Corin Tucker on her band, feminism, and Portlandia

Corin Tucker on her band, feminism, and Portlandia
Photo by John Clark

See Also:
Wild Flag at the Varsity Theater, 10/3/11

The dream of the '90s may indeed be alive in Portland today, but it was also alive in the actual '90s. Within music, no individual encapsulates this spirit quite perfectly as Corin Tucker. The warbling, powerhouse frontwoman of Sleater-Kinney, Tucker's voice and attitude defined a movement that used music as a force for social change. Though Sleater-Kinney have been on hiatus since 2006, its members have not stopped creating music. And for Tucker, this road led to the formation of the Corin Tucker Band.

Nearing the day of their sophomore release and ahead of a performance at 7th Street Entry, Kill Rock Blues, Gimme Noise was privileged to chat with the Riot Grrrl legend.

You're about to initiate your tour for Kill Rock Blues right here in Minneapolis. What's your mindset approaching this release?

Corin Tucker: It's good im really excited! I guess it's finally close enough now that I'm starting to get excited and not just anxious.

Now, Sleater-Kinney has branched off into various musical realms (e.g. Wild Flag).  But you've kept a notably lower profile. What sparked the creation of the Corin Tucker Band?

Well, for this specific project Seth Lorinczi -- who's in the band -- was organizing a benefit for Reading Frenzy (an "independent press emporium").  He asked me to play a couple of songs and I asked him and his partner Julianna (Golden Bears) to play on them too. We only played a few songs together but I just thought, "Wow, this is an interesting collaboration" and so Seth told me to make a record. That's really where it came from -- circumstance. That first record (1000 Years) was more of a project idea, more of a solo record, you know? It was when we went on tour together and added Mike Clark (Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks) to the band that it actually became a band. We really gelled and then we got to know each other and enjoyed playing together and so we collaborated on this new record. This record involved all of us together much more. Everybody contributed.

How long of a process was the planning, recording and writing of Kill Rock Blues?

[Laughs] It took a while. I mean, it was after we released 1000 Years that we came back to Portland and decided to work on some new stuff. At the very beginning of 2011 we started writing...and we wrote a lot. We started recording that August but we really took our time. There was a huge emphasis on changing things and adding things and perfecting things.

What kind of changes are you talking about? How do you think the band has grown between the two albums after, well, I guess self-actualizing as a legitimate band?

When Mike Clark joined the band and we did our first U.S. tour I think that him and our drummer Sarah Lund really started clicking in the rhythm section. That gave us the groundwork to do all of this fun stuff musically within, you know, holding the fort down. It definitely gave us a new perspective.

And what perspective was that?

Well, we started to look around at shows and realized that people were there to really dance and have fun. Some people were even trying to dance to all of our acoustic numbers. It just sort of clicked. We thought, "Maybe we should write a dance record."  And that was part of the inspiration to this album: to get people moving.

That's interesting to me. I think that this pop/ danceablilty factor that you're speaking of makes this music more accessible to a wider audience than Sleater-Kinner was/is.  How does it compare to play music that's so inherently different from what your career was founded upon?

It's been a very organic process of experimentation. Different musicians bring different talents to the table. Different people have different skills. They bring various things to the writing process and I think that these songs have just sort of come out of that. The four of us really have a shared musical background and this record feels like a nod to the late '70s and '80s and '90s.

It was never challenging or weird feeling?

I didn't ever really feel that way. When you have all of these different multi-instrumentalist talents to work with it just becomes really fun, regardless. There's so many things you can do with them.

Seems like it would translate to a good live show.

Yeah. We haven't played regular club show in a while. So we're really looking forward to getting the time to play all of these songs on a regular basis at all of these different music clubs with good sound.

Now, as you're undoubtedly aware, there's a modern cultural obsession amongst young people with Portland and the Portland music scene. As somebody who has experienced it through a variety of realms, why do you think this is? What is it that's so fixated upon?

Well, it's changed so much since I've lived here. It used to be this outpost of pioneers and actually a fairly conservative state of, like, loggers and farmers. It's a pretty agricultural state in general. And, also, that Portland was the port city, the Sin City, traditionally. It was where sailors came to get into trouble. It was very seedy in the '70s and '80s. A lot of crime and drugs went through here along with it being a port city. That's really where the alternative music scene came from.


The indie-revolution came from crime, drugs and depraved sailors? Who knew.

Umm, it was more like a spark of nightlife, of downtown life, a place to get away from life on the farm or whatever kind of rural agricultural life you had. It was the big city, the place to go and see music or go and drink, all of those kinds of activities. That's where the music scene began. People wanted to have original music to go out and see on a Friday night. In the beginning there was a lot of large demand for not very many bands. There were only a handful of artists who  made their own music and came from Portland. Most people thought you had to go to Los Angeles to be a part of the music scene. So the beginning of the scene was really, really different when you had people starting bands and writing their own music. It was really different and it was meant to be really different. It wasn't meant to be like everything that was heard on the radio. There was no hope for these bands to get on the radio back then. That's what was special about it. It was homegrown and it was weird.  But it was interesting and unique.

Clearly, evidenced by your cameos on Portlandia, you see the humour in the modern changes.

Yeah, definitely. It's changed so much and its crazy how different Portland is today than it was 20 years ago. It is really funny to go to a super fancy restaurant. All of the businesses here that just didn't exist before it was such a destination.

Are the changes more rooted in the commercialization factors or cultural factors?

I think that it's both. I think that for my generation, people really truly did want to live differently. That's one true thing about Portlandia. We really did want to set up our lives differently than our parents. I think that's true of most generations. But for us that meant thinking about the environment and making different choices and the whole bike-riding thing and eating locally--all of that--it's become almost mainstream here now. And that's great, but its not like that in other parts of the country.

Do you ever get nostalgic for the old Portland? For playing in your earlier bands?

I certainly miss the music. I really miss that kind of camaraderie from being the few in crowd, you know? The weirdos in town who wrote for the 12 people at the punk rock show. It's really, really different now. But that's probably the only thing I miss about it.

Your name is inextricably linked to the riot grrrl movement in a leadership sense. How does that make you feel in 2012? Do you think that the movement maintains any relevance for young people today?

I think that it was something that I was part of and I'm extremely happy about that. I think that, if anything, if I was talking to young women today I would tell them that I don't think our work is done. I'm an activist. I'm a feminist and I think that there's a really long way to go in this country to feel like the things that we were talking about 20 years ago in the movement have made enough progress.  Like reproductive rights. These issues are still relevant and if I spoke to young women today I'd guess I'd just say: "OK lets do it!"

The Corin Tucker Band plays with Prissy Clerks tonight at 7th St. Entry.

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