Kathleen Hanna helped put the ur in riot grrrl with her band Bikini Kill. The ’90s proto punk band’s driving beats and straight outta Olympia, WA message of female-empowerment, independence and justice inspired legions of often young women who nearly 25 years later still line up to thank her for the empowering influence she had on them.
The very much politically-minded Hanna recently took time off from touring with her current group, Julie Ruin, to reunite her NYC trio Le Tigre that includes Johanna Fateman and JD Samson to record the pro-Hillary Clinton song “I’m With Her.”
“We had to do something stop this dictator from taking over,” Hanna says.
Billboard hopped on the phone with Hanna, 47, a week before today’s election while she was amidst harried preparations for her husband/Beastie Boy Adam “Ad-Rock” Horowitz‘s 50th Birthday to discuss the new track, her take on this year’s fraught election, the Riot Grrrl legacy and the possibility of a Le Tigre reunion.
What are you up to today?
I’m working on my husband’s birthday party. I feel like I’m putting together a festival. I’m trying to use my husband’s mom’s 1960s Singer sewing machine to sew a 100-foot tablecloth. I’m ridiculous and it’s due tomorrow. And I just sent some video editing stuff to a friend who’s doing that and she’s almost done — so I’m delegating.
How did the “I’m With Her” song happen?
We just got back together to write a pro-Hillary song just because we are excited and we find her likable. It’s not just that we hate Trump — although we do — but also because she is the most qualified candidate now and there’s just no doubt about it.
Who came up with the line: “pantsuit-wearing herstorical first-timer?”
That was a combination of me and Jo [Johanna Fateman]. I had a line with pantsuit but it didn’t say herstorical first-timer but then I took it out And then she put in a pants suit line and I was like ‘yes!’ So it was pretty much Jo.
What’s been the response to the song?
I got more love mail than hate mail. I don’t know if people like the song too much but it was more making sure that it got out far and wide and making a statement as feminists and saying this is not going to work for us.
What do you make of all the Hillary hater-ade.
As a feminist artist who’s worked really hard in her career I find her extremely likable because I know some of the stuff she’s gone through and I know that what I’ve gone through is like one-one-hundredth-millionth of what she’s gone through. I feel there’s an incongruity with Hillary. She knows how to answer questions, she knows world leaders, she’s been in the White House and [yet] I watch her just take all kinds of shit. There’s no reason to be in public service to take that much shit for that long unless you really [care] and she does.
It’s interesting how much of this election seemed to hinge on issues of feminism.
I like in a way that all this sexual assault and groping stuff came out and I’m glad the way it’s being treated. I feel that it does mark a step moving forward in such a gloom and doom election season, but at the same time I’m pissed. Why weren’t people completely outraged by any of the other hundreds of things Trump said? It made me sad that at the beginning of his campaign he said horrible things like Mexicans immigrants are all rapists and terrible things about black people and that Muslims should not be allowed in the country. I was done then, so I was like what took everyone so long?
What do you make of the groundswell of Trump support.
It saddens me that there are so many uneducated voters. I’m worried that a lot of people drop out in the fifth grade or whenever and that’s scary — not because I hate those people but because I’m sad for them. Clearly a lot of people are not getting information from real sources.
Have you met any people like that?
I met a woman on tour, I think it was in Nebraska and this woman asked us who we were voting for because we were like this table of freaks at a restaurant. I was like, “I’m voting for Hillary who are you voting for?” And she was like, “I wouldn’t vote for Killary and crooked Hillary” and all this stuff. And I was like, “So let me ask you this, what do you hate about her?” And she’s like, “She’s a liar.” And I said, “Can you tell me one thing she lied about?” And she said, “She lied about inhaling.” And i was like, “Oh my god! That wasn’t even her, that was Bill like 30 or 40 years ago.”
What do you think the prescription is for those kinds of ills?
Just having good decent public schools that teaches about cultural differences, slavery, women’s rights, gay rights and does it in a way so it’s not just a side bar.
What will you do should Donald Trump win?
It’s hard because it’s like I want to stay here and fight. But also our family is all here we can’t leave. Like we live within ten blocks of all of Adam’s family and I can’t take us away from our people and all our friends here. I want be together no matter what goes down and help be a part of positive change. I don’t just want to talk about it and be so pissed that there’s not a three party system — let’s work for that after the election after Hillary wins. Let’s work for that for real. Let’s start tomorrow.
Do you still get a lot of love for your Bikini Kill days?
Some people are like, “Oh my god, you’re the singer for Le Tigre!” and that’s how they know me. And some people are like, Oh my god, you’re the singer for Bikini Kill!” and that’s how they know me. And there are a lot of like young high school girls and boys who are really into riot grrrl and are like “I’m studying riot grrrl in school.” And I’m like, “Whoa, that’s so weird.” And these days they look more like me then I look like me (they do it so good at H&M). I’m just getting a lot of praise, a lot of love and a lot of thank yous.
How was it recording with Le Tigre, were there sparks?
Yeah, absolutely, there was major sparks. It’s like we have this internal language and it’s totally pro on this one level but we also really like each other and know how to work together. I really just love being with those guys and being with both of them at the same time. Their so busy and I’m so busy that it was a really a special occasion. And it was for Hillary so it felt really good that we were getting back together to do something about a situation that we really care about.
So is there any chance of a Le Tigre reunion?
I’m not marking it off the calendar. I would love to work with them again if the situation was right and we were all into it, totally. But I’m in the Julia Ruin right now and I love it. I tour with the greatest people, I have no need to change anything up right now. But if it was a like one-off thing or something for charity we’d all probably be down, but I don’t know how they feel. But I have heard that they’re open to it as well.