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Sleater-Kinney Interview
Ute Hölzl and Susi Ondrusova met the band before their gig at the Donaufestival near Vienna in April 05 and talked to Corin about the new album and the big and not so big changes.
(2005.10.12, 19:19)

Tell us about your new album.

Corin: It’s a fairly dark record, it’s got some themes of isolation and survival. It is sonically a very heavy record, it’s sort of distorted. It goes to some sonic territory that we only hinted at before. It is dark and vast and a little bit psychedelic. I think it is a little bit darker than the ones before, both in terms of the lyrics and the music. It is a little bit bleaker, the sound is larger, and there is more that we do with our sound. There are more experimental parts on it and it sure is fun to play live.

Have you become more open, more experimental since your last album or did you always see that in your music?

It is something we have done within the last three years. We began doing improvisation on stage and we did a lot of improv when we played with Pearl Jam - we opened for them in these huge arena. We’d do the improv every night before one of our songs so we’d have the experience of doing this sound in these giant venues. It was very interesting and challenging and it sparked something in our musicianship so that we had a direction in which we wanted to go. We wanted to make something different after we had already done six records. We don’t wanna do something we’d already done. We kind of set out in search for something different. It took us a long time to get there because we had to try different things writing a few songs, throw them away, try things try things try things until we decided THIS is a direction we can take our music in and take our musicianship in. But it took us a long time to get there.

Do you all live in the same city now?

Yeah, it’s great for us to be able to write and jam. We have all lived in Portland now for a few years actually and it is much easier to write a lot and throw some stuff away and take one part of something and create something else.

What about the switch from Kill Rock Stars to SubPop?

There were a lot of things that we wanted to do differently with this record, and having a different label was also something we wanted to try. KRS is a great label, but they are a small label. SubPop has more resources, they have a full staff of people. It’s been really great for us, they are very supportive and excited about our music.

In terms of success, did you have higher expectations for this record?

No, I think that our expectations are … they were about making this record. We wanted to make a good record and we worked really hard on it and we are really so proud of it. That’s what I wanted to accomplish and that’s what I want people to hear. It’s great having as much experience as we do because now when we go out on the road and on tour we know what we need in terms of making the sound happen live. It is a nice combination of having been in this band for 10 years, that’s a long time. It’s great to finally do new material and feel that we have taken a step forward with our musicianship.

Are you excited to play at this festival with the Liars, and how do you feel about being the main act?

We’re very excited, also about being the headliner. We take it very seriously, we came a long way and brought a lot of crap with us, we don’t want to sound okay, we want to sound great. We’ve been doing it for a long time, we have a goal to make something happen on stage.

I can’t believe you already finished your seventh album, in my mind it is only three.

Oh, you only like three, you don’t like the other four? [laughs]

No no, you are always fresh and new, it all only seems like yesterday, that’s why!

Well, we try to do something different with each record. So we wait until we feel like we’ve written something that is different from the stuff before.

You’ve been active as musicians more than 10 years now, and you have witnessed many changes. You have seen and participated in the riot grrrl movement, Generation Ladyfest - the political stuff around has changed, how is that for you as a band?

We are all different in the band, we don't agree on everything, politically or culturally, and we're all really opinionated. We talk about feminism all the time and we talk about how we see things all the time - that's one of the cool things about being in a band, you get to talk a lot. It's funny that people think that musicians are so smart, I think it's hysterical [laughs]. It's great, I play in a band and people ask me questions all the time. It's really interesting, because I'm at home most of the time as a mom, I have a son that's four, it's great for me to have this other life. People always ask me what I think about things, and I look at the other women that are taking care of kids: you don't get asked about what you think, you are always worried about someone else's needs. That's important, but it's nice for me to get a break and do band stuff too.

There are seemingly so few bands with actually something to say, that’s probably why you get asked so many questions...

Yeah, that's true. When I grew up, as a teenager, I loved music and I thought that people who were artists were the daring ones, those people that are social critics and have been since the sixties. Those are the people who spoke out about the conservative society and the Vietnam War. This tradition is one of the great things about America: the social movements were linked with music. It's much more commercial today and there is a horrible corporate rock culture in the US. It's so nasty and there are so many people that do it for the money. I don’t think that’s really where we come from as a band.

There is also one other difference: you're one of the few female bands.

Yeah, that’s another thing. I think there are more women playing music now, more than ever, and I hope that more women start their own bands and feel encouraged to be really involved in writing the music, in making and writing music, because that's my favourite thing to do. To write, to be an artist, to have a voice. It's a great thing.

You have a very interesting link on your website to the rock’n’roll camp for girls.

Oh yes? I haven’t even seen the new website yet. Yeah, they’re a great organisation, we have all volunteered there. I mean, to put instruments in the hands of girls and to say "this is how you play the drums this is how you play the beat”, that’s a great way to volunteer.

When you think of Ladyfest, which you were a part of from the beginning in Olympia 2000, and all the other movements and people that you inspired, do you sometimes look back and think, oh I didn’t even know that I did that?

No. [Laughs]. I think there is a lot of activists that we know that started things that don’t get a lot of press. We as a band have always gotten a lot of press, but Ladyfest in the US was Alison Wolfe from Bratmobile. And you know there was a lot of artists and acitivists that all have ideas. But Sleater-Kinney and probably Le Tigre are the bands that have record labels behind them, that hand out press stuff. People attract a lot of attention to us, but there are a lot of women and a lot of artists that work really hard to create festivals where women feel included, for example the rock'n'roll camp for girls. There is a lot of people behind the scenes, but they never get attention.

The album title "The Woods”, is this an allusion to some kind of darker side or nature, what do you imply with that?

I don’t think I should answer that! [Laughs]. There shouldn’t be one answer, especially for the title of a record. That’s what you should kind of wonder about. You have to hear it and then you can decide. I will say though that where we recorded it had something to do with the title, because it was in a very rural woods area, it was very out in the nowhere. There is a lot of meanings that you can draw but you have to listen to the songs.

You have been in the business for a really long time, do you think you will go on like this, playing forever?

[Laughs] No! I don’t think you can tour forever, it is really exhausting. It think we just enjoy it while it lasts, we really appreciate it to be together and go with it right now and have a good time.

Having started as pioneers in a certain movement, you became a role model for a lot of bands. Can you name a few bands that were maybe influenced by Sleater-Kinney?

I don’t know! It is hard for me to say: "Oh, I’ve influenced that person.”

A lot of people say you influenced them.

Oh. That’s great!