Sleater-Kinney The Drama You've Been Craving
Published Jan 22, 2015"We're not just a feminist band or a punk band or a girl band or whatever. I mean, we are, but we're not only that. We're all those things at once," explained Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein to Rolling Stone. Yes, Sleater-Kinney emerged from the riot grrrl movement in the early '90s. But by the time they released their breakthrough third album, Dig Me Out, they had far outgrown that association. Although they never stopped writing dynamic punk anthems about important issues like female empowerment and sexism, Sleater-Kinney had far bigger aspirations. They wanted to become the best band in the world, regardless of sex, genre or politics.
Many people think they achieved that goal. At a time when the Strokes and the White Stripes were all anyone was talking about, two of the world's most respected music critics, Greil Marcus and Robert Christgau, both proclaimed Sleater-Kinney to be the best band in the world — even before they released what many consider to be their two best albums. After a 12-year hiatus that saw members undertake solo projects, supergroups and one of television's most celebrated comedies, Sleater-Kinney finally gave in to demand that accumulated over eight long years and announced a new album, their eighth, titled No Cities To Love.
1965 to 1989
Janet Lee Weiss is born in Hollywood, CA on September 24, 1965. Weiss grows up with a strong musical influence in the family: her father is a talented harmonica player, while her sisters get her into classic rock at a young age. Weiss begins listening to the Clash and R.E.M. in her teens and leaves Hollywood at 17 to attend San Francisco University. Taking interest in the local music scene, in 1987 Weiss joins lo-fi band the Furies on drums after one drum lesson. Weiss later tells the Experience Music Project, "I indicated to them that I didn't know how to play the drums, but they gave me a record, and they lent me a drum kit, and said they'd get back to me in two weeks to see if I could possibly handle the job. And I practiced in my room in the Haight every day and sort of got the basic understanding of how to play, just the most rudimentary things, which was all the band really required anyway, and then we went on tour."
Weiss reportedly auditions for the Lemonheads but doesn't get the job. Two years later Weiss moves to Portland, OR where she meets musician Sam Coomes, singer of the Donner Party. They form a band called Motorgoat. "Sam and I used to play with this guy named Brad [Pedinov] in a group named Motorgoat," Weiss tells Drummergirl. "But then Brad kind of moved back to San Francisco, and Sam and I decided that we would play as a two-piece. We had already done a lot of recording at home, so we started playing as a two-piece and adding our friends to play with us at shows, and we would learn the songs."
Corin Lisa Tucker is born in Eugene, Oregon on November 9, 1972. Tucker's "free-thinking, liberal family" later moves to Grand Forks, ND where her father is a university professor and her mom a medical technician. Tucker learns of music early on thanks to her father's folk singing and guitar playing, and listens to his record collection that includes Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, the Velvet Underground and R.E.M. The music's politically laced ideals aren't lost on her. At the age of 12, Tucker begins studying piano. In high school, Tucker begins writing "emotional and overwrought" poetry, and forms a band with friends called This That and the Other. Tucker skips her prom to go see Vancouver indie rock duo Mecca Normal play a gig instead.
Carrie Rachel Grace Brownstein is born in Seattle, WA on September 27, 1974 to a corporate lawyer father and a homemaker mother. Brownstein is raised in Redmond, 16 miles outside of Seattle. At a young age Brownstein dreams of becoming an actress, later telling the Seattle Times that she was an "obsessed drama nerd." With her friends, Brownstein forms a fake Duran Duran cover band using instruments built of plywood. At the age of 14, Brownstein's parents divorce, and she and her sister go live with their father. Brownstein takes up babysitting and buys a red Gibson Epiphone guitar; at 15 she takes lessons from classmate Jeremy Enigk (Sunny Day Real Estate). Brownstein starts listening to punk and transfers to private school Overlake where she "reinvents" herself as a preppy. At Overlake, Brownstein stars in the school play and joins the tennis team.
1990 to 1993
Tucker moves to Olympia, WA to study film, political economy and social change at Evergreen State College. Tucker immediately falls in love with the city's music scene, later telling the New York Times, "I was 18 when I went to a show that Bratmobile and Bikini Kill played. It was February 14, 1991. And Kathleen Hanna was… terrifying. People were just freaking out. She was saying things — with the slogan 'Revolution Girl Style Now,' singing songs about rape, incest and resistance, sometimes with words like 'Slut' scrawled on her stomach — that were really direct and really emotional at the same time. She was so powerful. People were crying. And some people were like, 'They're the worst band ever.' It was the first time I'd seen feminism translated into an emotional language. That I saw those kinds of thoughts and ideas put into your own personal life, that's not in a textbook or an academic discussion. For young women to be doing that, basically teenagers on stage, to be taking that kind of stance, that kind of power, was blowing people's minds. And it totally blew my mind. I was like, 'O.K., that's it. That's it for me — I'm going in a band, right now."
