Caught up with the New York–based musical girl gang and tragic mulattos Le Tigre — Kathleen Hanna, Johanna Fateman and lovesexy J.D. Samson (founding member Sadie Benning is on hiatus at the moment) — right before they left town (razor blades in hair) for a whirlwind Japanese tour. Two years ago they released their wonderful debut, Le Tigre, to thunderous acclaim. This year it gets even better, with a new EP called From the Desk of Mr. Lady on Mr. Lady Records. Things got really candid between us. Well, what do you expect from a bunch of half-black chix sitting around talking?
L.A. WEEKLY: After hearing the new superhuman, super EP, all I have to say is, I hate you! You‘re too black, you’re too proud, and you‘re too strong. Right off the bat you come out slugging. And it’s hilarious! How many times have we all wanted to yell at people, “Get off the Internet!”?
JOHANNA FATEMAN: You know, when we were working on that song I was kind of afraid it would come off as anti-technology or too moralistic, as if the Internet can‘t be used in a politically radical way. But we were just assuming that our audience is smart enough to hear our frustration with e-mail petitions and message boards, etc., and our ambivalence about how we can be idealistic, sincere and “political” in a cultural moment where we’re supposed to be, according to journalists, “the phoenix rising from the ashes of riot grrrl” or “the Stooges taking a victory lap in a post-feminist utopia.” As if!
I loved your debut release as well; it has to have been one of the most talked-about releases of the 1999-2000 Edith Wharton season. But this latest one will resonate even stronger, I believe. You‘ve struck such a righteous chord — it’s major!
KATHLEEN HANNA: I‘m actually embarrassed and humiliated right after we put a record out; I have to step inside this weird denial tent. It feels like when you get really drunk at a party and say a bunch of fucked-up (yet ultimately true) things to people, and then you wake up the next morning and you don’t wanna go outside.
So many people are going to hold this new record close to their hearts. I‘ve listened to it over and over, and it makes me feel like I’m being sung to personally.
FATEMAN: We pretty much did write it for you. You know how people always say that thing about artists making work with political content? That they‘re “preaching to the converted”? Well, we’re totally into that. We‘re making music for feminists and queers first and foremost. And that’s a recipe for charm.
It‘s so endearing to see how you’ve managed to change some of the rules in the rock & roll hierarchy. Just the dynamics between performer and audience seem so new and different at your shows.
J.D. SAMSON: In reality, we‘re didactic in many ways when addressing The People out there, but still, we’re extremely available and in a lot of ways expect the same didactic nature back from them. This creates a relationship with the audience that is not only one-sided but conversationalist and therefore comfortable not only for them but for us.
I‘m becoming such a lesbian separatist in my old age. I’ve always loved Valerie Solanas and the SCUM manifesto, which is pure genius, and so right on, I might add. Are you Valerie fans?
HANNA: I think the SCUM manifesto is so important entertainment-wise. It always cheers me up when I‘m down, but I think Valerie herself was probably a nightmare to deal with. You should read Shulamith Firestone’s latest book, Airless Spaces, it has some great stuff about Valerie in it.
When you operate in the underground you‘re a lot more accessible than a mainstream star, with all their bodyguards and ninja security forces. I know we both attract a lot of not the good kind of weirdos and lunatic-fringe elements. Some of those girl-band geeks are harmless, then there are others I hate. They stand there at the front of the stage with that ill look on their faces.
HANNA: I’m personally really into the boys who wear “Girls Rule” T-shirts while driving cars with “Girls Rule” bumper stickers on them after jumping out of airplanes that have just been skywriting “Girls Rule” into the air and then their parachute opens and it says “Girls Rule” on it.
FATEMAN: Right. Perhaps there‘s a psychoanalyst among the L.A. Weekly readership who can explain the male deer-caught-in-headlights-in-the-front-row-with-a-digital-video-camera approach to attending feminist cultural events.
How do you negotiate that sticky terrain of the public and the private?
SAMSON: This mustache I’ve grown since puberty has left me stuck in “the public.” I‘m used to people looking at my hermy face. But I actually feel better now that I can be a positive image for other dykes with facial hair. I spent way too much time afraid to look anyone in the eye on the street, but when I’m onstage or when someone recognizes me, I feel much more comfortable sportin‘ my ’stache with bells hanging from it.
When I first heard “What‘s Yr Take on Cassavetes?” from the first CD, I almost died. What an original approach for a wider commentary. By the way, what’s your favorite Cassavetes film? Mine is A Woman Under the Influence.
SAMSON: Me too!
HANNA: Mine is Opening Night. That Gena Rowlands is incredible.
FATEMAN: I think my favorite is Love Streams.
Have you heard of that Fugazi song that talks about Cassavetes and mentions Gena Rowlands? I‘m not interested in Fugazi, though at one time I did find some of the boys rather attractive, but I’m not into that kind of boy anymore.
HANNA: That‘s not what I heard. I heard you had a three-way with Ian and Joe Lally.
What are some of your favorite filmmakers and movies?
HANNA: I’m really into this videomaker named Cecilia Dougherty. She made a movie called Grapefruit that‘s about the Beatles and Yoko Ono, except all the Beatles and Yoko are played by lesbians.
FATEMAN: Actually, we have a song in her new videotape, Gone, and I did some other sound stuff for it, too.
With the advent of the homocore scene, which was basically created by the great G.B. Jones of Fifth Column as well as the zine JD’s out of Toronto, she had the genius of being critical of both the punk scene for its homophobia and misogyny and the gay scene for its misogyny and lack of appreciation for individuality. How did G.B. Jones influence you kids?
FATEMAN: It was a huge honor for us to play her film retrospective that Homocore Chicago put on. Fifth Column stayed at my house in Portland when they were on tour years ago. After they left, I tried to get my eyeliner like G.B.‘s. I couldn’t achieve it.
HANNA: I personally would not exist as I do now in my present form if not for Homocore and Double Bill. When G.B. makes funny cartoons about killing William Burroughs in retaliation for the fact that he murdered his wife and got away with it, that is the humor that keeps me out of the nuthouse.
Any other projects going down? A Le Tigre movie, perhaps?
HANNA: Well, we did pitch this TV-show idea to ABC. In it, we‘re undercover detectives disguised as a band; I’m the psychic who uses my visions to find clues, Jo is the heavy who roughs people up, and J.D. is the forensics specialist. We go to different towns pretending to tour, but really we‘re solving crimes. Every episode, one of us accidentally takes hallucinogenic drugs and winds up interacting with the characters from The Golden Girls.
I hope it has lots of dancing in it.
HANNA: We’re also planning to have a Vag-a-thon, which is a two-week-long cable-television telethon that involves us dressing up as various American male archetypes (a plumber, a carpenter, a farmer, a football hero, a chef, et cetera) and then fake-masturbating to videos by Dave Matthews. The basic premise for the Vag-a-thon is: People have to send money to us to get us to stop fake-masturbating. For every hundred dollars, we‘ll stop for, like, 10 minutes, and then either Mummenschanz or Susan Anton will perform.
SAMSON: Yeah, that’s the basic concept. We‘ll work the rest out after we build the set.