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Grrrls II Womyn

Portland's Sleater-Kinney is maniacally vulnerable
By Todd S. Inoue

Two minutes into my conversation with Corin Tucker, guitarist for archaic punk trio Sleater-Kinney, her phone clicks over. It's a reporter from Billboard. She promises to call back. "It's so weird," Tucker says, when she returns. "All this attention is new. When the first Sleater-Kinney album was released, nobody knew who we were. We just sold a thousand copies of it, and there just was hardly any reviews. But everyone's working real hard to let people know who we are." Portland-based Sleater-Kinney, famous for its sharp punk sound and Tucker's unsettling banshee screams, also features Excuse 17 guitarist Carrie Brownstein and CeBe Barns Band drummer Toni Gogin. The band, on its first nationwide tour, performs at noon at the San Jose State University Amphitheater on Friday (March 22).

Tucker came to prominence in the seminal Riot Grrrl band Heavens to Betsy. Sleater-Kinney works on the palpable anger of that group, packing emotional nakedness into the equation. Tucker's interest in feminism began when she moved from conservative North Dakota to liberal Eugene, Ore. In high school, Tucker picked up her subversive leanings from her teachers. "I was exposed to many strong women," she says. "I was always an opinionated person, but as I got older, it got more and more important to me. I became less naive and more aware of men and women's roles."

When she tried to find friends to jam with, her rock radicalism crystallized. "I tried to get into the music scene in Eugene, but it was so sexist," Tucker recalls. "I tried to join a friend's all-boy band, and they said I could be a backup singer, and I knew I was ten times better than they were." It's a good thing Tucker didn't pick up the tambourine. She moved to Olympia and saw Bikini Kill and Bratmobile, which turned out to be a pivotal moment in her career: "It changed my outlook on music. Going to the show and seeing a band singing about rape and being a women, it pushed me to start playing music."

Radicalism still influences Sleater-Kinney. The band directly addresses "Male Pattern Violence" (a.k.a. moshing) at shows. Once, the band opened the stage to women who felt threatened. Sleater-Kinney contributed to the Free to Fight women's self-defense recording project and tour. "Free to Fight was so important," Tucker says. "Everything on it was so revolutionary. It had real stories and real feelings. And the Free to Fight tour was great; we became real self-defense freaks."

Sleater-Kinney wrote its latest LP, Call the Doctor (Chainsaw), in three weeks and recorded it in four days. A lot of the inspiration came from working at a crap job, one Tucker doesn't want to name because she "still may need the reference." The other influence relates to how people are "consumerized and commodified" by society. Tucker's distinct voice--somewhere between an alarm and a justified tantrum--is intact. "That's just how I sing," she says. "I'm always at this point of manicness. That's one of the things that makes us real is that we're vulnerable."