KATHLEEN HANNA: [Laughs] Yes that is true. I’m trying to do set design now. I’ve done that for a couple of shows. I went to school for it after I left Le Tigre. I still have one class I need to do to get my Associates degree. I’m really interested in a lot of design. I don’t know if I’m the kind of person that is going to be able to work with rich people to design their apartments and stuff. I think I want to use the skills that I got for set design and maybe take some classes in set building. I enjoy being behind the scenes and I enjoy making things look beautiful. I really like the challenge of somebody saying, this is what the themes and the ideas are and making it look like that.
KATHLEEN HANNA: In every way imaginable! I really can’t say enough about the guy. I think he is … [pauses] have you ever seen that movie Evita with Madonna in it?
INTERVIEWER: I actually haven’t.
KATHLEEN HANNA: There’s this scene in Evita and she is dying, it’s super sad. Her husband is standing over her (she’s playing Eva Peron) and she sings this really beautiful song. The lyrics are like: you must love me. She just figured it out as she was dying. She never really felt loved. It was on her deathbed that she was like [sings] you must love me.
I guess I just feel that I’m really lucky that through him [Adam] I have realised how much love I have in my life. Not just him but he has helped me see how much my friends care for me, I mean I already know how much I adore and totally love my friends but, I always kind of saw myself in the kind of ‘dad role’ taking care of people; giving up stuff I wanted to do to make other people happy. I think a lot of women get trapped in that role. People sometimes see it as the ‘mom role’ but I always see it as the dad role: the provider, the protector. I really saw through him how to ask for help and get it. Just realising that I don’t want to be on my deathbed saying, oh my god you loved me. I want to experience that every single day. I learned how to let that into my life.
How are you making me open up so much? This is crazy! You’re a really good interviewer [laughs]. It’s really bad because I never tell people corny shit like this. I’m going to be really embarrassed tomorrow [laughs].
INTERVIEWER: Truthfully, I just think it’s because I really, really care about the people that I interview. I love hearing people’s stories, I love sharing that with others and I hope when someone reads the work they will be inspired to do rad, positive things in their own life. That’s pretty much the main reason I do it. I’m not getting paid for this.
KATHLEEN HANNA: Labour of love!
INTERVIEWER: This is my gift.
KATHLEEN HANNA: Well you’re really good at it because I usually just tell people, the album has this many songs and this is when it’s coming out.
INTERVIEWER: I believe that people are fascinating regardless of their latest record or tour.
KATHLEEN HANNA: It’s just nice to be able to have a conversation and be totally honest. I don’t want to be guarded anymore. I don’t want to say the thing I’m supposed to say to sell the five records I’m going to sell [laughs]. Who cares at this point! Hopefully when people read interviews with people that are supposedly ‘big deals’ because they get on stage, they realise, oh I’m totally like this person, I could do that too if I felt like it.
KATHLEEN HANNA: Yeah and it lasts! How crazy! It’s really amazing when you realise, wow! This just keeps getting better. I keep waiting for it to suck [laughs]. There’s been bad times for sure but you just think, when is this going to start sucking? and it hasn’t happened.
KATHLEEN HANNA: Oh wow! Well, I’m obsessed with watching downtown performance artists such as Neal Medlyn and Erin Markey who is just a fucking genius! Cole Escola. I just really like seeing performance art in New York and just all of the great things that are going on here. That’s what I’m obsessed with more than going to shows. Shows for me became work because I toured so much that walking into a club became this experience of … I’ve always had horrible stage fright, every show I have ever played I’ve had horrible, horrible stage fright!
I think it adds to the tension of the performance. So when I walk into a club … unless it’s to see a band like Comet Gain which is one of my favourite bands and whenever they come to New York and I see them I just feel so super happy. I went to Diamond Rings’ show and I really love that guy, he has such a beautiful voice and beautiful presence. I still do like going to music shows but I much prefer to go see performance art.
I’m also obsessed with the 10 minutes I spend talking to my husband before I fall asleep. We have a thing that we talk for 10 minutes before we go to sleep [laughs]. We see each other all through the day and we talk all through the day too but it’s just like a special “what happened today?” conversation. I’m super into my husband! I love being around him.