Tucker begins telling people she has a band called Heavens To Betsy, even though it's only an idea; when she returns home from Evergreen, she recruits friend Tracy Sawyer on drums and they agree — without having any songs written — to perform at the now-legendary Love Rock Revolution Girl Style Now gig as part of K Records' International Pop Underground Convention in Olympia. The gig is considered the birthplace of the Riot Grrrl movement. Tucker models her wailing vocals after Kathleen Hanna and Sinead O'Connor.
During her freshman year, Tucker makes a documentary about women in music featuring interviews with Beat Happening, Nirvana, and footage of the first shows by Bikini Kill and Bratmobile. Motorgoat change their name to Quasi in 1992, then release a self-titled cassette the next year. Not long after, Weiss and Coomes marry.
In 1992, Brownstein and Tucker meet at a Heavens To Betsy show in Bellingham, WA where Brownstein attends Western Washington University. Brownstein drops out of school and moves to Seattle to deliver sandwiches. The next fall, Brownstein moves to Olympia and enrols in Evergreen, where Tucker studies. Brownstein forms Excuse 17 with Becca Albee and CJ Phillips; the line-up features no bassist, with Brownstein and Albee on guitar and vocals — a decision that would later follow with Sleater-Kinney. Excuse 17 and Heavens To Betsy tour together, which brings Brownstein and Tucker closer together; they begin jamming, with Misty Farrell on drums.
Brownstein later tells Rolling Stone, "In Olympia at the time, there was a very non-monogamous musical community. Everyone played in, like, ten bands. It was really casual for Corin and me to say, 'Yeah, we should play music together.' I just remember sitting in my living room writing a song, 'You Ain't It,' and we just thought it was funny, bratty, and weird. It felt a little like something had opened up. I remember we were playing this song, and we have our mikes set up facing each other, and over her part I started singing this counterpart. It was 'Call the Doctor.' We just stopped, and she was like, 'That is so awesome, you have to keep doing that.' That song was a complete turning point. It just felt like I had fused with her. This bolt of lightning had gone from my chest to hers. And we just said, 'Oh, my God, when we sing together, what is that?' It was just… I couldn't even name it. It was so big."
Brownstein and Tucker also start dating, but the romance doesn't last long. "We started going out and playing music right around the same time," Brownstein tells Rolling Stone. "It was short-lived. We were really young. We were a lot more in love with the band." Tucker and Sawyer release a self-titled Heavens To Betsy demo and a split single with Bratmobile in 1992, followed by their one and only album, Calculated, the next year.
1994 to 1996
Tucker graduates from Evergreen, while Brownstein still has three years to go. Heavens To Betsy disband. Tucker suggests to Brownstein that they name their band after Sleater Kinney Road in the town of Lacey, WA, where they had previously found a rehearsal space. Brownstein and Tucker record four songs for indie label Villa Villakula, three of which make it onto the Move Into the Villa Villakula compilation.
Brownstein and Tucker travel to Australia together and record an album down under. They recruit Australian Laura Macfarlane from Sea Hags to take over drums. Chainsaw Records, a queercore label run by Donna Dresch (Team Dresch), releases Sleater-Kinney, the band's scrappy, lo-fi debut in 1995. They record another album with Macfarlane, who leaves the band when her visa runs out. "It just became unrealistic to play in a band with someone who lives across the world," Brownstein tells the ROCKRGRL zine. They ask Toni Gogin of CeBe Barnes to fill in on the drums to tour their new album.
Once again released by Chainsaw, sophomore album Call the Doctor finds the band making significant forward progress, thanks to the production of John Goodmanson. Tucker tells the ROCKRGRL zine, "We wanted to expand our songwriting a bit so we'd have songs that were still bare-bones in some ways, but have a really big sound, really explosive, where it can contract and expand." The song "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone" becomes a popular anthem amongst fans for its call to destroy gender-based rock'n'roll stereotypes.
Thanks to music critics Robert Christgau and Greil Marcus, Call the Doctor receives plenty of rave reviews and ends up reaching #3 on the Village Voice's year-end best albums list, behind only Beck's Odelay and the Fugees' The Score. Coomes joins a band fronted by Elliott Smith called Heatmiser. Excuse 17 release their debut album, Excuse Seventeen, in 1994, followed by their second album, Such Friends Are Dangerous, the following year. Not long after, Excuse 17 call it quits.
Weiss and Coomes divorce in 1995, but keep working together as Quasi; they release a compilation called Early Recordings on Key Op in 1996. Sleater-Kinney play a show in Portland with support from Jr. High, whose drummer Janet Weiss takes a shine to the headliner. As Gogin leaves the band, Weiss learns through a mutual acquaintance that Sleater-Kinney are in need of a drummer. Tucker tells Spin, "She came over to my crummy little basement, and she had learned all the songs from Call the Doctor. She just blew us away." In an interview with Addicted To Noise, Tucker elaborates: "Musically, she's completed our band. She's become the bottom end and the solidness that we've really wanted for our songwriting."
1997 to 1998
At the beginning of the year, the band tour with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and during a show in Portland, they get heckled by one particular man in the front. At the end of their set, Brownstein knocks her mic stand into his head. She tells Citypages, "That guy was totally harmless. He was just a figurehead for all the morons behind him. I mean… whatever. It really wasn't specifically directed at anyone. I think I was just channelling a different energy for that show."
Spin casually outs Tucker and Brownstein's brief romance in a May 1997 profile on the band. Brownstein is quoted saying, "If you spend an intense amount of time with someone and show so much of yourself, when the relationship is severed you feel vulnerable. [After breaking up] Corin and I were proud of our courage and tenacity to stay in this band." At the time, Brownstein has yet to reveal her sexuality to family and friends, and the band chastise the magazine for including the comment. Once again working with Goodmanson, the band record their third album over two months at John and Stu's Place in Seattle. They release the album through a bigger indie label, Olympia's Kill Rock Stars, to help grow their audience. Tucker explains to the Los Angeles Times, "I definitely hope this record gets to more people than the last one. That would definitely be a goal for us." Featuring an album cover that pays homage to the Kinks' 1965 album, The Kink Kontroversy, Dig Me Out marks a significant shift towards a more rock-heavy sound, no doubt bolstered by Weiss' monstrous drumming, but also the intersecting, tag-team vocals of Tucker and Brownstein.
In an interview with Addicted To Noise, Brownstein says, "I think it's a stronger album for sure. I think we really captured a lot of the energy and excitement of playing together. We did that a little bit on Call the Doctor, but I also think that these songs have a different feel. I don't think we were even very conscious of [the writing technique and vocal execution] at time. We knew we liked the contrasting melodies, but we didn't actually know we liked the contrasting sounds, and that dynamic, until we heard it back recorded. We definitely made an effort on Dig Me Out to work with that."
One song in particular, "One More Hour," tackles the Brownstein-Tucker break-up. Years later, Brownstein explains to Rolling Stone, "That song was about me and Corin breaking up. And that time for me is not particularly sad, but her take on that is really devastating. People responded so much to 'One More Hour,' and I was always like, 'Yeah, I like that one too,' but two years later it just hit me, wow, how sad that song is. It's like 'This song is so sad. Corin was so sad. All these people are relating to the song, and I'm totally blind to what this song's about!' Thank God we don't write songs about each other anymore."
Dig Me Out appears in many year-end best-of lists, including #4 on the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop poll and #6 in Spin's Best Albums of 1997. It will later be included on lists such as Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time," and Spin's "50 Most Essential Punk Records." Spin lists Sleater-Kinney at #35 on its "Top 40 Most Vital Artists" in 1997, and #27 in 1998. In an interview with The Onion, Brownstein denies having much interest in riot grrrl associations: "I think there was a lot of good things about the term, but it had a lot of shortcomings. I don't think any of us identify as that. But I also don't want to knock it, because there was a lot of significance to it at a certain time."
Tucker forms a side-project called Cadallaca with Sarah Dougher and sts of the Lookers; they each assume nicknames (Tucker's is Kissy) as a tribute to '60s girl groups. They release their debut, Introducing Cadallaca, in 1998 via K Records, followed by the Out West EP on Kill Rock Stars in 1999. Quasi release the albums R&B Transmogrification and Featuring "Birds" in 1997 and 1998. Weiss and Coomes tour as Elliott Smith's backing band for the singer-songwriter's XO tour. As Sleater-Kinney's popularity begins to surge, they feel the pressure of their success. "There was a whole set of rules you could never deviate from," Brownstein later tells Rolling Stone. "Anti-commercialism, anti-ambition. If you played anything larger than a basement, you were selling out. No one watched television. When I see Friends or Seinfeld now, I'm like, 'Oh, my God, I missed all this.'"
For their fourth album, Sleater-Kinney decide to record with Roger Moutenot over regular producer John Goodmanson. A fan of his work on Yo La Tengo's I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, they choose Moutenot because "these songs warranted a different production," Brownstein tells CMJ. On The Hot Rock, Sleater-Kinney continue to develop, easing up a little on the fiery punk, for something moodier with different textures, like violin by Seth Warren of the Red Stars Theory on "The Size of Our Love" and "Memorize Your Love." Speaking to Rolling Stone, Brownstein elaborates, saying, "After making a record like Dig Me Out, where the energy is actually very dense, as a songwriter you naturally step back from that. We wanted to write songs that have more subtlety or more space. Also, we wrote Dig Me Out in about two months. We wrote this one over the space of a year. I think the album is a reflection of the amount of time we had. It's much more vast, richer in texture."
