But if only they had a bass player...
Andrew Smith for the Observer, Sunday June 4, 2000
They may be be named after a road junction back home in Oregon, but Sleater-Kinney are far from dull. Indeed, they are the latest example of a metaphorically quiet, but actually loud, revolution on the margins of pop. Not only are they all-female, but they don't have a bass player. How many more rules of rock can they break?
The sound on their third album, All Hands on the Bad One , is fiery and angular. Thanks mostly to lead singer Corin Tucker's rich voice and barbed lyrics, the group they evoke most is the great English post-punk quartet, the Au Pairs, but with sweet harmonies.
Sitting in the bar at the ICA in London, Tucker and drummer Janet Weiss do most of the talking, the third member, Carrie Brownstein, being almost supernaturally shy. Ask after influences and Weiss will offer the Clash, REM and the Dream Syndicate. Tucker, whose father teaches psychology and is an amateur musician, grew up with his Velvet Underground and Patti Smith records, later taking inspiration from Sonic Youth, Kristen Hirsch and the wilfully shambolic Bikini Kill, who 'changed everything for me'.
I wonder if Sleater-Kinney was always intended to be male-free? Tucker, whose easy manner barely hints at her intensity on stage, answers indirectly. 'I'm interested in the kind of dynamics women have with each other. I think it's a really powerful creative force and I think that there are so many things hidden beneath the surface of women, so many internalised notions of what we should do and be, that it's really difficult to work with each other. The process of examining those is a challenge, but is interesting.'
So you chose this form because it seemed difficult? 'Not just that. It has a special meaning to people. When you see these three women playing this powerful music, it really means something. Also, there's still this issue for women who sing in bands, with people saying, "Oh, she's just the singer". That doesn't happen.'
The three are still told they need a bassist, but rightly agree that the deftness of their sound owes much to the lack of one. All Hands on the Bad One is more confident and refined than their nevertheless superb last effort, The Hot Rock.
Tucker suggests a growing joy in playing with the conventions of the rock tradition as part of the reason for this. 'We listen to a lot and are knowledgeable about what's gone before. We're just not very interested in regurgitating it.'
Asked whether people are intimidated by their aggression in performance, Tucker shoots back: 'Oh yeah', as though the answer was blindingly obvious. The opening tune on this record is called 'The Ballad of a Ladyman, I remember'. Are they the ladymen? All three look at each other and grin, Tucker proceeding to tell the tale of an appearance they made at last year's Bowlie Weekender at Camber Sands, hosted by Scottish band Belle & Sebastian. There was a blackboard in the artists' reception area, indicating which chalets the groups had been assigned. Next to theirs, someone had scrawled 'Chalet 216: ladymen - yes'. It became a joke, though it unsettled them.
'I think it's as much to do with the way we deliver the message,' says Weiss. 'We're maybe a little bit more wild, more reluctant to play things by the book. It was strange, even in that little indie-rock world, where everything's supposed to be cool and liberated, someone had their guard up because we're an all-woman band.'
'We're not like these little Scottish girls,' Tucker adds with a leer. 'Or boys. We're more manly than most of those indie-rock boys. We could just crush them!'