Photography by Shervin Lainez
In 1997, Kathleen Hanna retreated from the spotlight that came with fronting the seminal riot grrrl band Bikini Kill into her Olympia, Wash., bedroom. There she made a lo-fi pop record and released it under the name Julie Ruin. But when she teamed up with Johanna Fateman and attempted to recreate the songs live, “we just couldn’t do it,” she says. Instead, Le Tigre was born. But after three dance-punk albums and a harrowing battle with late-stage Lyme disease, Hanna has put Le Tigre on hold and picked up where she left off. The Julie Ruin is now a five-piece band and, with some mixing assistance from LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, they’re releasing Run Fast, a spirited surf-rock album (out September 3). We checked in.
What made you want to revisit Julie Ruin?
I was extremely sick when we started the band. The doctors didn’t know what was wrong with me. It seemed like I was rapidly going downhill, and I was like, I have to do this now, while I’m still having good weeks, because I need to play the Julie Ruin songs live, and with this band.
So your illness changed your outlook?
Now there’s a feeling of “no more fucking around.” It made me appreciate stuff, like how much I love performing. There’s this honesty I’ve been able to have. I’ve told people to fuck off. I’m writing about whatever I want.
What are you listening to these days?
’60s pop, reggae... I really like Savages. People criticize them because they “sound like Joy Division,” and I’m like, “So what? LCD Soundsystem—how much Joy Division was in them?” It’s interesting—people weren’t throwing eggs at him but they are at Savages. I also like Grimes. She’s so young and producing her own music and calls herself a feminist. I’m like, Where did she come from? [Laughs]
It seems like feminism is gaining a new foothold in pop culture, with recent riot grrrl retrospectives and Pussy Riot.
Youth are the ticket to the future; everything that moves and changes is typically pushed by youth culture. Pussy Riot coming onto the scene, Occupy Wall Street, female bands saying, “I’m influenced by The Raincoats”...In the ’90s you didn’t compare yourself to another female band. Even in the early 2000s, they told us our record couldn’t be played next to another with a female lead. They couldn’t play a Le Tigre song next to a No Doubt song.
There’s also the new documentary The Punk Singer, about you and riot grrrl. What’s that like now that you’re doing new things?
To move on, I needed to wrap up the past, which meant wrapping up the myth that I was the president of riot grrrl. I was just one of the most visible faces of it. I needed to— [chokes up] Sorry, I’m getting a little teary! — say goodbye. Not to the anger, or the fact that I deeply care about ending violence against women, but to the 25-year-old who wrote the riot grrrl manifesto. But it was also important to me that that stuff not get thrown in the garbage can.