Political conversation doesn't exist in a vacuum. We're currently experiencing a revival of feminist dialogue, with new energy pouring into the fight for gender equality. But we have many women, groups of women, and subcultures from the past to thank for where we're at today.
One such subculture is the Riot Grrrl music movement in the '90s, and one such group of women is Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss of Sleater Kinney. Throughout their career, and across eight studio albums, from 1995 until today, they've championed social progression and the empowerment of women, and the empowerment of, as Corin Tucker explains in our interview, "people we don't often hear from" – marginalised members of society, who don't have a voice.
They've just released a new album, No Cities To Love. Like every previous release, it sounds nothing like the one that came before it, but is equally aggressively determined to make its point known. From the title track, written by Carrie Brownstein, to Price Tag, written by Corin Tucker, this album discusses what true relationships mean today – in this frantic, tech-driven world – and gives voice to people, in light of the 1%, who don't have one. Here Corin Tucker explains how it came to be and why it feels important to be making music again.
Hi Corin! Sleater Kinney has reformed! Why now?
Well I think that there was always the possibility that we would be a band again. Carrie and I were hanging out at the end of 2011, and I just asked "I wonder if we're ever gonna do Sleater Kinney again". From then we started a conversation, like "well, if we did it, how would we do it and what would it be like?"
For us, we're always excited to do something new with this band – something that we've never done before. We started writing in 2012 and we wrote for two years, until we felt we had the material. It was a long process but we've come out with a really strong record, and found that we still enjoy collaborating together and writing music together.
All your records are different and take the band in a new direction. When you start one, do you know the direction you want to go in?
No we don't really know. We just start writing songs and have different parts that we like, and we keep re-writing the songs until we feel like they're really strong – that process can take a long time. Like Bury Your Friends, we wrote at the end of our writing process and Janet ended up re-recording her drums on the last day we recorded and we finished the song then – even at the last minute there might be something we want to change to make it stronger or more compelling.
Is there a point where you realise, like "yes, we're going in the right direction"?
There were some themes that we were working with on this record that we really wanted to get across.
There are definitely some themes about power, and about connection with other people, you know, and I think those lyrical themes were the things that were most apparent to us when we were writing it.
If you keep writing throughout your life, you become a better writer – hopefully! I think one of the things you can learn is that the more succinct you are, the stronger your writing is.
The themes on this album do seem pretty profound. Where did the title come from?
So, these are Carrie's lyrics but I think I can speak for her. The song, No Cities To Love, is based on the story about atomic tourism – there's such a thing as people who tour nuclear bomb sites and it's bizarre, but it does exist. I think she thought it was a great metaphor for, you know, the bizarre twist that humanity has taken and how we view it in hindsight, and how we reflect on how we've treated each other, and how that informs how we're treating each other today, and how that can relate to personal relationships as well. I think the core of that song is about trying to connect with other people in a way that is meaningful and in a way that you can be proud of. That's the question being looked at in that song, and I just thought that was such a poetic thought, and I love that the end of the song is "it's not the cities, it's people we love". It's the people we've loved in our lives who mean the most, and I think that's such a positive statement and a great title.
It's about our search for connection, and about understanding how to live with each other in this world.
It seems like a particularly profound sentiment today, with our reliance on technology and everything that's going on in the world. Is the album a comment on our current paradigm?
For me, I was trying to give voice to different characters who we might not normally hear from. In a song like Price Tag, I was trying to tell the story of a working class woman who is trying to raise her family and follow the so-called rules for working a job and raising a family, and still not being able to make ends meet, and the anxiety that comes with that.
I think what we're trying to do with these lyrics is to give voice to the concerns that we have about, in that case, income inequality, and how it seems like it's gotten so much harder for working class people in America to have a living wage, and how much easier it's gotten for rich people to retain their wealth. Where are we headed with that is the question that Price Tag is trying to raise.
From my perspective anyway, as a listener and fan of the band for a long time, all of your albums have felt socially and politically poignant. Is that a fair statement? You've always been interested in the concerns of the day, right?
Yeah, well I think we've always been fans of music that's politically and socially conscious. I think it's something that we've wanted to do with our music as well, because it makes the music so much stronger if it's trying to raise an important question.
I think that's where rock 'n' roll came from, right? It started as this rebellious culture; mixing R&B, country and western. It's always been edgy, it's always been challenging. I think that, to me, is the most exciting form that music can take, so we try and get there with this band, and we're always trying to push the boundaries with what we can do.
I'm interested in how different it feels to you writing about socially and politically poignant things in a rock band now, than it did in the '90s. The movement you were part of at the beginning just seemed so politically sensitive, compared with today.
In terms of social issues I feel like the United States has gotten a bit more progressive, or at least there are more people who are supportive of, like, marriage equality and other social issues – that we might have moved to the left a little bit. But economically, that gap has widened for people in the United States, and so the have and have nots has gotten worse than I remember when I was young.
As you mentioned before, rock music has always been a rebellion against the status quo. It feels like historically rock 'n' roll has affected change. Do you think it still has that power?
I think people always ask that question haha, and I don't know the answer!
Change happens more slowly than we want it to, and it's not as predictable as we want it to be. Things do change and things have changed in my lifetime but it's not something that happens overnight.
Staying on that train of thought for a moment, Sleater Kinney were a crucial part of the Riot Grrrl movement in the '90s. It's a really apt time for you to be reforming, because it seems like we're in another important moment in the fight for gender equality. How does the current conversation around feminism and gender equality feel to you?
There are so many more young women who are interested in talking about feminism, and it seems like the conversation has widened a little bit in a way that's really positive.
Like I said, I don't think change happens overnight, but I think there is more awareness of what sexism means, what violence against women is. In the United States it seems like things have gotten a little bit more progressive in terms of identifying something as being unacceptable and people acting on it. Those are positive changes, and I think obviously not all our problems are solved and we still have more work to do, but I do feel like we are evolving as a society. We're addressing problems that we have.
Published on 30th January, 2015 by Courtney Sanders
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