Sleater- Kinney: No Cities to Love.

American West Coast rockers Sleater-Kinney return with their first new album in 10 years

American West Coast rockers Sleater-Kinney return with their first new album in 10 years

Iconic American West Coast post-punk rockers Sleater–Kinney have just released their first album in 10 years. Called No Cities To Love, it’s a cracker, or in the words of the bands softly spoken drummer Janet Weiss-

“It’s gangbusters, very powerful and melodic. We sound possessed”.

Indeed. The album is a joyously merciless effort reminiscent of the new wave of American rock bands that grew from the fallout after punk had burned through the US in the late 1970s, tipping the rock scene on its head and mixing it all up into new colours and textures. I am reminded in particular of seminal new wave band Television or perhaps to be more precise, Television’s guitarist Tom Verlaine, whose angular and acerbic guitar riffs seem to inform the shape and textures of Sleater-Kinney’s edgy melodic experiments.

It is an album of sonic and melodic juxtaposition, both dark and light, with hints of late career Who, lashings of Grr-Girl ascetic and plenty of good old-fashioned impassioned rock and roll. Vocalists Brownstein and Tucker wail and rage in grappling harmony while their twin guitars veer between howling assault and moments of transcendent beauty, all of which is deftly unified by Weiss’s relentless rhythms.

Thematically, it’s an angry post punk polemic that takes aim at the political and economic inequalities that mark the state of life in the US in early 2000s. The album also looks closely at power and how the meaning of power has changed in American life over the 20 years since the band first started playing together. It’s a rallying cry, urging us out of dreamlike complacency and in the words of Howard Beale, (played by Peter finch), from the 1976 film Network “”I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”

The band arrived arose out of Olympia, the capital city of Washington State, in the early 1990s, taking its name from a motorway exit prominent in the city. With Carrie Brownstein (vocals and guitar), and Corin Tucker, (vocals and guitar), at its core, this feminist post-punk band went through 3 drummers before auditioning Weiss in 1996.

Legend tells a similar tale to the one that surrounds The Who and the audition of one of Weiss’s drumming heroes, Keith Moon, who according to Daltrey conducted his audition with such intensity, the band felt like they were standing behind a ‘jet engine’. For Tucker and Brownstein, their first experience of Weiss was similar. Recalls Brownstein- “She started up pounding the skins so hard we stopped playing and looked up at her in astonishment.”

I got a pretty good idea of what Brownstein meant when I watched the YouTube clip of the band performing Jumpers on Letterman back in 2005. Weiss is a demon; head swinging wildly in time with the beat and arms pumping the sticks like there’s no tomorrow.

Weiss recalls- “It’s a small room with a small crowd filled out by TV cameras and Dave Letterman is sitting just a few feet away from you. I was nervous because we had to shorten the song for time reasons and I was worried that I might forget the change. We started playing and the nerves disappeared and I remembered what I had to do. I was glad when it was over and we didn’t screw anything up. It was fun”

Weiss came to drumming late. She loved watching and listening to drummers but didn’t pick up the sticks herself until she was 22. Besides Moon, she is heavily influenced by Charlie Watts, John Bonham and Topper Headon from the Clash, (‘the real drummers’ as she describes them, adding, “unlike myself”), as well as the drummers with local Portland bands like Crackerbash, Hazel and Bikini-Kill.

“These drummers I saw with my own eyes and could feel the air hitting my chest. I learned a lot from watching those bands.”

Weiss is a thoughtful speaker who explains that the band never meant so much time to pass between albums.

“Corin had started a family and Carrie got involved with the TV comedy show Portlandia and I got busy doing session work and touring with various artists, (Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Wild Flag, The Shins, The Go-Betweens, Bright Eyes and Elliot Smith to name but a few), and time went by. We suddenly began to realise that if we were ever going to make another record it had to be sooner than later.”

After several months of song-writing sessions the band entered the recording studio and pretty much punched it out in two weeks. “We pushed ourselves. There was desperation to say it all to get it all out onto the page. We were realising that we didn’t have forever to do this stuff.”

The realisation that time was catching up on them partly informs the ferocity and pace of the album. “It’s different when you are a young band, you have different needs and priorities” says Weiss. “Now that we are older we are much more aware. Being adults with lives and families and careers forces us into the moment. We have a lot to say in a short amount of time, and that plays to our intensity.”

No Cities To Love is the bands eighth album but it has been the live playing that has really fed the bands heart. “We are a band that loves playing live. We are ambitious and we want to impress and we always play as good as we possibly can.”

I finish up the interview by asking Janet if the band has any plans to bring their sold out US tour to New Zealand.

“I hope so, it’s been a while since we were there and we only got to see Auckland and I really want to get out and visit the rest of the country.”

‘No Cities to Love’ is out now.
Listen to the full interview on Rip It Up Radio:


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