photographer / Jody Rogac
story / Logan Brendt
hair + makeup / Allie Smith
stylists / Koko Ntuen + Cristina Leiva
assistant stylist / Mariana Alvarez
shot at location / Mica Studios
Sweater, Dr Martens. Pedant, Kathleen’s own.
If you’re ever driving in New York City, making a right turn when it’s the pedestrian’s turn to cross, you might want to stop and wait for them, not just because it’s the proper and safe thing to do, but because you may also have feminist punk rock singer-songwriter and fiery New Yorker Kathleen Hanna less than a foot from your car window shouting at you. “When I first moved here, I almost got hit by a truck, and one time I saw a cab almost hit a baby carriage,” Hanna remembers. “I just went up to the window and was like, ‘you motherfucker, what the fuck do you think you’re doing? You’re going to be, what, 5 seconds late and try to kill somebody?’ And then I realized that people have guns and knives and stuff, and being alive is way more important than being right.”
While Hanna’s self-proclaimed past “rageaholism” may have subsided, the anecdotes still easily emit from one of punk’s favorite heroines. As the frontwoman for groundbreaking bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, she’s howled her feminist manifesto, given phenomenal live shows, made those in her path reflect on political ideas, and it was all a part of the Riot Grrrl movement that flourished in the 90s largely due to Hanna. Now, after a 20-year career, Hanna has had time to process her exceptional history, continuing The Julie Ruin project that she originally started in the 90s as a solo undertaking. With her bandmates, including her friend and former Bikini Kill bassist Kathi Wilcox, As The Julie Ruin takes off, Hanna acknowledges, “I just want to be in a fucking band and not be ‘the feminist band’.” Although, it may always be hard to break the stereotypes.
The Julie Ruin was conceived after Hanna’s desire to oppose these typical labels that had always classified her. “I just felt like writing a love song,” she says, putting it simply. With the alternate desire to express the other layers to her that weren’t always as visible, she remarks, “I just felt like everyone was like, ‘oh, there’s that man-hating bitch from Bikini Kill’ and I got really sick of it.” After she inadvertently wrote an entire record, letting herself write whatever she wanted to instead of feeling tied down to a certain political agenda or belief of who she was, we have arrived to 2013 with the release of their first album, RUN FAST, and a list of live shows to get the message out.
Not necessarily using social media to her advantage, because she fails to see the constructive side to it, Hanna says in a sweet but macabre tone, “like anything, it’s a tool. You can either use it to stab somebody, or you can use it to chop vegetables and make yourself a delicious meal.” She clarifies, “with social media, sometimes it’s just a bunch of kids who live in their parent’s basement, making really mean, sarcastic comments, and sometimes it’s people trying to [make us aware] of this great project they have going on.” Referring to sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, she states, “We don’t live in a country that supports the arts, so we’re all left in this position as individuals where we have to support each other’s project financially.” Since Hanna understands this point all too well, she admits that she’s a little concerned with how she’ll make the money back that she put forth into the new album filled with catchy guitar riffs and party tracks.
When Hanna first came onto the scene with Bikini Kill, America’s alternative music scene was veering onto a path where there was space for a lot of women, which was promising for Hanna and peers who were hoping to make their own mark on the world. Unfortunately, the culture has seemed to halt its evolution, over time, exposing strong evidence of sexism. Disappointed in this anti-progress, she observes, “women are expected to have these perfect pitch angelic voices and be very versatile singers where as our male counterparts often have unique voices.” Knowing that it is hard to get ahead in such an industry, she adds, “I feel like all the women in pop music have to one-up each other in this way that I wasn’t seeing the men doing. Bruno Mars comes out and puts on a great show, but he doesn’t have to light his hair on fire or be in his underwear, hanging from the ceiling while having water dumped on him or champagne shooting out of his chest.”
However, Hanna admits that while she is a fan of the genuine talent that does exist in today’s female pop stars, despite the double standards, it is definitely not her main focus or concern. She is more concerned in how we have taken steps backwards as a society on issues like reproductive rights and human rights in general. In reference to the recession, she says, “people aren’t able to get health care, and they die. People are put into positions where they don’t have jobs, and they have to find other ways to earn a living that maybe aren’t legal. Then there’s the prison–industrial complex that’s just waiting to lock them up for minor offenses.”
So, why are we so obsessed with pop culture when there are far more important issues to address? Maybe it’s the Parkinson’s Law of Triviality, or maybe the answer is found in Hanna’s previous comments to me about social media. “When I was in my early twenties,” she confesses, “I used a lot of things to distract myself from my own issues, a lot of petty intrigues and gossipy things that I now realize were really trivial, just trying to take my mind off of what was really going on. It’s a way to zone out and distract yourself from the real work you want to be doing in the world, but not letting yourself do.”
For someone that has always been known for her vocality both outside her music career as well as in it, I ask Hanna what she would like for her legacy to be. With sincerity, she confirms right away, “I want to be known as a feminist artist who took chances, made mistakes, put my neck out, looking stupid sometimes, and encouraged other people to experiment and put their necks out. If nobody did that, then life would be really, really boring.” But, nothing is boring with Kathleen Hanna.
Before our interview is up, and because I know that she’s full of anecdotes, I just have to ask her about her worst tour story. Appearing to be overwhelmed by how many awful stories there actually are, Hanna ultimately picks the one about her first show with Bikini Kill at CBGB, so brace yourself. “We were really, really excited, and I ate a burrito or something right before I went on stage,” she says. “During this show, I threw up in my own mouth while I was singing because I was dancing so hard, so I had to just swallow it. Right after I swallowed my own barf, my tampon fell out into my underwear because, again, I was dancing so hard. It was bobbing around in my underwear like a piece of poop, and I had to get it out. But because I was wearing a short skirt and didn’t want it to look like I was doing a feminist performance piece, I had to sneak it out,” she laughs. “It was kind of a Houdini move in front of a packed crowd,” referring to her ability to keep the performance going without anyone noticing. But with emphasis and a snicker, she concludes, “It was one of my proudest moments.” Again, nothing is boring with the legendary Kathleen Hanna.
Read more in the #8 issue of LADYGUNN!