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Arts + CultureMusicSleater-Kinney: 'We needed to stand up to the moment...

Sleater-Kinney: ‘We needed to stand up to the moment we were facing’

Latest LP 'Little Rope' tackles personal tragedy, gun violence, climate change, abortion fight using 'melody as hope.'

Sleater-Kinney’s songs slap worldwide. But San Franciscans have always appreciated them in their own unique way.

In 1997, just three years and albums into their career, the groundbreaking Olympia rock band was headlining a show at the Bottom of the Hill, supported by The Donnas and The PeeChees. As their set concluded and fans begged for an encore, one shouted, “Play whatever you like,” to which singer Corin Tucker responded without missing a beat: “That’s so San Francisco.”

“That was quintessentially San Francisco,” Tucker recently told 48 Hills. “‘We love you for who you are and who you are trying to be, and we don’t have expectations of traditional rock shows.’ That helped us grow as a band and as writers.” (A notorious free concert with Fugazi in Dolores Park in 2000, that drew thousands to benefit Food Not Bombs, showcased that skyrocketing growth.)

Now, 30 years and 11 LPs into their incredible musical journey, Sleater-Kinney is giving their Bay Area fans two opportunities to see them perform tracks from their latest release, Little Rope (Sat/30 at The Warfield and Sun/31 at The Regency Ballroom).

The album, written by Tucker and bandmate Carrie Brownstein and recorded in the wake of the latter’s parents’ sudden deaths from a car accident in Italy, is understandably one of the band’s most poignant, tackling loss and aging, along with a plethora of global problems like gun violence, climate change, and censorship.

I spoke to Tucker about playing San Francisco, how Brownstein’s tragedy propelled the group “to stand up to the moment we were facing” in the studio, and their three-decade journey as bandmates and friends.

48 HILLS You’re coming to San Francisco for two shows this weekend. What is it like for you to play the city?

CORIN TUCKER San Francisco has a special place in our hearts because it helped make us the band we are. It was like the big city in the ‘90s when we would drive down from Olympia or Portland. 

We connected with people in the Bay Area, particularly the LGBTQ+ and punk communities. San Francisco always seemed interested in what we described in our stories. In the tough times of being in a band and on the road where things don’t go so well, San Francisco was a lift for us, especially when playing those early shows.

48 HILLS From all the times you played San Francisco, are there any memories you carry with you today?

CORIN TUCKER When we played Great American Music Hall so many times, it felt like our second home. It’s just a wonderful place to play. We played Gilman Street in the East Bay and had many crazy punk shows there. We played a lot of places. We played many early shows where we felt like we’d made it—like we were this tiny band and suddenly had this supportive audience—which helped us keep going.

48 HILLS  You recorded Little Rope after a cataclysm in Carrie’s life. What would the album have been had that tragedy not occurred?

CORIN TUCKER It’s hard to say because all that pain intertwined with what we were writing about. We wrote most of the album before the accident, and it already dealt with ideas about getting older and feeling unseen or feeling the passage of time and losing people. Those were already themes, but the poignancy of losing Carrie’s mother and stepfather—so tragically, so suddenly, so shockingly—heightened everything. 

Emotionally, it made everything very dramatic because Carrie wanted to keep writing the album, and I wanted to keep doing it. But it felt like now we had something that needed to sound very purposeful; it was almost like we needed to stand up to the moment we were facing. And so the emotions, the singing, and the performances on the album got more raw and forceful because of what had happened.

48 HILLS  The record tackles weighty issues, including gun violence, death, breakups, depression, and the moral crusaders banning and burning things. How do you balance the heavy topics with a sense of hope?

CORIN TUCKER On this album, the melody is the hope. We wanted the melody of the songs we wrote to be a sing-along. That is the part that is helpful for people; being seen and having your moment is impactful. We don’t write songs with easy answers to the questions we’re raising. It’s more like we’re asking the questions from our point of view. But asking the right questions and daring to say we can do better is what the underlying message is—hope in and of itself.

Photo by Chris Hornbecker

48 HILLS  The ninth track on the LP, “Dress Yourself,” is incredibly resonant. I’ve personally found it very empowering in recent months. What has a song like that done for you?

CORIN TUCKER  “Dress Yourself” is so universal because society faces overwhelming problems of gun violence and climate change. But we still have to get up every day and face this world that we’re in. So that feels universal in terms of finding a purpose and going on even though we have these problems. That’s what music can help with—having this little world built that’s ours and that we share with our fans. 

Music always offered a sense of solace and pushed us to keep going. I hope that’s what it brings to our fans as well. It’s this idea that “Yes, I may feel sad. But this little melody or tune can help me keep going in my day.”

48 HILLS  You and Carrie empowered women when Sleater-Kinney started and continue to do so today.  How has your brand of feminism changed over the years?

CORIN TUCKER I’m interested in listening and learning more from the perspective of women of color in feminism and women of all different economic strata. In the early ‘90s, those voices weren’t amplified as much as they should have been. That’s important as we look at how systemic oppression affects people. It often affects people coming from minorities or other economically disadvantaged situations. So I’m just trying to listen and learn as I get older. 

Unfortunately, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which we worried about in the early ‘90s, is huge. The conservative movement finally achieved it, and it has disproportionately affected economically disadvantaged women. So, it’s important to set up a network of support for those women to make their own reproductive choices. We’ve worked with an organization called NOISE FOR NOW that fights for reproductive justice in ways that can support getting help to women who need it.

48 HILLS How can men best support women right now—outside of voting?

CORIN TUCKER  By listening and amplifying women’s voices when they’re trying to get their points across—in everyday work meetings, for example, and finding organizations, like NOISE FOR NOW or Planned Parenthood, that are trying to support women’s health care and women actively making their own decisions. 

48 HILLS How do you and Carrie ensure that both of your voices are heard in the group?

CORIN TUCKER  We try to listen to each other, keep our ears open, and work on the songs to make them as great as possible. Sometimes, it means one person writes the whole thing, and the other player supports that person. And sometimes we collaborate and say, “I can’t get this chorus.” So I’ll step in and sing on something, or she’ll come in and sing on something I’m writing. We give each other that space to make the songs as good as possible. So, we try different things until we find the best version of the songs.

48 HILLS Your band is named after an Olympia road, which, in turn, is named after two different families. How do you think, after all these years, that that road has proven an apt metaphor for your group?

CORIN TUCKER It’s been a journey. We never expected 30 years ago that we would still be a band. It’s wild. It’s a journey that’s taken us on a valuable friendship. It’s taken us all over and through all these different things in our lives. I’m grateful to still be in this band and on this journey.

SLEATER‐KINNEY: LITTLE ROPE TOUR w/ Palehound Sat/30, The Warfield, SF.Tickets and more info here.

SLEATER‐KINNEY: LITTLE ROPE TOUR w/ Palehound Sun/31, The Regency Ballroom, SF. Tickets and more info here.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Joshua Rotter
Joshua Rotter
Joshua Rotter is a contributing writer for 48 Hills. He’s also written for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, SF Weekly, SF Examiner, SF Chronicle, and CNET.

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