Music: Uneasy Listening

Sleater-Kinney's music thrives on challenge

Empower trio: (L-R) Sleater-Kinney's Janet Weiss, Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker.

Few bands are as polarizing as Sleater-Kinney. Why? Well, it could be any number of things, but it's usually one or all of the following: singer Corin Tucker's lacerating wail; a bass-less, sometimes monochromatic, two-guitar-drums sonic approach; an emotional intensity that borders on the melodramatic; or an exploration of politics from a decidedly female point of view.

Whatever it is, Sleater-Kinney definitely ain't easy listening. They record for a label called Kill Rock Stars, for chrissakes.

Yet during the past eight years, the band has garnered an intense following all over the country. They're rarely played on commercial radio, and for good reason — Sleater-Kinney's music is so strong, so fierce, that it leaves those unwilling to take the journey in the dust.

Rising up out of the early '90s riot girrl movement, the trio — guitarist/vocalist Carrie Brownstein, vocalist/guitarist Tucker and drummer Janet Weiss — has released six distintive and challegening records since 1995. Their latest, One Beat, is the band's most textured, fully realized effort yet. Yeah, the straight-ahead Punk roar of yore has tapered a bit.

But make no mistake, One Beat is another blast of uncompromising, energetic Rock & Roll fury from three women who only know how to do things one way — their own.

CityBeat recently spoke with drummer Janet Weiss from her apartment in Portland, Ore., a place all three now call home.

CityBeat: A sense of community seems to be a very important aspect of what Sleater-Kinney does. Why?

Janet Weiss: I think the best music comes out of some sort of community where there's something brewing, where there's a movement; a group of people playing together and experimenting together. I think that sort of neighborhood of musicians or artists is really important. This band very much grew out of the Olympia (Wash.) community. And I think without that, the band would never have lasted. Olympia really insulated us and what we we're trying to do and gave us people to bounce ideas off and compare things to. It's really nice to have your friends in your community tied in closely with your music making process.

CB: How has the dynamic between the three of you changed over the years?

JW: The musical dynamic has stayed the same. It's the personal connection that really needs the upkeep. But I think we've been through our hardest times personally, as far as getting along. We've worked out a lot of our ways of communicating. We know how to make things easier on each other, and on ourselves. I guess the band is more streamlined now. We try not to do things that are too taxing and just focus on playing music.

CB: Sleater-Kinney has always been a political band, but on the new record there is more of an emphasis on national and global politics as opposed to the personal stuff you guys usually explore. Was that intentional?

JW: Sometimes global politics intrudes into your personal politics in a very large-scale way. Some of the dark events of the past year-and-a-half were political and personal at the same time. You couldn't really separate those things. Plus there is no decision that, you know, "We're only going to write about this, as opposed to that." You write about the things that matter to you, things that mean something and affect your life. That's what what we wrote about on the last record.

CB: Talk a bit about the current musical climate and Sleater-Kinney's place in it.

JW: I think the public's perception of music, as a general thing, goes in cycles. I would certainly say the '60s were an amazing time for music in general, and for the acceptance of interesting, complicated music in the mainstream. And I haven't really seen that since then. But it doesn't bother me (that we don't have a larger audience). I don't care to be lumped in with a bunch of garbage. I don't want to try to be on the radio, or try to get on MTV. If it happens, fine, but that's not our goal. We're lucky: When you think about the amount of records we sell, it's a lot. I would never take that for granted. People always talk about "taking it to the next level," but the next level is scary; 'cause then you have a bunch of people in your audience that you really don't relate to at all. And that might be kind of disillusioning for us ...(long pause) I don't know, we just make songs.

CB: It's pretty rare that someone can make a living doing something they love — and have that affect someone on top of that.

JW: Yeah, it's a great thing. If you're a musician and your music is important or can make an impact on even one person, that really feels like an accomplishment. The fact that what you're saying can affect anybody at all is an incredible thing.

SLEATER-KINNEY plays the Southgate House on Friday.

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