Le Tigre create edgy, grooving transmissions that are fashioned at the intersection of punk and electronica. Mixing noisemakers for the new millenium in their rehearsal space-laboratory, Kathleen Hanna [Bikini Kill, Julie Ruin], Johanna Fateman and J.D. Samson trade off sampling guitar wrangling and beat creation duties. Beginning with their self-titled debut, Le Tigre have embraced home recording and electronic manipulation. With their third release, Feminist Sweepstakes (Mr. Lady Records), they've continued their assault on mediocrity with songs that taunt, incite, and celebrate- offering not only sharp cultural critique, but hip-shakin' good time. I spoke with Kathleen and Johanna about their "feminist-electronic-garage music".
What's your songwriting process? Do you generally start with a drumbeat, a riff, or a vocal melody? Or do you jam to come up with something and go from there?
Kathleen: We actually just started incorporating jamming into our songwriting process on this record, really minimally, but the way we typically have started is with a sample. For our first record we would take a whole bar of music or a few bars which included drums, maybe keyboards and guitars, and loop that and then sing over it and work from there and then try to change it up enough so that it wasn't boring.
Johanna: For the first record those long samples were generally done on an Ensoniq Mirage, which is this really old sampler. They are actually crappy- sounding samples because we made such long ones. So the sound of the first record, which to me really characterizes a lot of the songs, are these really stretched out, bad — as in poor, low resolution — samples.
Do you still use that sampler?
It bit the dust?
J: It sucks. We both have them in our closets.
K: They're as big as we are and weigh more then we do.
Wow, that's impressive.
K: But we updated to an MPC60 for this album with 8 channels out and an upgrade.
J: The upgrade gave us more memory. It's an Akai MIDI Production Center [MPC], which means it's a sampler and a sequencer in one, so it sequences samples internally to make drumbeats or whatever, but it can also trigger other instruments — it's a MIDI trigger. We actually upgraded before the record because we had to figure out how to produce the music made on our first record live. So it was a ridiculously painstaking process of re- sampling stuff from the Mirage and from drum machines and resequencing it all and now we solved our problem by putting it on minidisc, because why bother? It's still playback, whether or not it's live MIDI or it's on a minidisc.
It seems like you're eliminating some possible hazards too.
K: Definitely. We had stuff break too often on the first couple of tours. For our actual process, the MPC became sort of the center of our songwriting for this album. I got a bunch of weird records from Canada and sampled a bunch of stuff and then shared them with J.D. and Johanna and we'd go, "Oh that drumbeat sucks. Johanna, why don't you take it home and try to make some better drum beats for it" and so she would do that.
J: I think that the revolutionizing step in our collaborative process is that we have matching samplers so we can trade discs and work at home. It seems like that's the way a lot of collaborations work these days with people being able to exchange computer files, Pro Tools or whatever, and that's really exciting. I'm hoping we'll be able to work more like that, even in different formats, like Pro Tools or [Emagic] Logic or [Propellerhead] Reason.
K: It's really collaborative to be doing that, and we have a Tascam DA38 8-track, so as we're working on something we can put it down on a couple tracks of tape and then one of us during the day can be at home working on the MPC and then another can be working on lyrics or adding a guitar part or bass or whatever in the studio. It's cool because we can all be working on the same song at different locations and then come back together. So it's like we electronically jam but we're not in the same room. And it's been really cool that each of us can figure out what we're good at and what we like to do. If right now I'm really into playing guitar, I can do that, and if J.D.'s really into singing and figuring out different vocal melodies, she can be working on that and finding out what her direction is, and Jo got into beats on this record and she was taking stuff home a lot and taking ideas from records and also sampling live drums directly...