Phil Bailey & Lauren Newman
Rising up from the ashes of the Riot Grrrl bands Heavens to Betsy and Excuse 17, Sleater-Kinney was meant as a side project for Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein. Named for the highway exit they used to get to their rehearsal space, Sleater-Kinney’s sound first trickled out of Olympia via the Villa Villakula Records comp, Move into the Villa Villakula . They shared space on that disc with Kaia from Team Dresch, who has gone on to start Mr. Lady Records, the Mary Timony project Led Byrd, and Azalia Snail, who first turned me onto Sleater-Kinney.
In the few short years following their formation, the band has put out an exhausting five full-length albums. They have toured the globe and become a shining example of what is good in music today. They began with very simple, coarse arrangements and harsh vocals. They had to use anger and energy to compensate for a lack of musical prowess. Today, they are among the more inventive bands, musically, while maintaining their potent lyrical content.
Although their early history was spotted by comparisons to their other projects, questions about the band’s sexuality, and a constant search for the right fit in a drummer, they have since put all that foolishness behind them. Since coming aboard prior to the band’s Kill Rock Stars debut, Dig Me Out veteran drummer Janet Weiss has really helped to solidify the group. Recently we got a chance to talk with her about Sleater-Kinney’s new album, All Hands on the Bad One , about being a role model, and teen sex symbol, Britney Spears.
What was the approach to this record?
It seems like the songs were written really, really quickly. Like there was just a bursting forth of new songs. We sort got together and talked about the fact we wanted the record to be easier to make. We wanted to try ideas. Any idea that came up, we wanted to give it a shot and try it. We wanted to make things a little bit lighter, a little bit less weighted and introverted. So having said that just opened the floodgates to a bunch on new ideas, and a bunch of new personas that started seeping in. Some playfulness that maybe wasn’t on The Hot Rock .
Yeah. I was wondering if you were inspired by any outside influences, because the album has an almost Iggy Pop sound on some songs.
I don’t think it was so much a direct inspiration from music, although we’re all really influenced by music. I think was more like, coming from The Hot Rock , which was so dark and really heavy and introverted, intense, and I think we do have that side to our band. But we also have this really playful, rowdy kind of rock side. We just wanted to play that way. The songs just started exploding all at once. It was written really quickly.
Do you guys record live in the studio, or is it pieced together?
No, it’s mostly live. We spent four days. We were really well rehearsed and prepared when we went into the studio, so it only took us four days to record the fifteen basic tracks. We got on a roll, the second or third day we were really cranking them out.
It seems like you guys are on this track of inspiration. Do you think you might be putting out some B-sides?
I don’t think so. We only have one B-side. There’s two extra songs that we did. I don’t think we’re going to be recording anymore, and we only did fifteen songs total. So we only have two extra songs, both of which are coming out on singles. But I think now it’s gearing up for touring. I’m sure we’ll write a couple of new songs along the way. Mostly we’re just really looking forward to people hearing our record and getting out and playing live.
It seems like this record, unlike the previous four records the songs seem to have more humor. They seem a little less grim and angsty. Was that intentional or is that just the way things have evolved?
I think even on Dig Me Out there was a sense of looking at our situation or looking at any situation with a slightly humorous view. And even a song like on Call The Doctor , like “Joey Ramone,” to me, there’s a humor to that song as well. Looking at a situation and realizing the ridiculousness of it. Especially life, and life in rock & roll can be pretty ridiculous and pretty funny. I think we all are sort of cynical enough to see that it’s not just one thing. It’s not just funny or just inspiring or amazing. It’s all these things combined. Yeah, there are some funny, funny moments on the record. I think we were all just in a more free mood, I think when we made this record. Anything that came up we wanted to try. We wanted to simplify our approach so things were a kind of more spontaneous, more fun.
What are some of the difficulties you encounter having a band spread out not only over different cities, but different states?
We only live about an hour and forty-five minutes apart. So it’s not so difficult as far as practicing. We seem to have a pretty good routine down. The only difficulty is Corin and I don’t get to see Carrie as much. As far as like friendship goes, it’s easier for Corin and I to communicate, because we see each other a lot more. But once we’re together for a few days, things totally even out and it’s comfortable. It’s not a problem that obviously can’t be overcome. It has its advantages, too, in that when you need space, when you need to get away from the band, that is facilitated.
Are you still doing Quasi?
And how’s that going?
We did a whole tour of the US, and then we just did a West Coast tour. We’re playing on Friday in Seattle. And that’s going to be our last show, for a while. Sleater-Kinney’s kind of kicking it into high gear. But I think we’re going to do an EP probably by the end of the year, work on a full length for 2001. We’re going to take out time on the next batch of songs.
I’m sort of asking you to speak for everyone in the band. Sleater-Kinney, do you guys see yourselves as role models? For young women, musicians people in general?
I don’t think we set out to be role models. I think it’s inevitable when you’re in the public eye or you’re an entertainer of sorts, I think we are — at least, I hope we are — examples of people who are taking chances with our lives and expressing ourselves, speaking out about things that we feel we should, living our lives exactly how we want to. Taking charge of our careers, I think we try to project images of powerful people, which we want to be. So I think inevitably maybe we become that. I don’t think we think of ourselves as role models. I’m glad that young girls who want to start bands or want to play music have some sort of images of women who can actually write their own songs and play and are talented and intelligent, and I think that’s really important.
