By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
Call the Doctor (also on Chainsaw) finds this young band already in full command of its faculties. The title cut sets the stage with a driving beat, brash guitars, Tucker's piercingly crystalline voice and rhymes that constitute a ferocious defense of self ("I'm no monster/I'm just like you"). Just as passionate are "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone" (a guaranteed music-crit fave), the chiming screamfest "Heart Attack," and "Little Mouth," in which Tucker gets more mileage out of the phrase "Damn you" than most people accomplish with more exotic profanities. There was nothing revolutionary about Doctor; it lingered in the locale where indie rock has resided for many years. But unlike many of the period's so-called riot grrrls, with whom they were often lumped, Tucker and Brownstein wrote actual songs that dispensed their blows in a punchy fashion. (The album's twelve tracks clock in at just over thirty minutes.) In addition, the album's anger was exceedingly accessible, thereby making it an ideal candidate for over-hyping--and the nation's scribes were happy to oblige. A profile in Spin had temporarily unpleasant consequences (Tucker was outed by the piece, which documented her brief physical relationship with Brownstein), but it was also rich with praise, as was practically everything else penned about the band.
The response to Dig Me Out, issued by Olympia's Kill Rock Stars label and featuring Weiss in the drum chair, was even more feverish, and justifiably so. The album is just as intense and heartfelt as its predecessor, but the songs display musical growth that's intoxicating. "One More Hour" contains a dynamic vocal joust between Tucker and Brownstein; "Turn It On" piles melody atop melody in a mad rhythmic rush; and "Words + Guitar" brings unadulterated joy to the group's canon. Better yet, there are no obvious weak spots: Like the Buzzcocks' Singles Going Steady, the album is a parade of one brief, catchy, propulsive offering after another.
The tour that followed the appearance of Dig soon became a circus, with trend-jumpers, record-company weasels and just plain folks jostling with one another in the center ring. The frenzy left the trio feeling unnerved, Tucker says. "The impact of Dig Me Out was really huge. It was just a feeling that we got slammed by it, and all of our lives changed. I remember feeling like, 'What is happening?' All of us had to learn to deal with it in our own ways.
"We went through some struggles with the band then. We were trying to get it all together, and we didn't know what we really wanted to do--and all of us had a lot going on in our lives, too. Carrie was still in college when this was happening; she just graduated [from Evergreen State College] this past spring, and we actually had to not do a lot of stuff in order for her to finish. And Janet is, like, 32, and she wants a rock-and-roll career. She likes to be on tour all the time, whereas for me, I can't really handle being on tour for eight months out of the year. It's too hard on me, and personally, I get sick a lot more than anyone else."
Conflicts like these fit nicely into the formula for band breakups. But rather than ditching Sleater-Kinney and going solo, Tucker says, "we learned how to compromise. We knew that we were all at really different places in our lives, and we had to come to terms with that and support each other and figure out what we wanted. And we realized that what we wanted was to keep doing this band. It's the musical connection that makes it worth it. It's so strong, and when we come together, we really do have such a blast--and that really came through when we were doing this record. All of us were collaborating so much and worked so hard on it."
When Tucker and Brownstein sat down to write material for the new disc, what came out was more musically elaborate than any of their earlier efforts. "We've grown as songwriters--and as people, we've been through a lot in the last year and a half," Tucker points out. "So we decided to try and do something that was more complex. But I don't think that we've changed our style of lyrics. Personally, my style has always been using short, simple words, and I think that will always be my style. But I think that maybe some of the images and ideas that we're struggling with are more complex, too. Maybe that's where the imagery lies. We're looking at things that are harder to grasp."
The choice to stay with Kill Rock Stars wasn't an easy one. Big-label offers started coming in shortly after the first barrage of Call the Doctor-inspired raves, and the success of Dig Me Out intensified the wooing. But the women didn't turn down the stacks of greenbacks being waved in their faces solely because of ironclad integrity and their loyalty to a punk ethos that's usually espoused most vigorously by lugs who don't have any other options. Indeed, Tucker refuses to rule out the prospect of inking with a major eventually, and she talks business without the slightest self-consciousness.