There’s Still a Riot Going On

Sleater-Kinney returns after a decade-long absence with its best album ever, 'No Cities to Love'

click to enlarge Janet Weiss (left) says Sleater-Kinney reunited because they craved the intensity of the band.
Janet Weiss (left) says Sleater-Kinney reunited because they craved the intensity of the band.


t seems slightly inaccurate to describe the past decade without the ebullient adrenaline rush of Sleater-Kinney as a hiatus. It implies that the trio’s members — guitarists/vocalists Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker and drummer Janet Weiss — have been preoccupied with the scent of long-neglected roses and gazing into heretofore unexplored navels between 2005’s The Woods and this year’s across-the-board-excellent No Cities to Love. Given the artists recent schedules, Sleater-Kinney needed a hiatus from its hiatus.

Over the past decade, Brownstein became a breakout television star with Portlandia, formed Wild Flag (with Weiss, ex-Helium guitarist Mary Timony and ex-Minders drummer-turned-keyboardist Rebecca Cole), appeared in Todd Haynes’ acclaimed, Cincinnati-shot film Carol and written her memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl. Meanwhile, Tucker recorded and toured with her own band and had her second child, and Weiss worked with her long-standing group Quasi and did studio/touring stints with the likes of Wild Flag, The Shins, Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks and Bright Eyes. In many ways, they seem like the schedules of three women who have left something behind on their way to bigger situations.

And if ever there was a high note on which to depart from a darkened stage, The Woods would have been Sleater-Kinney’s near-perfect swan song. A brilliant blend of everything S-K had accomplished since its eponymous 1995 debut and a peek down newly discovered avenues, The Woods had the feel of a go-out-on-top album.

“No, that wasn’t the intention,” Weiss says via phone from her Seattle home. “The goal with (The Woods) was to go out on a limb and challenge ourselves to make something really ballsy and beyond what we’d done before. It was an intimidating record to think about following up. I felt like we were so successful at what we’d tried to do, it wasn’t clear what was next after such a bold statement. The idea of going back in and pushing again seemed overwhelming at the time.”

After a six-year stretch without any S-K activity, a casual conversation between Brownstein and Tucker in 2012 sparked the flame of a full-on comeback.

“I think we had always hoped we would play together (again),” Weiss says. “We were just keeping an eye out for a time when we might feel we had the right kind of space to dedicate to the band. Carrie and I played in Wild Flag, but as great as it was, it wasn’t a replacement. You can’t really replace Sleater-Kinney. I think we just craved the intensity that is this band.”

For the trio, the first order of business was understanding what a new Sleater-Kinney album would have to be, philosophically and structurally. Knowing the album would be the subject of incredible scrutiny upon release, the musicians applied that same attention to their process.

“The approach was definitely the desire to make the record bulletproof,” Weiss says. “We knew for it to be worthwhile for us, we had to make one of our best records. We took ourselves to task on that; a lot of editing, looking at songs objectively, trying to assess, ‘Is this song done? Is this song good enough? Does this work with the other songs?’ It was rewarding and really hard.”

The trio set an initial recording date, but when that date arrived, the band members decided they didn’t have enough of the right material to hit the studio. It would be another year before they felt their songs were worth documenting.

“The last songs we write are always our best songs and usually our favorites,” Weiss says. “We wrote a lot that summer (right before recording), and they ended up being the main tracks, the heart of the record. It’s a good thing we kept at it.”

That could be the year’s understatement. No Cities to Love is easily one of Sleater-Kinney’s best albums to date and among 2015’s best releases. In a little over 30 minutes, S-K roars through 10 tracks that vibrate with Punk intensity while barreling along with the lockstep ass-kick of classic Gang of Four.

Produced once again by John Goodmanson, who’s helmed the majority of S-K’s releases (“John gets the best performances out of us, and really knows how to make us feel confident, freewheeling and relaxed,” Weiss says), No Cities to Love is prime Sleater-Kinney.

As No Cities’ touring cycle winds down, the trio is casually considering next steps. As far as the tour goes, the band is considering adding some older obscurities to its set-lists, which currently include much of the new album, songs from The Woods and a few fan favorites

“Corin’s been trying to get Carrie to play ‘Heart Factory’ for about 15 years. It’s a great song but I don’t think we’ll be able to talk her into that one,” Weiss laments.

As far as the future, Sleater-Kinney is thinking about it without really thinking about it.

“For us right now, it’s important not to push too hard,” Weiss says. “We don’t want to feel boxed in by this thing. We’ve done the recording (and) touring cycle and it was some of the best years of our lives, but with families and careers and the other things everyone wants to do, we’re just going to take it in a laidback way. We want to make sure we have enough life-force to give to Sleater-Kinney before we commit to doing the whole thing again.”

As to Weiss’ personal post-S-K plans, she’s looking for projects, and doesn’t discount a significant change of scenery. Cincinnati’s music scene could even get a new drummer looking for a band.

“I’m looking for a job. I like your town, it’s a good town,” she says with a laugh. “This is how my life has been for 25 years. A project ends and I hustle to find some other preferably rewarding music to play. Not having my life planned is so great but it gets a little nerve-wracking. I can’t be in one band, so I’ll work on keeping the fires burning on the drumming front. Drummers can never play enough. That’s our problem.”

SLEATER-KINNEY plays Bogart’s Sunday. Tickets/more info:

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