The Julie Ruin

The Julie Ruin

Kathleen Hanna stealthily assembled the members of The Julie Ruin without any of them realizing exactly what was happening. It all began in late 2009. Kathleen had not released an album since Le Tigre’s This Island (2004), and she was ready to jump back into music again. She knew her onetime Bikini Kill bandmate Kathi Wilcox was going to be moving to New York in the near future, so she didn’t even bother with finding a bass player at first. Carmine Covelli, who had toured with Le Tigre as their video guru, was having a blast at Kathleen’s birthday party when she abruptly asked him to be the drummer. A longtime admirer of Kathleen’s work, Carmine couldn’t say no to her at her own party, so of course he joined the band. Sara Landeau and Kathleen both taught at Girls Rock Camp and Kathleen lured her into the band by trading Pro Tools lessons for guitar lessons. Sara’s surf-informed style gelled perfectly with Kathleen’s sonic vision for her new band. Kathleen approached Kenny Mellman last with the idea that they should write country songs together to sell to other artists. Within a week of their first meeting, Kathleen’s mysterious “manager” (whom Kenny maintains does not exist) told her that they would never break into the Nashville songwriting scene, so Kenny might as well join her new band on keyboards. Done.

The four of them first got together on January 13th, 2010, in a practice room in Manhattan and learned to play songs from Kathleen’s other projects: Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, and the first solo Julie Ruin record from 1997. This new iteration of The Julie Ruin practiced when they could until Kathi finally moved to New York, at which point they began to write the songs that eventually became their first album, 2013’s self-released Run Fast. Some songs would germinate from loops band members had made at home, which the group would then expand into fleshed-out compositions. Other songs were born from just playing around in the studio. Before long, they were using words like “pre-chorus” and “outro.” Since Kathleen mostly sang nonsense words at practice–and it was hard to hear over the loud instruments in the space anyway–it was always exciting, if not scary, for the band to finally get the lyric sheet. Who knew that peppy song was about euthanasia? “Wait, this one is also about euthanasia?”

Over the next couple of years they toured the world, accompanied at times by a couple of creepy puppets found in a Mormon thrift-store in Portland, Oregon. Though they hadn’t played a live show together before the release of Run Fast, the band came out swinging and thrived on stage, as evidenced by the rapturous reviews of their performances.

In late 2014 they began work on their second album, Hit Reset, due out July 8th on Hardly Art Records. Mixed by Eli Crews (with whom the band worked on Run Fast), Hit Reset expands on the band’s established sound: dancier in spots and moodier in others, with girl group backing vocals and even a touching ballad closer. Hit Reset is the sound of a band who have found their sweet spot. Hanna’s vocals are empowered and her lyrics are as pointed and poignant as ever. From the chilling first lines of “Hit Reset” (“Deer hooves hanging on the wall, shell casings in the closet hall”) to the touching lines of “Calverton” (“Without you I might be numb, hiding in my apartment from everyone / Without you I’d take the fifth, or be on my death bed still full of wishes”), Hanna takes a leap into the personal not seen completely on the first album or possibly even in the rest of her work.

“I was way more honest lyrically on this record because we’d been on the road together and I felt more confident taking risks in front of my bandmates,” she says. “I’ve written about my personal bouts with illness, abuse, sexism and how hard it is for me to walk away from people even when they are toxic Tasmanian Devils before, but not in this way. Some songs were so close to me I had to stop singing in practice and while recording because I was crying. It’s rare to work with a group of people you feel okay doing that with.”
“But there was laughter too,” Hanna adds. “We wrote this song called ‘Mr So and So’ where I sing from the perspective of a dude who ‘loves girl bands’ but is actually kind of a jerk. I’ve come in contact with this special ‘doing feminism in a really un-feminist way’ person a ton over my career and it felt good to crack jokes about it. I think my favorite moment of recording was the day I walked into Figure 8 Studio and found a woman who was working on the record laughing her ass off on the couch while Eli was playing her the track for the first time. It made me so happy to hear her laughing about something that can be so painful.”

Swearin’ co-frontperson Allison Crutchfield is only 23 years old, but she’s been in the game forever already. A truncated history: She started the Ackleys as a ninth grader in Birmingham, AL, with her twin sister, Katie; they were on Warped Tour as high school students. After that band called it quits, the sisters formed P.S. Eliot in 2008, releasing two full-lengths and an EP over the course of their three-and-a-half-year existence. The sisters relocated from Birmingham to Brooklyn in 2011, months before pulling the plug on P.S. Eliot. When the band split, Allison and Katie’s musical paths diverged, too: Katie went solo under the moniker Waxahatchee; Allison put together Swearin’ with Jeff Bolt (drums), Keith Spencer (bass), and P.S. Eliot bandmate Kyle Gilbride (who shares guitar and vocal duties with Crutchfield). Swearin’ unveiled a 6-song demo called What A Dump last December. Earlier this year, they released their self-titled debut LP on Salinas Records. With 2012 coming to a close, it seems safe to say Swearin’ will be included in the conversation of the year’s best indie-rock records.

The words “indie rock” are crucial here. While the term has long since ceased to have value as a descriptor, Swearin’ deliver a sound that could serve as a definition for what the genre used to be. The band’s combination of melody, distortion, and energy brings to mind the emo bands of the mid to late ’90s, especially the Get Up Kids, Rainer Maria, the Promise Ring, and Jawbreaker. Gilbride’s vocals are a dead ringer for those of a young Mac McCaughan; Crutchfield could probably stand in for Anna Waronker on a mid-’90s That Dog LP without anyone noticing. The pair’s guitars have a furious squeal that brings to mind Built To Spill or Sebadoh; their instant-classic melodies are obscured by feedback and fuzz, an ancient indie-rock trick perfected by the likes of Archers Of Loaf and Pavement. Crutchfield was born in 1989 (the year the Pixies released Doolittle), and those tendencies are in her blood: In a short documentary about the Ackleys, filmed when Allison and Katie were still in high school, both sisters namecheck Guided By Voices as their primary songwriting influence.

We’re two decades out from Slanted & Enchanted, and “indie rock” is enjoying something of a retro-chic revival (cf. Yuck, Japandroids) — meanwhile, the Promise Ring just concluded a brief (and no doubt profitable!) reunion at Fun Fun Fun Fest, and next month Jawbreaker will reissue Bivouac to celebrate its 20th birthday — but Swearin’ doesn’t sound like an attempt to cash in on the moment; the album’s style:substance ratio is weighted heavily toward the consequent. The songs are compact, tightly constructed, smart, explosive, and very catchy. The highlights for me change as my relationship with the record grows, but I can’t imagine anyone not being captured immediately by “Here To Hear,” “Kenosha,” or “Movie Star.” The band moved from Brooklyn to Philadelphia earlier this year, and this week, they’re headed out on tour for some shows with Japandroids. Tour dates are below, along with a full-album stream. Play it loud.

Plastic Hearts

Untamed and Plastic Hearts, made up of teens from the Philadelphia area, formed at Girls Rock Philly's 2013 Summer Rock Camp this August. They met the Monday of camp, some learning their instruments for the first time that morning. Others had never been in a band before, but they all wrote and performed original songs at their first show that Saturday at Underground Arts.



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