Sleater-Kinney Reinvent and Reignite
This year marks the return of indie rockers Sleater-Kinney. Over the summer, the band played a headlining show to a soldout crowd at Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival. And this fall, singer-guitarist Carrie Brownstein released her memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl. The band even issued a new album, No Cities to Love. We spoke to singer-guitarist Corin Tucker via phone from her Portland, Oregon home about the band’s rebirth.
You collaborated with Bob’s Burgers to create the music video for “A New Wave.” How closely were you involved in the making of it?
That came about because our publishing agent is friends with the people who make Bob’s Burgers. He just suggested it. The people who make that show are fans of the band. We were like, “Really?” We were pleasantly surprised. They had a couple of questions for us but they mostly ran with it. I think it’s amazing. I love how it turned out. I’ve been a fan of Loren Bouchard. I was a big fan of Dr. Katz. To have a creator like him do a visual piece for us was an exciting thing to have happen for this record.
Talk about how the band managed to reconvene.
It was actually several years ago. Carrie and I have remained friends over the years. It was the end of 2011 when I mentioned to her that we should play together again. That spurred a bunch of conversations. We started talking about how we would do it and what it would look like. After we jammed together, we decided we wanted to make another record. That took us a couple of years.
You decided at the beginning that there would be new music?
We wanted to make a new album to reignite and reinvent who we are as a band. I’m glad we did that. It took a long time and a lot of work, but I’m glad we did it that way. It’s a great way to introduce yourselves to a new generation of fans and to say, “This is who we are in 2015.”
Plenty of bands get back together and just play the old music.
That wasn’t interesting to us.
There’s a real sense of urgency to the music. That doesn’t seem to have diminished in any way. Do you have an idea of where that comes from?
I think it has a lot to do with the chemistry of the band. All three of us are really passionate about music. This band has meant a lot to us over the years. All of us are committed to working hard to have the band always come across as a really good group. We want to maintain the level of respect that we have earned.
What did you have in mind for reinventing the band and how did that translate to the recording sessions?
I think when we went back to making new material, we were able to step back and see who we are as a band and what we’re good at as songwriters. We really focused on vocals and melodies for this record. There’s a lot of singing in unison, even more than on any other record. We wanted to make a record that people could be able to sing along to. We also wanted to bring a present-day sensibility to the music. It’s guitar rock but it has a synthesizer flavor to it, almost referencing Nile Rodgers at times with the guitar playing.
Where did you record?
We worked in three different studios. We worked in San Francisco and did most of the record there. We did some vocals at Electrokitty in Seattle and we finished it here Portland at Kung Fu Bakery.
It sounds pretty cohesive.
That’s owing to [producer] John Goodmanson. His level of professional attention to detail is bar none. He is incredible at making a cohesive album. That’s really important to him. I’m glad we were able to work with him again.
“Surface Envy” is one of my favorite tunes. Did something in particular inspire it?
I think that song was written as a flashpoint in terms of how I feel about the band and how important it is for me and yet how difficult to be a parent and be in a band. That’s been a struggle for me for a long time, but it’s a worthwhile one. It takes all those concerns and wraps them into a song.
I think it’s also about unity and doing things together as a band.
Absolutely. Music can be this strong sense of identity and we have come to recognize that with our fans. It’s about bringing people together and being able to share that with other people. That’s a really special thing. As we’ve gotten older, we have learned to appreciate that more.
In the past, you’ve said that you wanted your vocals to sound harsh to reflect the band’s message. Talk about that approach.
I think that for me when I started out as a singer, I was always singing over really distorted guitars. I think that’s true of a lot of rock singers. But it was especially true for me coming from a punk background. I really looked to people like Poly Styrene and Kathleen Hanna — women who had a unique and recognizable vocal style. I worked hard to grab people’s attention with my voice.
Some people think it’s too harsh but that’s not the right way to describe it.
I think at the time when I started singing there were people who were really not excited by the sound of my voice. I think that’s true for some people today. The people who do like my voice love it. That’s really special.
From the live footage I’ve seen, the band’s sound really tight. Have you become better musicians?
Definitely. That’s the awesome thing about sticking with it or even coming back to it. After working with other people and doing other things, we’ve brought a strong level of musicianship back to the band.
Carrie Brownstein has successfully launched an acting career. Has that surprised you?
You know, she always wanted to do acting and comedy. Even back in the day she was doing improv in Olympia. I’m happy for her that she has found Portlandia and that really has become this great success.
It’s also great that a show like that can become successful. It’s in its own universe.
Yeah, I agree.
Do you anticipate the band will continue to record and tour from this point forward?
I would definitely like to. It just depends on people’s schedules.
Has the decline of the music business had any effect on the band?
It’s definitely different. When we announced this new record, it was all online. That’s really different from the last record we made. It’s very different and I think it has its positives and negatives. It really allows our music to be hear all over the world and that’s a great, positive thing.
Upcoming 2015 Shows
Indianapolis, IN – Egyptian Room at Old National Centre
Columbus, OH – Newport Music Hall
Cincinnati, OH – Bogart’s
Royal Oak, MI – Royal Oak Music Theatre
Cleveland, OH – Masonic Auditorium
Buffalo, NY – Asbury Hall at Babeville
Brooklyn, NY – Kings Theatre
New York, NY – Terminal 5
New York, NY – Irving Plaza [SOLD OUT]
Brooklyn, NY – Music Hall of Williamsburg [SOLD OUT]
Brooklyn, NY – Market Hotel [SOLD OUT]