Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker recorded Sleater Kinney’s tenth album, Path of Wellness, in Portland, Oregon, last summer against a backdrop of unrest. For weeks, protesters marched through the city, demanding racial justice while being tear-gassed by the Portland Police Bureau. Brownstein and Tucker split their time among the numbing routines of life in quarantine, protests, and the studio. “It’s not the summer we were promised,” Brownstein croons on “Down the Line,” a gritty rocker situated in the closing stretch of the new record. “It’s the summer that we deserve.”
For Brownstein and Tucker, the album is a recommitment: the band’s first since 1996 recorded without drummer Janet Weiss, who left Sleater-Kinney in 2019 because she felt she no longer had an equal say in its direction. (Brownstein said at the time that this came as a surprise.) The pop-oriented songwriting of the last album with Weiss, The Center Won’t Hold, looked to some fans like a curveball. In contrast, Path of Wellness, the first album Brownstein and Tucker produced themselves, takes cues from Sleater-Kinney’s forebears in punk and classic rock. “It was like restarting the band again, in a way, during such intense chaos and crisis,” says Tucker. “But it was also something that was joyful.”
Does creating music during rapidly changing times throw a wrench into the process? Do you feel like more is asked of you as a band celebrated for its politics?
CORIN TUCKER: That’s just part of being human during this year. It’s such a crazy time to have lived through that it just makes sense to me that it would come through in the writing somewhat. I don’t think the record is totally about that, but there are definitely seams of it—thinking about death, and life, and longevity, and mortality.
CARRIE BROWNSTEIN: I’ve always felt about music that is characterized as political that it still has to be couched in a good song. Otherwise, it doesn’t really have relevance or longevity strictly as a political act. I like the messiness of art and the ability to toy with mythology and fiction and weave those into things that are also more grounded, but I think our goal is always just to write from a place of honesty and earnestness.
The press coverage for the new album so far is zeroing in on the notion that the band is now a duo.
C.T.: I love it. “Duo.” That’s so funny. I mean, we’re happy with working together and being collaborators. It’s how we started the band a long, long time ago. It was based on our ideas and our guitar playing. We’ve had the great privilege of working with a lot of different people over the years. I think that all came into play when we were putting this record together. We were able to find local people who could come in, amid all the covid rules, and play on the record.
C.B.: That “duo” terminology … I didn’t really think about it until I started seeing some of the press, because I just think of us as Sleater-Kinney. Whatever we’re doing as Sleater-Kinney is Sleater-Kinney. I’m aware that people need these linguistic markers to help them understand.
Path of Wellness is also the first record produced solely by the band. Was that a conscious choice, or was it a logistical necessity?
C.T.: We did think about bringing someone in, and it was really impossible.
C.B.: As we were writing and demoing songs, we were adding so many elements. We were working out arrangements and composition and editing, trying different choruses, and changing the top-line melody over and over again. When we had the demos done, they already had keyboard lines and bass lines. I thought, Well, what is a producer going to do at this point? We’ve basically laid out exactly how we want this record to sound. It also felt important to put ourselves on the line again in this way, where we said, “This is who we are. There is nothing mediating this experience. There’s no other entity through which you can filter what this is. This is what we made.”
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