Sleater-Kinney moves on

ROSS RAIHALA, THE OLYMPIAN

Band returns to stage and studio after a year filled with change

After declaring 2001 a year of rest, Sleater-Kinney is getting ready to return to action.

The Olympia-bred trio that was dubbed "America's Best Rock Band" by Time magazine will perform at the Capitol Theater on Sunday night. It will mark the first time the group has played Olympia since Ladyfest in August 2000.

The gig follows a handful of recent shows in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco. The group has been testing new songs in front of an audience in anticipation of the fall release of its sixth album as well as the world tour that will commence soon after.

"I think it's interesting to hear the songs within a live context," says guitarist and vocalist Carrie Brownstein. "You hear them differently than you do when you're playing them in the practice space. You get a better sense of the bigger picture of the song."

Much has changed in the Sleater-Kinney camp since the May 2000 release of "All Hands on the Bad One."

Portland-based bandmate Corin Tucker gave birth to her first son, Marshall Tucker Bangs, a year ago today. And fellow Portlander Janet Weiss recorded "The Sword of God" with her other band Quasi and toured the country to support it.

Brownstein, meanwhile, took an acting role in the locally produced film "Group." And, in December, she left Olympia and moved to Portland. Now, for the first time, all three bandmates live in the same city.

A longtime Olympia resident and supporter who frequently volunteered for various local projects, Brownstein says the move was a good one for her band.

"It has been an adjustment, living in a bigger city and moving out of a place I really love," she says. "But it's kind of like we've reformed the band with a new dynamic."

Instead of driving two hours to rehearse -- and occasionally driving home that same night -- Brownstein can now walk to Weiss' house.

"It is logistically easier, but I think it has also allowed for a lot more fluidity in the writing process. (Being a member of Sleater-Kinney) is more incorporated into our everyday lives now. It makes the process more organic and seamless and we can really have a lot more fun."

To that end, the band has written a host of new songs. They plan to record 15 of them with producer John Goodmanson during sessions set to run from the end of this month into early April.

Brownstein says she's not ready to share potential album titles -- "that's something that is always subject to change anyway" -- but that the group hopes to get the record into stores by late August. After that, they'll launch a full North American tour and, most likely, will head to Europe, Japan and Australia.

It's also too early, Brownstein says, to talk too much about the new songs.

"People have told us the new stuff is weird, and that's a compliment to us," she says. "The last thing you want to hear is that they sound like your old ones."

Brownstein will allow that the new material is broader and more textured than what was heard on the last Sleater-Kinney album.

" 'All Hands on the Bad One' was written very quickly and it had a certain kind of condensed, really frenetic energy," she says. "These songs have been written over the past year, so we've had a little more time to explore things. It's like this music has been down a longer road."

The road for Sleater-Kinney began when Tucker and Brownstein met as Evergreen State College students in 1992. The two began playing together in a practice space on Sleater-Kinney Road in Lacey. Joined by drummer Lora McFarlane, they recorded their self-titled debut for Olympia's Chainsaw Records in 1995.

The group released "Call the Doctor" the next year and began attracting the national attention that has remained with them ever since. Weiss hooked up with the group in time for '97's "Dig Me Out," the band's first album for Olympia's Kill Rock Stars. All the while, the band has remained steadfastly independent, turning down all offers to sign with a major label.

Critics have long lavished praise upon Sleater-Kinney, including Greil Marcus, who wrote the Time magazine piece that proclaimed the trio the country's best rock act. Over the years, Marcus wrote, the band's sound "has become at once bigger and more agile, harsher and more unpredictable."

Kill Rock Stars head Slim Moon says he, for one, can't wait for Sleater-Kinney to re- enter the punk-rock fray.

"It's a dream come true when a band is so professional and talented," says Moon. "They just totally grow every year with every new album, they've got this unlimited ability to outdo themselves. And the new songs are just incredible."

And Brownstein says Sleater-Kinney's extended break accomplished all that she had hoped it would.

"We have a newfound excitement," she says. "We gained perspective on how much we need this, how integral the band is to our lives and how important it is for us to connect with each other.

"I really noticed it when it wasn't there. If you don't take time away from it, you forget just how vital it is."