By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
By Jena Ardell
By Mary Willson
By Bree Davies
By Tom Murphy
By Tom Murphy
By A.H. Goldstein
"We kind of struggled with the question of 'Where do we go from here?' But we finally decided to do another record with Kill Rock Stars and try to push the envelope a little bit more and to learn as much as we could from them. We started in a band not knowing very much about the music industry, but they've been really great about helping us do stuff like different kinds of promotion and getting us into chain stores and helping us do a video. And because they're letting us set our own plan, which is one of our things, we're learning a lot. We've been learning how records are sold and how labels are run, and because we know everyone there, we're figuring out what everyone does in their jobs and why they're important."
A happy side effect of sticking with Kill Rock Stars was Sleater-Kinney's avoidance of the Great Alternative Purge of 1997 and 1998. Label execs alarmed by the flat sales of CDs by alterna-acts suddenly concluded that practically any group whose members regularly used distorted guitars and refused to smile for their publicity photos was suspect and deserved dumping. By staying independent, though, Tucker, Brownstein and Weiss were able to survive the firestorm with their reputations intact.
"I feel like we dodged a bullet," Tucker says. "We had a lot of our friends who had these high hopes after getting signed to major labels, and then they got dropped. The music industry has really been in a lot of flux in the past year in terms of bands being dropped and A&R people leaving and a lot of other people getting let go. And with all this stuff going on, it just seems like there might be a better place for us right now. We really want to work with a label that sees us as important and respects us, because we've been building our musical career with these records."
In the meantime, the Sleater-Kinney three are squeezing other projects into their schedules. Brownstein is putting together material with Mary Timony of Helium ("Lighter Than Air," October 30, 1997); Weiss is spending much of her time playing with Quasi, a two-piece act that also includes Sam Coomes; and Tucker is part of Cadallaca, which she laughingly describes as "a dysfunctional Sixties girl group." (Cadallaca's debut arrived in selected stores last month.) But Tucker warns against interpreting these activities as a sign that their collective interest in Sleater-Kinney is waning.
"One of the things I think our band does is we have these moments of tension that we create with our guitar lines, and I really like that," she says. "We have a really good time building up these melodies and filling the space with our guitars. The music's developed its own personality. But the really important thing about our band is chemistry. It just came together when Carrie and I first started playing, and that's what makes our band special. We really value it, even though we don't really understand it.
"That's what natural chemistry is: It's just something that totally happens and totally works, and you just have to be happy that it does. Carrie and I have this kind of chemistry that you only get once in a lifetime. It's just really amazing how we finish each other's sentences musically--and Janet has really helped that."
With what Tucker sees as a musical departure for Sleater-Kinney within a few months of birth, she's inexplicably nervous about the reception the new album will receive: "If the critics hate this record, we'll be fine, because we're making the music that we want to make," she allows, as if she's trying to convince herself that what she's saying is true. But at the same time, she'd like plain old music lovers to make up their minds for themselves and appreciate the band for what it is rather than for what the pundits claim it is.
"I read an article once where Sean Lennon said that his mother, Yoko Ono, always thought she was this pop artist," she notes. "He said she never understands why her songs aren't going to number one. And that's kind of how we are, too."
Sleater-Kinney. 8 p.m. Saturday, October 17, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, $7, 303-447-0095.