Sleater-Kinney is back and better than ever

By Patrick MacDonald
Seattle Times music critic

Sleater-Kinney has had a great year. The Portland-based threesome's "One Beat" CD was a critical and commercial success, and the band toured the world, including dates with fellow Northwest greats Pearl Jam.

S-K is winding up 2003 with a few West Coast dates, including two this weekend at The Showbox. The band will be taking New Year's Eve off to celebrate the year and look forward to 2004, when it will record its seventh album and probably tour in its own sweet time.

The band started with the riot grrl movement that emerged in Olympia in the '90s, but it transcended and outlived the trend. Sleater-Kinney's members, Carrie Brownstein, Janet Weiss and Corin Tucker have stayed innovative, outspoken and creative, balancing a number of projects. They have kept away from the glitz of the industry and run the band largely by themselves, always choosing options that allow them to stay focused on music. In the process, they've quietly become one of the most respected independent bands in the world.

Drummer Weiss, on the phone from her home in Portland, said the band has been taking time off since its tour concluded at the end of the summer and is looking forward to playing again especially for an all-ages crowd Sunday.

Q: First of all, I know you were close to Elliott Smith and played drums on tour with him, so his death must have been hard for you.

A: Yes, I was. I'm actually not talking to the press about that.

Q: OK. It's been almost two years since "One Beat." Are you working on a new album?

A: We are, kind of, at sort of a slow pace. I don't think we're going to be cranking out one album a year like we used to. You know, Corin has a young son now and, I don't know, we're just taking our time. We'll put out the record when we have a recordful of songs that we think are worthy. But there's not really a timeline. We've worked really hard, and that's kind of a luxury that we've earned for ourselves, I think. All that hard work is paying off. Artistically, at least.

Q: Are you continuing to work with Quasi (a side project with Weiss' former husband, Sam Coomes)?

A: Yes, we just finished a U.S. tour.

Q: What was it like for Sleater-Kinney to tour with Pearl Jam?

A: It was great. It was a really fantastic, enriching experience. Getting to know them as people was really a pleasure and an honor. There's a lot to be learned from those guys. They've really figured out how to keep going and hang on to their integrity and play the music for the right reasons.

Q: All those things could apply to Sleater-Kinney.

A: Well, thanks! I think we had a lot more in common with them than we had imagined. We were very like-minded in certain ways, and we didn't really expect that going in. So it was a great surprise to sort of hit it off with these people and have so much mutual respect. We've known Eddie (Vedder) for a while through mutual friends, and he's always been incredibly supportive of our band and sort of been asking us to tour for a few years now, but this was the first time that it worked out.

Q: Is there a certain Northwest rock ethos, if you will, that you and Pearl Jam and certainly Kurt Cobain subscribed to? A certain independence, a detachment from stardom and show business?

A: There may be. We're pretty far from Hollywood. Some of us manage to just put our heads down and ignore that whole world of rock stars and groupies. We're not all in it for that. Which a lot of people find hard to believe.

Q: "One Beat" was a new high for the band. Your best album yet, I think.

A: With each record, you do your best. It's an interesting job to have, because you're compelled to do it and you're gonna keep doing it. You always sort of love your record when you're done with it and then you move on and kind of leave it behind. But this record, I think, did have a kind of special excitement to it. We were just firing on all cylinders. It's very visceral. You can't really plan to make a great record. We're just gonna keep making records, and hopefully we'll be able to come up with some sort of unique, meaningful music.