The Hot Rock reaches number 181 on the U.S. Billboard album chart. Despite significant major label interest, they release the album on Kill Rock Stars. Tucker tells CMJ, "After Call the Doctor and Dig Me Out, we talked to a lot of major labels and considered signing. But we used it as a learning process about the record industry. The best place for us to be is on Kill Rock Stars because we wanted to have our own game plan for making music, how our records are sold and how we tour."
Emerging indie filmmaker Miranda July directs the band's video for "Get Up." They invite fans to be extras in the video via the Internet. July tells MTV, "I tried to discourage them: 'Please do not fly here, because it's going to be pretty cold and miserable,'" July said. "One 13-year-old did show up in a cab at seven in the morning in the middle of nowhere. But it was great, because you need people who are really dedicated. They were doing it because they love the band." A month after the album's release, Brownstein injures her back lifting an amp.
During a show in New Orleans, the band are forced to quit after five songs and Brownstein is rushed to a hospital. They have to postpone their tour until May, but manage to perform at the Belle & Sebastian-curated Bowlie Weekender in Camber Sands, Sussex, a weekend-long event that inspires the All Tomorrow's Parties festival.
The band discuss the infamous Spin article that outed Brownstein and Tucker as a couple in 1997 to Rolling Stone. "It was a complete invasion of privacy," Brownstein says. "My parents didn't know Corin and I were going out. They didn't know I had ever dated a woman before. It was horrible. I was pissed at Spin, really mad. Luckily my parents are great people, but God forbid I would have some family that would disown me over something like that. And I would have totally held Spin responsible for that."
Brownstein assembles a few side-projects: Tommy with Lois Maffeo; the Tentacles, also with Maffeo and Peter Momtchiloff (Talulah Gosh, Heavenly), who release a seven-inch on K Records; and the Spells with Helium's Mary Timony, who release The Age of Backwards EP, also on K Records. At the end of 1999, The Hot Rock reaches #23 in the Village Voice 's Pazz & Jop poll and #18 on Spin's "Top 20 Albums of 1999." Music critic Greil Marcus calls Sleater-Kinney "the best band in the world" in a piece for Esquire. In an interview with Nardwuar the Human Serviette at a Vancouver Holiday Inn, he reveals that Weiss has never had "a carbonated beverage, a beer or an orange" in her life. Quasi release their fourth full-length, Field Studies.
2000 to 2001
Less than 15 months after The Hot Rock, Sleater-Kinney release their fifth album, All Hands On the Bad One. Returning to John Goodmanson, Tucker tells Addicted To Noise that "the songs just came out. It was so spontaneous with this record. The songs just kept popping up one after another. We didn't really talk about anything. It just kind of happened. We did have one conversation that was before we even started writing that was like, 'We need to be able to write really freely.' We had been writing much more sophisticated melodies with The Hot Rock, doing stuff that was really intricate. And we just decided for this record that we were going to let go and whatever came out was just going to be something we would work on."
The album's big, direct rock sound is the perfect avenue for the band to air some ire, specifically the treatment of women in the music industry. Tucker tells Addicted To Noise, "I think that there were some things that happened last year that really made me feel a sense of urgency about making music and writing. I felt like it was a really nasty year — 1999 was a really nasty year and a lot of really sexist things happened in rock and that's the area where we work. The most popular bands have really misogynistic lyrics and a lot of women were raped at the Woodstock concerts. So, to me, it was a reminder that you can't... even if we're older and we're successful and we've made this niche for ourselves as musicians, we can't give up. We can't say there are not these really sexist things happening because they are affecting women, young women."
Still, the band didn't want make an explicitly political record that wasn't any "rock'n'roll fun." Speaking with the Washington Post, Tucker adds, "We wanted to write songs that were fun to play live and were really carefree. Because The Hot Rock was not carefree. It was just kind of another challenge, writing songs that were really straightforward but also a bit more mature in their structure and delivery than our earlier songs. This record has a very powerful stance. But it also has a sense of humour about it."
The album enters the Billboard chart at #177 and gets nominated for Outstanding Music Album at the 12th Annual Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Awards. Sleater-Kinney are invited to take part in the "Riot Grrrl Retrospective" at the newly-launched Experience Music Project in Seattle with the likes of Bratmobile's Allison Wolfe, Mecca Normal's Jean Smith and Bikini Kill's Tobi Vail. Tucker tells Addicted To Noise, "It was really intense and I think it reignited a lot of our feelings of wanting to be political and be activists. For me, it definitely did."
Friction between members begins to show, and after Brownstein and Tucker have a spat on stage in Austin, the band decide to give group counselling a chance. "People say a band is like a marriage and in a way it really is," says Weiss. "I think when you're travelling with people and your schedules are super hectic there isn't a lot of time to be on your own, and rest and sleep. There is a lot that needs to be worked out. Therapy was extremely helpful. I recommend it to anyone that feels overwhelmed. It's a very quick and relatively painless way of working out negativity, feeling bad and feeling overwhelmed. We just came up with some basic rules for touring. Like no making big decisions on tour. Mostly it just allowed us to see each other and have more empathy for the other people in the band. It was really basic, but effective for sure."
