A series I wrote a little while back in which we (I) investigate (remember) the odder corners of the musical world.
A series I wrote a little while back in which we (I) investigate (remember) the odder corners of the musical world.
KATHLEEN HANNA: GIRLS TO THE FRONT by Nathan Jolly
Kathleen Hanna is one of the most influential and important figures in music: she spearheaded the riot grrrl feminist movement, fronted Bikini Kill and the less-serrated Le Tigre, unwittingly named Smells Like Teen Spirit when a piece of improvisational graffiti she wrote on a wall sparked something in Cobain, and married a Beastie Boy – despite the group’s misogynistic past.
Hanna was the subject of last year’s documentary The Punk Singer, and is currently in the country with her band The Julie Ruin.
How does it feel to have a life-spanning documentary made about yourself, considering you are still very much active?
It’s really, really weird. I feel like I turned myself into a statue at 45. I was really sick [with Lyme Disease] and I thought I was dying, so I did all this archiving work and then… I lived, and I have to live with all this historical revision, and I’ve always hated that. I used to live in Olympia, Washington and we got a record pressed, and we used to get all this press and stuff for the riot grrrl scene, and then a bunch of people moved to Olympia, thinking, “Oh, I’m going to be a part of this riot grrrl scene”, but they didn’t contribute, they just came and, like, stared at us. That was a big reason I think that Kathi [Wilcox] and I moved, because we didn’t want to be in a situation where every time we played a show, every time we went to something, people were like, “This is a historical moment.”
Well, it was around that time that you did a press blackout. What made you say ‘enough’s enough’?
I think it was one thing with the riot grrrl scene, and another thing being in a band. Even with Bikini Kill, when we wanted to go to England, which was the first place we went – and the first place I’d ever been outside of the US – we had to do an interview with NME. The people who were flying us over were like, “Either you do this, or I’m not going to send the money”, because we had to get press, or people wouldn’t come to the shows. So I always knew it was important – the crazy thing is people just wrote about us anyway, even though we didn’t do interviews, and afterwards I realised, ‘wow, most bands don’t get that’. When people started wanting me to do interviews, I was kinda shook at first, but I have learnt that if they ask a question I don’t have to answer it. We were super young then, and naive, and answered every question. Now I really want people to know about the projects that I do, because I believe in them.
You mentioned you started to archive. Was that what prompted the launch of Bikini Kill Records, and the re-release of the debut EP? Are there plans to continue re-releasing the catalogue?
The next thing we’re doing is – we did a split album with Huggy Bear – and we’re putting that out, but we can’t put out the Huggy Bear side because we can’t get in touch with everyone. We’re actually putting a bunch of unreleased material like live concerts, and recordings, that I think – if people are into our band – it is kinda interesting, because you can see the evolution. There’s a song that’s a b-side song, that nobody’s ever heard, so I’m actually more excited about the b-side. It sounds terrible; it was recorded by my boyfriend on his four-track. We recorded over another band that he recorded, and you can hear really faintly, the other band playing in the background. But we remastered it.
What’s it like to go back and listen? Because of Bikini Kill’s enduring popularity, are these songs that have been constant throughout your life, or is it very much revisiting your younger self?
I never really looked back, I’ve always been like, “Okay, that is something I did, now I’m doing this next thing.” I’ve always been pretty in the moment with my work, so it was weird, because I had to actually listen to things because we were remastering stuff. So I would get sent a test pressing and I would have to actually listen to my songs. I was like, “Whoa, we had some really good songs.” It was a positive experience because I’d never actually appreciated or been proud of what we did. I’ve always been ‘that was then, this is now.’ But with this archival project, I was really proud.
A lot of people are embarrassed by their younger self. I’m glad you found value in looking back.
I’m not embarrassed at all. I mean, I’m embarrassed by some of the stupid lyrics I wrote, but I’m not embarrassed by the overall thing that we were doing, and I can look at it and be, “God, I wish we could have spent more money on that recording, I wish that lyric wasn’t so offensive, I wish, I wish” – whatever. But those are very small things when the overall thing is ‘man, I can’t believe I made it through that.’ [laughs].
Do you see the influence of Bikini Kill and riot grrrl around now?
