By: Natalie – email@example.com
Sleater-Kinney are Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss and to my mind they are legends of the indie rock scene. Sleater-Kinney have been in existence for over a decade now and in that time some of them have become mothers and divorcees. They have recently released a new record – The Woods – on Sub Pop, and whilst this is undeniable a record that I’m sure they are hoping will win them some more acclaim, it will be duly earnt. It will certainly be long overdue but I can’t help but suspect that given their position as strong women refusing to sway to the bullshit, sexist agendas of much of the music industry that could be one reason for it eluding them for so long. This interview was conducted in a back room at the ICA with Corin relentlessly twisting something in her hands, myself feeling distinctly inadequate to be interviewing someone so cool and a series of increasingly comical interruptions of the loud noises from sound tests.
LH: You guys have been going for over a decade. How does that feel and what lessons do you think you have taken from it?
Corin: I don’t really know how it feels because we have just been doing this and it is just what I know. Sometimes it’s hard and sometimes it’s really wonderful and mostly it’s really positive and I feel lucky to have it. I mean it’s pretty bizarre to do something this long. It’s kind of amazing to have dedicated my life to one specific thing for ten years. What was your other question?
LH: What lessons have you taken from it?
C: I don’t know. I’m still learning things all the time and I’m sure once we’ve finished I’ll be able to summarize in a more concise way what I have learned. You watch bands come and go onto the scene and really have lots of buzz and then they disappear after one record. Everyone goes crazy for them and then they are gone. They only make one good record. So you certainly realize you need to put your friendships and relationships to your bandmates above other things. Your happiness and sense of well being are all more important than success or money. Certainly being happy and having it still be fun and rewarding is really important.
LH: You guys have all got older in that time span. Do you feel more grown up than when you first started?
C: No, I mean playing rock and roll is a really immature thing to do. I mean when I go to the bank and the person helping me at the bank, I always think, ‘Oh, they are probably 40 or 30,’ but they are really just 22, but their job is so professional and mature it seems that way. I just feel it’s the way that you live your life, what kind of choices you make. It’s much more adult to do more traditional things. Playing music or making art, you can just prolong your sense of immaturity, I guess. I certainly feel that I’m glad to not be 20, or whatever. That’s a rougher time I think.
LH: Do you have a songs that you feel you don’t want to look back to or want to play anymore?
C: Yeah. There are plenty of songs. It’s not that I don’t like them it’s just that I don’t feel that I have a whole lot of connection to them. From a lot of our records there are some songs that we just never play live because they just don’t possess the live component, or energy, or dynamic that we want to have live. I’ll just get sick of certain songs and just not want to play them anymore. There is lots of stuff from the earlier records that I don’t think have as much space for me to improvise. I just feel really locked into them. I don’t like to feel that I’m going through the motions. We will never put a song in a set where we feel like we are just pretending, or doing this because the audience wants to hear it. People will ask for the old songs and there are some that we do still play but some we may not feel a connection to. When we go out onto the bigger tours, when the record comes out we will probably go back and pick songs out from the old records. Sometimes you can just move away from a song. A song like ‘One more Hour’: For many years we just didn’t play that song, we weren’t really inspired by it and then all of a sudden we had a renewal of interest in that song, and then it was exciting to play it. But you have to want to play it. There is no song that I absolutely do not want to play, but it comes and goes.
LH: Do you think that has been reflected in the move to Sub Pop?
C: No. You just get sick of who you are. You just feel like you know what you are capable of and that your fans think they know what you are capable of and what you are going to do. We just wanted to be in a place that was a little more uncomfortable. We loved Kill Rock Stars. We felt so at home with them that in some ways that didn’t seem to be good for our growth. We left them a long time before we moved to Sub Pop. We left them almost right after we did One Beat and we were just kind of floating around on our own. I think it was just more about being able to look at ourselves in a new light, in a new context. Maybe a little bit of a greater challenge will help to push us artistically. It was just time for a change. Just like your first question – being in a band for nearly a decade, if you want to keep being vital to yourself and being inspired by what you do and happy there are certain changes you need to make to keep having a sense of vitality I think.
LH: How do you mean by being ‘uncomfortable’?
C: Well, I think you just work with the same people over and over again and that’s really safe. You know them, they know how you operate, you know how they operate. It just becomes so smooth running that, that’s great for certain things but that’s not really good for art, I don’t think. For some people the records they make the softer they get, the lighter they get. You just start to know what you are going to do and for us, we just wanted to step out and feel a little bit unsure of ourselves again. When you switch labels you suddenly feel you have to re-examine who you are, you don’t really know the people you are working with, you have so many new situations. For me that was a good thing to do after this long.
LH: As a three piece band, obviously there must be a really strong bond that comes with that, but do you also feel fragile, because if one person leaves, the whole thing falls apart.
C: I mean who’s going to leave? Either it’s just going to end or… That tension is what makes it interesting. I guess that vulnerability, the fact that it is completely reliant on all parts to me makes it interesting. Any band where you feel like a member is expendable or disposable; that’s not very interesting. With The Who or something like that, they were never as good as when it was just the four of them. Those bands where each person needs to be there in order to make them good, whether it is three, or four or five, that is important. But three is definitely an interesting number to be because you often have two versus one, in a lot of different formations. These two versus this person, those two versus this person; there are a lot of different tensions always going back and forth, but also there is an insularity, and certainly a closeness that you can create musically and dynamically. The way that The Jimmy Hendrix Experience or Cream was three people, because when it is all firing at once, it’s a really strong, powerful thing. I don’t worry about it but I like the fact that three just seems good for us.
