The original transcript of The Guardian Kathleen Hanna interview
By Everett True
You have a new album out, as The Julie Ruin. You’ve used this name before, in 1998. What are the points of commonality with the previous incarnation? What are the points of difference? Why did you choose to reuse it? Do you prefer not to put out music as Kathleen Hanna? (I seem to recall you put out spoken word record as yourself.)
The biggest thing in common between both projects is that I was really messed up emotionally when I began making each of them, and both records were a way for me to climb out of the pit I’d fallen into. The first record was made as Bikini Kill was in the process of breaking up, a guy who worked across the street from my apartment building was stalking me and I was being treated, in my own community, like a historical oddity at best and an evil, conceited bitch at worst. The solo record helped me remember that I was just a fucking person who liked being creative. With the new record it was mostly about the emotional fall out from having a long term, debilitating illness that reached into every second of my life and just robbed me of my life force in such a big way. Writing songs again brought me in touch with core parts of my personality, again, and feeling anything separate from my illness was like manna from heaven. Run Fast also started with me making loops and singing over them like the first record did, but this time I didn’t do it alone, I brought in people I really liked and asked them to help. That was something I had to learn from being sick, how to ask for help. Thank god I did. I always felt that first record was more like sketches or demos and this one is so much more fleshed out.
Since we started out learning Julie Ruin songs it felt natural to somehow incorporate the name into our new band. It also felt like things had come full circle, the character I had created to help me get through a rough patch morphed into a part of something else. Something bigger, she joined a band!!!
I feel super self-conscious putting out something under my own name for some reason. Once I put my full name on the cover of a record I feel like my private life will be gone.
The album title – why Run Fast?
When I was 13 me and my best friend Angela Cheever were out on a Friday night, hanging out at video arcades, playing Ms. Pac Man, flirting with boys from our school etc…While walking from this place called ‘Pins and Cues’ to ‘Jerry’s Sub Shop’ I noticed a man was following us. We were near the road but there were no cars and when I told Angie about the man we both started walking really fast and so did he, and then we ran and he started chasing us. Nothing was open but we saw a light on at a funeral home so we ran up the stairs and started pounding on the doors screaming. No one came, but the guy freaked out and backed off. I sometimes wonder what would’ve happened if we didn’t run and he would’ve caught up with us.
From puberty on, I felt like me and my friends were always running. From abusive Dads, men on the streets, or even running away from mean things people would say to us that got stuck in our heads. But running meant we thought we were worth saving. That’s why the record is called Run Fast.
The songs on Run Fast are danceable, discernibly so… following a path laid down by the original Julie Ruin incarnation, and Le Tigre. What are your influences in this direction, and where does your love of dance music stem from?
One word. Yaz. No seriously, besides that, I used to make up dances in my room a lot as a kid. My favorite thing to dance to was always The Jackson 5, but I also had a really weird dance I used to do to Roy Orbison’s ‘Pretty Woman’. I think I wanted to write stuff that other kids would dance to in their rooms too. It was funny years later trying to write a danceable song about street harassment in Le Tigre when it all started with me dancing to a song about a dude staring down a woman on the street!
Songs like ‘Cookie Rd.’ and ‘Oh Come On’ are raucous, energetic – why so raucous? Why so energetic?
Part of my illness involved severe fatigue so I really wanted to get in touch with the energetic part of myself again. It was like meeting up with an old friend! When I felt well enough I just wanted to write fast songs and jump around. Also I was pissed and annoyed when I wrote Oh Come On.
What music do you enjoy listening to in 2014? You’re a fan of Janelle Monáe? Have you heard that Laura Mvula song ‘That’s Alright’?
My cat of 18 years (I got him in Olympia back in 96!) just passed away so I am listening to a lot of James Taylor right now. Yeah, I like Janelle Monáe, thanks for turning me on to Laura Mvula, I’d never heard of her.
There’s a documentary out about you, The Punk Singer. Have you seen it? Do you recognise yourself? How does it feel to have a film made about you? Why do you think people remain so interested in you: what is it about your life in particular? Do you feel like an icon? What would you change about the film?
I saw it in LA with Kathi and it was weird. There are a lot of “beauty shots” in the film which is pretty embarrassing. It definitely doesn’t feel like me, it feels like I’m watching someone else. I don’t feel like an icon at all, more like a singing social worker, or a person with a bizarre backstory or something. I guess that’s what people might find interesting about me, my backstory. I’m kind of like the Forrest Gump of indie rock. I wish there was more criticism in the film, but I didn’t make it so it really wasn’t up to me. I did talk to Tamra Davis, who really put the whole thing together, about the fact that some of the difficult things I had to say about Riot Grrrl weren’t going to be in the final version and she said “This film isn’t about Riot Grrrl, it’s about you,” which made sense. There’s a film being made about RG right now and I let it all hang out during that interview, so hopefully the ideas I wanted out in the world will get out there.
How honest is the film?
I don’t know how honest a film can ever be. Some things are always gonna be made much smaller to fit into a film than they were in real life and events get put out of sequence so they make sense to viewers.
