Interview with Sleater-Kinney
(a) a vocal-led, guitar-slingin', drum-bangin' alt-rock band
(b) an all-woman band
(c) a band from the Pacific Northwest
(d) a band not part of any movement except its own
Sleater-Kinney is all of the above. The three members, Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker, and Janet Weiss currently hail from Portland, Oregon. The name "Sleater-Kinney" is derived from the Sleater-Kinney highway offramp in Lacey, Washington, near Olympia, the location of one of the band's early practice sites.
Their self-titled debut album, Sleater-Kinney was released in 1995. The seventh and most recent album, The Woods, was released on their new label, Sub-Pop, in 2005. The group opened for Pearl Jam on a leg of their Canadian tour in 2005, and were part of the 2006 Big Day Out festival in Australia. They'll be playing the Lollapalooza festival, in Chicago, in August.
Carrie Brownstein was interviewed by Virgin Mobile recently over the Internet.
VM: At the end of last year, you were said to be suffering from allergies, and couldn't tour extensively? How are you doing?
CB: All is better now. 'Allergies' makes it sound like hay fever or the sniffles. But it was anaphylactic shock-breathing cutting off-the real deal. We've got it figured out now.
VM: When Sleater-Kinney tours, what's the mode of transport? If you use a tour bus often, is the band considering the use of the new bio fuels?
CB: We've traveled in a van, on planes, on tour buses. It depends on the length of the tour and the distances we need to cover. In Portland, I try to ride my bicycle and not use my car if I can help it. Tour, however, is a different beast. I'd love for someone to come up with a tour budget / proposal using transportation methods that are more environmentally and ecologically sound.
VM: Are there any memorable road-moments from your very first tours?
CB: Well, we first traveled in Corin's father's VW bus. We stored the merchandise and drum hardware in the kitchen cabinets. We also learned the VW wave, which apparently you need to do every time you pass another VW bus. It requires keeping your palm on the steering wheel while you lift your fingers up. It's very hippie, very casual. One time we broke down on I-5 in California. It was in the pre-cell phone days. We wrote on a piece of cardboard with lipstick asking for help. Someone stopped and drove us to the nearest town. Things were much more exciting before cell phones.
VM: Has your new label, Sub Pop, been promotionally supportive of the new album, The Woods?
CB: I think they've done a great job with this record. We only asked that they try their best and give us unconditional support and freedom, which they do. We'll probably be with Sub Pop until we're all in nursing homes! As long as they foot the bill for the 'all you can eat' buffet, I'm happy.
VM: The Woods, which you recorded in western New York State, sounds like the most ambitious recording yet for Sleater-Kinney-with some really dense, loud moments like on "What's Mine is Yours." There seem to be more 'guitar heroics.' Was that planned?
CB: The songs were written before we went into the studio, but the producer, Dave Friedman, really encouraged us to take risks. I think we felt looser and more daring during this recording session than any other. We also didn't feel held back by other peoples' expectations of what we are or what we're supposed to sound like. We wanted the sounds to be jarring and for people to be a bit confounded by it at first-maybe even dislike it.
VM: Sleater-Kinney has been honing its skills and interpreting the world around us for going on ten years. Is 'getting older' also 'getting better?' What can you do musically now that you couldn't do before?
CB: I can appreciate music more now than when I was younger. I'm a better guitar player and a more confident songwriter. I love writing songs for Corin to sing, and I've found ways of writing songs that I feel comfortable singing. The band has always been on the periphery of the mainstream, so I don't feel things have changed that much in terms of the young / old thing. I look at Bruce Springsteen and think we have a few more years ahead of us for making good music.
VM: How do you relate to your fans who've stayed with you over the years? Are you making new fans with your new music?
CB: I think if our early fans are still listening to us, then something about our music continues to speak to them. We're definitely making new fans. It's great, because they're with us in the here-and-now, not worried about how we've deviated from the past sound.
VM: While Sleater-Kinney has been labeled an 'activist band,' can you be-should you be?-and instrument for political change?
CB: That's for other people to decide. We just write the songs.
VM: Do you consider yourselves 'a band from the Pacific Northwest?' Should it make any difference where you're originally from?
CB: Well, we've always lived here in the Northwest, so I guess I consider us to be, technically speaking, a Pacific Northwest band. I think it helps contextualize a band to know where they came from. We want our music to have roots, but also to be free from the constraints of time and place, so in that sense we're conjuring many places, not just the ones we know.
VM: People always are putting labels on bands-alt, grunge, punk, whatever. Should it matter how a band is positioned, historically speaking?
CB: Sleater-Kinney is Sleater-Kinney is Sleater-Kinney. Whatever we're doing or playing, that is who we are. We don't think of ourselves in terms of categories, but if I had to name it, I would call it rock n' roll. Or maybe we've just always been a really loud folk band.
VM: Is there a style or movement that correctly, or more comfortably, or more righteously cements Sleater-Kinney's place in the musical universe?
VM: What bands or musicians from overseas have inspired you, Corin, and Janet?
CB: Lots! Shirley Collins, Bert Jansch, Led Zeppelin, The Kinks, The Clash, The Verlaines, Delta-5, the Rolling Stones, Richard and Linda Thompson. Really, there are almost too many to name.
VM: We appreciate your time, Carrie! Last question. What do you want to do, that you've never done before?
CB: I'd love to punch someone. Or heal someone. One or the other.