Interview With Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein
By Joe Heim
the release in August of their sixth CD, "One
Beat," on the Kill Rock Stars label,
Sleater-Kinney has solidified its standing as one of the truly great
rock bands of the last decade. The trio of Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein
and Janet Weiss continues to make music that matters even if it's rarely
heard on commercial radio. On Sunday, Oct. 20, the group will perform at the
9:30 club along with openers the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Quails. And they
will be at the
Recher Theatre in Baltimore on Sunday, Oct. 27.
In a recent interview from her home in
Portland, Ore., guitarist and vocalist Carrie Brownstein talked about the
band's new album, Sept. 11, Bruce Springsteen and playing in Washington,
So, a lot has been made about how the
band has chosen to respond to Sept. 11 with this album. How many of these
songs were written after the attacks?
I think about half were written after but only three were written as a
response to that: "Far Away," "Combat Rock" and "Step Aside."
What were you doing on that day?
I remember just getting up with a phone call around 7:30. I just remember
spending a lot of time watching TV and not being able to turn it off. And
then I spent time calling everyone and feeling disoriented and scared and
kind of at a loss. It was all just surreal.
Have you been surprised by how few bands
and artists seem to have addressed Sept. 11 and its aftermath in their
It has been a little bit surprising. I sort of have this romanticized idea
of late '60s and '70s music and the time where musicians were sort of the
spokespeople and were voicing opinions of dissent or questioning or using
their music as a means of bringing people together. And because I wasn't
around then, that could be false, but it seems like there was definitely a
collective push from the arts community to address issues. So, yeah I was a
little bit surprised.
Well, why do you think there aren't more
musicians addressing this with their songs?
I think the biggest reason is just how watered down mainstream music has
become. To the point where I don't really feel that people look to music as
a medium that contains a lot of meaning. I think that music has become
mainly entertainment, at least on a mainstream level. Some of the efficacy
of music has been lost in the last decade or especially in the last five
years. It's over-saturated and people just have a different relationship to
music, first and foremost.
What about the new Springsteen record
"The Rising"? Have you had a chance to listen to that?
Yeah, and we actually went and saw him play. He played here (Portland) the
day our record came out and we treated ourselves to a very expensive
Springsteen concert. (laughs) It was pretty good. Janet is a huge
Springsteen fan. She went to see him on the River tour in 1980. I was
impressed with the show. Not only did they seem really excited to be playing
with one another and playing for this crowd, but he has so much cultural
power and I think people still turn to him as a leader and it's kind of
amazing to see that and have it be positive.
Do you like "The Rising"?
I do think the record is pretty good. I don't love it but there are
definitely some good songs on there. I really like them live. He's doing a
lot from "The Rising" and from "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and those two
records are pretty connected in a way. I think it's phenomenal for a writer
to make an album that sounds fresh and be able to see a thread and a lineage
to his earlier work and have it still be relevant. That's what you want as
an artist. That's what you hope for, so it's pretty impressive.
Well, when you listen to your earlier
records, what's your reaction to them? Or do you even go back and listen to
I don't as much as Janet and Corin because I remember all those songs
(laughs). When we're about to leave on tour everyone picks old songs to see
which ones we want to play. And they have to go back and listen because they
don't remember, so I probably listen to them the least. The one thing that I
do notice is how fast they are, how much higher Corin's voice seems, how my
voice is weaker. I'm pretty critical but I still love the songs. I don't
discount them at all. When I contextualize them and think of the progression
from album to album I think it's really natural and organic. They each have
their place in our canon and in my own life. I'm usually the biggest fan of
the latest record.
Would you agree that the new record
sounds vastly different musically than your previous albums?
Well, I don't know. I think of "Dig Me Out" and "The Hot Rock" as the two
ends of the spectrum and it's kind of been combined on this record. And then
we also pushed ourselves beyond that. I think we pushed ourselves farthest
in a lot of different realms, especially songwriting and production. The
freshness and the immediacy that I think the album has comes from a
combination of challenging ourselves but also reconnecting. It captures some
of the excitement that I feel exists on "Call the Doctor" and "Dig Me Out"
because we took so much time off and we came back to it with a need for it
that I don't think necessarily exists on "The Hot Rock" or on "All Hands on
the Bad One."
Is it different for you playing in
Washington than in any other city?
The only time it felt completely surreal was when we opened for Belle and
Sebastian at Constitution Hall. That was horrifying.
That was the show earlier this year where
there was hardly anyone in the venue when you played. Almost all of the
seats were empty when you came on.
Yeah. I felt like I was in another country, and it made me feel completely
out of place and it made Washington feel like the most elitist place. But I
guess it's good for those things to happen. It was humbling and totally
surreal. But normally we feel a kinship with Washington, D.C., because of it
having such a rich music history and community and so usually it doesn't
feel so alienating.
How are things different for the band now
that Corin is a mother?
Well certainly it affects Corin and it affects logistics, but it has only
been really wonderful. I mean her son is really amazing and I think it has
changed Corin in really profound ways as an artist and as a person. It's
just really wonderful to be around. I think it has had only a positive
What do you mean by profound ways?
Well, I think there's a certain kind of selfishness that can be afforded to
you when you're not a parent. When you have a kid, that really changes you.
I think it's changed her perspective. She's always been a very selfless
person but she's even more selfless and giving and understanding and
concerned. She said something at our show in Portland the other night like,
"I see some people leaning over the balcony and it makes me really nervous
and I don't want anyone to fall." And I was like "Oh my god, who are you?"
Has it changed your perspective at all?
Somewhat. I mean I've never known someone for so long who's then had a kid.
She's my oldest friend and I feel just lucky to be around him and watch him
grow up. But it also changes for me the way I think about society. It makes
me think about more abstract things like sociology and socialization, nature
v. nurture, that kind of thing. I guess I'm able to think about it from a
more theoretical perspective. (laughs)
You guys have never really had to deal
with bad press at all.
No, we have. We definitely have! (laughing) You just don't see it in our
press packet. We got a bad review in Magnet this time around. They were
like, "If you're gonna have a message, you gotta have the music to back it
up." I mean I've read bad reviews, but that one I was like, come on this is
actually our most complicated musical record. We get a lot of backhanded
compliments. And we get gnarly little jabs.
Do you remember the worst thing anyone
Yeah, I think it was in Dallas and this woman just hated female bands. She
hated Joni Mitchell, hated Patti Smith, really just hated the icons of
female songwriting. It was harsh, but then again we were in really good
company. We thought, "Well she hated Patti Smith and Joni Mitchell, I guess
it would be weird if she liked us." That was the worst one. That really made
me angry. I had to stop myself from sending off a mean letter.
Okay, one last question. Are there three
bands that you never had a chance to see that you would have loved to have
Oh yeah, the Kinks. Probably the Velvet Underground. And, um, well probably,
I mean maybe the Beatles. (laughs) I mean there's so many. Oh no, no, no.
Not the Beatles. Led Zeppelin
Okay, we'll let you have four.