Musically speaking, conversation regarding Washington State is usually reduced to a certain pair of grunge bands that made somewhat of a splash in the early 90s (Newsvine notwithstanding). Less (if anything) is said about three women from Olympia who invaded the rock and roll boys club to deliver some of the most biting, acerbic, and gritty music to spring from the American indie scene.
Corin Tucker - of riot grrrl band Heavens to Betsy - and Carrie Brownstein - of queercore band Excuse 17 - started Sleater-Kinney as a side project in the mid-90s. Both played guitar (in its history the three member band never enlisted a bass player) and they fully invested in Sleater-Kinney once their other groups disbanded. With Lora McFarlane on drums the band cut its self-titled debut in 1995. After playing on the band's critically beloved sophomore effort in 1996, Call the Doctor, McFarlane relocated to Melbourne and after several replacement efforts Janet Weiss (no relation) took over primary drumming duties for the band.
While the percussion on Sleater-Kinney's first two efforts was hardly inadequate, Weiss' style brought a new sense of dramatic urgency to the music. The band's first album with Weiss behind the kit, 1997's Dig Me Out, is widely thought to be the record that defined the band's sound and cemented the trio's status as critic's darlings. The Hot Rock in 1999 and All Hands on the Bad One in 2000 built on the successes of Dig Me Out, and further established group's position at the forefront of indie-rock's consciousness.
In 2002 the group released its penultimate, and arguably its finest, work. One Beat is rife with caustic desperation and angular guitars balanced with steady beats and sweet vocal harmonies. Brownstein's smooth backups blend perfectly with Tucker's jagged howl, and with lines like
Where is the question and where is the protest song?
Since when is skepticism un-American?
the album's apex - "Combat Rock" - remains one of the defining songs of the decade.
Sadly, shortly after the release of the group's final album, The Woods, in 2005 the trio went on indefinite hiatus. Faced with the loss of these indie rock luminaries, fans have since come together to establish the Sleater Kinney Live Vault. The Vault contains 8 live sets recorded at different points of the band's tenure with the final goal to
put together a high-quality compilation of every Sleater-Kinney song performed live throughout their career.
Currently, Brownstein pens a music blog for NPR entitled Monitor Mix, and has started a comedy duo with SNL cast member Fred Armisen. Weiss is a current member of the band Quasi, as well as drummer for Stephen Malkmus' Jicks while Tucker is concentrating her attention on raising her two children with husband Lance Bangs.
In its ten year run Sleater-Kinney was a movement unto itself. The group's repertoire included many political songs, but it could never be pigeonholed as just a political band. The members' sexualities (Brownstein was outed by a Spin magazine article that reported on her relationship with Tucker) helped to shape the songs but they were never defined by them – a feat considering America's dual fetish regarding lesbians and women playing guitar. The three members of Sleater-Kinney had myriad passions but the singular focus of expressing these concerns in a loud, powerful, earth-shattering voice. And we that have heard them are all the better for it.
Crossposted from ListenInMusic.com.