Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry Interviews Riot Grrl Pioneer Kathleen Hanna: On DIY, Feminist Protest And Dealing With Critics

Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry once confessed to NME that she once ditched an ex boyfriend because he didn’t understand her love of Bikini Kill. When we hooked her up with the legendary band’s founder – riot grrrl pioneer, feminist icon and punk tour-de-force Kathleen Hanna – last April, she revealed that it wasn’t just her romantic choices that were shaped by her work. Hanna’s music, from the punk screech of Bikini Kill to the electro-disco of Le Tigre, was a key inspiration behind Chvrches’ fiercely DIY attitude, and the reason Lauren pursues her feminist collective in Glasgow (called Tuck Your Cunt In) with such vigour. With Chvrches’ new album in the can, to celebrate, here’s their conversation in full, online for the first time…

Lauren Mayberry: “One of the things that I always think is really interesting about your work is how you were so successful in making feminism less abstract and more approachable. Tell me a bit more about why you wanted to start doing that, and how you went about it.”

Kathleen Hanna: “In the ‘90s, there was this huge backlash against feminism. A lot of articles came out saying, ‘We don’t need feminism anymore’ because there was this belief that women were already equal. I was worried about feminism. Me and my sister were the first people in my family to go to college. It felt really important to share the knowledge I was getting at school with people who wanted to go to school – even people who believed that feminism is only about having hairy legs and hating men.”


Lauren: “It startles me that people still think that. In a recent interview, somebody asked me, ‘Do you think that you’re marginalising people by saying the feminist things you say in interviews? Do you not think that you’ll come across as angry?’ I was like, ‘Erm… I think I’m angry about stuff that’s important to be angry about. I’m not going to stomp about and be completely outraged all the time, unless it’s called for!’”

Kathleen: “It’s really weird. I’ve felt that way on tour sometimes. There’s a stereotype that all feminists are kind of joyless, so I feel like when I arrive at a show I have to be extra nice to everybody to prove that that’s not the case. Do you ever feel that pressure?”

Lauren: “Sometimes. I think especially on tour days where I’ve not slept and I just want to keep to myself, I feel like if I do that, people are gonna say, ‘She’s such a bitch’. I feel it’s important to make a good impression with everybody you meet in venues and at festivals. But feel like we’ve been lucky – people have been reasonably supportive of us to our faces. Most of the shit we get is comments at shows and on the internet. The internet is half amazing and half really evil I think.”

Kathleen: “I’ve been told, ‘The only reason your band got attention is because you’re a girl’. And it’s like, yeah, the only reason my band got so much shit and had to put up with so much more than my male counterparts did is because we’re female. When I was in Bikini Kill, it wasn’t the internet but reviews. One review in a so-called alternative magazine just said ‘fuck you’ 11 times! It’s the same thing now, but it’s just online. You have to have a strong enough sense of self to be like, this is toxic and I’m going to delete it and do my best to forget it. How are you dealing with that these days?”

Lauren: “It depends. I’m trying to develop a thick skin. I think generally I’m pretty tough. But if I read the wrong thing at the wrong time, it’s surprising to me how quickly I can descend into complete neurosis. I guess I’m torn between wanting to continue to talk to people on the social networks that essentially got our band to where it is now, and the part of me who realises that’s not necessarily a healthy thing to see every day. I saw your documentary The Punk Singer and I was so struck by the bit where you talk about what people would say to you when you were in Bikini Kill. I cried a little bit because I was like, ‘I think I’ve got problems!’ It was so brave, what you did. It really is an amazing documentary – you shared so much. Was it a big decision to make a film like that?”


Kathleen: “I was really sick and I thought I was going to die [Kathleen was later diagnosed with Lyme disease]. I realised that if something bad was gonna happen to me, I wanted to make sure I was remembered. So I let the film be made and I didn’t edit it or choose what was in it, that was up to the filmmaker. I think the fact that I was really sick when it was being made really influenced how vulnerable I was able to be. I was at the end of my rope.”

Lauren: “The tone was perfect. I have all your records and have read all your interviews and perceived one person, and it was really cool to see a different side to you. I guess that’s what a good documentary is meant to do.”

Kathleen: “Did you think that I was a really strong person who had a super amount of confidence and then you saw the movie and realised I was a mess?!”

