With her 4-year-old son sleeping in the dressing room nearby and sound
check booming on the stage above, Sleater-Kinney lead singer Corin Tucker sat
down before a recent show at the Henry Fonda to discuss her band’s outstanding
new record, The Woods. Seven albums into their career, the Portland-based
threesome — the first ladies of shrill, angular post-punk — have apparently discovered
the deep joy of stoner rock: extended guitar solos, fuzzy blues riffs and Zeppelin-referencing
monster rockers. The Woods was recorded and produced by Dave Fridmann
(Flaming Lips, Delgados, Low) in his upstate New York studio — and while the tremulous,
high-pitched vocals and biting social commentary remain intact, there’s a real
sense of technical and sonic experimentation here. In fact, Sleater-Kinney have
just made the most raucous and original album of their lives.

L.A. WEEKLY: Is the sound of
The Woods a natural evolution,
or did you set out
to do something really

CORIN TUCKER: We definitely set out to do something different —
but we didn’t know what that was gonna be. We’d been doing a lot of improv onstage,
a lot of live jams, and that was a factor in how the sound came together . . .
And we love classic rock. We were listening to tons of Cream, Led Zeppelin,

It seems like a lot
of bands from the Northwest
have that kind of background.
Is that stuff you grew
up listening to?

Yeah, absolutely. The spirit of that music is really important to us. It’s music
that was rebellious and defied everything. That’s an inspiration to us at a time
when it’s politically very dark and frightening. And yet most of the music that’s
out there doesn’t seem to reflect that at all.

Do you see a connection
between punk rock and
classic rock?

Oh, yeah. Patti Smith was a punk rocker, but the music was much more classic rock
— those things were tied together in New York. That whole guitar-based sound developed
and went further and further into punk rock.

The guitars are so fuzzy
on this record when
I first heard “Modern
Girl,” I thought my speakers
were fucked up, because
the fuzz actually seems
to increase after the
first verse.

Yeah, there was a lot of experimentation in the studio with guitar sounds. We
went out and got a bunch of different pedals. We wanted variety. Dave loves to
experiment; he wants things to be crazy-sounding. He wants people to think there’s
something wrong with their stereo.

What’s “Jumpers” about?

I wrote that song after reading an article in The New Yorker
about suicides off the Golden Gate Bridge. It stayed with me for a long time.
I lived in the Bay Area for a while. But on a symbolic level, the entire album
is about the instability of structure, whether it’s political or social structures
we rely on to aid in the advancement of society, or the internal structures we
count on to deal with our lives. That song deals with a symbol of engineering
prowess that’s important both literally and in terms of its symbolic value, but
it’s also a place of despair where people go to end their lives. In that solidity,
there are cracks. [That’s what] this album is about, whether it’s a song structure
or a character that’s unstable.

“Entertain” seems to be a sort of statement against both nostalgia and entertainment for entertainment’s sake.

I think this is the “fight song.” It’s about challenging the commercialization
of indie rock, and wanting that to mean a bit more than just tearing up your clothes
and being on MTV. That meant a lot to us when we started playing music, doing
things in a different way that wasn’t all about making money. It was about rebelling
and living your life in a different way that wasn’t scripted for you, challenging
society, challenging politics. It’s sad that we don’t see that many bands like
that anymore.

Do you think there is
a place for entertainment
for entertainment’s sake?

Yeah, but that kind of music doesn’t have any meaning for me. I wanna fight for
[music with meaning] because it basically saved our lives when we were 15. There
was Sonic Youth, SST, K Records, these great groups of people that were freaks
and ready to defy social norms and the ideas of how to live your life.

So you’re not big fans
of the current ’80s-throwback
trend that’s going on
in music?

No. It’s huge, though. The most frustrating part of it is when bands imitate these
great bands like Gang of Four. They’re an incredible band and so political and
such great social critics, and it’s frustrating to hear the imitation of their
sound without any of the meaning of their music.

Do you still get asked
about gender issues and
being a female band in
a male-dominated scene?

I’d like people to let go of gender issues. I think we’re always three women onstage,
but we’re also three musicians onstage. You never think about male rock bands,
like, “Oh, there’s four guys onstage.”

Did you get more of
that in the past?

Definitely. But we’ve been here for a long time, we’ve done that interview, we’ve
talked about all that. We’ve fought for the perspective we have. Hey, shred the
music, go ahead, but we’re sick of having people only write about the fact that
we’re a female band. If you’re gonna write two sentences, have it be a review.
Are gender issues not issues for men? People don’t pick apart things like, “Oh,
that’s a really male lyric.” That’s just seen as the norm.

Maybe men don’t explore those
issues as much.

How much do they write about girls, and sleeping with chicks? That’s completely
a gender issue. If we write about having sex or wandering around in a seedy bar,
it’s seen as a gender issue, because rock music is usually so male-dominated.
It freaks people out. Patti Smith did that amazingly with her cover of “Gloria.”
She turned it on its head, and suddenly she was this sexual predator. It’s incredible
to hear that, someone screwing with the norms. It’s an exciting part of

SLEATER-KINNEY | The Woods (Sub Pop)

LA Weekly