While Le Tigre were recording their second full-length album in North Carolina this summer, the feminist sample-punk trio picked up a guy at a local guitar store, brought him to the studio and recorded him rocking out for a while.
His self-gratifying metal noodling is strategically placed at the end of Feminist Sweepstakes' opening number, "LT Tour Theme," surrounded by sounds of female laughter. The longer he plays, the more exuberant the giggles.
"We were trying to prove to the world what we experience when we go to the guitar store," bandmember J.D. Samson said. "We wanted the conflict to really shine."
"We're just commenting on the cult of the guitar hero," added Johanna Fateman. "We don't give a sh-- about playing guitar in terms of hot licks or technical proficiency. We're interested in being conceptual artists, so we like to ridicule the whole mystique of guitar-playing men."
"LT Tour Theme" is as much a self-affirming testimonial as it is a scathing set-up for cultural subversion. "For the ladies and the f--s yeah/ We're the band with the roller-skate jams," Fateman and Samson avow in that song. "You know the guys with the digi cameras/ Push to the front and then they just stand there?/ But then we see the girls walking towards the dance floor/ And we remember why we go on tour."
Sticking with their established mix of punk guitars, new wave, samples and DJ maneuvers, Feminist Sweepstakes (due October 16) strikes more of a balance between rock and dance than did its predecessors, 1999's Le Tigre and last year's EP, From the Desk of Mr. Lady.
"We wrote a lot of this record with playing live in mind," said Kathleen Hanna, who formerly fronted the riot grrrl band Bikini Kill. "When we did the first record, we didn't know if we were ever going to play live. This time, it was important to me that there was a certain amount of guitar, because I like to play guitar live. Jo's kind of the one pushing more in a dance direction, and I like that I don't really want to go in a rock direction, but I like the way guitar sounds with really repetitive beats."
Le Tigre formed when Hanna recruited Fateman and filmmaker Sadie Benning for her touring band to support her 1998 solo album released under the name Julie Ruin. The collaboration quickly mutated into its own beast, and Le Tigre recorded their self-titled debut for the North Carolina label Mr. Lady Records, co-run by Kaia Wilson of the Butchies. Samson, who took charge of the slide shows that accompany Le Tigre's performances, formally joined the band for From the Desk of Mr. Lady. Though Benning appeared on the EP, she had quit playing live with the band and subsequently left completely to concentrate on her art.
Hanna, Fateman and Samson share vocal duties on Feminist Sweepstakes, which marked much more of a team effort on all fronts, from songwriting to producing, than previous efforts. "A big part of it this time was being much more collaborative than we'd been," Hanna said. "We were interested in learning how to work together, the three of us."
Feminist political perspectives make up most of the album's lyrical content, but the ideas are often presented with drum-roll humor. "I got this thing that's been going around/ Called please pretend that I'm out of town," Fateman quips on "Much Finer."
"F.Y.R.," short for "Fifty Years of Ridicule," makes the declaration: "One step forward, five steps back/ One cool record in the year of rock-rap." Its chorus, meanwhile, makes one of the album's many rallying calls: "Feminists, we're calling you/ Please report to the front desk/ Let's name this phenomenon/ It's too dumb to bring us down."
The instrumental "Cry for Everything Bad That's Ever Happened" was meant to be a theme song for each listener's own agenda, but Le Tigre feel the tune has taken on a more defined resonance since the tragic events of September 11.
"We intended for it to be something you listen to, and different people would think about different things," Fateman said. "We didn't want to dictate what it was about, but we thought it would be understood in the context of our album as a political sadness. Now of course I think a lot of people will think of the way their life has changed or the people they lost."
"When things are so sorrowful and are tied to such a myriad of ideas about justice and terrorism and fear and racism and imperialism and peace instrumental music fulfills this place when there are no words," Hanna said.
Le Tigre had planned to hit the road in the fall but postponed the outing to accommodate other plans, including setting up their official Web site, making videos to display on tour and pursuing their individual projects. Hanna is writing music but has not yet determined where it will end up, while Fateman is working on a techno solo project called Swim With the Dolphins. Samson is concentrating on her dance troupe Dykes Can Dance, which stages "dance interventions" by introducing patrons at lesbian bars and clubs to choreographed dances.
The band plans on hitting the road early next year.