MUSIC Mention the name Corin Tucker, and for many people, what comes to mind is a voice: the charged vibrato that was one of the signature elements of the sound of Sleater-Kinney. But before Tucker formed Sleater-Kinney, she'd sung differently in other bands, such as riot grrrl pioneers Heavens to Betsy, where her guitar was tuned lower in a manner that made it possible to tap into submerged feelings and experiences.
The new album by Corin Tucker Band, 1,000 Years (Kill Rock Stars), makes it clear that Tucker is more than just the tell-tale voice of Sleater-Kinney — she's a songwriter who can add another wrinkle of emotion to a song with a change in tone, as on "It's Always Summer," where the annoyance that briefly grips her voice on the line "It's always something" makes the hope in the chorus of the song that much sweeter. Working with producer-arranger-instrumentalist Seth Lorinczi and drummer Sara Lund, Tucker has fashioned a record that moves through different themes and sounds, evoking everything from Carole King piano ballads to acoustic Led Zep to Nuggets-worthy guitar riffage.
To a degree, the heart of 1,000 Years can be found just before the halfway mark with the one-two punch of "Handed Love" and "Doubt." According to Tucker, the first song is the sort of just-divorced scenario Tracey Thorn explores in different ways on her recent solo album Love and Its Opposite (Merge). There's something a little wilder and darker to Tucker's approach to the subject, with the past's failed pleasures as alluring as a drug, and a sense of menace in the spaces and silent moments around her voice's quiet, minimalist dance with a keyboard. The same tension between restraint and abandon tells a different story in "Doubt," a love song to rock 'n' roll that affirms that no worthy responsibility can fully kill off a love of the boogie and the beat. I recently talked with Tucker about the new album.
SFBG You've been based in Portland for around 15 years now. How has it changed?
CORIN TUCKER It's so different. If you went down the street where I used to live, Alberta, it's completely different. It's unrecognizably built up. Sometime I wonder, how do people make their money here? The recession has been brutal in Portland and Oregon because we don't make something concrete. The timber industry was our industry and that's gone now. I guess we make Nike and Adidas.
But in terms of culture and film and arts, Portland is growing. The music scene has totally grown.
SFBG One thing the Sara Marcus book Girls to the Front (Harper Perennial, 384 pages, $14.99) re-reminded me of is the fact your lyrics with Heavens to Betsy had more of a storyline than a lot of riot grrrl recordings. While your new album doesn't sound like Heavens to Betsy, it also feels rich in narrative.
CT That's something I enjoyed about making this record. I relate to storytelling in songs and working on the lyrics to paint a little picture. That's is sort of my natural songwriting style, and it's something I return to easily.
SFBG Was it difficult to choose the sequencing of the songs? I wonder because the album moves through different terrain and different sounds, including your voice — you sing differently from song to song.
CT The record wound up having more variety than I expected when we began. I expected it to be quieter and acoustic — a straightforward solo album. But as Seth [Lorinczi] and I worked on it, we naturally drew on our different musical backgrounds.
SFBG In a way, the way the guitars were tuned in Sleater-Kinney seemed to place your voice in a certain elevated spot. On 1,000 Years you might have a wider ground to stand on as a singer.