Kitty Magik - NO HALF SHIRTS ALLOWED!
JANEANE GAROFALO investigates the fans, abdominal muscles and couples counseling surrounding SLEATER-KINNEY.
There has been so much press for Olympia, Washington's Sleater-Kinney over the years that any sort of introduction recalling all their critically acclaimed records and standout performances just seems silly to repeat. What's worth boasting is that Sleater-Kinney is a band that has worked hard to achieve where they stand in today's world of indie rock outfits. They are a band that actually deserves the attention they continue to receive rather than just another undeserving hip band of the moment, "the critics' darling" as Janeane Garofalo would call it.
When I found out that Janeane was a fan of the band I asked her if she'd ever be interested in interviewing them. "Of course," she said, "I'd love to." As simple as that sounds, that's how easy this interview came together. A few days later Janeane, photographer Nick Zinner and myself met up with Carrie Brownstein, Janet Weiss and Corin Tucker in a coffee shop in the West Village.
Janeane: Here we go with question number one. This is something that is out of personal curiosity to me. I'm assuming that you inspire a certain type of fan with a lot of needs. (Laughter) Seriously, I'm assuming you get a type of a fan not only within the feminist world, the queer world, and the rock world. I'm just assuming that is almost overwhelming to you in what they need from you, what they need you to be. I was curious as to whether or not that is true and how each of you deals with the neediness of some of those fans?
Carrie: I don't know. It's pretty intense. I think at first it really freaked me out. When we started having these rabid fans it seemed kind of bizarre. I think I was sort of ungrateful at first, because especially with guys, I just didn't even understand what was going on with them just being really passionate about the band, and how much it meant to them and helped them through certain personal things in their life. I didn't know how to respond at all. Then I kind of really just think that, I tried to think about it and tried to be a little bit more mature about it and said, "You know what, this is a real person and this is a really sincere thing and I really need to think about how I want to respond to that." Now I really do try and talk to the person as much as I can, with the same time having boundaries like, "it's really good to meet you but I have to go now." Do you know what I mean?
Carrie: You have to be aware of that, too. There are also a lot of human things that happen and things that people tell you that make it worth while being on tour and on the road. Saying like, "My sister died last year and I listened to your record a thousand times." You know, that means something.
Janeane: When you say that the person says, "My sister died, I listened to your album a thousand times," see, I almost find that to be a bizarrely manipulative thing and almost - no offense to the fan that says that - but there seems to be an almost narcissistic need of the fan, for you to acknowledge their connection to you. It seems to me you guys would be saddled with a totally different type of fan than just a mainstream pop music. I even think sometimes when people tell you certain things like that, like "my friend tried to commit suicide, so-and-so died," I sometimes even think those are manufactured stories in order to force a connection between the people they need. They need to be connected and they need you to acknowledge them. They legitimize the interaction. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on that.
Janet: I think a lot of our fans are the misfits, too. I think there is a need for them to reach out and touch us in some way, like "Can I give you a hug?" or "Can I shake your hand? I just wanted to say Hi." Usually it seems really harmless for the most part, and I guess just because I relate to that. When I was a kid I was such a huge music fanatic and I would go to the sound check and watch the people play. I don't think I got up enough nerve to actually talk to that many of my musical heroes, but the need is to connect with the people who make that music that you love, and I guess usually it doesn't seem so desperate that people would manufacture something. They're just kids who usually don't really fit in...
Janeane: I don't mean that they may manufacture the episode. What they may manufacture is this - I don't think I'm presenting this correctly. I think that they may manufacture the realities, like "Maaan, your album got me through high school." They need to be profound to you in that moment, they need to feel like they have made a mark on you and then they need you to need them to be a memorable fan. Does that make sense?
Carrie: A little bit. I was the one who was picking up all our fan mail because I was living in Olympia, which is where our label is. In that kind of interaction, where there is a lot more distance, there were the very desperate letters that definitely almost seemed to require a response.
Janeane: You just hit the nail on the head of what I was saying. It requires your response. That's exactly what I'm talking about.
Carrie: One was about how this person's father was in the military and how they thought they would kick them out and whether or not they should come out, and I was like "Oh my God, I actually have to answer this!" I basically said that they needed to call and get a support group. I felt like we were being put in a position of being more than just representing some kind of escape or solace or inspiration, but actually like psychologists serve. Especially when people are young, they don't necessarily have a way of expressing themselves. They turn to music as a way of speaking for them and then they sort of have that assumption that maybe we actually understand them better than they understand themselves, which isn't true. So in one-on-one interactions it's actually easier to bring them down to a level of "No, I don't know what's best for you. I'm thankful that you like the music, but I can't do anything more than wish you good luck." It's harder with the letters because you don't have that face-to-face interaction.
Janet: It makes a lot sense that it would occur more in a written situation where people can just bare their souls, because in person it is a little awkward. They want to say the one thing that you've never heard...
Janeane: That's what I mean. I think you just articulated that better than how I was putting it. It requires a response from you.
Carrie: It's exhausting.
Janeane: Well, I think because your whole persona represents something to a lot of these kids, which I assume are somewhat the disenfranchised, but some not, like some are just hipsters. I'm primarily talking about some of the people who really consider that you speak to them in some manner. In keeping with that, I guess you guys are just always on the brink of being accused of being sell-outs. There's got to be that percentage of your hardcore fans that are like, "I've been into you ever since..."
S-K: Yeah. Oh yeah.
Janeane: It's like you have to be twice as steadfast to be keeping with any agenda they believe that you represent.
Janet: I think ultimately our agenda is what all that is really measured by. At least to us, if we sort of follow our ideals and hearts, if we do that, how can anybody else take us down? Because we do exactly what we want and that's one of the most powerful things that a woman can do is just do the things that are important. But a lot of the fans, if you get to be popular, you're not theirs anymore. You don't belong exclusively to this small group, so they pick at certain things. I feel that if we can follow the things that are important to us, it doesn't really matter so much. You can't please the hardcore fans, or you could really get yourself in trouble. We would just make Call The Doctor ten times over. Play to the same 200 people.
Janeane: Sometimes it feels like you need to be so conscious of those few people who would prefer that you made Call The Doctor over and over again because they will be the most vocal and tell you that they are your most rabid fans, and they'll also be the first to yell sell-out.
Janet: That's true.
Carrie: It's really hard when your band that is made up of three individuals suddenly becomes an entity in and of itself, and that entity has its own persona. It's like Sleater-Kinney sometimes feels like a separate being from who we are.
To read this interview in its entirety, grab KM #8!