Lauren: “I think that was what really got me with it… It was quite a weird time for us as a band. We’d just finished having debates with labels and figuring out what we were gonna do. And I think I was feeling like I’d spent so much time saying no to things, things that I thought it were better for us in the long run. I just felt like, ‘Ugh…I’m always that guy’, you know? The difficult one. Then I watched your film and realised you’ve done all these amazing things and have inspired me in so many ways, but I started to see that everybody can’t be completely strong all the time. In a way it’s the vulnerabilities that make people who they are. That’s why I wept when I saw it, right before we played a show!”

Kathleen: “In my life I went through a ‘no, no, no’ phase, and then I just went to ‘yes, yes, yes’! A lot of the anti-feminist hatred I got towards Bikini Kill made me start saying no. We stopped doing interviews because the very few times we did they were absolutely awful. People would just be like, ‘So, did your father rape you? Is that why you’re so angry?’ They would only ever ask me about being a stripper and never about my music. It became too painful.

“We actually said no to most documentation of the band. A lot of the footage in the documentary was done without our permission. I had to go back to these people I’d yelled at for filming us and ask them if we could have the tapes! But eventually you grow and learn and we hired a friend of ours to document our tour so that we had a good record of what we did. That was when I started saying yes again.”

Lauren: “What’s it like being back on the road now with The Julie Ruin? You’ve had so much time out – was it hard to build up the stamina again?”

Kathleen: “It’s been really great. I haven’t physically crashed afterward or anything which is the fear. I’m taking it easier and I just feel so much more thankful than I ever did. I’m really thankful that I’m not 23 and in Bikini Kill anymore and taking the abuse that we took back then. There’s so many people inspiring //me// now, I’m not totally weighed down by trying to write the next feminist anthem or whatever. I really like your record, by the way…”

Lauren: “Oh wow, that’s so kind of you!”

Kathleen: “What are you guys doing next?”

Lauren: “At the moment we’re booked up until after festivals. After that, we’re going to pull the live stuff back so we can start writing. It’s weird because we started the band as a kind of writing project. We didn’t really know how much we’d tour it. It’s gone to the opposite extreme now, so I think it will be good to do something more creative. Playing shows is really amazing and it’s insane to me that more than 10 people come. But I think it’ll be good for us to keep the brain busy.”

Kathleen: “We’re in exactly the same place! I’m already starting to write because I get bored very easily. Although I love playing live and trying to figure out how to make songs more interesting, it’s fun to think about not pleasing people when you’re writing. I miss the cocoon of writing…”

Lauren: “Sometimes the cocoon is the best bit.”

Kathleen: “What you said about playing to 10 people is funny because at the time you wish you had a bigger audience, but then sometimes you miss that challenge. That’s why I miss playing festivals where people don’t know who you are, because you have to prove yourself.”

Lauren: “We came from indie backgrounds and it’s been weird having people tell us, ‘You’re not alternative anymore, you’re not DIY any more’. It’s weird dealing with other people’s perceptions because we’re still totally involved in everything that we’re doing; we just play music that sounds less obscure. It’s weird juggling those expectations. I don’t know if you found that when you started to make different kinds of music?”

Kathleen: “I didn’t know that that was still going on and I’m not pleased to hear that it is. In the ‘90s everything was about indie versus mainstream and if you were on a major label you were a super asshole. So you had to do everything DIY. We were so DIY to the point that I started to feel like there’s this whole sexist thing where women are supposed to volunteer all the time and do work for free. Later on, we started charging more money for shows, and that actually cut down on how many people came and threw bottles at our heads, which was great. And we got a manager…

“We were on a major label for like, five minutes for one record. It wasn’t successful and I didn’t get what I wanted out of it. But I did learn that people who work at major labels are just people. The music scene was so dogmatic about it in the ‘90s. But I realised that it was my choice, and women should have choices about how we get our art into the world. That’s what feminism is about, not this dogma of what it means to be punk or DIY or feminist. How could I criticise a major label if I didn’t even know what they’re about? It’s like criticising a book you haven’t read. It wasn’t for me, which is why The Julie Ruin has its own label. Like you guys do, too. I really love your band and what you’re doing and your voice is so fucking incredible. We were gonna cover one of your songs and I was like, ‘It’s too hard!’”

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