Back in 2010, when the members of Wild Flag initially started playing music with one another, whether a band would be forged or not wasn’t altogether clear. Carrie Brownstein, Rebecca Cole, and Janet Weiss (all from Portland, Ore.) had been writing the score for art documentary !Women Art Revolution when they tapped Mary Timony, who lived in Washington D.C., to record vocals. One project naturally led to the other.
Given the bands they had played in before, you would think there’d be no question as to whether or not they'd make a good group: Brownstein and Weiss had Sleater-Kinney until it disbanded in the 2006, Timony led Helium in the 90s, while Cole had backed the Minders. However, the four weren’t certain. In theory, sure, but: “Everyone knows, whether, you’re a fan or a musician, that theories do not make good music,” Carrie Brownstein said in a phone interview on Thursday. Wild Flag is now north in San Francisco for a two-night stint at the Great American Music Hall starting Friday, Nov. 4. “We spent a lot of time working to figure out if the band was necessary.”
Necessary — it’s something Brownstein stresses about the band. And it seems that it not only determined the fate of Wild Flag, but also determines her involvement in just about any project, which likely explains the reason why everything she does, she does extremely well — she needs it, and it undoubtedly needs her. Her co-created IFC sketch comedy with Fred Armisen, Portlandia (whose second season begins in January), is spot on and hilarious. Her blog at NPR Music, Monitor Mix, was intelligent and delightful. And Sleater-Kinney was one of the most talented feminist-punk bands of the late 90s and early 2000s.
Now, Brownstein and the others have found Wild Flag necessary — the songs were telling them so. “The songs felt like they were being played by a band," Brownstein explained, "not individual people with separate ideas that weren’t congealing into something interesting.”
After they announced that Wild Flag was official late last year, the band set out on tour, without an album or recorded songs, to play fairly small clubs (including Bottom of the Hill) and to give fans a pure, unadulterated listen to the band. Over the course of that tour, the band earned a reputation for its passionate live performances. Then, in April of this year, Wild Flag went into Sacramento’s the Hangar studio to record its self-titled debut, releasing it five months later on Merge.
The record is tough but catchy, original but accessible, and recalls just about every sub-genre between post-hardcore and classic hard rock. It also speaks to just how important music is to Wild Flag. “We love the sound, the sound is what found us/Sound is the blood between me and you,” they harmonize on the dynamic single, “Romance.” Most of the music besides the vocals on the album was recorded live as well, making it a raw and undisguised release.
“For our first album, we wanted an unadorned, mirror document of who we were — our capabilities, our presence, and our sound,” Brownstein said. “It was exciting to have a blank slate; to not be comparing or measuring ourselves to any previous body of work.”
Although the four musicians have been playing in bands for decades and they feel familiar, Wild Flag is itself still a very new project. Even for someone like Brownstein, who is in familiar territory. “I feel like this band is very recent and still in its infancy,” she says, “there are still a lot of places to go with it, and there are a lot of things I still don’t know about it.”
Clearly, this is just the beginning for Wild Flag. The members are anxious to move on from this point and explore the band and it's ultimate potential. “We’re trying to just be present in the band and be in the middle of it. But at the same time, we’re impatient. I really want to have new songs, those are what I love playing live.”
“But,” she adds, “that’s not going to happen between now and San Francisco.”
With Drew Grow & the Pastors Wives
Fri/4 and Sat/5, 9 p.m., $19
Great American Music Hall
859 O'Farrell, SF
The awesome video for "Romance"