There’s a freedom in admitting there are things we can’t control, and that really comes through on this record, especially on the first single from the record, “I Decide.”
You have to admit sometimes that bad, fucking random shit happens. That doesn’t mean that I can’t make as smart decisions as I can make, but I can’t control the universe. Part of writing this record, for me, has been letting go. Letting go of forcing a song to be a certain thing and just letting it be as weird as it wants to be. Letting the lyrics come, and when they scare me, being like, “Oh well. I don’t care. I’m gonna tell it. I’m gonna tell my story. I’m gonna say the shit about my dad I always wanted to say, because it feels really cathartic, and to be able to thank my mom for saving my life, and being the guy that kept me going.” I mean, it’s super corny and every time I listen to [the song “Claverton,”] I’m like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe I actually put this out.” I’m embarrassed! But at the same time, it’s for my fucking mom. I just want her to know. When I’m writing a love song, a lot of the time it’s written about my mom and how genuine our connection is.
It was cathartic to write about that, and then also cathartic to write a song like “Mr. So and So,” which is about all the shit I’ve experienced in my illustriously long career. It’s a long list of things that have happened to me and to many of my friends I’m sure, and to many other people [associated with riot grrrl]. I just always wanted to say it. I feel like a lot of times you have to be nice to the sound man even if he’s being a total asshole to you because he controls what your voice is gonna sound like to the crowd. You know?
A lot of the times, if the sound guy is a total dick, I just smile and take it because to me the show is everything. It’s everything. Whatever I have to do to make it a good show, I will do it. I’ve had to keep my mouth shut so many times. Towards promoters. Towards sound men. Towards whatever. You know, towards fans who kind of like me in what I consider the wrong way. You know what I mean? Who just kind of like want to grab my butt or some shit. It’s just really cathartic to write a song like “Mr. So and So,” and have it be funny and sarcastic. And to admit that I’m singing from the perspective of that person. Because as a person with white privilege and class privilege in this world, I also can have the power to tokenize other people.
Definitely. The line in that song that goes “jumping out of an airplane with a T-shirt that says ‘Girls Rule,'” addresses this “martyr for the cause” attitude that a lot of people associate with you, given all the abuse you took fronting bands like Bikini Kill and Le Tigre. You’ve mentioned before that you like to play with tokenism in your lyrics, and that’s so present on this album. Do find the modern depiction of riot grrrl to be a bit cliché?
I don’t really know. I don’t keep up with that much of it. I see stuff on Twitter or whatever. I’m always happy when people are doing feminist things in their life, and I’m most happy, of course, when they’re realizing that racism and sexism and class and gender identity is all wrapped up in each other. It’s not the same thing ever, but they connect with each other in various people’s lives. They overlap. Some people have some privilege in some way and not some privilege in another way. Really wield the limited amount of privilege that they do have. You know what I mean? In a negative way. It’s just something that we’ve gotta face. Something about this wave isn’t the same as it was in the ’90s. And I don’t want it to be all white women talking about racism only amongst themselves. I think it’s gross.
I know you’ve talked about it before—how you see the flaws in it now.
I mean, I saw it then. I left [the riot grrrl movement] pretty early. People don’t realize. I went to a couple of meetings. Some meetings in D.C. Yeah, me and Allison [Wolfe, of Bratmobile] were the ones who called the first meeting, and then I went to some in other towns and other cities to sort of see the different vibes of different ones. I had to decide: Do I want to be a political leader or do I want to do music? And I was like, the music has gotta be enough. I can’t do both.
I was never the leader. I was definitely never the leader. We were touring a lot more than other bands that have a strong political message, and I think that we got a lot of attention ’cause we’re white and kind of cute. So it was like they took our picture and people started knowing about us. Then the good and the bad and the ugly came out, and it was really hard because I didn’t want to be the leader. But I was resented for being the leader, and I was like, “Well nobody is paying me. I’m still broke. If I’m a leader of a movement, shouldn’t I be making some money so I can survive? I have to strip and fucking play shows with Bikini Kill to make my rent.” But I really did make a conscious decision to kind of step away and be like, “This seems like something more for young people.” I was in my mid-late 20s, and it seemed like something better for younger people and for them to shape.
Basically, you and Allison Wolfe created a punk feminist vocabulary and said “Run with it.”
Yeah, and make it whatever you want. I don’t own it. We never trademarked it. I’m actually talking to somebody who bought the “riot grrrl” trademark or something online. This guy who said he didn’t want anybody to get it and use it for bad things.
Yeah, so I was like, “If you own the trademark, and there’s tons of people making T-shirts, maybe we can find a charity or something that all that money can go to or a feminist group?” You know what I mean? That is actually intersectional, that the money can go to. So yeah. It’s kind of interesting. I’m like, I wish I could’ve gotten the trademark for that reason. We still can’t get one for “girl power” unfortunately. I know. I can prove the “girl power” [trademark] though in a court of law!
You should! Or everyone will just continue to to associate it with the Spice Girls.
I have no time. That’s the thing. I have no time to do anything. Between rehearsal and working on new stuff and making the videos, I have no time.