I wanted to quickly go back to what you were saying about control and letting go and how that plays out on the single “I’m Done.” Your fans have heard you say “I’m done” before, but in a completely different context. Back in 2005 when you claimed to be done with music because you were “out of things to say.” In the documentary made about you, The Punk Singer, you admit that wasn’t the truth, and that you took a break to focus on treating your Lyme disease. How does it feel to reclaim the phrase “I’m done” on these new terms?
It’s weird. When I made the jacket for the video, it could’ve meant “I’m done,” or “I’m exhausted,” or “I can’t do this anymore.” Or it can mean, “I’m done with your fucking shit!” In a way, they’re the same. It reminds me of the first Julie Ruin solo record. There’s a song where it’s like “You make me wanna go away, you make me wanna crochet.” The hate mail, the dudes mansplaining feminism to me on Twitter, or writing me these fucked up messages. Anti-abortion people messing with me. People who somehow get my email address and write these really horrible, horrible things—I was just like, “I’m done taking this personally.” I’m not gonna take this personally anymore. This has nothing to do with me. People don’t know me. If a friend confronts me, and they say, “You know what? You really fucked up. You hurt my feelings,” then I’m gonna listen. I’m gonna work on myself. I’m gonna work really hard because I care so much about my friends. But this anonymous bullshit—”she looks ugly” or whatever. I’m just like, I can’t take this in. I’m done. It could be [understood as] really sad. It could be like, “I’m done. I’m gonna stop doing music and stop being involved in this process because I’m sick of. I don’t like being in the public eye part of it.” But I like performing on stage. It is interesting that it could mean both things, but I sing it in a powerful way. I’m not gonna go in my apartment and go crochet for the rest of my life and not talk to anyone. I sing it in the way of like, “I’m done with you.”
Sexist internet trolls have become an alarming problem for female artists, and you address them personally several times on Hit Reset. In fact, you call out their inappropriate behavior in similar way to how you did to the abuse on stage at Bikini Kill shows. How can we apply the same philosophy that you brought to making live shows safe spaces for women to something as vast and faceless as the internet? Can we ever make it a safe space for women?
I think definitely Facebook groups that are invite-only are a really valuable way for people to connect with each other, and I’ve been involved with a couple of those that have really helped me out. I do think that there can be good things. Like Jessica Hopper’s project [on Twitter]: Last year, she asked female musicians and audio engineers and other people to write in about sexist experiences they’d had in the music industry.
I feel like we can just support each other. You can’t really change other people’s behavior, but I think part of it is being like, “This is a basketball game, and they’re talking shit on me and trying to get me to drop the ball, and I’m not gonna drop the ball.” You know what I mean? “I’m not gonna take this personally. I’m gonna keep playing because I’m on a mission.”
I saw Jessica Hopper giving a lecture, and she was showing some of the things that women had written in response to her tweet, and also spoke about that recent thing with that publicist guy who has been sexually assaulting women for years and years and years. There are so many more [instances of abuse.] Other female musicians, and other gay musicians and musicians of color that are targeted.
I always get asked, “Why aren’t there more women in music?” blah blah blah. Once or twice a year, I get asked to be in articles about how bad it is for women in music, and I’m really sick of it. I feel like men need to get together and read all of those tweets that got sent to Jessica Hopper and be like, “How are we going to change this?” Because I’m not going to change men’s sexist behavior. I’m not the head of a publishing company who has somebody sexually assaulting the artists that we’re working with working under me. I don’t have the power to fire the person the second I hear it. I really just hope that men go out and find venues that are diverse, that are welcoming, that have all different kinds of music played there, all different kinds of people coming there and say, “How do I make a venue like this? Tell me what you know. Tell me how you’re doing this. How do you I advertise in neighborhoods I’m not used to? Where are the local newspapers in this neighborhood that I’ve never been to?”
There are so many different things that people can do if they just think about it. If they read a lot of the tweets that Jessica got sent. There are so many men who are so abusive, I have to say. We have a sound person that we work with now, and so he deals with that for us because I literally can’t take it anymore.
Oh, you bring your own sound guy? Good move!