LH: I think it’s just an interesting relationship that comes about from it.
C: I think it is a good dynamic. I guess you’re right; I hadn’t thought about it like that before, but certainly sitting on the edge of that vulnerability is kind of a good thing.
LH: I was having a look on some of the website and it seems there are really some über fans out there that have all these websites. Do you ever read them?
C; No, I feel that’s for them. I mean we are involved with our own website that we do. It’s too scary to read the fan stuff and also it really doesn’t have anything to do with us as people. It’s just that world for them to communicate I guess.
LH: Do you ever find it overwhelming that there is so much information out there about your life and everyone else’s on the internet.
C: I just try not to think about it. I mean anyway at this point, anyone’s life can be on the internet. Some people want their lives to be. They take pictures of themselves everyday and put it up on a blog; people love it. It’s very exhibitionist. I just try not to think about it.
LH: I just found so much random information.
C: Yeah, it’s better not to look.
LH: You seem to reply to a lot of fan based questions and on your website you have a Q&A. A lot of bands don’t do that; how do you find the time to do it all.
C: Well we don’t have time and that’s why, if you notice, our stuff is all pretty old. We like interacting with our audience. We love our audience and we really appreciate them and sometimes in the past Kill Rocks Stars would have a Q&A and then our own website when it first started we had one. But it just got too much. The way I want to relate to people is through the music. It’s too hard to relate in another way besides that.
LH: Tonight, you’re playing quite a small venue. How does that feel?
C: That’s because this is mostly a press tour. This isn’t our proper tour. We come over here, we do some interviews, we play a few small shows and then we’ll come back in the fall and play a proper venue. I mean it is frustrating. It’s hard to feel that we are playing too small a venue that certain people can’t come and see us but we’ll be back to play a bigger venue.
LH: You guys are going to Europe as well.
C: Well just briefly. We did a little festival in Vienna and we will do a quick festival in Norway but then we will try to do a real tour where we actually go and play for a couple of weeks, but first we have do the US tour when the record comes out.
LH: It seems that you have had a lot of critical acclaim, from magazines like Time and American newspapers, American magazines like Rolling Stone and that kind of thing. Is that something that you want?
C: It’s nice, but it’s not why we do it. It’s separate from our music. Music criticism and journalism is like a whole different thing. What exists in the end is just the song. People write about it but it’s a totally separate thing. We take it with a grain of salt.
LH: One of the things I have felt though is that even though you have had a lot of acclaim in this music journalistic scene you are still not considered to be a ‘big’ band compared to some other more male bands. Do you think there is something in that or is it that you haven’t actively courted that kind of attention in the same way?
C: I think our music is just too difficult. I think we are really fine being outsiders. Mainstream music just doesn’t really interest me very much and I like making music that is unsettling and that people don’t necessarily get. I don’t want everyone to get it, necessarily, so I think it’s fine. I don’t know why but it’s not one of our goals to be huge. If it happens by some fluke that would be okay, but I have a feeling that it is not going to and that’s alright.
LH: You all seem to have your own little side projects or other things in your lives. How do you all find time to fit those in.
C: We don’t really actually. Well, Janet has always had her band Quasi, but neither Corrie or I play music with other people anymore. We don’t have time. She has a kid and I have other things that I like to do besides music. Mostly Janet does other things with music and Corrie and I just do other things. I like to divide up my time with other things, and then I’m drawing on a broader influences than just music. For songwriting it’s nice to feel that I’m drawing on other things just so that I can broaden that for the writing and whatnot.
LH: With the birth of Corrie’s child are you finding it harder to tour?
C: We take longer between records so we have time off in the middle but once ‘The Woods’ is released, we are pretty much dedicating at least a year to touring, so we just go in shorter blocks of time.
LH: How do feel as an American with Bush being re-elected? Do you feel that being in Portland is like being in a relatively safe pocket of America?
C: Well I don’t think we can separate the States apart from the whole. You can try to amputate your city or your life from the rest of the country but really we are still living under the Bush administration. You can’t live in a bubble. I think that is part of the problem that happened along the West Coast. a lot of people thought, ‘Oh, we are all progressive, Bush won’t win,’ and then we just woke up to that again. I think it is hard to keep faith in change and reform. I feel that a lot of people feel disenchanted with the process and media and government. It’s hard to stay engaged because it is absolutely frustrating right now. A lot of things just feel shameful. I also just completely aware of the negative image that a lot of countries have of ours. I think people are just trying to re-group and forming alliances and working towards having there be change for the next election. It’s nice to be in Portland where you feel a kinship, an ideological kinship to other people, but you know that you can’t just pretend that, that is all that is out there. You have to be aware that people feel differently.
LH: It was really interesting seeing the picture of the map of America in these different political colours. That was a lot of press about it being a very divided America.
C: Certainly. It was just a wake up call. People really felt that they knew their neighbours, or they knew their friends or knew how people were going to vote. You do certainly feel right now that there is just this ideological divide between people in America and that seems in some ways really irreconcilable. It seems like there is very little middle ground.
Thanks to Sleater-Kinney for the interview and Lauren from Dog Day Press for setting it up. Sleater-Kinney have a new record out in Sub Pop and lots of cool old stuff on Kill Rock Stars.