I don’t know. I mean, I know there’s a lot of feminist stuff in the underground happening in the US, where women in bands are copping a lot on comment boards and on the Internet. There’s a lot of writing around it, now a lot of tweeting between members of bands saying, “Why do I have to take this shit?” “Why’s everyone writing about what I’m wearing and not the music?” – and that’s been the great thing about the Internet – there’s kinda this Internet feminist community forming where it’s like, “Okay, we can talk about this stuff, and not have to take it by ourselves”, and I can see that being kind of a legacy of what we did.
Also, the US Girl Rock Camp here, and you guys have the Rock School in Melbourne – which I visited before – and I think [riot grrrl] really inspired theRock ‘n’ Roll Camp For Girls that are all over the States. When I go in and do a lecture, it’s amazing. It’s like the promise of riot grrrl realised, you know? It’s girls from 11 to 17 making music together, and all different types of girls, not just pop girls, and that is a really wonderful thing to be a part of. I know a lot of those were inspired by riot grrrl – and that makes me extremely proud.
It does seem to be an extension of what you were doing, especially the inclusive nature. Do you think there’s a downside to this community being primarily online now.
It’s great that people are able to find each other. It’s really difficult to be a young person, and grow up with camera-phones, and all this kind of technology can teach you two things: it can build community, but it can also make it so you’re never anywhere, you know? Always on the phone, always texting, always Instagramming. They’re not present. People are at shows and they not watching – they’re just recording it on their phone. Or texting, “I’m at this show”. How are you even enjoying this show? Let’s just be here, watching this show.
I’ve heard your romance with Adam [Horowitz: Ad Rock from The Beastie Boys] began in Australia.
It was on the Summersault tour that Steven Pav did, and it only happened once, so it wasn’t like the Big Day Out; I think he lost his shirt, his pants, his underwear and his shoes on that deal. We’d never been on a big festival tour at all, we had nice hotels, we were, like, living large – we were so excited because we’d stayed on people’s floors. We’d never had that kind of treatment, and Steve made sure that all of the bands – whether you played by the port-a-potties or by the dumpsters, or on the main stage – got treated the same. We all had nice hotels, that’s why he lost so much money.
That’s where I ended up meeting Adam. I borrowed a skateboard from one of the guys in my outfit and I went up to him and was like, “Hey, do you want to go skateboarding? And then we had a date in Adelaide, skateboarding.
At the time how aware were you of Beastie Boys and all that surrounded them?
Yeah. I wasn’t a huge fan or anything, but I’d heard Paul’s Boutique before and I really, really loved it, but I didn’t know that much about them. I do know that one time [laughs], they wanted to come to one of our shows in New York, and the guy who owned the bar was like, “Wait, you have to hold on. You can’t play yet ‘cos The Beastie Boys are coming.” And I just walked upto the mic, and was like, “Fuck you, we’ll play whenever we want. I’m not waiting for the Beastie Boys. I don’t care about them.”
It was definitely weird. I kinda knew that they had this sexist act, and when I met him, he just didn’t feel like that. He had grown up and he was like a completely different person. I’ve never felt like he has been condescending to me, or thought I was lesser than him. He’s what I want to be when I grow up, and I think I’m what he wants to be when he grows up [laughs].
Did you cop a lot of shit at the time for all that?
There was no Internet and nobody really knew except for in Olympia, which is a really small town. If you make out with someone, everyone knows the next day. Then all of a sudden Ad Rock from The Beastie Boys showed up in Olympia. Why is Ad Rock walking down Main Street? So everyone in our town knew. But I think it was more that I was dating outside of the scene. It wasn’t “he’s sexist” or anything like that; we only dated within our own dating pool, which was guys and girls who were in bands that we toured with, people we met on the road – they were people in the underground, they weren’t rich rock stars. We didn’t date people with money, that’s just not how we did it. I’d never dated anyone with a credit card before.
I definitely got some shit, and some people tried to – I hate to use this word [laughs] – but ‘sabotage’ it for me, and I’m really glad that I didn’t listen to that.
YOU AM I - DAILY DOUBLE
Something was different. Four songs in, after the aching opener, and the double-shimmy of Good Morning and Mr. Milk, it became apparent what this point of difference was: no camera-phones. No night-lights dotted throughout the audience, no anxious capturing of a muffled, red flood of lighting-and-not-much-else to saviour/translate later. Just a sea of fans watching the band in front of them: singing, bopping, dancing, chatting excitedly, all of that. No screens, though. Is this generational or just borne out of the special sort of reverence reserved for this band, for these albums?