During some time off, Sleater-Kinney enter the studio with the Go-Betweens to record the Australian indie legends' first album in 12 years, The Friends of Rachel Worth. Tucker tells the Washington Post, "We ended up meeting them in San Francisco at a show that they played and talking to them. Carrie was a huge Go-Betweens fan — Janet and I were fans, but not like Carrie — and they turned out to be huge Sleater-Kinney fans. It was totally bizarre. They really knew our music. Janet said, 'If you need a drummer on your record, I'll do it.' And they said, 'Okay.' So we all got invited to the studio to work with them."
In Iceland, Corin Tucker marries filmmaker Lance Bangs in June; she gives birth to a son named Marshall Tucker Bangs in 2001. Speaking to Rolling Stone, Tucker admits, "It was one of those jokes my husband and I had. We just joked, 'It would be funny to name a kid Marshall Tucker Bangs.' But then I felt, 'Hey, I really like the name Marshall.'" The Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls is founded in Portland, which teaches adolescent girls how to "build self-esteem through music creation and performance"; band members participate as camp counsellors. Brownstein goes one step further, taking on some part-time substitute teaching.
The band are featured in Justin Mitchell's indie rock documentary, Songs for Cassavetes, performing "Words and Guitar" at the El Rey Theatre in L.A. Quasi release fifth album, The Sword of God. Brownstein makes a return to acting with a role in Miranda July's short film, Getting Stronger Every Day. After moving to Portland from Olympia, she also gets involved in the local film, Group. Once again, Greil Marcus expresses his love for the band, declaring them "America's best rock band" in Time. Brownstein begins suffering from anxiety, which forces her to make multiple stops into emergency rooms while touring. In 2014 she tells Rolling Stone, "I literally couldn't speak in front of people in a room. There's this momentum that can become so threatening — you're always coming and going. I think that's why a lot of people drink on tour. I was a hypochondriac. I'd think I was having a heart attack and I couldn't breathe, or I would have hives and be going into anaphylactic shock. My body was rejecting the life that I had built for myself. It didn't stop until the band ended."
2002 to 2004
After taking two years off, the band return with a new album in August 2002. Weeks before release, the band post the album's 12 songs as a QuickTime stream on the Kill Rock Stars website, in a very early example of advance streaming. About the longest period between albums, Tucker tells Exclaim! in 2005, "The time off for me was really humbling in terms of having a kid. It was really important to not have just rock'n'roll every day in our lives, to experience life. That gives us more to write about, more to come back to after the break. That said, the band is something that's a real important outlet for creative expression for the three of us and we really love it. Giving ourselves a break from it and coming back made us realize how much we love playing music."
Produced once again by John Goodmanson, the band's sixth album, One Beat, examines the circle of life, with the bulk of attention centred on the overt lyrics reflecting on 9/11. The song "Far Away" opens with Tucker learning of the World Trade Center attacks, "7:30 a.m., nurse the baby on the couch/ Then the phone rings, 'Turn on the TV.'" In an interview with Seattle Weekly, Tucker says, "How could you not have an opinion about all that's happening? It would almost be bizarre if we didn't have a broader political sense on this record. Plus, I'm in a unique position. There are not that many housewives and mothers writing about September 11, at least in a way that's critical of Bush."
Tucker also admits her son's premature birth also weighed on her mind while writing the album. "Marshall is all over One Beat," she tells Rolling Stone. "The last year was definitely a difficult time for me, as he was born nine weeks premature and he was in the hospital for a while. It was the hardest thing that I've ever lived through, that fear and anxiety, and I think I was able to let go into the music."
As well as the more political and personal lyrics, the album also features a more extensive group of musicians that includes renowned engineer Steve Fisk, Sam Coomes and Hedwig & the Angry Inch composer Stephen Trask. With these contributions adding such components as keyboards, brass, strings and even a Theremin, songs like the Motown-tinged "Step Aside," the sliding blues of "Sympathy," and the reggae-lite "Combat Rock" transform the trio's punk rock sound into something far bigger. One Beat reaches #107 on Billboard, makes Pitchfork's "Top 50 Albums of 2002" at #15, once again appears on the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop Poll, coming in at #5, and inspires Rolling Stone to call them "America's Answer to the Clash."
Sleater-Kinney are invited as openers for different legs of Pearl Jam's Riot Act tour. In an interview with PETA, Tucker explains how one of the biggest rock bands on the planet asked them to tour. "Well, they've been friends of ours and supportive of us for a while," she says. "Eddie Vedder was doing a pirate radio show in Seattle a few years ago and invited me up to speak and talk about being involved in the pro-choice movement. So we had talked about doing some dates with them for a while and it just sort of worked out for this tour. We're looking forward to it. It's definitely going to be different for us playing these huge arenas. We're looking forward to a challenge."
