the wild things are
and Corin blaze their way out of The Woods.
By Johnny Ray Huston
IT WAS ALMOST a decade ago that I called Carrie Brownstein and
Corin Tucker for the first large article about Sleater-Kinney to run in
a newspaper or magazine. They'd recently stunned me and a couple of dozen
other people at Bottom of the Hill with a set that promised amazing things
to come. Passing the phone back and forth, Brownstein and Tucker were
excited about the album they were recording, Call the Doctor. A
week later, a hand-labeled tape of it arrived in the mail from their then-home
base of Olympia, Wash., and I immediately knew I was hearing one of my
favorite one of the best rock records of all time.
Five albums and almost twice as many years have passed since then, and
if at times my passion for the band has waned, their audience has only
gotten bigger, thanks in part to the powerhouse drumming of Janet Weiss.
Enter The Woods, their first album for Sub Pop and a "sonic
assault" (to use Tucker's words) for war-roiled times that's fit
to knock shoulders with the Hendrix and Led Zep albums that are an obvious
influence on it. I'm a huge fan all over again. On the eve of the band's
U.S. tour, I caught up with the duo for another phone call.
Bay Guardian: When you were living in the Bay Area, Carrie,
what were you studying?
Carrie Brownstein: One of the papers [the East Bay Express]
printed that I was studying journalism at Berkeley, but I wasn't in school.
I moved down there for a relationship.
I'd always thought academia was pulling me in a different direction from
the band. I was living in the East Bay, in Berkeley, and it was actually
being in that milieu that made me realize I didn't want it, that it was
too esoteric and insular. Music was fulfilling the opposite end of the
spectrum for me, but it also was edifying in a way that I hadn't been
BG: I want to talk about the song "Jumpers." There's
a new movie, The Joy of Life, dealing with suicides off the Golden
Gate Bridge did the Tad Friend article in the New Yorker about
the same subject influence you, and did the song stem from depression
while you lived here?
CB: When I was living in the Bay Area, I read the Tad Friend article
as I was taking BART into the city, and I found myself just crying and
thinking about how out of place I felt. I was certainly thinking about
my own struggles I couldn't understand why, in this place of such
intense beauty and sun, these things that were supposed to be healthy
and helping me, I felt such a sharp contrast.
That was my first reaction to the article. By the time I was writing
the song, I was living back in Portland, [Ore.,] and the song itself partially
stems from my own feelings of disparity about the overall political and
The song is culled from specific stories in that article, which is a
pretty amazing and touching piece. The intensity of feeling that you can't
find meaning in your life, so you need to find meaning in your death
looking for a way for it to be somehow symbolic or beautiful or public.
Especially when people feel so alone, it's such an intense thing to think
about, or way of going.
Also, the larger picture of this album is about the instability of structures,
whether they're internal structures that we thought were holding us together
or political structures that we thought were stable or safe, that we could
rely on for doing good. So the song is about this structure that is very
solid in terms of engineering prowess, but unstable in that it's a launching
place for those in despair. In that sense, it works as a metaphor for
the rest of the album.
BG: Corin, your vocals embrace characters or other aspects
of personality they're almost menacing at times. Would you agree?
Corin Tucker: Definitely. I think this record was written by the
dark side [laughs]. There was this need to let something else out.
BG: How was the songwriting different?
CB: Basically, it meant starting all together. What we said early
on was that one of us could bring in a part, but we might not keep that
part, or just keep one tiny element and go from there. Which was rough,
because we've been playing together so long that things are intuitive
for us. We'd start with an idea, and an hour later wind up with something
BG: Carrie, this album feels sort of like your version of Jimi
Hendrix doing "The Star Spangled Banner." There's a thematic
cohesion to the songs, as if America is this lover you have a difficult
CB: The people who are latching onto this record see that or feel
that, not necessarily right away, but after a certain point. The songs
comment on one another.
For me, [the album] also felt like a reaction to all the simplification
and reductivism in language and ideas today, the way people take a complicated
political idea and just dumb it down. Or even music starting to feel safer.
The role of art is to make something complex and ambiguous, and that's
what I wanted to do, just to challenge ourselves, even if no one got it.
It was like writing a song from a cliff's edge, without knowing whether
we'd stay balanced maybe we'd slip a bit, but something graceful
or amazing or dangerous might happen. Living with that would be like learning
to live with everything else [wrong with the world].
BG: Corin, your guitar work utilizes a lot more effects.
CT: Dave [Fridmann, our producer] loves that kind of approach.
I think guitar pedals are overused, but he has good taste in terms of
effects. When they come in on this record, they're so well-done and it's
so over-the-top that it's a sonic attack. That's what I also totally love
about My Bloody Valentine.
BG: Hearing that Dave Fridmann produced The Woods, the
natural inclination is to think it would be this softer, cathedral pop.
