With their second full-length, Feminist Sweepstakes, NYC's Le Tigre unveils a new lineup and a return to the danceable, beat box-driven grooves of their debut. JD Samson, taking the spot vacated by video artist Sadie Benning, had actually been touring with the band as their projectionist before becoming a full-fledged member during the making of this album. She joins former Bikini Kill frontwomen Kathleen Hannah and 'zine queen Johanna Fateman in the musical feminist collective--all three members switch off instruments and vocal duties.
Once again, Le Tigre chose Chapel Hill--Chris Stamey's Modern Recording Studio, that is--as the place to get their sounds on tape. The band's other local connection is that they're on Durham's Mr. Lady Records. In fact, Mr. Lady co-owner, artist and video maker Tammy Rae Carland, makes her vocal debut on "Tres Bien" and Butchies' drummer Melissa York does a live drum track for "Keep on Livin'."
From the Peaches-inspired, triple-R sassiness of "Well Well Well" to the Centipede samples (you know--the sound the little mushrooms make as they fall to the bottom of the screen) of "Dyke March 2001," Le Tigre invite you to their party; check your non-PC baggage at the door. The disc boasts lots of chunky fuzz guitar parts--check out the ripping, "futuristic garage" (Fateman's description) of "Shred A"--along with guest stars like L.A. drag queen Dr. Vaginal Creme Davis (credited for "sounds of ecstasy" on "Well Well Well"). But the trio's feminist agenda never overshadows the music: catchy, almost playground-style melodies and chants over retro beats and sounds that call to mind early Atari video games. It's booty-shakin' in a stripped down, old-school hip hop kind of way.
In a recent phone call from their New York publicist's office, Fateman and Samson talked to the Indy about music, feminism and how they manage to keep their vintage drum machines and retro gear working on tour.
"We finally realized that triggering everything via MIDI onstage was kind of chancy," admits Fateman, laughing. "Yeah, it was either going to break, or we were gonna have heart attacks trying to get it all to work." So the band decided to become more "evolved," technically speaking. "The beats, and some of the samples, are on a pre-recorded track, Fateman says. "On this tour they'll be on DVD because we're going to have video projected behind us."
The group had the songs "basically finished" when they arrived in North Carolina. After assembling the tracks' samples and drum parts and doing the vocals, the trio then has to "figure how to play them live," says Samson.
Yet there isn't a whole lot of actual guitar playing on the album: "Kathleen would play something and give it to Jo [Fateman], and then she'd sample it," Samson explains.
"It sounds like we're playing a lot of guitar on the record, but actually we only played like ... one riff," quips Fateman.
Le Tigre pays tribute to fellow sampler and sexually explicit performance artist Peaches on "Well Well Well."
"We played a show with her in Berlin when we toured Europe last year, and it was so much fun," says Fateman. "We did this interview with her where we got to know her really well, where we interviewed each other, for a Web TV overseas program."
While Peaches is XXX-rated, her performances are liberating: Peaches sings and raps over pre-recorded tracks, promoting a sort of all-inclusive sexuality from a distinctly female point of view. You can see the parallels between these artists: chick self-esteem. Which is exactly what Le Tigre tackles on "TGIF," a song about trying to keep a sense of identity in a numbingly brainless job.
"We wanted that song to just be about remembering who your community is and what defines you. It doesn't have to be your job or your career," says Fateman. "Almost everyone we know has a crappy job that they hate; even if it's a 'good' job, it's not what you want to be doing, especially when you're an artist and you don't have enough time or resources to devote to your art.
"Even when you make a conscious separation, like, 'OK, this is my job. It's not who I am,' it has an insidious way of creeping into your conception of self," she says, "and things that happen to you on the job can totally affect your self-esteem and your whole outlook. Like, you're like a total genius artist and then your manager is this complete buffoon, but you're still subordinated to his will."
While the group's lyrics address multi-gender issues, to a large degree Le Tigre is seen as a lesbian-oriented group. Do they ever wonder if they're alienating potential "straight" fans?
"No," says Samson, laughing. "I kind of feel like they're actually really into that."
"I don't even think of it being lesbian-oriented as much as lesbian-inclusive," Fateman adds. She points to their song, "Bang Bang," (on the EP) where they brought in "boys" for the protest chant at the end.
"We wanted to make a point of, 'This is about police brutality,'" Fateman says. "It's a community issue that includes women and men, and I think there are a lot of issues on our records that are relevant to women and men--straight people and gay people, all kinds of people."
While Hannah's angry-girl vocal screams can be an acquired taste, the wit and sincerity of the lyrics, the humor and catchiness of the beats and melody lines, insure that the group's chick-power polemic never squashes their sense of celebration. And while they're overtly political, there's something almost Hello Kitty-cute about Le Tigre: On the album cover, they're all wearing hot pink with red sequined accessories; Hannah's finger rests nonchalantly in a bowl of dip while they go through a pile of "feminist sweepstakes entries." The trophy, an obviously homemade gold glitter-covered female symbol, sits on the table. Maybe it's the cute drawings of the "prizes" on the back, including a cordless drill, copy machine, video camera and a stack of books that includes the title Lesbian Ethics. "All the things you need to be a good feminist," quips Samson.
Being visual artists as well, Le Tigre put an equal emphasis on their video projections. For their current tour, they have 20 different videos in production for the songs, including works by Elizabeth Subrin and K8 Hardy, along with a piece by an NYC gay youth group that works with alternative media organization Paper Tiger Television (for the track "Keep on Living").
"It's been really fun to collaborate with people," says Fateman, adding that the band recently filmed a female martial arts class. They're also using footage sent to them by an all-female break dance crew, along with one clip Fateman describes as "eye candy with a little bit of an edge."
The videos, edited to accentuate the songs' beats, contribute to the dance club vibe--the backfield-in-motion agenda--of the group's live performances. Attending a Le Tigre show is sort of like hanging out with your worldly, informed older sister who, while letting you party with her and her friends, insists that you learn something in the bargain. And Hannah unapologetically uses the stage to educate as well as entertain: At one local show she told the audience that, contrary to the jaded hipster trend where it's uncool to be sincere about your beliefs, being PC is really what it's all about.
But being PC doesn't mean these shows are pedantic. You could be a non-English speaking concertgoer and still throw down.
"We enjoy so much when people want to enjoy our music and dance around and use their bodies and go crazy and feel happy--and with the political content not leaving the room," Samson says. "It's so fun to see that people are able to be happy and be political at the same time."