Sleater-Kinney: The powerhouse trio face their fear, and their success.

November 1996
by Ray Rogers

Sleater-Kinney had the distinction of playing the hottest showcase at September's CMJ music festival in New York. Even Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore couldn't get in to see this rocketing Northwest punk trio. And inside the Cooler-a former meat locker below street level-it was hotter than a sauna. "I felt like I was taking a bath with my clothes on with a few hundred other people," guitarist-vocalist Carrie Brownstein told the crowd of East Village queers at the lesbian club Meow Mix the following evening.

The band released its unstoppable adrenaline rush of an album, Call the Doctor, on Donna Dresch's Chainsaw label earlier this year, but things are just now really heating up-and dealing with the wooing from major labels is taking its toll. "As fans and community members of the independent music world, we're struggling with our own ideals and trying to figure out what we really want and how we want to shape our own lives," explains singer-guitarist Corin Tucker, the former singer-songwriter in the riot grrrl duo Heavens to Betsy. "If a band who are all women, who have queer musicians in it, and who are musicians before anything else-first and foremost we are songwriters-if we can sell more than 5,000 records and there's more people with access to our music, will that change things? Or will it just be totally co-opted? It's really confusing."

One thing is crystal-clear: Sleater-Kinney are a powerhouse band. Recall the first time you heard Horses or Nevermind-Call The Doctor has that kind of effect. It is raw and fresh, dissecting fear, alienation, and sickness with candor, vulnerablity, and brute force. "A lot of my songs are about letting go of fear, or trying to," says Tucker. "And a lot of people can relate to that in a lot of different ways." Not just gay and lesbian people. "I'm queer and I've always written songs about liking girls as well as relationships I've had with guys," says Tucker. "Like in Heavens to Betsy, I wrote songs about girls. It's always been part of my identity. But I don't really see myself as a spokesperson."

In fact, Tucker and Brownstein didn't come out in the mainstream media until a recent Spin magazine story inadvertently outed them. As Brownstein recalls, "I hadn't seen it, and I got a phone call. My dad called me and was like, 'The Spin article's out. Um, do you want to let me know what's going on?' The ground was pulled out from underneath me...My dad did not know that Corin and I had ever dated, or that I even dated girls." (Says Spin's Eric Weisbard, who wrote the piece: "Their publicist gave us no indication that it was going to be a controversial or upsetting thing for us to print [or] I would not have printed it.")

Ultimately, Browstein's dad was fine. "he's from a whole different generation," she says. "The fact that I'm a woman and I'm in a band with only women is just as revolutionary to him."

"We're about our music, and our identities come through in our music and our songwriting, but we don't really want to choose one thing and be like, This is what we are." -Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney