Before this new Julie Ruin album, you hadn’t put out any new music since the last Le Tigre record in 2004, and you hadn’t recorded under the name Julie Ruin since your solo record back in 1997. Why now?
I got very sick. I got Lyme disease—late-stage Lyme disease. I’m in remission now, but it was very difficult. I had a PICC line in my arm for nine months, and my wonderful husband gave me IVs almost every day. It was a really intense, awful two years of treatment. I can’t describe it to you in words. But getting really sick was one of the reasons I started a band again, because it made me realize how important it is for me to perform and make music. I think I kind of took it for granted. And because I was kind of told by my body and told by my doctors that I couldn’t do it, I was like, I have to do it. I have to get better. It really gave me something to look forward to: being with my band and writing when I felt well enough. It took two or three years to make this record, because I could only sing on days when I could stand up. And I could only perform on days when I was well enough.
But the thing that also happened was that I realized that I’d gotten into this role of writing these songs that should be there. They were the songs that I wanted when I was 15—I was writing to my 15-year-old self in Bikini Kill. And then I was writing to myself in my 20s. And then I was writing to myself when I was 25. And I was writing to the kids who wrote me letters, who said, “I’m trying to come out and my family’s rejecting me and I feel suicidal,” and I was like, What’s the song to write? It was always coming from my heart, and it wasn’t bullshit, but at a certain point doing that starts to feel like you’re a waitress and you’re asking people if they want cream with their coffee, and you’re not an artist anymore. But once I got sick, I was just like, Fuck it, I don’t want to do that.
My first solo record—my only solo record—was made under an assumed name, Julie Ruin. I made that at a time when Bikini Kill was breaking up, and I was very much known as the radical, militant, evil feminist. I was the feminazi bitch from Bikini Kill! It started getting to me that I was expected to write a feminist anthem every day when I woke up, and I wanted to just get away from that. So before Sasha Fierce, there was Julie Ruin! I made the record under an assumed name that was really personal. It was the first time that I produced myself and wrote everything myself. I taught myself to play guitar. I taught myself to use a sampler.
This [new] band is called the Julie Ruin because I’m at that same place now. I don’t want to do the thing I’m supposed to do—I just want to write. I just want to write for me. I trust myself as an artist; I trust that my core values are going to show up on the record no matter what I do. I’ve never, besides on that [solo] record, just let a song be a song. And I’m not forcing it into, like, This is going to be feminist, or This is going to be anti-police brutality, or whatever. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t know what it’s going to be.
Have you been doing other writing lately? Like zine-making or blogging?
I so rarely write on my own blog, but I’m gonna start doing it every single day! I actually blogged under an assumed name for about a year, mainly because I wanted to be hired to write for this one blog—and not because I’d been in bands. I wanted them to read these essays and like them and want to pay me for them. I wanted to feel like I could do that. Most of the writing I do now is for lectures I give about different topics. The thing I didn’t say in my public speaking video is that it’s really a great idea to sit down with a piece of paper and write down titles for things you want to make. This goes for whether you’re a musician or a lecturer or whatever you do—just make lists. I’ll make a list of titles like “Riot Grrrl: Then and Now” or “The History of Women in Music: from this period to this period,” or anything I’m interested in. And then I’ll write a lecture about that eventually.
When you were writing essays, what were some of the topics you wanted people to notice you for, outside of your musical career?
I don’t want to say, because I don’t want anybody to find them!
That’s OK! Have you been curating or making art?
Right now, everything is the record. Everything is the Julie Ruin’s Run Fast. We started our own record label, so we’re doing press and our own website. It’s like starting a small business. That’s my life. But I love Photoshop, so I Photoshop all of these installations that I want to make. I actually have all of these pieces of visual art that I just need to complete after the cycle of the record is done. And I really want to do it all myself, because I’m not the kind of person who hires an assistant.
Having made a body of work that—a lot of it—was really personal, do you feel like you’re ever going to want to go back and, like, write your life story? Or do you feel like that’s already out there?
I’d love to write my life story. I just feel like it would be really weird to do before I’m like 60, you know what I mean? I’m still making work. Part of the point of The Riot Grrrl Collection and donating my papers to NYU’s Fales Library was making it all available for the next generation, who will do better than we did. And I’m completely confident of that. Every 20 years, the people involved with a particular feminist movement have changed enough and grown enough as people that they’ve been able to come out and be honest about the damage that happened near the end [of that movement]. I’m at that place now. Having this work available, I think, will make younger women excited again, the same way I got to learn from books like Daring to Be Bad, which was about the late-’60s and -’70s feminist movements. Sarah Marcus wrote Girls to the Front, and more Riot Grrrl people hopefully will start writing their books. I’m not one of them. I’ve been able to put that stuff in the past, to a certain extent, because I wrapped it up in a bow as a present and I gave it to Fales—actually, I gave it to them in totally messy, sloppy boxes and a filing cabinet—because having that shit in my basement felt like a burden I was carrying. And now it’s off. It was like carrying 20 tons of bricks in my backpack, and I took the backpack off and gave it to someone else and walked away from it. I really had to go through every single paper and face who I was in my 20s and who I was in my early 30s. I feel like I’m able to move on now and make new work. Then hopefully after I make a bunch of new work and then have to get away from that, I can—you know, when I’m 60—have my one-woman show and my autobiography.
There’s definitely stuff I think people would find interesting about my life that hasn’t been in the The Punk Singer. That’s when I realized that I do need to write a book, because there is so much stuff that was like, Oh, that would have been so good in there! But you can’t really tell anyone’s life story in an hour.