After all, we already have recordings of these two albums – good recordings too: we already have the cracked cases, and bent booklets – albums which we have lived in, and leaned on, and loved for different reasons at different times. A.H. Cayley has already written about this topic masterfully, a tough task for experiences as singular yet shared as these, but for all Hi Fi Way and Hourly Daily’s evergreen appeal, You Am I have always been a completely different beast live: as uncontrollable and wayward as these albums are dependable and consistent. A You Am I live show is exciting and visceral, and their approach to the live show as an experience is important in understanding the band’s appeal.
This isn’t merely a You Am I show though, this is an exercise in looking back, in celebrating two quick shots within two years from a band at their peak, and – seen in some quarters as – an exercise in finally cementing these two albums as the You Am I albums, despite early adopters clinging to Sound As Ever, many millennial fans entering through #4 Records’ trio of triumphant singles, and Tim Rogers himself preferring Deliverance: possibly due to his memories of making it, or possibly due to that feeling it’s the underdog in a kennel filled with them.
This show was at the Enmore Theatre, this being the only venue in the Inner West big enough to hold this kind of celebration, and the Inner West being the only possible Sydney host (although perverse parts of me wished they’d announced the show at Selina in Coogee or somewhere horribly unromantic). In terms of the actual show – its success a fait accompliwell before tonight – well, it was amazing. Of course it was. You Am I have skipped the cart off the rails enough times throughout their career to know that this show – this entire run of shows – needs to both be faithful to records that fans know every ragged inch of, and honour misty-eyed memories of sweaty, swinging gigs decades earlier in venues around the corner from here. Obviously, these were key considerations, but the whole two-hour show seemed so vital, so plucked out of the band’s collective back pocket, that it seemed less like a well-rehearsed nod to recordings put to tape close to twenty years ago, and more like watching a great band in full flight. It was a You Am I gig, albeit one with a more predictable setlist than most. The evening also answered the age old question of which of the two records is the best. As some of us always suspected, the answer is clear – both of them are.
CHRIS BROWN LAUNCHES CHARITY FOUNDATION, EVERYONE SUDDENLY FORGETS HE IS THE WORST HUMAN EVER.
Remember when Chris Brown beat the absolute Christ out of his girlfriend, Rihanna? Nope, neither do we, not after he launched his Symphonic Love Foundation this week, which “supports and creates arts programs for youth while encouraging every day public service, respect and kindness.”
Activities undertaken by the youth involved in the program include “volunteering at breast cancer and lupus walks; leading community arts and recreation programs; helping renovate schools and gardens; donating food, clothing and school supplies; recycling; serving at soup kitchens; and volunteering at a festival for the homeless.”
“It definitely has been a labor of love. That what it’s all about for me – art and love,” said Brown, who once punched a woman in the face with his right hand while steering a vehicle with his left hand. “Art influences every aspect of my life completely. It helps me to be myself. Focusing on positivity and love helps you have respect for yourself and others,” he added, completely forgetting he caused a contusion on Rihanna’s left tricep that was approximately two inches in diameter. “It’s what I strive for, so I hope this foundation and the website encourages everyone to express themselves creatively and be who they want to be.”
This isn’t Brown’s only charitable act. Earlier this year, he donated a considerable amount of money to the ‘Break the Cycle’ fund: “to engage, educate and empower youth to build lives and communities free from domestic violence.” In 2009, he applied enough pressure to Rihanna’s left and right carotid arteries to make her lose consciousness. The assault caused her mouth to fill with blood, and blood to splatter all over the interior of the vehicle the two were travelling in.
“We really appreciate all of Chris’ continued support, and are delighted that he has included us in his latest charitable endeavor,” said Anthony K. Shriver, Founder & Chairman, Best Buddies International. “We are really looking forward to the first Symphonic Love Best Buddies Day.”
A series I wrote for The Music Network highlighting great (but critically ignored) songs from the past twenty years. Click a song, why don’cha?
I have always been aware that at any moment a car could come veering over the sidewalk and engulf me, so this completely reasonable fear entered into all my scenarios. I bet it doesn’t hurt a bit; you would pass out the minute you heard yourself scraping across the road. One flash and you are erased.
The third piece in a series I’m writing for This Recording. (In Which If We Close Our Eyes Maybe They Can’t See Us)