by: Leonie Cooper
I'm having a spot of bother at the moment. I can't speak. More
importantly though, I can't do my shrieking yelptastic Sleater-Kinney
impression to this lovely lady sat before me. That's probably all the
better for her though. After a weekend of little sleep and lots of
everything else at indier than thou love-in ATP, I have lost my voice.
Not the best way to go about an interview really.
Drummer Janet Weiss, my allotted Sleater-Kinney for the next half hour,
is sympathetic, "aw damn, I lost my voice a few months ago… it took
about three weeks to come back." Great, only two weeks, five days more
of my Mariella Frostrup chewing glass voice then.
Sleater-Kinney, drummer's previous vocal chord breakdown aside, have
never had any trouble finding their voice though. Their voice is one of
bolshy femininity, of post riot grrrl pop and roll that showed the world
that girls can rock whilst wearing sensible shoes, a nice t-shirt from
Gap and they can do it well. Their new record ‘The Woods’ has seen them
take on a new sound, a deeper, darker voice. In fact it’s a bit of a
scary voice, but one that is still unmistakable; the sound of well
groomed women with shiny hair and something to say.
"We wanted a name that could house the heaviness of the record," starts
Janet, "something a little bit scary and dark, and that gives you an
unsure feeling. We wanted to make a record that was not passive and that
was different and edgy and heavy. It's territory we haven't explored
Like Christine Columbuses heading out to the planet of heavy rock,
explore it they do. From the buzzing, guitar heavy opener 'The Fox'
which takes on Jesus and Mary Chain and Sonic Youth in equal measure all
the way to 'Night Light' at the end of the album which is an almost dub
jaunt around echoy, nervy rock.
"In our county at the moment pop music is all people can digest, we just
wanted to make something that was more outrageous. We're bursting out of
the roles that are expected of us. People were beginning to pigeonhole
us and we wanted to make something aggressive and free."
Their switch from girl powered twee rock to their current ballsy sound
hasn't been easy, "Making music becomes more and more challenging, you
still expect yourself to come up with something new and we never want to
rest on our laurels and coast. I want to keep getting better. I have to
practise a lot more now than when I was younger."
The new album, like the six others before it is driven by an intensely
personal and almost private sentiment: "This record has come from
personal experience and what's happening around us with our community
and our culture. There's a general feeling you get from being alive, and
it changes depending on where you're living, who you're with, how old
you are and what you're interested in at the time. It's really a
personal statement about who we are and how we wish the world was. With
each album we're in a different space personally, with different
experiences; people are in relationships, then they're not. All the
songs are really personal - rather than thinking 'this song's better
than this song', I just listen to the records and remember where I was
at the time. Other people listening don't know the specifics, but when I
listen to the records, I can hear events and the emotional turmoil that
was going on with one person and it really comes through in the music.
And it's good. I'm glad most people don't know what the songs are about.
Only the three of us know what the songs are really about."
Janet was a late addition to Sleater-Kinney, but has now been in the
band for nine years, and, unlike guitar girls Carrie and Corin who were
involved in various riot grrrl projects, was whooping it up over in
Portland. "I wasn't part of the riot grrrl scene at all – and I'm a
little bit older than Carrie and Corin. I didn't join until '96, by then
riot grrrl was over." Instead, Janet was rocking out with her other band
Quasi, who she still plays with. "It's like wearing two hats. One's like
a fake fur hat and the others a baseball cap. Sleater-Kinney would have
to be the fake fur hat. It can be very stressful, I was just in the UK
about a week and a half ago playing with Quasi and it is hard. I try to
keep them separate though and it's worked pretty well."
It's difficult to ignore the fact that Sleater-Kinney have breasts,
sometimes wear skirts and are, well, girls. Not because there's
something odd about women being in bands, but because there are still so
few all female bands in the rock mainstream.
"The mindset of people regarding women in the music industry is still
the same as it was 10, 20 years ago. We're always asked what it's like
to be women, it's crazy, because nobody is ever asked what it's like to
be a man. That's because it's not the norm, but we don't think about it
– we play what we want to play and make the records we want to make and
don't really see any boundaries. In the States especially it's an issue.
I don't know why there's more girls in bands. It's great! Girls are
taught not to be loud, and it's about encouraging them to be just that,
and making sure they're not intimidated, or afraid of making mistakes.
There's a rock and roll camp for girls in Portland and I think that's an
amazing idea, and a great chance for girls to feel the power of being
creative. We had The Pipettes support us last night and they were great.
I especially liked the girl with the dark hair and low voice, such an
amazing voice, I thought it was beautiful."
Though like most musicians, Janet didn't really have a choice when it
came to how she was going to spend the rest of her life: "I always feel
like there are lots of things that I could do, but drumming found me. I
had a real job, I worked at an ad agency and did a film and photography
major, but nothing really caught my imagination like music. At this
point, if it all fell apart. I'd probably still be in a cover band or
something, playing bars every Saturday night. Or I'd become a vet.
"I’ve given up everything for music. I've given up a normal life – which
I wasn't that interested in anyway to be honest. It's hard to have a
relationship, you're always leaving home. There's no future to it as
well, there's no retirement plan, you never know if you're going to have
money for the next month, and it's hard to plan. Some people would be
scared - knowing what's coming up next is really important to their
mental well-being, but I'm not like that. When you're in this job you
have no stability at all – but that can't be a priority for you - if
that's a priority for you, you're in the wrong job."
Sleater Kinney's new album 'The Woods' is out on
the 30th of May on Sub Pop