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Hot-Rockin' Beats

Sleater-Kinney dig themselves out of Olympia with third album
(February 19, 1999)

No need to call the doctor. If mass recognition, major label courtships and kowtowing by rock journalists were Sleater-Kinney's goals, their cup runneth over last year. Despite the media's blazing exposure, however, this Pacific Northwest powerhouse is still sipping from a mug full of self-reliance and integrity. On their latest tome, The Hot Rock, the trio retains its indie label status (Kill Rock Stars) and pushes the depth of its songwriting without softening the edges.

"After making a record like Dig Me Out, where the energy is actually very dense, as a songwriter you naturally step back from that," says guitarist/vocalist Carrie Brownstein. Brownstein, formerly of Excuse 17, and Corin Tucker, who played in Heavens to Betsy, formed the band in 1994 in their hometown of Olympia, Wash. "We wanted to write songs that have more subtlety or more space. Also, we wrote Dig Me Out in about two months. We wrote this one over the space of a year. I think the album is a reflection of the amount of time we had. It's much more vast, richer in texture."

When the mainstream press first tuned in to the band, about the time of their second release ('96's Call the Doctor), Sleater-Kinney had to endure all the riot grrrl cliches. But it was '97's Dig Me Out that defined the band's sound: the ragged interplay of Tucker and Brownstein's guitars and the jagged, bass-less rhythms anchored by drummer Janet Weiss. The most distinguishing feature of that release, however, was the vocal give-and-take between Tucker's craggy caterwaul and Brownstein's more tranquil, grounded singing.

"I think in general we knew we had made a good record [with Dig Me Out] and we were really proud of it," Brownstein says. "It was exciting but also scary. Luckily, we were on tour, so you're actually doing the thing that people are talking about. [The attention] can also seem very separate from your life, so that's why it was good to be playing shows instead of sitting at my house [hearing about] this review or article."

One article in particular did call their attention. Spin magazine a couple of years ago made reference to Brownstein and Tucker's personal love relationship, without, according to Brownstein, asking about it in the interview.

"It was a complete invasion of privacy," Brownstein contends, with lingering anger. "My parents didn't know Corin and I were going out. They didn't know I had ever dated a woman before. It was horrible. I was pissed at Spin, really mad. Luckily my parents are great people, but God forbid I would have some family that would disown me over something like that. And I would have totally held Spin responsible for that." The incident hasn't affected Tucker and Brownstein's working relationship. Brownstein admits they are vastly different personalities (they are no longer romantically involved), but the occasional tensions from working so closely are more of a creative drive than hindrance. Now, there is more of a physical distance between band members than personal.

Currently, Weiss and Tucker live in Portland while Brownstein remains true to her Olympia roots, where she is exploring all that city has to offer in the form of the seven-member South Capitol Players Theater group. The troupe, mostly musician types, writes plays and musicals. Weiss is in the keyboard and drum outfit Quasi and Tucker fronts a Sixties-influenced garage band called Cadallaca, which Brownstein likens to Dusty Springfield (as opposed to her other side project, the Tentacles, which she aligns more with the Troggs). But despite their neo-retro sounds, Brownstein, as she professes in the track "Banned from the End of the World" on Hot Rock, harbors no millennial-triggered fears of what lies ahead.

"I find it kind of ridiculous when people fear the future. We are the ones who are going to create it. What abstract thing are you fearing except yourself?" Brownstein says. "But at some point, it comes to its natural end. You can't play in a band for forty years, unless you're the Rolling Stones."