"It's activism," Samson said in response to the man's taunts. "I'm making my gender [a form of] expression and giving that to everyone," Then, she and her bandmates - Johanna Fateman and former Bikini Kill frontwoman and riot-grrrl icon Kathleen Hanna - launched into "Viz," the anthem to the butch lifestyle off the band's third full length, This Island.
Playing a show of that magnitude in front of such a diverse crowd was unprecedented for the three band members. Previously, the combination of their DIY artistry and queer-friendly, feminist political agenda would have kept them from such a high-profile stage. But things are changing for the trio.
Last fall, Le Tigre released This Island on Strummer Records, a subsidiary of the monster major label Universal Records. Universal's marketing power and money-dripping pocketbook is what got Le Tigre into Big Day Out, and it's also allowed them to make their first proper music video for the single "TKO." In major markets like New York, their faces have been plastered up on building facades and scaffolding, and they've gotten nearly as much press in 2004 and early 2005 as they have in their previous three years of existence. Clearly there are some advantages to what some would consider "selling out."
"Universal/Strummer had the best understanding of what we wanted to do," Samson said. "They were very excited about getting it out to our fans first. They have a lot of people working at Universal and they were able to market our album to people we wouldn't have thought to."
Le Tigre began working on the new album in late 2001, just after finishing up the previous one, Feminist Sweepstakes, which came out on North Carolina-based indie Mr. Lady Records. But Mr. Lady folded in summer 2003, making the trio free agents. They sorted through offers from domestic indies and majors, as well as some foreign labels, before settling on Strummer. They believed they were ready to take their message, along with their unassailable ability to develop a dance hook, to new listeners. But it was also a survival strategy.
"I'm 36 years old, so I'm kind of tired of driving the van myself and not getting enough sleep," Hanna told concert website Pollstar.com about the decision to bypass another indie. "It was like, 'We have to make a big change or we're going to break up.'"
Samson agrees about the band's former touring life. "It's really hard on your body and it's really hard to keep your sanity," she said. Currently, the band has a crew of five friends who help them set up and break down their gear during a show, not to mention label-arranged transportation.
But the major-label ride hasn't been without bumps. Samson recalls one promotional contest where the band was supposed to play in the winner's hometown. "We found out it was rigged," Samson said, explaining that the winner would be from a city where Le Tigre already was scheduled to play. In addition, when the members asked for the words "feminist" and "lesbian" to be placed in an ad, the marketing group balked at the second term.
But Samson reiterates that the benefits of being with Universal have far outweighed the difficulties. The move, for instance, has had a nice effect on their audience. While they were expecting to catch hell from some of their left-of-center fans, she notes that the response has been overwhelmingly positive. "I feel like people are psyched," Samson said. "It's still our community, but our community has grown."
At a show in Arizona last fall, a young woman approached Samson after a show explaining that she hadn't heard of Le Tigre until she saw a recent magazine article. The new album was her first exposure to the sound of Le Tigre, and she didn't just hear the beats, she ingested the message. "She said, 'I got the new record and I came out to my parents the next day,'" recalls Samson.
While it may not inspire a sexual awakening in everyone, This Island captures Le Tigre at its most accessible and body movin' (to steal a term from Hanna's boyfriend Ad-Rock's group). The disc was aided and abetted by both Nicholas Sansano (Public Enemy, Sonic Youth) and Ric Ocasek, the former Cars frontman who produced Hanna's kiss off to a difficult relationship, "Tell You Now." Though they have turned up the dancefloor strobe light energy, the group's fun is still educational. Fateman calls out greedy oilmen and stumps for universal health care, and President Bush takes his lumps courtesy of Hanna.
During last year's presidential election, the band was playing in Cleveland, Ohio. Ohio was not only the state whose electoral votes were key in giving Bush the presidency, but residents there also voted against gay marriage. It was a tough night for everyone, but especially for Samson, who grew up as a young lesbian in Ohio. "That was obviously the worst place to be," said Samson. "It was really important for us to be there for our fans in that week after the election."
And their presence was felt. She says: "People came up to us after the show and said they were glad we came and that we put a smile on their faces."
Thanks for reading, and thanks for the catch!
Tues, Dec 31st. Not 21st.
Innovative & fresh sound !!!
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