Local nonprofit Youth on Record hosted a special invite-only question-and-answer session with seminal post-Riot Grrrl trio Sleater-Kinney last night, in advance of the band's sold-out show tonight at the Ogden Theatre. Just before 5 p.m., kids and parental figures loomed in a scattered line outside the recording studio and music education center's new-ish home on 10th and Mariposa waiting to get a seat, grab a taco and take part in a rap session with the band.
Youth on Record Executive Director Jami Duffy and local musician and Director of Programs Tyler Breuer shared some formalities before introducing the evening's moderators, local musicians Bianca Mikahn and Kalyn Heffernan. From there, the two women introduced vocalist and guitarist Corin Tucker, vocalist and guitarist Carrie Brownstein and drummer and Janet Weiss. Calm and gracious, the three spent the next two hours answering the compelling questions asked by the kids, offering an interesting look at the world of music.
Mikahn started off the conversation with a question about the state of Sleater-Kinney's hometown of Portland — comparing it to Denver's ever-changing landscape — and asked if it affected the band's music. Tucker talked about the necessity of spaces for artists to make art in any city (later, Weiss would bring up X-Ray Cafe, an early '90s Portland venue and community space that was a hub for art and music that was owned by Tres Shannon, who would later go on to start Voodoo Doughnuts). The conversation about place eventually morphed into talking about the pivotal Olympia, Washington music scene and the role bands like Bratmobile and Bikini Kill played in the foundation of Tucker's first band, Heavens to Betsy, and later, Sleater-Kinney. Tucker shared that they way she first started playing in bands was by telling people she was in one before it even existed. Brownstein touched on musical movements as a way to deal with a culture that didn't connect with who they were as people — "The common thread is that these movements start when we don't see ourselves represented in culture." Heffernan lead the talk toward the topic of how the band makes music together and why they do it. "A real misconception about music is that it's always really fun doing it," said Weiss, "for me there is a discomfort in the process and exploring that angsty uncomfortableness."
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Then it was time for the kids in the audience to talk with Sleater-Kinney. The room was packed with listening faces, many of whom were students at Youth on Record's various programs and other kids who were veterans of Denver's summer Girls Rock Camp program. Some questions were as clear as, "How do you write lyrics?" Then there were more pressing issues, like, "How do you deal with negative comments about feminism?" Weiss replied, "Never give up. Just keep playing."
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Adults too, we encouraged to join in, and Sleater-Kinney was very forthright in speaking about how careful they are when choosing which companies to deal with when it comes to licensing their music. Brownstein said recently that a video game creator asked to used a Sleater-Kinney song, but the game itself portrayed violence against women, so they declined. All in all, the two hours with Sleater-Kinney were fascinating, bolstered by the kids' interest in how the band functioned. Youth on Record continues to expand its reach and mission, and this visit from a legendary band is a testament to what the organization is capable of.