I wanted to ask you about your name, and if you are you totally sick to death with jokes and references to The Rocky Horror Picture Show ?
Actually, I don’t hear that much about it anymore. When I was younger, I heard more references made to it., but now it’s only every so often.
I’ve heard about your fascination with karaoke. How did you get going on that?
I just started doing it a few years ago, and I just really enjoy it, it’s fun and it’s something to do other than going to a show, and it’s more interesting and interactive than just sitting in a bar, and I like the humanity of it. Plus I love to sing.
Well, who were some of the people who got you interested in getting in a band?
I’ve been a huge music fan since I was a little kid. In high school I was a really big Clash… I loved the Clash, X, Elvis Costello, and the Minutemen.
You’re dating yourself a little bit there.
Yeah, well, I’m older than everyone else. But I don’t think any of those bands really inspired me to be in a band. Those bands seemed really untouchable to me. I just got an opportunity… it was more like music in my local music scene when I was in college that kind of pushed me to play. Bands on a much smaller level. I really loved Camper Van Beethoven, Donner Party, and bands in San Francisco that I’d go see like every weekend. But it wasn’t until I got asked to play drums in a band that I even learned how to play. For Carrie and Corin, I think it was a much more tangible scene that they immersed themselves in. Corin with the Olympia scene, both of them going to Evergreen, and being surrounded by people starting bands who weren’t virtuoso musicians, who learned how to make something great out of their newly-found skills, realizing that you don’t have to be classically trained musicians to write a good pop song. You’re probably better off not having any training at all. Unless you’re Brian Wilson.
It seems to have worked for you guys. Is anyone in the band trained or have you all learned on the fly?
We’re all pretty by ear musicians. I think Carrie had a few guitar lessons, but it think what she does what we all do is I think unique to ourselves.
The music scene in Olympia and Portland was very important a few years ago. How has it held up?
In Olympia, it seems recently there’s been a flurry of activity, as far as new bands go. There’s a band called Gene Defcon, the Gossip, the Need, the Bangs. It seems like there’s a lot of new bands starting up now, some of which contain members of other bands you would have known from a few years ago. None of us want to stop playing music. I mean, when your band breaks up, you just start a new one. Gene Defcon is a few of… why can’t I think… Tobi who was in Bikini Kill… I’ll remember the name as we go along. As far as Portland goes, it’s a little bit slower going, I think. It seems like there’s not as many resources here for new bands. You sort of have to have money to record. There’s places to have shows, but they’re bigger, slightly more intimidating. But there are some new bands here like the Minders, Braille Stars, who are amazing. There’s more, but I probably haven’t seen as many bands as I should. But it doesn’t feel like an explosion, like it did when I first moved here in ’91.
Do the bands seem to be homegrown, or are you getting a lot of bands moving in?
It’s both, I think. Both. Everyone’s still playing music and working on projects. Everyone’s involved, it’s just not as much of a cohesive scene as it used to be.
Give me your take on Britney Spears.
My take on Britney Spears…
Are you a closeted Britney fan?
No! Not at all. I think I was just going off the other day about how heinous Britney Spears is. I derive no pleasure from Britney Spears. It makes me sad, because when I was young, that would have been the antithesis of me, and I would not have related to her one bit. I hope some people come along that are a little bit more complex than that for kids to look up to. A lot of kids don’t relate to that, you know, bubble gum image. Even though she’s supposedly really sexy. It’s just the most homogenous kind of sex you could imagine.
And she’s about the same age as Corin and Kathleen Hannah when they got started.
She’s like eighteen. God, if you gave me a choice between Kathleen Hannah and Britney Spears, it’d be pretty obvious who is more interesting, who’s easier to look up to. I get the feeling Britney Spears doesn’t write her songs, doesn’t write her music. She’s frosting. There’s no substance. I think teenagers have a lot more going on, emotionally. I think it would be helpful to them if there were some role models that were more complex and colorful.
Where do you see the future of music going?
Well, I hope it goes somewhere. It’s pretty crappy right now. There are a lot of good bands out there, but there’s not like a movement of rebellion against of really horrible pop music. I just encourage people to start bands. Just start a band and play, because people need to hear an alternative. There should be one. There are pockets of alternatives, but pop music needs to elevate itself to some kind of artistic level at some point. It wasn’t always like this. There have been times in the seventies and eighties when pop music was really great. I’m sick of listening to classic rock and oldies stations. I wish there was a mainstream new radio station that was decent, but there’s not. There’s some good college radio, but those are bands that no one’s going to hear. That’s not mainstream at all. It’s just a handful of people that hear that. The masses are only hearing this really clean and generic…I mean, I’ll never listen to that stuff.
Catch Sleater-Kinney at the Echo Lounge in Atlanta on May 27th, and pick up their new record, All Hands on the Bad One , when it hits stores on May 10th.