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Sleater-Kinney: “A Lot Of Us Feel Like We Were Dropped Into A Catastrophe”

Written by Sarah Bellamy on August 12, 2019

Forming in 1994, US rock band Sleater-Kinney have a long history of producing critically-acclaimed music. The now 2-piece – following the departure of long-time drummer Janey Weiss in July – have released nine albums during their career, and are gearing up to release their tenth, The Center Won’t Hold on August 16th.

The band have received widespread praise from critics over the years. Their 1996 record Call The Doctor was ranked 49 in the top 100 albums of the nineties by Rolling Stone, and their 1997 album Dig Me Out was ranked 272nd in Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Sleater-Kinney’s 2002 album One Beat ranked at number 12 in the Albums of the Year by Spin and 14th in Pitchfork’s end-of-year list.

In 2006, the band went on hiatus while the members went on to play in different musical projects, with Corin Tucker releasing two solo albums, and Carrie Brownstein playing in Wild Flag. In 2014, Sleater-Kinney reunited, releasing album No Cities To Love the following year. No Cities To Love achieved much acclaim, and appeared on multiple end-of-year lists for 2015, including coming in 9th on Time’s list, second on The A.V. Club’s, and 11th on Rolling Stone’s.

With the hype and anticipation for the band’s tenth album building, we caught up with guitarist and vocalist Corin Tucker to chat about the meaning behind the new record, the band’s ideas for their live shows on the upcoming tour, and how the writing experience for this album differed from those previous.

Music Feeds: You’ve said for The Center Won’t Hold that you were thinking about people involved in the chaos of politics, what inspired that focus?

Corin Tucker: Well, I mean, I think definitely we’re touching on the American election and the administration that we’re living under right now. You know, it’s a really ugly time in America in terms of the way people of colour are treated and women are treated and it’s shocking. And it does, to a lot of us feel like we were dropped into a catastrophe. You know, especially artists I think just feel that really strongly, and so we wanted to touch on this kind of, political but also cultural moment that we’re in right now. So, I think we do that. We kind of set that theme with ‘The Center Won’t Hold’ with the start of the album that way.

MF: What are your personal favourite tracks on the upcoming record?

CT: I mean, I’m super excited to play ‘The Center Won’t Hold’ live because it is… I think it kind of like, sets such a spooky scene in it. I’m like, psyched that we were able to pull that off, and I wanna be able to pull that off live. We have like, all kind of cool things that we haven’t tried before live. I think it’s going to be exciting!

MF: What kind of things haven’t you tried before live that you’re going to do?

CT: Well, [pauses] this is super nerdy, but we took some of the sounds that are happening and put them into these like, giant samplers [laughs]. And, you know, it’s like, instead of having to take a piano on tour for the piano part, it’s like, you can put it inside this sampler pad and then play it. So, I like, have my guitar on but I also have this thing that I’m playing with a drumstick. I know that sounds really nerdy but it’s actually cool! It just gives us the ability to like, break open the sound and what we can do, you know? In a way that we haven’t done before.

MF: That sounds exciting! I was just reading the lyrics for ‘Bad Dance’, and there’s a line that’s like, “dip your toes into the chaos/ it will feel just like a cure”, what does that line express?

CT: I think – and those are Carrie’s lyrics, but I’ll give my view of it – I think that in different terms on the album, we’re kind of resisting the dominant culture right now and just really against it and other times we’re observing it. And other times the characters are just indulging in the chaos, in the crazy, “oh my god, this shit’s going down” and it’s like a wild, bonfire drum circle on the beach, end of days. I think as human beings, you have to have all those moments, otherwise you’re just not gonna make it. And as a writer I think you have to have all those different characters as well, like, you can’t have a voice that’s just protesting the entire time. I think some of those characters are going to be opportunists, who are going to do a bad dance while everything goes down in flames because, you know… When the Titanic was going down – I just wanna point out the band kept playing. That’s kind of what we’re supposed to do [laughs].

MF: What was the experience like of writing songs and showing each other the demos, rather than all writing in the same room?

CT: It was a lot different. I think that it requires a lot more proof of concept to go just from a demo into studio. You have to, kind of, earn other peoples’ buy-in into the song, in a way. If you’re all just doing everything in the practice space, you can take a lot more time of just coming up with little parts here and there and working on it over time, but we didn’t really have that capability this time ‘cause we were all in different places. So, by demoing out a song it required the ability to set the scene a little bit more, but it also – for me I found it was really freeing, as a writer, to be able to really, almost tell a story with the song, and try and do that sonically as well as lyrically.

MF: How did most of the songs come together in terms of creating them for this album? Was it lyrics first or music first or a bit of both?

CT: I mean, I think it’s a bit of both, but I think really the vocal melody is really important in terms of setting a voice for the song, setting a character. That really sets a mood, and then the lyrics, they can kind of… you can get an idea and some of the lyrics will be there, but you can always re-write those as you go along, so that is kind of, for me, the last piece: finalising the lyrics. So, it’s a bit of both, but I think it’s like the melody of the music and the vocal melody have to be… those things you kind of have to flesh-out first.

MF: What artists are you listening to, or were you listening to during the creation of this record?

CT: I think for me personally; I was really digging Depeche Mode. They’re someone that I have loved for a long time and they finally did a concert in Portland, Oregon, I got to see them live. And I was like ‘wow, they’re such great songwriters!’, like, really some of the best songwriters, and they are so great at blending guitar and synthesiser and combining those things in a way that just highlights the best of both of them. Yeah, so I was just listening to ‘Personal Jesus’ over and over again like, ‘how did they write this song? It’s so amazing!’ [laughs].

MF: How did you find working with Annie Clark to produce the record?

CT: She was great! She was super pumped to work with us, she was really on her game, she had a tonne of ideas just right off the bat. We got a lot done. In the first session that we did we got like, four or five songs done in a few days, so it was very productive. She’s a really hard worker. I just thought she was great! She’s like a natural producer, she’s able to use her songwriting and her singing and her guitar playing, like, every skill that she has lends to production in a way that I think is… We were just really lucky to get to work with her.

MF: Do you have any plans to come to Australia, supporting the new album?

CT: We would definitely like to! We right now are focusing on the US and then we have like, a short European tour, but yeah, we definitely would wanna come to Australia and New Zealand. We love playing there, we’ve played there a bunch of times and we’d like to go back.

MF: You sort of touched on this just then, but what are your plans for the rest of 2019?

CT: Well, right now we’re getting into planning the live show and starting to rehearse for it, so you know, we’re taking some of the themes and ideas and trying to turn them into a live experience for people. So, I am hoping that it will feel sort of chilling and spooky and you know, just kind of conveys the themes of alienation, but also struggle and resistance and community that are part of the songs on this album.

MF: Are you going to combine multimedia to convey that or is it purely through the music?

CT: I think it will be audio as well as visual. We’re just sort of trying to come up with different ideas now of how we’re gonna do that, but you know, it would be so cool if we could have a sense of place, you know, that you’re kind of dropped into as an audience member when the show begins. I think that would be cool but dramatic.

The Center Won’t Hold  is out Friday 16 August. Pre-order here.

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