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Sleater-Kinney go record shopping, reveal the pull of reunion

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Sleater Kinney
Brigitte Sire

Sleater-Kinney emerged from the noisy art school scene in Olympia, Washington and reinvented what it meant to be an all-girl band. They called it quits following the release of 2006’s The Woods, but they’re back with a new tour and a fresh batch of beautifully jagged tracks called No Cities To Love. It’s a near-perfect album, the first great record of 2015, full of solid grounding in the band’s past and urgent nudging toward the future—an ideal attitude to carry into New York City’s Other Music, where Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, and Janet Weiss dug through the racks to reveal the inspiration behind their hot rock.

CORIN TUCKER

“I was always listening to music. My dad is a huge music fan, so we would always go to the music store together, and he’d be like, ‘I got this album called Murmur by a new band called R.E.M. What do you think of it?’ Or Queen. ‘Do we like Queen? Do we not like Queen?’ So we would argue about music. I was already doing that. The more obscure stuff was in Olympia, like, ‘Here’s this band called the Slits, and here’s this band called the Au Pairs, and this British band called the Raincoats.’ I had never heard any of that until I moved to Olympia, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, there are all these female-fronted bands,’ and I thought they were amazing.”

Television, Marquee Moon

“I definitely remember in Olympia listening to Television’s Marquee Moon record. Olympia was just a place where everybody was putting on music, and being like, ‘Have you heard this? What about this?’ The record store downtown, Positively Fourth Street, wasn’t very good, but [musician and producer] Calvin Johnson’s house was all records, and we would have a dance party at Calvin’s and just go through his records.”

Brittany Howard and Ruby Amanfu, “I Wonder”/”When My Man Comes Home” 7-inch and

The White Stripes, “Lord, Send Me An Angel” 7-inch

“I just want to get all of these Third Man Records seven inches. I love this woman—she’s from the Alabama Shakes, right? She’s incredible. I love her voice so much. She’s so talented and interesting, and totally original. I’m super psyched for her. I do love Jack White. He is so good with the visual stuff. He’s always got that all together at the same time as the music. We played with the White Stripes early on, and he was always strategizing that. It’s like Motown. Motown was the school of rock. They had everything down to the perfect letter of how you were presented, and that happened at the same time as the music. It’s just that most of us are slobs and we don’t get there until a little bit later.”

JANET WEISS

“I feel like the process of hearing new music now is a little harder for me because I’m a little older now. I went to a lot of shows when I was young. There was a scene, so it was kind of obvious what shows you would go to, and I’d go with all my friends, and we’d see the bands that were on a certain label you really loved because there was a cohesiveness to the label. So I think I was exposed to things in a more physical, tangible way, which as a person who pounds on things for a living makes a lot of sense. I’m happier in the real world than I am watching something on a screen. But I feel like new music has to be compared to everything. When we were making our new record, we asked ourselves not only is it as good as London Calling, but is it our best record? Is it as good as these great records we’ve made? I always compare everything I work on to everything else. Not only is it as good as the record that came out yesterday? Music is broken into time periods, but the good stuff is timeless.”

New Orleans Soul 1960-76

New Orleans Funk Vol. 2

“I’ve been collecting these compilations. Music is just so important to me in my own life. I like to think of it as vital life and death, like a fabric of your life importance. So I’m drawn to music that is like that for the people who make it. It’s not about them getting a song in a commercial. I like the feeling of listening to something that sounds like life or death. That sounds so vital, like the person has to be doing it. Corin has talked about that a lot. It would be so much easier for her to just take care of her kids and stay home and be a mom. There’s this thing that just compels her, and compels us, to do it. In a way, it’s like out of your control.”

The Clash, London Calling

“My favorite drums are in my favorite bands. I was a huge Clash fan when I was in high school. Looking back on it, I realized that Topper Headon was this amazing drummer, and not just a basher. He made that band. London Calling is a masterpiece in my opinion, and his drumming is just outrageously good. There’s a lot of progression there from one record to the next, and just trying things and experimenting with different things. Too bad he was a huge junkie and broke the band up. I’m probably out of the woods on that.”

Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, Wig Out At Jagbags

“I’ve played with Malkmus, and that’s a much different mindset than Sleater-Kinney. He’s this sort of mad genius in his own head, very cool and not emoting. That was really interesting for me. I think I learned a lot about playing in different ways. In the end, the fit was a little weird. I want every show to be epic, and I think I pushed too hard in that band. I mean, he invented slacker. Nobody will be able to imitate him. So as huge of a fan I am of him, it was hard for me, because I play fast and I play loud, and he would just give me looks.”

CARRIE BROWNSTEIN

“I did not grow up on anything cool. Cool came way later. I grew up on pop. I grew up in the ’80s with Madonna and Michael Jackson and New Kids on the Block. I was very enamored of pop music—of melody and spectacle and dynamism. Some peoples’ parents have great taste in records, but my dad’s favorite record was probably Eagles’ The Long Run. Most of my musical education in terms of discovering what post-punk was or discovering what hardcore was or finding good hip-hop, that came from the time I was like 15 or 16, and then I moved to Olympia for college, and that became its own formal education. Not the college part, just living with people whose record collections were just so vast. Like, finding seven inches by like the Delta Five or Au Pairs, or these bands out of England that had these terse songs with succinct guitar playing, or this band the Clean from New Zealand. It became this geographical education where you’d kind of discover a city, and then here are all these bands. Like, you’d learn about the Minneapolis bands and listen to the Replacements and Husker Du. But I grew up on pop and I still return. It’s hard to me not to embrace it. I think people older than me can resist pop and people younger than me never wanted to resist it. But if you grew up in the ’80s, unless you were old enough to reject it and listen to New Wave, you kind of love it.”

Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels 2

“I actually just bought this. I downloaded it first, but I really wanted the vinyl. because I have been listening to vinyl more. I like it because it makes my focus more narrow. So instead of having just everything on my computer, I just have a certain stack of records I’ll rotate through, and it’s really focused listening. So that record I’ve just been playing over and over. It’s a really exciting record. I love that. It’s not a record you can just sit back to. It’s not a running mix record. It’s easily one of my favorite records of the year.”

The B-52s, Wild Planet

“For me, the beginning of Sleater-Kinney was a nexus of the B-52s and Gang of Four. I loved [the B-52s’] Ricky Wilson’s guitar playing. He wrote very catchy melodies, but they were bittersweet. He really told stories. There’s a buoyancy to them. It’s very surf oriented, but I hear him everywhere now. People reference that sound. He really put it in a whole new context.”

Boston, Boston

“I remember Corin had this sh—y record player in her apartment, and I don’t know why she even had a copy of this. She probably just bought it at Goodwill or something. We would listen to it and we were like, ‘What if we covered this song?’ On the first Sleater-Kinney seven inch, we cover ‘More Than a Feeling,’ which is one of the cheesiest songs. There’s so many things wrong with that song. In the cover version, we speed it up and tear it to shreds a little bit. We were commenting on it at the same time we were covering it. People obviously always took Sleater-Kinney very seriously, but Corin and I always had a very humorous and self-aware approach to what we were doing. We obviously wanted to make music that meant something to us and meant something to other people, but there was always a sense of fun and freedom.”

Kanye West, Yeezus

“I do listen to a lot of contemporary music, but when I’m writing, that’s not as interesting to me. We wrote [No Cities To Love] over a long stretch of time, and when Yeezus came out, I remember just thinking about how exciting that record sounded. There’s a real heaviness on that record, a sense of something right on the edge of decay sonically that I really liked. But mostly Corin and I would just play old songs for each other. It’s kind of good, in the sense of singularity when you write. You have to create a space where you feel an infinite sense of possibilities, and if you’re too worried about the sonic sphere around you, you can over-edit or it can change the shape of what you’re doing. So I tend to listen to less when I’m writing, and then when I’m done I just go out and buy records.”

Tears For Fears, Songs From The Big Chair

“I think my relationship to older records is different now because I have more patience for the non-hits. I think as a kid when I listened to Songs from the Big Chair, all I wanted to hear was ‘Shout’ and ‘Head Over Heels.’ But now my relationship changed because I’m like, ‘Wait, what do the other songs sound like?’ I first listened to that before I was a songwriter, before I put out albums, and as someone who makes records and writes songs, all the songs are important to me. With Tears for Fears, I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, the whole record is good, because that same person wrote those hits.'”

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