KATHLEEN HANNA: You know I don’t really have an overall vision for it. I think that’s the exciting thing. I am trying to be a little bit more present in the moment as much as a total control freak stress out person can be. I’m not trying to save the world at the moment. I’m not trying to make this thing to please other people. I’m really making something I want to make with my friends and I’m having an enjoyable time doing it. I’m not thinking about this is feminist pop music or this is this kind of thing that’s going to have this kind of effect and make this person feel included. I feel like I’ve done that, I feel like that is the work that I’ve already done. It would be really boring if I wrote the same record over and over again. I’m really glad that the Bikini Kill records exist, I don’t have to write the songs again.
KATHLEEN HANNA: I totally have to work at my lyrics. The way that I usually work is that I have some kind of music going on like a loop I’ve made or something that the band plays and I just start singing what feels natural to me or I try a more formal idea that I’ve always wanted to try. Sometimes the lyrics just start coming. A lot of times though, I sing nonsense for a long time. There was a song in Bikini Kill called ‘Demirep’ and we used to play that song live all of the time and I never knew the lyrics, I made them up every night. I would sing nonsense or whatever I was thinking. The day before we recorded it and we were in England, I had to go to a coffee shop and be like, these are the final lyrics. I had taped it on a cassette of me singing it and I just listened to what the words sounded like [laughs] and wrote them down and they became the lyrics. I’ve been working that way ever since. Sometimes I’ll craft it more into the thing that I think it’s about. When I started I’d write the lyrics first and now I do it totally the opposite.
KATHLEEN HANNA: Oh I didn’t know about that. Oh that is so scary! I’m not going to look at that but … you’re obviously going to tell me [laughs].
INTERVIEWER: Some of the ideas people had about the meaning of the song were: it’s your alter egos battling; it’s a song about two people looking at the same thing differently; it’s a response to the ‘Kill Rock Stars’ song Nofx wrote…
KATHLEEN HANNA: Oh, I have definitely never written anything in relation to that band [laughs]. The people that said it was about two sides of myself were in a way totally right, a lot of it is about battling addiction. You can make a choice whether to be in “the dark bar getting wasted” or to be “enjoying the moon in Texas at night” you can make that choice. It’s a lot harder if you have addiction in your life. At the same time it was directed towards the part of myself that can be a real addict. It was also directed at the fact that I was living in Olympia at the time and there was a lot of heroin and people were dying. I was really frustrated with it. I really wanted to be the one to help people; I really wanted to be somebody that helped people get rehab. In that song I am angry, I was a little bit fucking sick of it. I was singing like, look at me! I’m having this great fucking life because I’m not doing heroin and look at you, you’re stuck in this bummer situation because you’re getting wasted all of the time and you’re ruining your life and all of your friends are watching you ruin your life. That’s what it is about to me but really it’s about what anyone thinks it’s about to them. I can’t even believe that anybody listened to that song.
KATHLEEN HANNA: I guess lyrics are a little bit hard for me actually. I’m really trying to be a lot less literal. I’m a very literal person … actually it’s not that I’m a literal person … I don’t even know what kind of person I am — I’m probably a total jerk.
When I started making music I really saw a space for women singing about feminism in a really obvious way, because no one was doing that. It’s not like it was a shtick or a marketing thing, I was just obsessed with feminism. It’s what I was thinking about and what my life was made up of, not just academic feminism but I worked in a domestic violence shelter. Seeing the shelter fill up time and time again and seeing the dudes at my school telling me that feminism didn’t exist and I felt very passionate about making sure feminism did exist for my generation and the generations after me.
When I first started writing lyrics it was really important to me that people knew what I was talking about and that I was a feminist. That’s actually a really scary position because a lot of times people want you to write in these abstract ways that everybody can insert themselves into whereas I thought, nobody is writing songs for girls! I want to write songs specifically for girls that they understand, that they take into their hearts and that they decide it’s about them or, that they decided that they’re not into it at all and that they’re going to write a song that’s 100 times better. That was the point.
In Le Tigre there got to be a lot of pressure on us to represent something, to represent the crossover of a couple of different communities. It’s hard to write lyrics under that pressure and under the whole “you’re an icon” like what you said Kaia said about me. The hard thing for me has been to let it go and write what I actually really want to write now. Some of what I want to write is more like poetic nonsense. I have to be ok with that. I don’t care if other people like it [laughs].
