A Beginners Guide To… Sleater-Kinney


You’ve probably noticed that pretty much every outlet espousing music news has been buzzing louder than a florescent bulb plugged into a Marshall amplifier over the return of Olympian three piece Sleater-Kinney. This is perhaps unsurprising because during the 90s and early 2000s Sleater-Kinney were the closest thing to a rock ‘n’ roll institution as it was possible to get, but it all seemingly came to an end when they announced their indefinite hiatus back in 2006. And we all know what ‘indefinite hiatus’ usually means for a band. But news has broken that Sleater-Kinney have regrouped and members Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss have come back refreshed, and with a new album in tow.

But if you’re thinking to yourself, “who are Sleater-Kinney and what is all the fuss about?” we’re here to tell you with our Beginners Guide.

Picture yourself in a room in a tiny house situated by a noisy, smoggy interstate in suburban Washington. It’s 1994 and you’ve just been listening to Bikini Kill and reading the riot grrrl zines that have been doing the rounds lately. Freshly inspired by the punk attitude and feminist ethos, you plug in your brand new (to you) /second hand (to everyone else) guitar and, standing opposite your close friend, you start thrashing out some power chords.

This is pretty much the genesis of Sleater-Kinney. Corin tucker and Carrie Brownstein had been playing in various bands around the Olympia area for a few years, most notably, Tucker had served in the influential punk outfit Heavens To Betsy and was keen to develop the immediacy and DIY aesthetic prevalent in the early 90s riot grrrl scene. Tucker and Brownstein started jamming together in that little practise space by the interstate, situated on a road that happened to be called Sleater Kinney Road. No prizes for guessing where their name originated from.

sleater-kinnet c1999

Sleater-Kinney circa 1999

As the songs started solidifying the pair recruited drummer Laura Macfarlane and began playing shows as Sleater-Kinney, primarily as a side project to their other, more full-time gigs. But after recording their debut self-titled album, Sleater-Kinney gradually became Tucker and Brownstein’s main project and they decided to focus their seemingly boundless energies exclusively on the band. After the departure of Macfarlane, the band was on the market for someone to hit the skins once again. Tucker and Brownstein were familiar with a local progressive rock band called Quasi, who’s drummer Janet Weiss was looking for an extra project on which to focus here energies. The three of them hit tif off and Weiss was taken on as the band’s drummer full time.

Although Sleater-Kinney’s debut album never really broke out into the larger consciousness of the alternative movement, the new renewed line-up recorded and released their follow up, Call The Doctor, in 1996 which showcased Tucker and Brownstein’s sardonic lyrics and the band’s talent for energetic bursts of melody and punk spirit, not least on tracks like ‘I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone‘. Through a mixture of fate and luck, Call The Doctor hit the alt-rock zeitgeist and became Sleater-Kinney’s calling card. Just a year later Sleater -Kinney had been picked up by cult indie label Kill Rock Stars and had released their third album, Dig Me Out, which featured the track ‘One More Hour‘, their biggest hit to date. The band extensively toured in support of the release and cemented themselves firmly in the alternative consciousness. By now it was official: Sleater-Kinney had arrived.

At the turn of the millennium Sleater-Kinney had five albums under their collective belt and were shining beacons for feminist rock and flag bearers for the Pacific Northwest music scene. But, some might say predictably, just as they were at their height, the neigh-sayers began wadding in and the music press started accusing the band of losing their relevance. Not only that, but their was that Spin article which dredging up Tucker and Brownstein’s former relationship and basically outed them as bisexual in front of the global music buying public, not to mention their friends and family; something that couldn’t help but put added strain on a group of people already under the day-to-day pressures of being in a successful rock band.

After leaving their long time home of Kill Rock Stars and settling on a deal with Sub Pop, The Woods was released in May 2005 and saw the band focus on a harder sound with a more aggressive aesthetic compared to their earlier output. It turns out this was telling as Brownstein later stated that the band was tired and very strained during the recording process, something that’s borne out in the sound of the album itself. Ironically, The Woods was probably Sleater-Kinney’s best received album garnering praise from the likes of Rolling Stone, The Guardian and Pitchfork as well as a coveted ‘A’ grade from Robert Christgau’s Village Voice column.

But the praise and continued success the band received from The Woods couldn’t bail out what was by now a sinking ship. In 2006 the band announced they were going on an “indefinite hiatus” stating that there were “no plans for future tours or recording”. It seemed like that really was that and the respective members began focusing on other projects. Tucker began recording with a new band Cadallaca, Weiss continued with her previous band Quasi and also formed Wild Flag along with Brownstein. Oh, and speaking of Brownstein, you may know her from a little TV show called Portlandia.

But just when it seemed as though Sleater-Kinney has finally faded into the annuls of rock history, a the three members appeared together on stage during a Pearl Jam concert to join in on a cover of Neil Young’s ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’. Then a mysterious twitter account appeared claiming to be the band themselves along with an announcement of a new album and tour. Some dismissed this as a hoax, but it turned out to be fact.

Sleater-Kinney are set to release their eighth album entitled No Cities To Love on 20 January 2015 through their old cohorts at Sub Pop and the band are also embarking on a slew of tour dates spanning the US and Europe during the first half of 2015. ‘Bury Our Friends’, the first track to be lifted from the new album, was posted on the Sub Pop Youtube channel in October and the track sees Tucker, Brownstein and Weiss wielding their experience and prowess like never before.

It turns out the near ten year break has worked wonders for Sleater-Kinney and they seem set to re-establish themselves as rock ‘n’ roll’s first ladies once again.


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