Sleater-Kinney, Punk-rockin' with Pearl Jam, Nirvana & the anti-war vote

w/ Corin Tucker by News Desk for SoundGenerator.com
 

Rising from the early 90's Pacific Norwest scene, all-girl three-piece Sleater-Kinney declined the invitation to ride the coattails of Nirvana et all, instead plotting their own course through the decade's ever-more-barren American alt, rock landscape.

Now, perceived by many as an institution unto themselves, the group, Corin Tucker, Janet Wiess and Carrie Brownstein, recently completed their seventh studio set, the challenging, dense 'The Woods'. Taking a different cue than before, the new set is their first for new label Sub Pop records.


So, how has you time been in Europe so far?

Really good, it is fairly short, some good shows we have done some festivals and club shows so it is a good variety.

Do you think the European audience is a lot different to the American audience?

Yeah, I think people in Europe are a bit more reserved. Our audiences this time around have been really good so we are pleased. We haven't been here for about 2 years, the last shows were a bit more nuts, people last night warmed up into it but there was a lot of new material that we played last night.

A new label (Sub Pop) how is that going?

It's been really good, they have been working hard, it is good to have organised press.

You're still good friends with Kill Rock Stars I presume.

We are, we love them, they are a great label, there are really small with just a couple of people, we decided a while ago we wanted to do something different so we parted amicably and they really liked the new record.

So, The Woods. Tell us about the new album, from what we have heard it is denser and heavier now, how did you find that sound?

Partially from our tour with Pearl Jam in the US. We played really huge arenas and we started improvisation. It was really challenging as the audience wasn't there to see us anyway, we tried to engage them and draw their minds, three women doing improve on stage, it was like Yeah?!?

Do you think Pearl Jam looked to challenge the audience?

Well Ed has been a good friend of ours for a long time, very supportive, they are all really good people, they pick up all kinds of acts.

In terms of a challenge with the huge audiences was that quite scary?

Yeah! We played in front of 20.000 people in Mexico City and you just have to rise to the occasion, it was great for us because we so often have enthusiastic fans and it was a real challenge, it upped the ante.

What about the entertainment aspect of it, playing in front of stadium filled fans?

They have a huge screen so they projected my huge face, oh god, no! and yeah, there were lots of people eating nachos and hotdogs so it was interesting and it really made us reach a bit, we really loved doing the improv, we found it was a different direction we could go into.

We recently read that Janet (Sleater-Kinney's drummer) was going to record a drum album with drummers Matt Cameron (Pearl Jam) and Zac from Hella.

Is it going to still happen at all?

She made it, she hasn't got a label for it yet. I mean there are few labels now that are willing to try experimental and challenging things. It has got so commercial it is a drag.

Speaking more about Kill Rock Stars, you mentioned about the move to Sub Pop, was it under you manager's pressure or was it purely on artistic direction?

We don't have any management, it is just us, we run our band like a collective, the three of us and we set it up ourselves so if mistakes are made they are our mistakes. We have worked with people before but we have found that we are all very opinionated! And business like anyway so we can handle it ourselves.

I know this has been asked a lot before but how did the group form?

Carrie and I met in Olympia at Evergreen College and we started the band and eventually met Janet through the music 'scene' in Portland

Portland seemed pretty big when you first got together with bands like Pavement and Unwound, do you think it has changed quite a lot since then?

Well, now there is still a lot of good music coming out their like the Shins and Monomona, there is all this new stuff, it is such a good place for music. It is really small so people bump into each other all the time.

The Pearl Jam tour, was that you first foray supporting such a massive group?

We have opened for Sonic Youth and John Spencer but this was definitely the biggest, they are huge, their fans are very loyal and just massive and much different to our fans, our fans are like Crazy weirdo left wingers! In comparison their fans are quite conservative and in the US when we started playing with them it was the first day of the Iraq war and we opened for them in the mid west in Denver and of course I get up there in front of 7,000 people and we start playing our songs which are all anti-war from the last record (One Beat) and saying something like 'Oh the cops are cracking down on the protesters' and really anti-war. We got booed by like 5000 people, this is really a very strongly military area.

It is crazy because Pearl Jam are very anti-war.

Yeah, Ed got up that night and did a big anti war thing, it was crazy, crazy booing but that is what is so great about Pearl Jam. They actually have the ability to create a discussion. There are people who are pro war and anti war at the shows and these people bring the subject up and discuss it. I think that is really gutsy and cool, he is actually aware, they don't have to be, they are so successful and I am sure a lot of people say 'Don't rock the boat!'

He is quite shy and introverted so to do that is cool.

He's not! He just doesn't want to look like this glamorous rock star, he turns away, he is more of a serious artist.

What is the political climate like Post Bush election?

