By Blaine Ewig
Evergreen alumni Kathi Wilcox graciously agreed to do an interview with the Cooper Point Journal. While she was a student, Wilcox played in the band Bikini Kill. The group made waves in the world of punk music with their feminist messages and confrontational presence. Last month, Wilcox’s new project The Julie Ruin played a show at the Capitol Theater. In the following interview, Wilcox reflects on her time at Evergreen, Bikini Kill’s impact and lasting influence, and gives some insight into The Julie Ruin.
Blaine Ewig: How do you feel about coming back to Olympia?
Kathi Wilcox: I’m excited to come back to Olympia! I lived here for so many years that it’s always going to be a special place for me. I was visiting last year and noticed that some things had changed, particularly downtown. It seems to have more going on than when I lived there: more restaurants and shops, more people walking around. I’m excited to play a show in Olympia again. I haven’t played here for probably 15 years.
BE: What was your experience at The Evergreen State College like?
KW: I really loved going to school at Evergreen. I always knew that’s where I wanted to go to college, from my very first visit to the campus when I was 16. My first year I did the Great Books core program because I really just wanted to read books for a whole year. It was the best. The faculty were great that year, too. Richard Alexander would give these amazing rambling lectures. From my second year on I took film, music, and media studies programs. It was kind of idyllic. I feel like I was totally spoiled at the school, there were so many resources and great teachers. A few days after graduation, I left on tour with Bikini Kill and didn’t come back to Olympia for over a year. It was an abrupt goodbye.
[pullquote_left]“I feel like I was totally spoiled at [Evergreen]there were so many resources and great teachers. A few days after graduation, I left on tour with Bikini Kill and didn’t come back to Olympia for over a year. It was an abrupt goodbye.”
– Kathi Wilcox[/pullquote_left]
BE: What does riot grrrl mean to you?
KW: It’s the name the media put on a feminist punk rock movement that Bikini Kill was a part of in the ‘90s. Kathleen started the riot grrrl meetings as a way for women to meet up and talk about doing art, music, and other projects. It was also the name of a fanzine, and then it became a catch-all name for a whole feminist punk rock scene. To me, it was something that was going on at the same time as Bikini Kill and kind of parallel to our band, though we weren’t all directly involved in it.
BE: I’ve read that the riot grrrl movement “ended” around ‘94, the same time that many of today’s students were born. What do you think riot grrrl’s effects on music, society, or pop culture might have been, and how are we experiencing that today?
KW: I’m not sure when they stopped having meetings, it might have been around 1994. But I think the ideas of that movement continue to inspire people, at least judging from the emails we continue to get. The Julie Ruin just did a short tour of the east and west coasts and after every show people came up to me and Kathleen to tell us how much Bikini Kill meant to them, how much the riot grrrl movement meant to them. And these were young people who weren’t even around when we were a band. The feelings and attitude behind all that still resonates with people.
BE: How is The Julie Ruin different from projects you’ve been involved with in the past? What are your goals?
KW: For me personally, the main difference in this band from other projects is that I’m singing a lot more backup vocals. I’ve always been in bands with friends, so this is a continuation of that. We all get along in this band and enjoy each other’s company. Mostly, I’m just appreciating that.
BE: Is The Julie Ruin a punk band?
KW: Absolutely! Stylistically, our songs are pretty diverse. But we put out this record on our own with no help from a record label — we created our own label to do it. This band is actually more DIY than any band I’ve been in before. We don’t even have a roadie!