Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna on working with Joan Jett

What was your experience like when you actually got to spend more time in the studio?

Kathleen Hanna: When we recorded [Singles] that was the last version of ‘Rebel Girl’ we recorded and it ended up being on the Singles album. That was an amazing experience. It made me want to go back and record all of our songs again. I feel like a lot of the things I was thinking [before] were kind of naïve. It’s like a guitar player being like, ‘I’m not going to experiment with pedals because that’s not my thing. I want my guitar to sound raw!’

There are so many different things that you can do with your voice, and just because a little bit of reverb can really make my voice shine a lot better and sound fuller, I don’t think it’s a cop-out. I think I was really young and I had these ideas, but the way that they actually translated to the record wasn’t as successful as I would have always liked.

I never listened to our records; we just kept moving and doing new things. But I have listened back now because we’ve re-mastered things and I love the energy of a lot of it and it’s really exciting and I’m really proud all of our records. But definitely taking the time with ‘Rebel Girl’ and other singles with Joan Jett — she had me go through songs and individual lines… It felt like I was in a luxury spa to be perfectly honest. As a singer, I was being taken so seriously and being given so much space and latitude to experiment. I loved it. I really loved having someone outside of me tell me what they heard and then give me notes.

I wasn’t mad about it or whatever. I was like, ‘This is the best experience of my life, because Joan Jett is teaching me essentially how to do vocals in the studio.’ No one had ever done that. That basically laid the framework for the rest of my career. Because I realized how much more I could do. I just had a lot more colors to paint with. I didn’t have to go in and sing and feel as much as possible. It’s about translating that feeling onto the vinyl.

Tell me a little bit more about working with Joan Jett. She’s such a legend and you guys are such a cool pairing.

People made a really big stink about it back then. They were like, ‘You’re not punk rock, you’re working with someone on a major label.’ I was just like, ‘Fuck you. If you get asked to go in the studio and work with Joan Jett, you’re going to say no?! It’s JOAN FUCKING JETT.’ She’s as important to my thing in my head as any punk band that I fucking care about is. It’s just ridiculous.

I immediately had a family feeling with her. I felt like we were family immediately. And to get to work with her and go to her studio sessions and see how she recorded… I learned so much about the board and non-linear editing. She lent a lot of validation to us at a time when we felt pretty aimless.

I thought we were going to get a way better reception than we got from the punk scene and it definitely wasn’t as generous or kind as what I would have expected —aside from Ian MacKaye, who was very generous and took us into the studio. That was our first time recording and we were so freaked out because the studio… we thought it was like a space ship. We thought we would touch something and break it. We were just totally nervous. But I’m really happy that we had that experience.

But when you feel like everyone is coming after you and telling you that you’re not the right kind of feminist or you’re feeling like you’re starting to be rejected in the scene because you’re getting too much attention… and also there’s all these male voices telling you that you’re a fake band, you’re a novelty and you can’t sing…Your songs are stupid. To have someone like Joan Jett say, ‘You matter. You fucking matter. I’m going to champion you.’ She championed so many women behind the scenes over the years, you don’t even know. At people’s worst moments, she’s there. It meant everything to me. She was totally willing to show me everything she knew about recording.