Kathleen Hanna returns with Julie’s ruin
Donating her binder filled with old newspapers, letters and zines to the archives of the Fales Library at New York University was a bittersweet gesture for Kathleen Hanna. Singer and founder of riot grrrl Bikini Kill and feminist electro-pop group Le Tigre, Ms. Hanna had been the mother of contemporary girls’ culture for a generation, but she was still just a mid-career artist, too. young for struggling with archiving his work. The donation helped legitimize the riot grrrl movement.
But Mrs Hanna, 44, had more personal reasons to protect her inheritance: she didn’t know how long she would stay.
Timing has played a big part in Ms. Hanna’s creative life since emerging from the DIY scene in Olympia, Washington in the early 1990s. The brief but influential riot grrrl movement seemed to come at just the right time, during the debates on harassment at work and the sexuality of young women, new questions that still resonate today. But in recent years, even with a booming ’90s revival and her much-requested perspective, Ms Hanna had all but disappeared from public life.
The reason for her absence, as she is just beginning to reveal, was illness, depression, and artistic flow. “I still don’t know, day to day, if I’m going to wake up and be really sick,” she said.
In late 2010, after six years of a mysterious and debilitating illness that often left her too weak to move or speak, she was finally diagnosed with advanced Lyme disease. She received two years of intensive therapy. Now on the mend, Mrs. Hanna is coming back with a bang.
She resurrected a 1997 solo project, Julie Ruin, as a group, the Julie Ruin; her debut album, “Run Fast”, is due out Tuesday on TJR Records, a label formed by Ms. Hanna and her band mates. For the first time, the group is touring nationally, starting with a sold-out show at the Bowery Ballroom on Tuesday. And a documentary about her, “The Punk Singer,” which has been around the festival since its premiere to heat up critics at South by Southwest this spring, is slated to hit theaters in November.
Seeing these projects come to fruition at once is stressful but stimulating, said Ms Hanna. “I’m like someone who ran out of credit cards because he thought he was going to die,” she said, “and I lived”.
Walking around Chelsea recently, she was worried about a bit of girl over-sharing. If overworked teenage poetry was visible, in her bubble-shaped handwriting, at the Fales’s Riot Girl Collection, where Ms. Hanna donated her work in 2010. This material and more have been collected in “The Riot” Grrrl Collection “, an anthology published this summer. Ms. Hanna further tells her story – including sexual abuse and the name of the Nirvana hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – in the documentary, directed by Sini Anderson. Images of her hopping on stage in her characteristic high ponytail masked her illness; she announced some sort of Tiger retreat in 2005.
La Ruine Julie was born during her illness, as a way for Ms. Hanna to connect with her artistic identity. “I was like, ‘Am I who I am now, this sick person? That’s not me, ‘”she said in an interview at a cafe not far from her Flatiron apartment, one of two houses she shares with her husband Adam Horovitz, aka Ad-Rock of the Beasties. Boys. He encouraged her to sing as much as she could. “When I was practicing and feeling good, I saw myself again,” she said.
She designed the band as what she called her “dream band”, with players from different backgrounds: on bass, her Bikini Kill partner Kathi Wilcox; on guitar, Sara Landeau, instructor at the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, where Ms. Hanna occasionally teaches; on drums, her friend Carmine Covelli; and Kenny Mellman, Herb of the cabaret group Kiki & Herb, as keyboardist and songwriter. They casually rehearsed around town and at Mrs. Hanna’s home in New Jersey – “I can’t call it jamming, because I hate it; I don’t jam, ”she said – not wondering where that would lead.
According to Ms. Wilcox, “When she approached me to join the band, she said, ‘We may never tour, we may never do a record, but we are now doing it for the pleasure, because I need. ‘ “
But Ms. Hanna arrived with a few songs intact – including one, “Just My Kind,” written for Christina Aguilera – and although she didn’t have an overall sound in mind, she knew what she liked. “I know I love sexy surf guitars, I know I love loud snares,” she said. “I love really simple repetitive basslines, and I love the weird keyboard sounds of mad scientists.”
Mr. Mellman, a musical scholar and voracious consumer of new bands, made it his mission to keep Julie Ruin up to date. “The last thing I wanted was for it to start looking like a ’90s revival,” he said.
The album, which the band created for around $ 50,000, is energetically punk, with new-wave synths and beats. (LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy mixed “Just My Kind”; Ms. Hanna did the same for the single “Oh Come On.) Lyrically, the songs take a dark turn. The title song is about a tumultuous childhood. “Party City” is defiant about death. There are several hard-hitting figures on euthanasia.
“It looks really cute,” Mr. Mellman said. “So it’s like the kitten with the claws.”
Ms. Hanna said that she always liked to juxtapose the sweet and the sad with the silly. And writing without a specific political agenda was a liberation: Bikini Kill and Le Tigre have covered that ground, she said, and a new generation of artists and writers, including the Pussy Riot, are rallying. Ms Hanna has found sidekicks like Tavi Gevinson, editor of Rookie children’s magazine.
More jumps may be in his future. She designs for a still unknown fashion brand with Ms. Wilcox. With her husband, she created a television comedy starring downtown artists Bridget Everett, Neal Medlyn and Murray Hill; they buy the script. She plans to write country songs and do a one-woman show at 60.
Being forced to take an artistic toll because of her illness was not easy. “I have to live by historicizing myself maybe a little too early,” she said. “I mean, I’m 44, I’m not 80.”
Then again, she says, “it’s really liberating. I am not a 20-year-old ingenuous who reinvents the wheel. In a way, the pressure is off. I’m just happy to be here. Its contribution has been documented. “So now I can do whatever I want and I have confidence that I am a good artist. “