During the tour, both bands are booed by fans whenever they speak out against the Iraq War. "The first show we did with them was in Denver, where there's a huge military base there, the NORAD headquarters," Tucker tells Exclaim! in 2005. "I got up there and midway through our set I started going off, saying things like, 'We're really concerned about the police cracking down on the anti-war protesters.' I got booed by about 15,000 people. It was an interesting experience and [Pearl Jam] struggled with that as well, that their audience is more conservative than they are." Brownstein stars in Brett Vapnek's short film, Fan Mail<, also featuring James Ransone (Ziggy from The Wire) and music by Spoon. Quasi release their sixth album, Hot Shit!
2005 to 2007
After eight years with Kill Rock Stars, Sleater-Kinney move to Sub Pop for their seventh album, The Woods. Tucker explains the jump to Billboard: "We instigated it because we wanted to do something different. We really like the team that's at Sub Pop now. There are people there who are really enthusiastic and putting out really good music. We've done a lot of records with Kill Rock Stars and we really respect them. But we just thought it was time to re-energize our music career."
The Woods is recorded live and produced by Dave Fridmann (the Flaming Lips), instead of long-time producer John Goodmanson. Brownstein clarifies the choice in an interview with Verbicide: "I think that we wanted somebody that didn't really have a sense of our history. When we worked with John Goodmanson, he came from the same background as us: he went to college in Olympia, he recorded the bands that were on the label with us, and sometimes when we would want to do new things, he would be like, 'Oh god, everyone would freak out if we did that, we can't do that!' Whereas Dave had no sense of that at all, and just wanted to jump right off the ledge with us. We really needed that."
In an interview with Spin, Brownstein says the band needed a change to survive: "I was sick of us. We needed to be shaken up, we needed to just wake up in the morning and not feel like we were going to do the same thing." The album is a hulking rock album inspired by classic rock's unwavering determination to take chances, no matter how ridiculous things get.
Tucker tells Exclaim! in 2005, "When you've been a band for ten years, it becomes an issue of, 'Why do we need to make another record?' We all felt that if we are going to make another record, it has to be really different and something we haven't done before." Interviewing the band for Magnet, Eddie Vedder tells the band, "I've played your new record in my car, and I blew out the speakers… It was the first time I was listening to it, so I didn't know it was going to go to a spot where I was going to lose my speakers. There are things that happen on this record that, by the end, my speakers didn't have a chance."
The Woods reaches #80 on Billboard and appears at #4 and #19 on the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop and Pitchfork's Top Albums lists, respectively. Brownstein begins working on sketch comedy with Saturday Night Live's Fred Armisen; they post videos online under the name ThunderAnt. Quasi release a new album called When the Going Gets Dark. In May 2006, Sleater-Kinney help curate a line-up for an All Tomorrow's Parties event called "United Sounds of ATP" that includes Joanna Newsom, Spoon and Boredoms.
A month later Sleater-Kinney announce they have "no plans for future tours or recordings" and will go on an indefinite hiatus. In a joint statement they write, "We feel lucky to have had the support of many wonderful people over the years. We want to thank everyone who has worked with us, written kind words about us, performed with us, and inspired us."
In 2014, Brownstein takes most of the blame for the band's breakup in an interview with Rolling Stone: "I feel a lot more culpable than I ever thought I would. My anxiety was getting bigger than the band. For Corin, it was kind of like, 'Well, this isn't fun anymore, because we have this crazy person in the band.' Meaning me."
Sleater-Kinney play their final show at Crystal Ballroom in Portland on August 12, 2006. The opening acts are Sub Pop labelmates and fellow Portlanders the Thermals, as well as Eddie Vedder, who performs two songs, including a duet with Weiss on "Tonight You Belong To Me." Vedder then eulogizes the band on stage: "You know how you wish you could have seen the Beatles or Jimi Hendrix or the Who with Keith Moon? Well, I am very fortunate and extremely grateful to live in a time when I can see Sleater-Kinney play live."
In October, Weiss joins Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks on drums; she will drum on two albums: 2008's Real Emotional Trash and 2011's Mirror Traffic. Tucker contributes vocals to a song called "Hard Sun" for Eddie Vedder's soundtrack for the film, Into the Wild. The next year Tucker collaborates with Vedder again for a cover of John Doe's "The Golden State," for Doe's The Golden State EP. On top of working six months at the Wieden+Kennedy ad agency, Brownstein begins a new writing phase, contributing to Slate and maintaining a blog for NPR called Monitor Mix; in her first post she writes, "My hopes for Monitor Mix are that it will be descriptive as opposed to merely prescriptive. I would rather discuss and examine what it is that people actually consume than to tell you what you should be listening to."