Well, it is really depressing actually, I mean Bush has the total majority - a stranglehold on our country right now and they want to do away with social security, they really want to gut our country of any social service or any support for those who aren't rich and white. The prospects are daunting and terrifying, they have gone so far and done so much so hopefully the bottom is coming out in terms of who will support them. I want to believe that people are wisening up about the Iraq war and how badly it was handled, even if you were in support of it, it was so poorly handled. I just think the left wing is so poorly organised the democrats don't have it together and are hanging in there, hoping it will get better in 2008.

Are there any other artistic ways you put your message across other than music?

No, I go to War Protests, everyone has tried to do different things but it was a big, big defeat, it sucked!

Can you give us a background of when you first started in the early 90's with the incredible scene in the North West with Nirvana and so on?

In Olympia when it all happened Nirvana were great, they used to play house parties and they played in my dorm, they were like everybody else, just dudes who wanted to play music and have some success, they wanted to be as popular as the Pixies. The next week it was like they were the biggest band that ever was, they were like the Beatles, they just blew everything totally under the water. It bought about such self-destruction, it was really sad, it saddened all the people in Olympia he was friendly with. In a way watching that really pushed some people away from that path of commercialism, it just seemed to not bring the best out of people - it just seemed to bring out the worse and you have to ask yourself: What does success mean to you?

Do you think from that experience there were a lot of bands who learnt from that and weren't going to be manipulated by their record label?

Yeah, there were a lot of bands that could have been huge like Fugazi, they could have been enormous they had these really intense ethics about not doing that and all the bands on Kill Rock Stars, we knew we weren't going to be huge, we could do things our own way without having to deal with mega success. Like Unwound - they were amazing - they worked so hard and toured so much but they weren't about the press stuff - it was about making good music for people.

You have had a couple of support groups over the last few years who have become a lot bigger (White Stripes + Yeah Yeah Yeahs) are you worried the commercial factor could change the way they are?


Well, Jack White has a really good head on his shoulders, they knew they were going to be great, he is not self destructive and he's just really smart about business and he is a really great writer, I am just really happy for him, he can handle that situation.

Do you think (speaking specifically about Jack White) that is because he was older, did that make a difference?

It doesn't really have anything to so with that, it is just personality, it brings out the self-worth, whether they feel like they really deserve it. Jack knows what he is doing, he is smart, he is also cocky and funny, well adjusted.

With Sleater-Kinney are you on the ball with that kind of commercial destructiveness?

We are not self destructive, more neurotic! That kind of pressure makes us more uptight. It is all about maintaining our direction

You have delved into quite a lot of musical projects outside of Sleater-Kinney : Corin (Cadallaca) Janet (Quasi) Carrie (The Spells) When you come back from that and you go into Sleater-Kinney, do you go straight back into it and do you bring ideas from your experiences?

We bring ideas from our experiences but Sleater-Kinney is so collaborative, writing is such a lengthy process. Writing together and throwing ideas out because it isn't the direction we want to go in, it's just for me personally it is a fully realised musicianship with the three of us. We really challenge each other, we fight! But we go somewhere with it.

With the new record, recorded with David Fridman, did you spend the recording process and the writing process altogether as Sleater-Kinney or were you writing before?

We wrote the songs before. We came with nine and a half songs but Dave went through and had suggestions: why doesn't this part go on longer? Why do you play this so short? We had this outside perspective that was critical of our band, he wasn't that big a fan of ours beforehand.

So what made you choose him for the record?

We loved the Flaming Lips record and he definitely has a psychedelic edge and that is what we wanted - experimenting psychedelica- being able to freak out a bit, we worked well together.

And what influences did you each bring to the record?

I think I am more of a pop fan, listening to college rock like REM and Sinead O'Conner and Janet probably has the most diverse taste, it is really eclectic.

For those that haven't heard your sound; lets say, if you had your own festival who would you book up to reflect the SK vibe?

Definitely the Liars, we just played with them, Angus is awesome, they are the best thing I have seen for so long, I really love their experimental music. There are so many bands I love, Sonic Youth, Joanna Newsom - I haven't yet but would love to see her live, I like Arcade Fire I think they are a really good band, Neutral Milk Hotel - I would get Jeff to play somehow! Fiery Furnaces, TV on the Radio. You have really got me going now!

They all have one thing in common: Dynamics

Absolutely, we like music that is challenging and interesting.

Are there any artists that you would like you work with?

The Liars, they are great, totally fearless which to me is what art is.

Have you ever thought about bringing bass into the mix?

I play quite a bit of basslines, that is where my guitar stuff is going now, it can have that kind of dynamic, it is something I have worked hard on

You have contributed to a few soundtracks, what film would be your dream to score?

My friend, Miranda July is a filmmaker, she is excellent. She has just done a film called 'You and me and everyone we know' I can see myself working with her, she is really talented.

Is that something you would like to do in the future, score a film?

Yeah, I would like to but we have a lot on our plate at the moment!

What now for Sleater-Kinney - your plans?

Things are going really well, we are happy with the record and we are looking forward to the future. We are touring all June in the US but we haven't worked out when we our coming back to Europe but we are coming back at some point!