zines are web-based now, but do you think this expands the community, or lends to slacktivism?
I try to stay off the internet. (which is why it took so long for me to do this interview!) I know it has it’s obvious pros and cons, which I’m sure someone else has gone into much more expertly than I could here. My personal feeling is that “activism” on the internet often manifests as someone forwarding a petition to sign or a link with a button to click saying “stop this” or “support this”, and it doesn’t end up feeling empowering or like anything real is happening. It’s like hitting “like” on Facebook. It doesn’t feel like it has any meaning to people. What’s missing is the “active” in “activism”.
If Bikini Kill came up at a time when the internet was bigger, do you think you would have broken up sooner? Do you think something like Bikini Kill could thrive in the internet age?
I actually have no idea how to answer this question!
Every feminist blog has an opinion on every female celebrity, Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance last week being a great example. How much of feminist blog culture do you think is genuine, versus obligatory?
Again, I have no idea! I really do try to stay off the internet except to do business, so I can’t comment on genuine-vs-obligatory feminist blog culture.
I noticed while doing some digging that you used primarily Fender equipment in earlier projects; however, I saw you using a Rickenbacker for the Frumpies. Since the Rickenbacker is Guy’s mainstay, I have to ask, did he have an influence on your equipment choice at that point? Did it take some convincing?
Actually, I played a K guitar for most of my time in the Frumpies. It was only for one tour in 1999 that I used a Rickenbacker. Of course, any indie rocker playing a Rickenbacker is following in the footsteps of Guy Picciotto, and I am no exception. I think he was the first person in a contemporary indie band to play one, and he made it look really cool. Pretty much everyone was playing Fenders before that. Guy’s performing style perfectly fits with the Rickenbacker, — it’s so big, it looks good when you’re jumping around and freaking out. Think of The Who or The Jam. Billy from Bikini Kill played a Rickenbacker too.
Speaking of the Frumpies, what other projects and themes do you hope to revive during/after the current Julie Ruin tour?
I hope the Casual Dots will finish our second album! We’ve been working on it gradually over the years whenever we are all in the same place. Steve lives in London, Christina is in Baltimore, and I’m in Brooklyn, but one of these days we will get it done. The basic tracks we have sound amazing, and I really want it to come out at some point.
The Julie Ruin are performing a sold out show at The Black Cat backstage tomorrow, Saturday September 7.