When I was a teenager and just fumbling for a sense of what it meant to have a feeling, an idea, an impulse—and to articulate it on paper—I was listening to Kathleen Hanna sing about that same process as the leader of the seminal Riot grrrl band Bikini Kill, and later, as the frontperson of Le Tigre. At fourteen, I was just starting to try to name what it felt like to be a girl, to be angry, and to tell a story that maybe someone else could relate to. Hanna was articulating these same ideas and emotions at a time when I had yet to fully comprehend them.
Through my girlfriend—who is making a film about Hanna called The Punk Singer—I’ve gotten the opportunity to get to know Kathleen and to talk to her about the similarities and differences between our artistic processes.
Making something out of the everything inside you is hard. Sending that something out into the world is a whole other kind of hard. That, I’ve learned firsthand. Before our conversation, I suspected that Kathleen knew a lot more about it than I did, twenty years into a career that shows no sign of slowing. I was right. She knows a lot about the pain of making good work, the risks and rewards inherent in seeing something through to its truest form. And she knows about the hell of online commenters, of Googling oneself, and how one hate letter can outweigh a hundred love letters on the wrong day. She also knows something about moving past all that. About how we might all do better to take some cues from Beyoncé.
Melissa Febos I have to warn you, all my questions are about process.
Kathleen Hanna I love talking about process.
MF It’s my favorite topic, really. Plus, I was just in the woods working on this novel for a month.
KH And I’m in the middle of writing an album.