The Julie Ruin's Kathleen Hanna on finding strength through music
I saw footage of Bikini Kill in the movie The Punk Singer that was being made about me, and I felt like I was light years away from that. I could barely walk up the stairs. And then I would write a song with my new band and feel like, "I still am that person."
SFBG Did battling this disease directly inform any of the tracks on Run Fast?
KH I have a form of Lyme disease that affects my brain, neurological Lyme disease, so during a lot of the record I was having a hard time with language, so I would often say the wrong word. So when I was writing lyrics, I sort of just let that go, I didn't try to go back, it was so much more stream-of-consciousness than I've [ever done]. I was like, why does it have to be a total narrative for every song? Why can't it be abstract?
There are parts of the record where I just go "blah blah blah!" I would go back and fix that when I was feeling better but people would say to put it back in. It sounds alive, it sounds like you. I let that go.
SFBG How collaborative was the songwriting process for the album?
KH In the very beginning when we were writing I would bring in little loops I had made with me singing over it. And I'd be like, "oh, I really like this melody for a verse." And then they would be like, let's have that be the starting point. They really wrote all the music and I wrote the lyrics except for [keyboardist] Kenny [Mellman]'s song, "South Coast Plaza."
SFBG Where did the album art [of a hot pink stuffed creature] come from, and what is it referencing?
KH That cover was made by artist Allyson Mitchell. I went to an art show and saw some of her pieces...[The creature on the cover] is a "familiar" — you know how a witch has a "familiar?" It's from a large project called Ladies Sasquatch, of these huge, 10-foot-tall lesbian sasquatches and then each of them has a familiar, like a tiny doll, that goes with it, and that's what's on the cover.
SFBG It brought up to me the importance of album covers. People don't seem to care about cover art as much anymore, but it is something that has always come up in your back catalogue. [Ed. note — I resisted the urge here to tell her I have one of her album covers tattooed on my upper arm]
KH If I haven't made the actual album cover myself...I've been very instrumental. I made all the Bikini Kill covers beside the very last one. I did all the drawings and graphics for the zines. I've always been really involved. They're really important to me because I started as a visual artist, and I'm addicted to Photoshop. Like, instead of going to a bar and drinking beer, I sit at home with Photoshop. If I would've had Photoshop in the '90s, I would have been a total crazy person.
But I think it's really important to set the tone of the record. There's something really fun and upbeat about [Run Fast] but then there's something really sinister lurking behind it, maybe it's my illness, the fact that Kenny writes a really happy-sounding song about euthanasia, "Party City" is about me confronting death, so it really made sense that we picked this kind of adorable yet creepy character for the cover of the record.
SFBG How did you meet teenage editor Tavi Gevinson, and later end up playing a party for her online magazine, Rookie?
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