Sleater-Kinney  is an American rock band that formed in Olympia, Washington, in 1994.  The band’s lineup features Corin Tucker (vocals and guitar), Carrie Brownstein (guitar and vocals), and Janet Weiss (drums).  Sleater-Kinney is a key part of the riot grrrl and indie rock scenes in the Pacific Northwest.  The band is also known for its feminist and left-leaning politics.  The band released 7 studio albums between 1994 and 2005.  They reunited in 2014 and released No Cities to Love on January 20, 2015.  Greil Marcus named Sleater-Kinney America’s best rock band in a 2001 issue of Time magazine.  Stereogum called them the greatest living rock band in 2015.  (More from Wikipedia)



I believe I was in Indianapolis when I picked up a local tabloid newspaper and first read of a band called Sleater-Kinney – Allmusic says of them that they are the greatest punk rock band of the 1990’s and 2000’s – though I honestly don’t remember much about the article and interview except that they are an all-female rock band. 


Singer/guitarist Corin Tucker was one-half of the early riot grrrl duo Heavens to Betsy when she met a classically trained pianist named Carrie Brownstein.  Brownstein was so impressed by Tucker’s band and other bands like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile (which had previously been Corin Tucker’s own influences) that she became a guitarist and vocalist herself and started a band called Excuse 17.  Heavens to Betsy and Excuse 17 were often at the same gigs, and the two women originally started Sleater-Kinney as a side project.  As can be seen, there is no one named Sleater or Kinney in the band; the name is taken from Sleater Kinney Road (off Interstate-5), where one of their early practice spaces was located. 


Once Lora MacFarlane (who was originally from Australia) was hired as their permanent drummer, Sleater-Kinney quickly put together their first album, Sleater-Kinney, an indie-rock masterpiece that came out on Chainsaw Records in 1995.  The rough-cut nature of this album only gave a hint of the glories to come as Sleater-Kinney refined and enriched their sound in future albums.  Chainsaw Records had been started by Donna Dresch who was in yet another Pacific Northwest punk rock band, Team Dresch.   


Sleater-Kinney released a second album on this label, Call the Doctor which brought the band greater renown; this is probably around the time that I read the article on the band in Indianapolis.  Shortly thereafter, Sleater-Kinney was signed by a record company headquartered in the heart of riot grrrl territory in Olympia, WA having the delightful name of Kill Rock Stars.  With Janet Weiss as the new drummer (originally in Quasi), each of their four albums for this label seemed better than the last, culminating in One Beat (2002). 


Writing for Time magazine in July 2001 for their salute to the best in America in the new millennium, rock critic Greil Marcus named Sleater-Kinney the nation’s best rock band. 


In 2003Sleater-Kinney toured as the opening act for Pearl Jam, and that is when we were able to see them in New Orleans.  Their experiences playing in large arenas led to their first album for Sub Pop RecordsThe Woods.  Unfortunately, Sleater-Kinney announced a hiatus not long after its release, though there are rumors of an future reunion for the band. 


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Sleater-Kinney is not a “lesbian band”, nor is Bikini KillL7Heavens to BetsyExcuse 17, or most of the other riot grrrl bands I know of.  Excuse 17 is actually classified as a “queercore” band by Wikipedia, a more overtly gay/lesbian offshoot of punk rock that emerged alongside riot grrrl, and in many of the same places.  


The term “queer” began to gain currency in the early 1990’s, and not only because homosexuals desired to reclaim the long-time slur.  By this time period, the sexual minorities of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and trans-gendered individuals were aggregated under the unwieldy acronym of LGBT.  Eventually “queer” became the umbrella term that “gay” had never quite managed and covered not just these identified sexual minorities, but also anyone whose sexual identity was malleable, or whose sexual predilections were frowned upon regardless of which gender(s) were involved, or who didn’t like the little boxes that others insisted they should fit into – or indeed anyone who chose not to be identified with the rigid heterosexual mores of the larger society. 


The idea that riot grrrl and female queercore rock bands must be lesbian (or at least bisexual) probably comes from the power of their brand of punk rock, coupled with their strongly feminist stance – with the latter dating back to the women’s music days.  It is indeed almost impossible to imagine these musicians leaving a concert venue and going off to be a happy homemaker in the suburbs.  But things are not always what they seem.  Thus, these rock bands on the margins, along with their fans could share a club and a stage and a love for music and a political philosophy without worrying about who is going to bed with whom.  There are, after all, more important things in life than that. 


Returning to Sleater-KinneyCorin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein dated briefly when the band was first started – Carrie now says that it was for “a second” – and this fact was expanded in Spin magazine to indicate that the two, if not the band as a whole were bisexual.  The magazine story caught the two women off-guard; they were not offended by the labeling – mostly they were upset that no one had ever asked them the question; people just made assumptions.  In 2012Carrie Brownstein verified in an interview that no one in Sleater-Kinney is lesbian, although Corin Tucker self-identifies as bisexual. 


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For me, Sleater-Kinney has transcended all of these categories.  Their songwriting is simply brilliant and as varied as anyone I can think of.  What Sleater-Kinney can do with their guitars (and without a bass guitar in sight) is a revelation.  Corin Tucker’s lead vocals aren’t everyone’s cup of tea (they tell me), but they suit me just fine, and those of Carrie Brownstein do as well.  I have little doubt that I have played One Beat more than any other album that has been released in the current century; my second favorite among their albums (at the moment at least) is their first, Sleater-Kinney.  Original drummer Lora MacFarlane performs the vocals on the truly marvelous “Lora’s Song” on that album that reminds me of past UARB Fur.   

(January 2014)
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Items:    Sleater-Kinney 
Last edited: April 3, 2021