You’ve both been in a few different bands, and worked with a few different people really effectively on creative projects. What do you think makes for a good creative partnership?
Kathleen: It’s hard ‘cause I’ve made a lot of bad decisions [laughs]. For me it’s always that I feel like I want to hang out with them. Usually I’m picking someone for a band that I’m probably going to tour with, which is really different than just collaborating on a one-off project. It’s also how I pick my relationship with friends. If I was broken down in a car on the side of the road, who would I want to be with me? The people who make it fun when things suck are the people I want to work with. Of course I like that they can do what they’re supposed to do—like sing, or write, or play well, but that’s a given.
H.C.: Yeah, you need to think of the whole ecosystem pretty early on because being in a band with someone is really different. Collaborating in general is the most intimate thing a person can do, in my opinion. Someone who’s really honest with you, who’s going to be real, and encourage you is important.
Could you tell me about the various styles you’ve both explored? Do you feel a need to try out different things as you keep creating?
Kathleen: As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really loved it when people have asked me to do stuff on a hip hop record, or a country record, or a mixtape, or something. It’s a chance to be directed by other people. I’m usually the one in charge of things, I’m the primary songwriter and the person who’s bringing in most of the ideas, so I really love it when people say, “We want you to do this, this, this, and this.”
In terms of switching genres, I actually had a weird experience where I felt like I had to switch genres because when I was in Bikini Kill, I sang very athletically, and we never had good equipment so I was constantly throwing my voice out. I felt like I had to change my singing style into a more pop-y sound that was easier for me to sing. Also our shows were so violent that in Le Tigre we made the specific choice to do something that a) cost more money so that guys couldn’t just come, spend five dollars, and throw bottles at us, but also changing genres because of safety issues. There was way less violence playing dance music, and [pop] encouraged more of a queer crowd which is what we wanted. I was very happy changing genres, and dance had always appealed to me, so it wasn’t completely all practical matters. When I look back at that, there was a lot of practical stuff, it wasn’t just, “Oh, I want to stretch myself as an artist.” It was like, “I would like to survive to keep performing, and if I keep screaming in the same way I’m not going to make it.”
H.C.: That’s real.
From what I’ve read, Kathleen, much of your work with the album has been in guiding H.C. to musical inspiration. Do you find listening to a wide variety of music really important?
Kathleen: I tend to not listen to much music other than instrumentals when I’m working because I always end up just trying to sound like Belinda Carlisle on a whole album. but I use a lot of artists to talk in shorthand with other artists. “This needs to be more rockabilly, listen to someone Wanda Jackson and see how she’s structuring her songs.”
Do you think there are other significant practical ways you’ve managed to keep making music fresh for yourselves?
Kathleen: I was in a punk band where I occasionally played bass, and played drums terribly, but pretty much was just a singer. We got pretty good at what we did. I learned to play bass pretty well. I learned how to control my voice, and do a lot of different things with it. I learned how to structure songs. When you’re in a punk band, part of the joy is in not knowing what you’re doing. I did really miss that butterfly in my stomach, I’m in love with the feeling that I had at the very beginning. With Le Tigre, we were learning all of the instruments by ourselves so we were like a punk electronic band. We didn’t know what we were doing, and we were back at square one. I didn’t really know the rules, so there’s that whole cliché–I didn’t know I was breaking them. That kept it fresh, and then the fact that there was someone ten years younger than me joining the band, and watching her go through the experience of being in a band for the first time–I lived vicariously through that. Watching JD [Samson] get her footing as a more public person than she’d ever been was something that was heartbreaking, but also reminded me of what it felt like to start out. That was kind of a beautiful gift she gave me. I’m getting corny now.
H.C.: I feel the same way. I played in a punk band, and was very inspired by Bikini Kill, and Riot Grrrl. I didn’t really know I had a voice underneath that at all–I was just screaming, which felt really good. You just start uncovering parts of yourself. I discovered that I had a pretty voice underneath that, and that can apply to other genres. I think for me, not being a learned musician has been really freeing. Earlier in my life, it was intimidating playing with people who, at least where I live, are music theorists, and know how to talk numbers and letters. I never have, and that’s been freeing for me. It’s also been interesting to learn about arrangement and put myself out there as a collaborator for hire. Like Kathleen, I’ve gotten a lot of requests to do a lot of things that are totally out of my wheelhouse, but really pushed me.
Kathleen: I think we both say yes to the weirdest requests we get! [Laughs] The weirdest request you get, you just say yes, and you know you’re going to learn something. ♦