She later talks to Pitchfork about switching from musician to music writer, saying, "The transition wasn't that difficult. As evidenced even by this conversation, and even during Sleater-Kinney, I always felt that the most common thread in my life from when I was young until now has been a highly observant, very analytical mind. Also, I've always loved writing. Doing that at the same time as playing music can be tiring. You write the songs, and then you talk to somebody about it. Instead of them just coming up with their opinion, they want you to explain everything you just did. I always just fell for that and was like, 'OK, fine, I'll tell you.'"
2008 to 2010
Brownstein releases four new songs by the Spells on her Monitor Mix blog after discovering a CD of unreleased material. Tucker guests on an EP by Viva Voce side-project Blue Giant. Brownstein begins writing a book, The Sound of Where You Are, and scores a documentary called !Women Art Revolution with help from Weiss and Rebecca Cole of the Minders. Brownstein stars in Matt McCormick's film Some Days Are Better Than Others with James Mercer of the Shins; it premieres at South By Southwest in 2009. In an interview with IFC she says, "It is a story of sad and adrift people. But it's also a lot about — whether it's people or objects or cities — things that are no longer needed or wanted. There was a lot of sadness and embarrassment the very beautiful summer of 2008, having to cry for many months as my character."
In the same interview, Brownstein hints that there is a future for Sleater-Kinney: "We spent 11 years committed to that band, heart and soul. To get back into it we have to be in that place where we can immerse ourselves fully. I think it will happen. We have to loop around, and we're at the far end of the circle, away from the band, but I think we will come back and revisit it. And hopefully that record will be sometime in the next five years."
Rumours also start to fly that Brownstein and Weiss are forming a band together, but Brownstein denies it to Pitchfork: "reports of that were greatly exaggerated. I did do some work with Janet for a documentary film last summer. That's not really a band." Sixth months later, Merge announces that the label has signed a band called Wild Flag featuring Brownstein, Weiss, Mary Timony (Helium) and Rebecca Cole (the Minders). Aside from Brownstein and Weiss playing in Sleater-Kinney, the band has multiple connections: Brownstein and Timony were both in the Spells, while Weiss and Cole have a side-project called the Shadow Mortons.
Weiss later tells The Quietus how the band formed: "The idea of seeing our potential became very intriguing. Mary began flying out from Washington, DC where she lives, and we very quietly started working on things just to see for ourselves where it could go and exploring some of our musical ideas together. I don't think until we even finished our first tour and started on our second tour that we really felt this thing was going to take off, that we were actually capable of playing together in a way that was exciting and fulfilling. I think it took a little bit of getting to know our boundaries and getting to know how to push those boundaries and getting to know each other as musicians and bandmates. That took a little bit of time."
Weiss also finds time to release a new Quasi album with Coomes called American Gong. Tucker releases her debut solo album, 1,000 Years through Kill Rock Stars, under the name the Corin Tucker Band, which also features Unwound's Sara Lund and the Golden Bears' Seth Lorinczi. She describes the album as "more of a middle-aged mom record," and opts for more of a country rock direction for the music. Speaking to Wondering Sound, Tucker says, "I think I've always been interested in singer-songwriter music. I'm a huge fan of Lucinda Williams and Bruce Springsteen, people that do really great songcraft. The singer-songwriter album was a mountain I wanted to climb."
2011 to 2013
On January 21, Portlandia premieres on IFC to strong ratings and rave reviews. Tucker finds a full-time job as a web developer for a medical supplies company that gives her the flexibility to pursue music. Wild Flag release their self-titled, debut album on Merge Records. About the album, Weiss tells The Quietus, "I just think there is an urgency and a raw vitality and an aggressiveness and rebelliousness in there. We wanted to spark people's imagination, getting people to feel involved and feel like they can participate with us in the music, and that maybe they can then make music of their own and have the courage to do something that's aggressive or vital or energetic or raw. It's a spurring on in a way and I feel like that's important."
Tucker makes an appearance on Portlandia with the Decemberists' Colin Meloy and the Shins' James Mercer as a fictional band called Echo Echo. Brownstein begins writing a memoir of her life in music for Riverhead Press. Tucker releases another album with the Corin Tucker Band called Kill My Blues that includes more input from her band, which now includes Mike Clark of the Jicks. In the album's press release, Tucker says, "After the past two years playing together, traveling and making music, I think we're more comfortable. We collaborated on every song on this record and no one was shy about their ideas. I think you can hear that sense of joy and abandon in the songs." Kill My Blues eschews the country vibes of 1,000 Years, and finds Tucker "returning to her riot grrrl sonic roots." Weiss forms an all-drums supergroup with Matt Cameron (Soundgarden, Pearl Jam) and Zach Hill (Hella, Death Grips) called Drumgasm; they release a self-titled album on Jackpot Records. A bio describes the band as "Three people, three drum kits, some microphones and a reel of tape — that's it: pure spontaneity. There's nothing out there that's very comparable to this…"
In an interview with The Skinny, Weiss confirms that Wild Flag are no longer together, saying, "It was great but I think it just kinda ran its course. It's hard to have a band when you live five hours apart by plane." Weiss begins working on Portlandia, securing locations to shoot. "I am the manager of the permits department, but I find the locations," she says. "It's a really hard, fun job. I feel like I'm good at it because I've been here so long, and I know so much of the city."