But my interviews were honest. I wasn’t holding back or thinking of how I was being perceived. I was too sick to worry about who was gonna get mad at me or whatever.
You were ill? How did you move on from that?
I’m still in treatment and healing. I don’t think I’ll ever move on from the trauma of it. I just try to do things that will speed up my healing and am thankful for every well day or week or month that I get.
What would you like best to known for representing?
In the movie, you explain how having an abortion at 15 was one of the best things that happened to you. Please could you expand on that point? Many feminists I know have had bad experience of men during their teenage years: do you think this is a primary motivation for becoming politically involved?
My abortion definitely made me staunchly pro-choice, but I feel like many other moments besides being treated badly by individual men shaped my feminism. Like not being allowed to play sports as a kid because our school only had sports teams for boys, or having guys talk to my boyfriends about music at parties like I wasn’t even there, or working at a domestic violence shelter, or having a lady come to my school and tell all the girls what they should do if a man was trying to rape them while all the boys got to play outside.
Riot Grrrl initially – and over the years – has come under criticism for being only supportive of certain types of females. Do you think this criticism is justified? Do you object to be cast in the role of spokesperson?
I definitely object to being cast in the role of spokesperson, but I just have to deal with it because it’s the hand I was dealt. I agree with the criticisms that Riot Grrrl was mainly for, by and about white middle class women in the punk scene, but I also know that there were many working class women and women of color whose contributions greatly shaped the better aspects of that scene and I don’t want them to be erased. It really was a regional thing in terms of who participated. In terms of me, personally, it was a severe mistake to have not done more outreach to girls of color when I lived in DC and was involved in meetings.
Riot Grrrl (feminism in music) has come back into fashion in the last year, partly because of the prominence of Pussy Riot. You’ve been very vocal in your support of them. You said that “everyone is Pussy Riot”, I believe. What are your feelings about the recent developments – their ‘pardon’ and release from jail, and reaction to it?
I think it’s great they are out of jail of course. I think I held up a sign that said “everyone is Pussy Riot” or I said that specific phrase because it was a part of a larger protest I was asked to be a part of. I kind of cringe to think of that phrase because it reminds me of this sticker someone gave me that said “every woman is a Riot Grrrl” and I always hated that idea because it was telling every woman who she should be, when feminism is really about having more choices, not less.
Do you see a direct link between Pussy Riot and Bikini Kill? What are the points of difference?
They’ve said they were influenced by us which is totally flattering but I have a hard time drawing a direct link. I think there is a picture of me with PUSSY written on one arm and RIOT on the other, but I’m not sure. I think they’re more performance art than we were and what they have done thus far, is way more dangerous because of the political climate they live in. I was afraid of shit getting thrown at my head or guys beating me up, not being thrown in jail.
Do you see a direct link between that recent Lily Allen video and yourself? What are the points of difference? (Apologies for being a bit provocative here.) What are your feelings about twerking?
Wooh, do you see a direct link? I don’t, I want to know what link you see??? I did wear big earrings in the 80’s for a minute. Twerking, to me, is a stripper move, it’s been done forever. I used to do it onstage at punk shows when I was asking myself the question “What is the difference between stripping and being a singer in a feminist punk band?” Are men looking at me the same? When some customers from my stripping job started coming to Bikini Kill shows I began angry twerking onstage, but I never knew it was called twerking.
Tobi wasn’t in the film. Was there a reason for that? Please could you go into the dynamic of your relationship with her a little?
I didn’t have control over who ended up getting interviewed or not but it was important to me that Tobi was in the film so I asked the filmmakers to use as much good archival stuff of her as they could. She approved the stuff that was used, which was also important to me. Me and Tobi and Kathi had a really nice lunch a few years back when Tobi was visiting NYC and we were starting up the Bikini Kill label, but we are pretty much just in touch via email these days as we live on opposite coasts.
There weren’t any male talking heads either – which was a refreshing relief. Again, what were your reasons for that?
The one thing I said at the beginning of making the film was that I didn’t want Thurston, Ian or Calvin in it. Not because I don’t respect them as musicians but because I didn’t want them to be the male music experts.
What is the biggest challenge facing women right now, and why?
Poverty and healthcare. Because if you are just trying to stay alive how are you going to change the world?
Do you sometimes feel weighed down by the past, or the famous people you’ve known?
I don’t know that many famous people. I do know a bunch of great performers and artists, but most of them are only famous to like 200 people. I do feel weighted down by the past sometimes, like when people only want to talk to me about shit that happened in the 90’s and not about the film or our new record. I feel like having the history I do leads to people feeling disappointed when they meet me, like if I’m not in the mood to be loud or charismatic or whatever. But then again I felt all those things in the 90’s too. Like I wasn’t angry enough in person for people, or nice enough, or feminist enough. I think it’s really about being a performer. You become a blank canvas people project onto. Most people are cool though, they just let me be whatever I am that day and don’t treat me like a living statue whose supposed to hand them drinks at a fancy party (though that happens too which is a real bummer).