Don't You Stop
First, background stuff.
Bikini Kill. Olympia, Washington. Riotgrrl. Early '90s. Kathleen Hanna. DIY. Feminist zines. Johanna Fateman. Solo project. Julie Ruin. NYC. Videomaker Sadie Benning. Self-titled debut. Samples. Pop. Politics. Mr. Lady Records. "Hot Topic." "Who took the Bomp from the Bompalompalomp?" Multimedia dance parties. J.D. Samson. "From the Desk of Mr. Lady" EP. Album #2: "Feminist Sweepstakes." Rollerskate Jams. Yeah. For the ladies, and the fags, yeah. "Dyke March 2001." "Keep on Livin'." 9/11. JD's 2003 Lesbian Calendar. Remixes.
Which brings us to the present. Fall 2004. Le Tigre is Kathleen Hanna (you know her from Bikini Kill), Johanna Fateman (she handed Kathleen a zine at a Bikini Kill show), and J.D. Samson (boy? girl? Who cares? She doesn't!). Le Tigre lives in NYC. Le Tigre is releasing a new record, "This Island," on Oct. 19. And Le Tigre is pissed off.
2004 has been a strange year for the feminist superheroes. First, the punk-cum-electronica-cum-pop rockers find themselves without a label (San Francisco-based Mr. Lady closed down shop in June) and without a summer tour (Perry Farrell's failed 2004 Lollapalooza left Le Tigre, along with Sonic Youth, Morrissey, Flaming Lips and many more, with an empty touring schedule). Then, after signing to Universal/Strummer for the new record, partnering with Chicago indie label Touch & Go to release their back catalog, and working hard to get their Fall tour together, Le Tigre gets shit thrown in their face. In September, the streets and subways of New York are filled with Republicans.
The song "New Kicks" is a sonic web woven from voices recorded at a 2004 NYC peace march. The song begins with a crowd chanting "Peace! Now!" over a metallic guitar riff, synthesizers, and beats. It's four minutes and 17 minutes of dance music used as background for a political message. And it's the first single off of Le Tigre's new record. The message? The anti-war progressives are growing in numbers. Don't believe everything you see on television.
Signing to Strummer/Universal – the current home of the Mars Volta and the Rapture – may seem anti-DIY to people breastfed on the riotgrrl/Evergreen code of ethics. But maybe desperate times call for desperate measures. Now Le Tigre's got a megaconglomerate on its side to help blast their queer-positive/Bush-negative message to more listeners than ever before.
Can three women change the world with crazy-good dance tunes and well-endowed intellects? Listen to Kathleen Hanna, and it sounds like she's got no choice in the matter.
Cori Taratoot: You've been an activist for most of your life – how do you compare your level of dissatisfaction now with the Reagan years?
Kathleen Hanna: Well. it's really crazy. I remember when Reagan got elected, and I thought, I can't even believe this. Now you see Schwarzenegger and it's like a replay, and you hear him say "girlyman" on TV every five seconds, it's totally insane. I feel like I'm on crazy pills... I remember when Bush came right after Sept. 11 and gave that stupid ridiculous speech in that megaphone. That's supposed to be such a historical moment and it was complete crap. Everybody I know, everyone I saw on the streets, was scared that something bad was going to happen. It's so disgraceful to be standing up there using Sept. 11 for his own political gain and money gain and greed gain. To be using all of the people' s fear in New York as something he benefits from ... he doesn't care about any of us. Nobody wants him here. It's obvious by the protests, and it's obvious by the heightened level of fear. Every time he comes here people are scared. I don't know if that really answers your question, but on the subway I just like had all of those feelings at once, and I just felt like I was gonna start crying, and I just thought, I can't believe how bad it is.
I read somewhere that you said being a feminist is being anti-war and anti-Bush... and I'm wondering about how you're expanding the scope of what Le Tigre addresses, to what's happening in the country ...
... and in the world ...
And in the world. What's the relationship between feminism and what's going on in the world right now, and how does Le Tigre play a part in that?
