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"All Hands on the Bad One" is Sleater-Kinney's cultural battle

(May 3, 2000)

There's still a riot going on. Depending on whom you ask, the members of Sleater-Kinney are quite content to be kindly denizens of the Pacific Northwest during their off-hours. According to Carrie Brownstein's postings on the band's Web site, the guitarist/vocalist has just recently finished her volunteer firefighter training hours. Corin Tucker transcended the summit of Mount Ranier. And drummer Janet Weiss completed a recent karaoke tour.

"Carrie sometimes has a bit of an active imagination on the Internet," Tucker says.

But you climbed Mount Ranier, right?

"No. All of the stuff she writes is lies, OK?" Tucker says. "I can't really defend anything about it."

Whether the Web banter is a fraud, it's no lie that critics' darlings Sleater-Kinney have made yet another fine bit of indie rock with their fifth release, All Hands on the Bad One (Kill Rock Stars). The record arrives in time to save those who have grown weary of the mainstream kid rock as of late; Sleater-Kinney are here to help put your finger on the bad ones.

"It almost feels with some of the mainstream rock happening that we're waging a cultural battle," Tucker says. "Some of the things they're saying are so misogynous and kind of humorless that it's as if we're saying, 'We're not going to give up and let you guys win this battle. We're still doing what we think is important. We're still connecting with people out there.'"

Recorded in Portland and Seattle from December to January, All Hands found Sleater-Kinney regrouping with producer John Goodmanson, who manned the boards on 1997's heralded Dig Me Out. The new album is as urgent as ever, but more political and direct than their earlier works. It also features Weiss putting her karaoke skills to work on backing vocals. "We need to be doing something that's fun and rewarding for ourselves," Tucker says. "That's really what this record is about."

Tucker's also been considering her role in punk rock feminism. She recently joined a roundtable discussion at a Riot Grrrl retrospective in Seattle that played host to many of the women who were involved in the movement that translated feminism into a "more basic teenage language."

"I'm so sick of all of the stuff that's been written about us that's like, 'Riot Grrrl grows up' or 'Get out of the Riot Grrrl ghetto,'" she says. "At the same time, so much advertising and marketing I see rips off the kind of cultural ideas that these women were coming up with."

Tucker and Brownstein, formerly of Heavens to Betsy and Excuse 17, respectively, will return to their grassroots in August, taking part in Ladyfest 2000, a music and political festival in Olympia, spearheaded by Allison Wolfe of the newly reformed Kill Rock Stars act, Bratmobile.

It is that puissant femininity and individualism that Sleater-Kinney capture on "The Swimmer," a torch song of sorts that ends All Hands. Penned specifically for Tucker's vocal, Brownstein wrote "The Swimmer" after reading an article in The New Yorker about Lynne Cox, a swimmer who braved the shark-infested waters of the Bering Strait, crossing U.S. and Russian boundaries in protest of nuclear weapons during the Cold War.

"Scientists just couldn't believe how she could stay alive for that long of a swim in that freezing water. They were really perplexed," Tucker says. "They discovered that her body had a really even layer of fat all the way around it that kept her alive for all the time that she was there. There's just so many metaphors you can draw from that."

Like "The Swimmer," it's hard to escape the role-playing All Hands, such as on the first single, "You're No Rock n' Roll Fun," in which the band has a laugh at mainstream rock and themselves. They take it a step further on the album-opening "Ballad of a Ladyman," as Tucker sings, "I could be demure like girls who are soft for boys who are fearful of getting an earful/But I gotta rock!" The song's title is taken from the message board at an English indie festival, where they were dubbed near-behemoths among the stunted English and Scottish girls. And Tucker's voice reads like a lofty novel as she swaggers with Kim Gordon sass on "Milkshake n' Honey" and "Number One Must Have" -- the album's "straight-up angry song."

"I really enjoy role-playing," Tucker laughs, "as do many members of our band."