But in a way you've updated the ferocity of his early work with Mercury
CT: We had no idea what it was going to be like working with him.
He wasn't that big of a fan of our records [laughs], so it was
an interesting situation. He was critical, and pushed us to make things
dramatic and huge and powerful.
CB: Logistically, we were in western New York, close to Buffalo
and the Pennsylvania border. We were isolated and didn't have the luxury
of, at the end of the day, returning to our regular world. The intensity
never let up we ate and slept and breathed the music. While one
of us was cooking, the other would still be working then we'd all
eat together. After recording we'd go up to our rooms we slept
at the recording studio and watch DVDs until 4 a.m., because we
couldn't just fall asleep.
Dave is a really easy guy to get along with. He'd say things to Janet
like, "Play like Keith Moon, but Keith Moon with a blanket coming
down over him." We'd just laugh and be so frustrated, like, "What
are you saying?!" But ultimately I think maybe he understood us musically
better than anyone else had.
BG: Besides watching movies, what other recreation did you
take part in while making the album?
CB: We'd take walks in the woods with sticks to protect ourselves
from the wild dogs. I would wear my orange vest because it was hunting
season. Then it snowed, and we opened up the shed in the yard and got
some sleds. Corin and I walked up to the top of the hill and sledded down
and immediately ended up in a ditch.
The neighbor boys came over and let us fire shotguns at bottles. We were
really out there the term "fun" was relative. I thought,
"Wow, I'd never shoot a shotgun off my porch, nor do I own one."
But everyone has a gun out there. They also took us on their ATVs, all-terrain
It was good, clean fun everything we did was so unreal and so
outside of anything we were used to, but it was always such a relief to
step outside and let the cold wind hit you. Even just walking up to the
end of the driveway and looking at the sky or the trees the branches
were covered with snow you just felt entrenched in both this natural
and technological way.
BG: Corin, how's Lance [Bangs, Tucker's husband, who is a film-
and videomaker]? Has he been working on any film projects?
CT: He's starting to work on Where the Wild Things Are, which
Spike Jonze is making.
BG: That sounds ideal for Marshall [Tucker Bangs, her son].
CT: I know. Marshall went down with Lance when they did the creature
tests in L.A., and he got to play with the creatures and with the boy
who is playing Max. The movie's going to be even darker [than the book],
BG: I've also heard that you've met Robert Plant.
CT: That was in Austin. I bumped into one of his crew guys and
said, "That's not Robert Plant, is it?" and he said, "Yeah."
I was like, "Holy shit!" I just freaked out, and suddenly I
was, like, 14. I grabbed my notebook and pen and just booked he
was about half a block ahead of me, talking to his manager and obviously
about to take a cell phone call. I completely interrupted him and said,
"Can I please have your autograph?" He was so gracious. He said,
"What's your name, luv?"
BG: In the blog on the band's Web site, Carrie wrote that during
one European gig a girl in front got sick but stayed until the end of
the show. What are the wildest things you've either gotten in the mail
from fans, heard from them, or seen them do?
CB: One of the weirder things is that every week Corin gets a
lottery ticket from someone in San Francisco. She's never won, but I always
wonder, if she wins, does she have to marry this guy or something? That
is so dedicated and really generous. It's almost like someone writing
a postcard that says, "Good luck" every week it's really
CT: People make us these amazing things, like three sock monkeys,
one for each of us. Or some teenager taking art class in high school will
spend hours and hours making the scariest drawings and caricatures of
CB: For a while we were getting a lot of stuffed animals in the
mail. That really made me wonder, "What is our music saying to people?
That we need to cuddle at night?"
Sometimes people cook us things, and I hear my mom's voice on Halloween
in the back of my head, and think, "There's acid in there, or maybe
a razor blade." I'm sure they have good intentions, but I picture
her saying, "You can't eat the caramel apples anymore!"
As far as barfing goes, we've had a couple of vomits. We've had a seizure
in the audience, which was really scary. We have a lot of make-outs, which
always make me wonder, "Why did you come all the way to the front
just to bug everyone around you?"
I find the most interesting thing is that people don't think we see them.
We'll have people come to 10 shows in a row. It's wonderful, they're always
in the same spot in the front, and we'll say to each other, "Those
guys were in the front again." But then if I'm walking into a club
and I see them, I'll say "Hey guys!" and they'll go, "What?
Oh my god, you noticed I was at the show!" I'll say, "You've
been standing in front of me for eight nights! I know what you wore last
night, and the night before." That's something that always cracks
me up. I'm watching them just as much as they're watching me.
Sleater-Kinney play with Mary Timony June 4, 9 p.m., Warfield,
982 Market, S.F. $20. www.ticketmaster.com.
To purchase the music of Sleater-Kinney featured in this article, visit