KATHLEEN HANNA: Yeah! When she plays there’s something really sexy about her playing. I know that might sound gross [laughs]. It just makes my hips shake and makes me feel ecstatic and happy. It’s a really visceral experience. I worked with her at Rock Camp for Girls, it’s where we met. We were coaching a band of girls between the ages of 11 and 17. Watching her work with them and having such a fun time with her through that experience, she became a person that when I was going to bed at night I thought, I want to work with her. When I heard her play it was completely over. I didn’t care if she was the biggest douche bag in the world (thank god she’s not); I just wanted her in my band.
KATHLEEN HANNA: Oh my god Sara is such a good guitar player! I love rockabilly guitar and I love surf guitar, love it! She does too. She’s somebody that is very technically good and a total distortion pedal and amp nerd, I say that with total admiration and respect. She knows when not to play and when to play. Do you know what I mean?
KATHLEEN HANNA: Well I hope there is. There is this one sing called, ‘Oh Come On’. I was really thinking about Lydia Lunch when we started writing. We wrote a song that was like if Lydia Lunch was singing a Stooges song. I was really proud of it and loved the practice tape of it. It just sounded like the way she clips stuff at the end of phrases and yet sounds like she’s doing this total wild abandonment. It just sounds out of control. That’s actually the last song that I need to record. I recorded it once but it just doesn’t have that same feel as in practice. I’m working on it. I’m hoping that it comes out with a little bit of a homage to her because I’m a big fan. I don’t want to copy what she does. There’s a lot of references of other singers on the record. I love that.
INTERVIEWER: What other singers?
KATHLEEN HANNA: Lesley Gore. A lot of 60s girl group stuff. There’s a little bit of Bikini Kill-era Kathleen coming through which was completely unexpected. I’m referencing myself when I was younger which is probably the most narcissistic, creepy thing I could do [laughs]. We were playing a song for somebody and they were shocked because they thought that the way that I was talking about it was like, oh you know, I’m really exploring my soft side [laughs]. They heard it and they said, “It sounded like you’ve always sounded — loud, pissed off and projecting”. I thought, oh well, I guess I always just go to that sweet spot. There’s definitely some anger on the record.
It’s funny that it’s taken us so long to finish it. We’re just working at our own pace so it stays fun and doesn’t become a 9 to 5 job. I’ve been in bands that have been like 9 to 5 jobs and they always become a drag and end. I just don’t want to be in that kind of band anymore. A lot of the things that I was angry about that I was singing about at the beginning of writing the record, I’m not angry about anymore. I wrote the songs and have been singing them and as corny as it sounds, I kind of worked it out through the songs.
INTERVIEWER: That’s awesome! That’s one of the greatest things about music I think.
KATHLEEN HANNA: Yeah! I’d heard of it happening [laughs]. It actually does happen in real life! I’ve had to experience a lot of times where I’ve written songs that I don’t really understand why I was writing it but then five years later it became completely clear why I was writing it.
KATHLEEN HANNA: Over the course of the past year or so. We got together once a week and played. Kathi wasn’t in the band at first because she lived in [Washington] D.C. We learned a bunch of the songs off The Julie Ruin record because I’d always wanted to perform those songs live. Le Tigre actually started because Johanna [Fateman] from Le Tigre and I were trying to learn the songs from the record but we couldn’t figure them out [laughs]. I’ve always wanted to do them live. I wanted to flesh them out and change them because they always felt like sketches of songs rather than fully realised songs. I started working with them on it and it was super fun. We naturally started writing other stuff. Kathi came to New York and I was so scared to ask her to be in the band. We didn’t have a bass player. If she said no [pauses] … we hadn’t worked together in so long and because it ended kind of weird, I didn’t know how she felt about it. She said, “Oh yeah sure. That sounds fun”. It’s been really great, it’s nice to work with people that come over to my house (I have a home studio) and we hang out, chit-chat and have a really fun time. It doesn’t feel like a bummer.
KATHLEEN HANNA: Well you have to do it the way you want to do it. That’s the whole thing. I’ve had time periods where all I have wanted to do was be on stage. Now I just want to hole up and write. We’ve written so many songs for this album because I just want to keep writing. I took a really long break from writing almost anything and then all of sudden I was really excited about it again. In Le Tigre I thought that I had said everything that I wanted to say. I took a break and had a life for a while. I was like, oh I actually have something else to say.