Hello, Cleveland! Guess who’s rolling into town? No, not The Donald: it’s the Kathleen — Hanna, that is, musician, activist and riot grrl founder. Hanna’s arrival doesn't have anything to do with the Republican convention; it’s just another tour stop as her band, The Julie Ruin, promotes its second album, “Hit Reset.”
Hanna, however, isn’t up for an interview. It's nothing personal, she's eschewing press while on tour to conserve her voice and her health. The 47-year-old Bikini Kill and Le Tigre founder suffered the worst effects of late-treated Lyme disease and was out of action for a few years — her travails were documented in the 2013 film “The Punk Singer.”
Instead, in true democratic punk rock style, Julie Ruin keyboard player Kenny Mellman is on the phone. Mellman performed in the noted politico-drag cabaret comedy duo, Kiki and Herb. While Mellman is neither transgender nor a cross-dresser, he states, “It was just a time when all the punks and freaks hung out together,” in San Francisco’s underground. You know, the '90s.
Oddly, it wasn’t punk that united the pair; it was country music. Hanna contacted Mellman suggesting they write country songs together to sell to other artists.
“I’m pretty sure it was a ruse,” the Williamsburg-based artist laughs. “She was a fan of Kiki and Herb and I think this was a test to see if I could write songs. She came over to my apartment and we hit if off. Then, she calls me and says my manager thinks we’ll never break into the Nashville scene. I still don’t think she had a manager at all.”
Obviously, Hanna’s country music career ended there. The Julie Ruin debuted with 2013’s “Run Fast,” and followed up with this month’s “Hit Reset,” dancy, sharp punk rock, which ferociously carves into topics such as debilitating illness, internet trolls and childhood trauma.
“It was interesting,” Mellman recalls of making the record. “Kathleen would sing these nonsense lyrics. She was figuring out the melody. You’re listening to these cheerful pop melodies, but it’s deceptive, because it’s like, ‘Oh, this song is about child abuse.’ This is a very intense record.”
Though The Julie Ruin dates back to 1997 with Hanna’s solo bedroom recordings under that name, it’s now a fully fledged band. “That’s Kathleen,” adds Mellman. “She’s the most generous of artists. It’s unusual to find someone of her stature embrace that. I love this album, because it sounds like a band. I’m proud of the first one, but it was us figuring it all out.”