Wow. That's a big question. Well I've always been involved in anti-war stuff and I did anti-nuke stuff in high school ... Obviously the war and everything has gotten us more active again. Um, but I guess the way that I see it is, y'know, the feminist issue is ... everything is connected. Racism, homophobia, colonialism – it's all a part of the same kind of binary system where there's an oppressor and the oppressed. And obviously there's really confusing places that aren't so cut and dry, or black and white. Like who's the oppressor and who's the oppressed? You see that with Israel. It's all a part of the system of domination, y'know? That as a white woman I can have privilege in certain situations and in certain situations not. As a country, we have a certain amount of privilege and power that we need to be careful in the way that we wield it. I see it as a feminist issue to figure out how can we deal with the issues of power and privilege in ways that are beneficial to everyone as opposed to oppressive.
How would you respond to Americans who say artists/entertainers have no place in the political dialog?
Well, we're citizens. Isn't it always ... y'know, the Pied Piper. He was a musician! [laughs] He led the rats out of the city. I'm just trying to pied pipe, man. I'm just trying to lead the rats out of my city. That's always been what art has been about. The artists are always the seers, they're always the people who figure stuff out before anybody else figures it out, and then it trickles down into culture. It's like, they want me to not do my job? That's what we're here for. We're here to say what we think. ... The whole "liberal media" thing makes me totally want to puke. I mean it's just despicable. A lot of times it's really anti-Semitic, it's like "The Jewish Liberal Media." I mean, what?!
What would you say to someone who wants to know how they can make a difference, other than just register to vote and all that. How can we make sure people actually get to the voting booth?
One thing is call everyone in your phone book and ask if they know where to go to vote. A lot of people are registered but ... people have a tendency to move more now and polling locations change. You can also give people the phone numbers of their county election board.
OK, we're supposed to talk about the record I guess. Tell me about the songs on the new record. How was it working with Ric Ocasek [of the Cars]?
There's only one song that he ended up working on with us, and it's called "Tell You Now." It was really crazy working with him. It was really fun. He's the first outside person that we brought into the process so early while we were still writing. Usually we do everything ourselves, especially because we're women, and I have a healthy dose of paranoia about men taking over things. A lot of times I find that my personality is so warped by sexism that I'll give into men's ideas before I'll give into my own, and I think it's really important that we're really strong about our music and really strong about our identity as a band and what we're trying to do as a band before we opened up and started working with anybody else, especially a guy. And he was actually the best choice because he was really cool and smart and down to earth. And he just had a lot of ideas about pop structure. We just don't think that way, like, how do you keep people engaged in a song? So he basically just taught us a lot about structure ...
So is that song super pop?
It's actually really sad [laughs] and it's not ... it ended up being one of the least poppy songs on the record. But it was more of a learning process song for us I think. I think it's really successful as a song but it doesn't really have a traditional chorus ... it's a thinly veiled attempt to deal with somebody who was abusive in my life. You know when you have a thing of like, somebody is really fucked up to you, and you don't really want to be in a room with them, but you have all these things to say to them? Maybe it's not safe for you to be in a room with them, but you have all of these feelings. It's like, I kind of said it in the song, instead of actually having to talk to the person, because that actually wouldn't be healthy for me to talk to the person. I think a lot of women are in that position. In the '80s there was this whole thing about confront your abuser or whatever, and that's just not always possible or healthy. I really like the idea that there's a million different ways that you can deal with things. One of them is humor, which I usually gravitate towards. But it's also kind of good to sing a sweet sounding "Fuck You" song.
Is "New Kicks" meant to expose the truth about the real numbers of protesters versus what the media reported?
Definitely. We just really felt the need to be like, Look. This existed. Also, I was, I still am, politically depressed. I really need to cling to the sound of people marching and yelling ... The thing about being on a major record label, this record is going to go all over the world. It's gonna be really easy for people to get their hands on ... and I really want people all over the world to know that everyone in North America does not agree with this administration.
Do you write your songs with your audience in mind, or do you make the music you want to hear?
Yeah, I think we wrote that last record for our audience. We thought about, what's the thing I wanted to hear when I was 15, what's the thing I'd want to hear if I was trying to come out and lived in a small town. This record I feel like it's more selfish. We have a song on it called "Seconds" that's a total punk rock song about how disgusting I find George W. Bush and how I feel like I'm just gonna vomit every time I see him on TV, and it's making me wanna turn away from everything ... and its like, I'm just feeling so disgusted. Someone said to me, "Oh, you put that on there as your statement." Actually, I felt like I was gonna lose my mind if I wasn't able to just sit down in a room and scream. And I can't really do that in my apartment, so I did it in the studio with a microphone ... [laughs].