Beginning with the rise of the Riot Grrrl musical movement, it’s difficult to think of a time when Kathleen Hanna hasn’t been in the press for something inflammatory she did or said, or what others are saying about her. She’s never been one to shy away from topics that aren’t polite to talk about, and has always been open about her personal experiences, usually to empower others to do the same. That said, it only seems natural that the next step would be a documentary about Hanna herself. The Punk Singer successfully evolved from Kickstarter project to film festival screener to theatrical releases that are just around the corner for New York and DC. We got to chat with Kathleen about almost everything besides the documentary.
How are you?
It’s good to hear you’re good. I’m glad you’re feeling good enough to keep touring. Your show at Black Cat a few months ago was fantastic, so thank you for that.
You’re welcome! I just got off the phone with a journalist who was at that show too, and he was asking me a bunch of questions like “Why didn’t you play this one song? How’s your voice?” And I’m just like, was that a terrible show? Because I thought it was a great show.
No, no, no! It was a great show.
Yeah, he cleared that up, but the questions he asked made me nervous about it, but he said it was great.
It definitely was. How have the Julie Ruin been received in other parts of the country? I know DC, New York and maybe the Seattle area were homecoming shows, but how about everywhere else?
It’s weird- we’ve all lived in so many different places that every single place we played was a homecoming performance for someone. Some of them were like, “Oh my god, the whole family’s here!” In Portland a lot of my family was there, and a lot of Kathi’s family was there. And Kenny, our keyboard player, his fiancée and his family was there. So it was pretty much every single night that something like that would happen. It’s been going really well and we’ve been really well received. We played some shows before the album got to people, so a lot of people hadn’t heard it at first and they were trying to decide if they wanted to get it or not by coming to our show. People kind of stared at us a lot. It wasn’t like they were dancing.
I think they were expecting Riot Grrrl 2.0, especially when it comes to people who don’t know about your newer projects. Or Bikini Kill 2.0.
Yeah! And I don’t know what that would be. You know what I mean? Would that be Le Tigre? I tried to kind of go in the opposite direction. I was already doing sampling and electronic music and stuff like that any way. I was interested in learning how to make music without needing anybody else, and having it be more about my voice. But… what would Bikini Kill 2.0 sound like?
I think for people who aren’t as well versed in music history, Riot Grrrl is kind of a pop culture tidbit. Like when Bikini Kill is named dropped in Ten Things I Hate About You. So I think people have that idea of you and the music you make in their heads, and instead of you evolving and doing other things, they want the next BK album.
Exactly, and even in the days of Bikini Kill, they would come to the shows and be like “Oh, I heard that you were such a bitch, or whatever, and you’re actually really funny on stage.” And I’d just be like, “Ahh. Thanks for the compliment.” Quotation mark. And I think it’s different right now, but I just keep saying, whatever gets them through the door. Whether it’s nostalgia, whether it’s “I just want to hear some music that I don’t know about,” or “I’m hoping for Bikini Kill 2.0”, or “I’m hoping for Le Tigre 2.0.”
Or a combination of all those things.
Yeah, whatever gets them in the door. I think that our new record is fucking great, we’re a great live band. If they come from Bikini Kill part two and they get us, I really hope that they like it. And that’s what happened with Le Tigre. A lot of people were expecting Bikini Kill part two, they didn’t get it, and we lost some people and a lot was gained. A lot of Bikini Kill fans became Le Tigre fans and a lot of Le Tigre fans became Bikini Kill fans as well.
It’s interesting to see at what stage people are introduced to your music. I made a similar move to yours in my teens, from the Pacific Northwest to DC. After all the touring, how do you think those music communities have changed?
Wow. I was expecting a totally different question out of that. I don’t know how those scenes have changed now that I live in New York. So I actually have no clue how they changed for the better or the worse. I do know this band Priests out of DC. They’ve come to New York to play with us and they are so fucking awesome, and I’m really excited to come back to DC and hear more exciting bands. And I know in Olympia we played with Hot Fruit who were amazing. I’ve watched youtube clips of a shitload of Olympia bands who are really great. I think there’s a lot of very exciting stuff happening in both places. I don’t know anything about Seattle because I never actually lived there. But I will say that moving across the country and moving as often as I did– and every summer driving across the country in a van to visit my family after we moved to Maryland from Portland, Oregon because our family was in Portland– it really set me up to be in a band. I didn’t realize how much until I was in a band and toured a little bit, and I was like, “This just feels normal to me? Why does this feel normal to me? We’re staying in shitty hotels and we’re driving cross-country.” This is what we did every summer.
I interviewed Kathi Wilcox before that Julie Ruin show at Black Cat and asked her about the role of the internet in cultivating feminist communities online. She said she didn’t have an answer for me because she spent almost no time online. Do you have a different opinion on that?
I also try to spend as little time online as humanly possible. I like to live life. I guess I think the internet can be a tool for good or for evil. And I think it’s so awesome that people who wanna fuck vacuum cleaners can find each other. I’m really happy about that. It would have been great for me, living in a small town, to go on the internet and see Rookie, and look at fashion, and look at fashion pictures of all different kinds of girls, and then read articles about stuff like street harassment and be like, “hey, that’s happened to me!” I didn’t have that kind of language when I was thirteen and was street harassed. I didn’t know about body image issues when I started dieting at age ten. I feel like there’s definitely these wonderful things that are on the internet, and you know, feminist chatrooms and all this great stuff. They’re hooking up people from small towns who maybe don’t have a feminist community right where they are. I hope that if you’re the lone feminist at your high school, you start a feminist club and hang up a flyer and just say, “come to this coffee shop and we can all talk.” Or if you’re the only out lesbian at your school, or the only not out lesbian at your school, that you’d try to find other people in your community– who possibly are quite older than you– to hang out with.
That’s usually the case. That’s what happened to me. I was the only one in middle school making mixtapes that had X-Ray Spex and Missy Elliott. I had to leave school to find that in other people. But speaking of Missy, and I don’t know how much current hip hop you listen to, but there are a lot more female hip hop artists writing singles about oral sex cunnilingus, and those are becoming incredibly successful mainstream. Do you think these are acts of feminism, or are they going for shock value?
I have no idea what people’s intentions are, and I think half of the time us musicians don’t know what our intentions are. You know what I mean? You make work, and you don’t know what it’s gonna be. There are people who have certain commercial interests. But I think the more women at the party, the better. The more subjects discussed, the better. And the more from a particular’s woman subjective, personal point of view, the better. And maybe that’s not gonna be my point of view. But that’s fine. And thank god for Khia! “My Neck, My Back“– she kicked that door wide open.
It did kick the door open, but I think people left for a while, and only recently got back to it. That Kelly Rowland song came out, and now we’ve got a bunch of new songs about eating pussy that aren’t by Lil’ Wayne.
Eating other women’s pussies?
No, about guys going down on them.
Kind of like, “you have to satisfy me too, I’m not just gonna give it to you.”
Yeah, exactly. “Kisses Down Low” is all over the radio, and high school girls were singing along, and their moms are scandalized by it.
Well, you know–
PR Rep: Hey guys, sorry, you’re actually at time.
But the cunnilingus has just begun!
The Punk Singer, directed by Sini Anderson, makes its New York debut on November 29th at the IFC Center, and its DC Debut on December 13th at West End Cinema.