Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein on the band’s ninth studio album, working with St Vincent, and the departure of bandmate and drummer, Janet Weiss.
It’s been almost five years since Sleater-Kinney broke their decade-long hiatus with an album that received almost near-universal praise. It was “raw”, “bristling”, “emotive”, “taut” – all adjectives you’d expect to hear when describing one of America’s most formidable rock bands. No Cities to Love was a riotous return for the trio of women: older, wiser, and with as much to say about the world as ever.
This year sees the release of The Center Won’t Hold, the band’s “most personal album since Dig Me Out” according to vocalist and guitarist Carrie Brownstein, referring to their 1997 record. Incidentally, Dig Me Out also marked the debut of Janet Weiss, Sleater-Kinney’s recently departed drummer.
“It was a complete surprise,” Brownstein says of Weiss’ shock decision to leave the band. “Janet was really happy with the album. There was a lot of collective enthusiasm about the mixes and sequencing. We were all under the assumption, of course, that we’d all go on tour [together], so yeah, it really came as a surprise.”
“It’s sad, [but then again], what exists now that existed 25 years ago in the same form? Nothing, really. That’s art. You don’t always want to make changes but that’s what she wanted. We really asked her to stay but she wanted to do something different and that’s her right.”
While Brownstein, also known for her work in TV sketch series Portlandia, doesn’t elaborate on Weiss’ exact reasoning for quitting the band – nor has Weiss publicly spoken out since her initial statement that it was “time for [her] to move on” – there’s little suggestion that Weiss’ decision was motivated by the band’s distinct new direction in sound, one heavily influenced by producer Annie Clark, aka St Vincent.
“I think it was actually Janet’s idea to work with Annie who we were really on board with,” recalls Brownstein. “She’s been a friend of mine and the band’s for a while now and we’re mutual fans of one another.
“With each record we want to do something that feels different. You want to surprise people and surprise yourself and not have anyone say ‘oh this sounds like everything you’ve always done’. It felt like Annie was a good person for reconfiguring the tool box for Sleater Kinney. She knew what our strengths were and she wanted to highlight them in a different way.”
While the dancier, synthier, more experimental nature of The Center Won’t Hold strikes some fans as a step too far, Brownstein remains unconcerned.
“Either the music’s going to resonate with people or not. In other art forms you have the early period, mid period and late period. With music it’s tricky because people just get very attached to the early period.
“I think sometimes people get very precious about what this band is capable of,” she says. “To me it sounds like us, [even though some fans] find that it sounds like another band. Corin [Tucker] and I have written most of these songs on keyboard, on synthesiser, because we were sending them back and forth to each other.
“Annie [Clark] is someone that knows how to utilise those sounds in a way that’s interesting. I think she definitely brought a sense of innovation and imagination. She challenged us in ways we wanted to be challenged – to have it be a conversation about lyrics and melody.”
Next month, Sleater-Kinney will officially start its new tour. The band is currently without a drummer, but Brownstein says they’re looking for someone new “We’re not wanting to replace Janet but we are looking to have a new captain of the band,” she says “Whoever that drummer is will be someone who we’d start a new chapter with.”
“We’ve just gotta keep moving forward… we have to keep going. We really believe in ourselves and it just signals a new era of the band.”
As they say, the show must go on.
The Center Won’t Hold is out now.