Quasi release their ninth album, Mole City. All three members of Sleater-Kinney appear on stage during the encore of a Pearl Jam concert in Portland; they join the band in a cover of Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World," a move that has many fans wondering about a reunion. About the appearance, Weiss says, "We just went to go see our friends. And when Ed tells you to do something, normally you're gonna do it. He's not a very easy person to say no to. It was really fun, just like old times. Interesting timing on that. People read a lot into it, but it was just Pearl Jam asking if we wanted to play a song with them. We couldn't refuse."
Brownstein joins the cast of Todd Haynes' Carol, alongside Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, and Sarah Paulson. Tucker forms a new band called super-Earth with Peter Buck (R.E.M.), Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, Minus 5), Bill Rieflin (Swans, Ministry) and Kurt Bloch (Fastbacks). Brownstein takes over for the late Nora Ephron in writing the script for Lost In Austen, a UK TV series being adapted for film by Columbia Pictures. Brownstein joins the cast of Amazon's critically acclaimed series Transparent as a recurring character named Syd.
Sub Pop reissues and remasters the Sleater-Kinney back catalogue and a limited edition box set called Start Together that includes all seven albums. On October 17, a flurry of internet activity begins to piece together clues that there might be a specific reason behind the reissues. Fans who receive the box early from Sub Pop post photos of a a mysterious seven-inch marked "1/20/15." The Internet does some snooping and eventually reveals that the seven-inch features a song called "Bury Our Friends." Music site Wondering Sound reports that music app Shazam has leaked the artwork for an unknown Sleater-Kinney release called No Cities To Love. Criminal Records in Atlanta posts a photo on Instagram of a cryptic flyer that reads "No Cities To Love. I-5 Exit 108 – Olympia. Tuesday, Jan 20 2015." Google "I-5 Exit 108" and you learn it leads to Sleater Kinney Road in Lacey, Washington. A flurry of speculation spreads across social media and music news sites.
"It was a lot of fun," says Weiss. "What an amazing weekend that was, when people were speculating and talking about it. There was so much excitement and love for the band. It was so great." On October 20, Sub Pop announces Sleater-Kinney will reunite and release their eighth album, No Cities To Love on January 20, 2015. Having recorded the album a year prior with John Goodmanson, Weiss says it was tough not to say anything until it was announced. "We were in a holding pattern, keeping this big secret about the record, which we were extremely excited about." In an email to NPR, Brownstein explains why the band felt it was the right time to reform: "I feel like creativity is about where you want your blood to flow. Because in order to do something meaningful and powerful there has to be life inside of it. Maybe after The Woods that blood had thinned; we felt enervated, the focus had become disparate and diffuse. We drifted apart in order to concentrate on other elements of our lives and careers. Sleater-Kinney isn't something you can do half-assed or half-heartedly. We have to really want it. And you have to feed that hunger and have the energy to. I'm not saying we need to be in a dark place to be in Sleater-Kinney. In fact, we could be in the best places in our lives. But we have to be willing to push, because the entity that is this band will push right back."
Dig Me Out (Kill Rock Stars, 1997)
For many, it was the entry point for Sleater-Kinney, and for a good reason. The advancements made on their third album were four-fold: the label move from the tiny Chainsaw to the renowned Kill Rock Stars; buffing up their sound to lose some of rawness and gain a fresh, booming upshot for their punk rock; mastering the dynamic tandem vocals of Tucker and Brownstein; and the introduction of Weiss on drums, who gave them the rhythmic wallop they'd been needing to become sonic warriors. Full of piss and vinegar with fully cracked smiles, this was the beginning of something beautiful.
One Beat (Kill Rock Stars, 2002)
Taking two years off, the band experienced two life-changing events that significantly rocked their world: the birth of Tucker's first child and the 9/11 attacks. The band united the two and made a powerful album of poignant and pointed protest songs that raised a voice at a time when only the Boss was brave enough to join them. But with One Beat they also challenged themselves as musicians, injecting their patented punk rock with a zip of Motown, new wave, reggae and strings. It gave them unlimited confidence, and resulted in what many feel is their best record.
The Woods (Sub Pop, 2006)
At the time, no one expected it would be the end, but The Woods was exactly the high note to go out on. With Dave Fridmann behind the boards to stimulate the band to move in a different direction, the trio channeled their inner classic rock gods and made a record rife with Led Zeppelin's groove and Blue Cheer's speaker rattling riffage. Without any plan, they just let it rip and sounded like a brand new band – just in time to take a much-needed, decade-long nap.