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Posted at 11:43 AM ET, 06/16/2011

Be specific: Kathleen Hanna on the new Le Tigre documentary and the legacy of riot grrrl


Kathleen Hanna is the subject of a pair of current/upcoming documentaries. (Aliya Naumoff)
After years of hibernation, former Bikini Kill/Le Tigre member and feminist icon Kathleen Hanna is suddenly everywhere at once: There's a new Le Tigre documentary, "Who Took the Bomp?: Le Tigre on Tour," to promote ( in stores now, screening at Gold Leaf Studios on Saturday), a new album (she’s working on it), another, more personal documentary (ditto) and a treasure trove of riot grrrl paraphernalia assembled by Hanna and now residing at the Fales Library at NYU, its awesomeness preserved for future generations.

Hanna who lives in New York and is married to Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys, talked to Click Track about her new documentaries, life in Le Tigre, and riot grrrls 20 years down the line.

How much of a say did you have in assembling the film?

We were pretty involved. There were definitely discrepancies with the director, where she wanted to put in stuff that I didn’t want, but in the end she won [laughs]…We didn't want to over-control it, like, "Ew, I look ugly in that shot." We didn’t do any of that.

There was must be a fundamental strangeness to having your life documented like that. What jumped out at you?

Us being funny and having a good time. We didn’t have a lot of shots of the crap that happened, the bad stuff. It's probably because the cameraman was never there when that stuff happened.

You mean like fights?

Yeah. Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot of fighting in our band. I think fighting can be good for a band. It wasn’t that, it was more just like the sexism and homophobia and stuff like that. It's tough to get that on film. There's one time where some guy tells me to take it off and I call him a wanker. Because I was in Australia, and it seemed [appropriate].

It's interesting that the film shows you as group. You got pushed to the forefront in a lot of the media coverage, but this presents a very egalitarian view of the band.

Oh, yeah. We never thought of it as I was the center. I was singing, so that always makes you the [focus], but even in Bikini Kill I was never the center of that band. Tobi [Vail] ran that band from the drum stool, I thought.

So [they say] you're having a renaissance. Is that true? You certainly seem to be emerging a bit more lately.

Yeah. I needed some time off for a bunch of different reasons. One of the things that sort of brought me back to public life was doing this archive with Vail. It's the riot grrrl 20 year anniversary and it just felt like the time was right. The big fear was all of us have moved so many times, we're going to start throwing away our old fanzines and correspondence.

You know, I turned 40 and I was like, what am I going to do with this filing cabinet full of stuff? It was this intense process to go through it and look at the stuff I'd already done and be able to tie it up in a bow. I was like, I'd love for people to be able to look at this, but I don’t need it anymore. I'm not that person anymore. I'm still a feminist but I'm not 22 anymore and I don’t want to live in the past…That sort of freed me up to make new work and immediately, as soon as I was done, I started writing again.

Can you characterize your new stuff at all?

Yeah, it's very band. Kathi Wilcox, who used to work at the [Washington] Post, is the bass player….It's not, like, Rush, but it sounds like a fun live band. I'm just writing for myself, and I haven't let myself do that [in a long time].

Your vocal chords weren't in great shape for a while. Is that why you left Le Tigre?

I actually had a polyp on one of my vocal chords that I didn't know about that just kept getting worse. I had to take some time off and I got surgery.

There's another documentary about you as well [that you're working on].

The new one is called "The Punk Singer," and it's kind of about my life. It's just about me…It's kind of more about the personal side of things, about how come I stopped making music. The vocal polyp thing, and a bunch of things that happened in my personal life that made me re-evaluate what I was doing.

Most people don't get documentaries like that until they're dead.

Yeah, totally. One of the things I said, I was like, "I feel very creepy working on this because Gloria Steinem doesn't even have a documentary." Then one came out on her and I was like, "Okay, we can do it."

So who's carrying the torch these days, doing what you guys did in the '90s?

Hmm. I think there's really great feminist art being made all over the world. For me, the main thing I see that carried on the feminism of the '90s, not just what we were doing because clearly we were not the only people, but the thing that grew out of that that makes me the happiest is the Ladyfest organization and all of the rock camps [for girls].

So it's small, mushroom-type movements more than any one flag-bearer.

Yeah. There's a lot of bands who say, "Bratmobile changed my life," and more than women stepping out and being super overtly political, I'm just seeing women being influenced by each other, making the music they want to make. One of the sad things, in a way, about my career is that I've always said, "What's missing?" and then made what's missing: "Why is there no militant feminist punk band? That seems weird. Well, let's be that band."

That's not sad. That's just practical.

Well, it's practical but it's like, what about beauty? What about making something where you don’t know what's going to happen? That's where I'm at in my career now, so that's why I'm asking these questions. I feel like there's a lot of female-fronted bands who [look at a feminist album and say], that's already been done, so I can make this other thing. To me, that's really exciting, and I see that as being political. I don't think every band needs to get onstage and sing about prostitution.

So does that mean you can now make the album you want to make?

Yeah, because I already made that record. I don't need to make the first Bikini Kill record again. I already wrote it.

By Allison Stewart  |  11:43 AM ET, 06/16/2011

Categories:  Be specific | Tags:  Le Tigre, Kathleen Hanna, Bikini Kill

 
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