He goes with the crew and everything. And it’s not like everyone in every crew is sexist. There have been some lovely sound men. There have also been ones who have threatened to shock me on the mic, or turn my vocals all the way down if I don’t tell them if I’m married or single. But I don’t want to be the person who is preaching about sexism. I want to be asked to come to the table when people are trying to figure out solutions. I think everybody who sent in a tweet to Jessica Hopper should be honored by men in the industry, or in their local scene reading those things saying, “How can I make a change?” That’s the article I want to start seeing being written: This is how we’re changing. This is our blueprint for change. Here’s how it works. We tried this, but it didn’t work. We tried this, but it did work. Start spreading the news. Start spreading what works.
Do you isolate all of your projects and monikers when you set out to write a new record? How do you negotiate between those voices?
I didn’t really think about it. That was the other part of giving up control, and I think a lot of times there was a bit of a reactionary in me to Bikini Kill, since Bikini Kill was a live band. Then Le Tigre was this video-art, feminist electronic thing where we had DVDs and costumes and it was all electronic. We played guitar and stuff and we programmed everything, but it was a totally different thing. It was much more of this art experiment, and part of it was because I didn’t want to do Bikini Kill again. I needed to set things to be really different from Bikini Kill because I just don’t want this to be compared to it. I think with the Julie Ruin, it again has been this real freedom thing where it’s like, “Look. I’m myself. I’ve been in Le Tigre, I’ve been in Bikini Kill, you know. I’ve been in a couple of other side projects or whatever, but I am just gonna make whatever I make.” And I’m not gonna think like, Does this sound like Bikini Kill? Does this sound like Le Tigre? When it came out, I was like, “This sounds actually like Le Tigre mixed with Bikini Kill. In a good way! And I really like it!” I’m really proud of those projects. Really proud. Everything comes together. This project gets all. Everything I’ve learned over the years comes together. Because I am the person who has done these things, so of course they would. I started being proud of those things and not trying to be in opposition with them, and so I think I just let everything come out.
So much has changed since the days you recorded the first Julie Ruin with your drum machine. Do you still make demos by yourself in your room like that?
Cool! What is your process?
It’s kind of like—I’ll make a loop of something. I’ll find a drum loop, and then I’ll play guitar over it. Or I’ll find a loop off of some old cassette and I’ll just get a basic melody and a basic idea for it at first and bring it in. So kind of rewrite it a little bit and make it fuller and more complicated and then [the band] will go into the chorus together. But then there are other songs where [Julie Ruin member] Kenny [Mellman] has brought stuff in. It’s basically like now everybody is writing in their bedroom and bringing it in. We’re all writing. It’s the best of both worlds, to write using the internet, and to write by yourself in a room. And being with your band, because you can kind of do stuff and try stuff. Especially if you’re doing vocals, and it’s so embarrassing to hit some weird notes—and you’re going to. You’re just going to! You’re trying to figure out the song. You’re just gonna sing some random shit and see what fits. I think I’ve gotten to a lot more interesting places with things, sometimes lyrically, because I’ve been alone. When I’m working out vocal lines. And then I edit it and picked the best stuff.
I remember you said in The Punk Singer how much you wanted that first record to sound like it was made by a girl alone in her room.
[This time] I have other people to help me edit, who are outside of me. I’m older now, and so I’m not as fragile as I was 20 years ago. It was kind of nerve-racking to sing something in front of somebody because what if they hated it? It’s great to be able to have this time to work on my own and then to go in and share it with everybody and also to be hearing what people are making at their apartments alone because we all make stuff. [Julie Ruin member] Kathi [Wilcox] will be like, “Here’s a bass line,” and we’ll start writing a song. I’ll sample someone else’s idea. It definitely does feel like the best of both words, and sometimes it feels easier to get criticism on the internet. Although we’re mature enough to say to each other that’s not working. We record everything.
The video we’re premiering today for “I’m Done” is more or less a karaoke video! Except you’re singing karaoke to your own song. Are you a big karaoke person? What are your go-to’s?
I used to be a karaoke host at a gay bar in Olympia, [Washington,] and I used to do the Clash “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” but I would do it singing, “Am I a good karaoke host now,” and I changed a lot of lyrics around, but I think “I Will Always Love You” by Dolly Parton is a pretty classic one to do if I’m up for it. I love Cyndi Lauper “True Colors”—come on. And any Carole King, I’ll do. And then any Kool & the Gang, or Earth, Wind & Fire. Those are kind of my go tos. It’s a celebration, come on! ♦