Don’t Box Me In: Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney

janet2 From the PLAYBACK:stl Archives: Do you see yourself as a male writer?





Janet Weiss with Sleater-Kinney in St. Louis in 2006. More photos in Photo Gallery 

I have Sarah Vowell to thank for introducing me to Sleater-Kinney. In a 1997 story about unexpected joy on NPR’s This American Life, she remarked on the joy of hearing one of your favorite songs on the radio. As example, Vowell chose Sleater-Kinney’s “Words and Guitar,” from that year’s Dig Me Out. The urgency in Corin Tucker’s voice, the almost other-worldliness of her wail forced me out of my apartment and to the nearest CD store; I’ve been a fan ever since.

Throughout Sleater-Kinney’s ten-year existence, the band has consistently expanded its sound and fan base. The trio—which also includes guitarist/vocalist Carrie Brownstein and drummer Janet Weiss—is frequently called one of the best rock bands in the country, and with the release of their hard-hitting seventh CD, The Woods, shows no intent of resting on those laurels. If anything, the album has proved to the its most creative and intelligent effort to date. We talked with Weiss about the album, their new label, and playing in the band.

Why did the band move from Kill Rock Stars to Sub Pop Records?

We had left [Kill Rock Stars] a year earlier and were looking for a label; Sub Pop seemed like a logical progression. It’s a much bigger staff and they work with a lot of people we know. It added more background to us and gives us a little bit more physical support.

For The Woods, you had Dave Friedmann (the Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev) produce the record. Did he have a hand in shifting your focus a bit, making the album more sonic?

He’s responsible for creating those amazing sounds you hear on the record. He took our idea and ran with it, pushed it a little further. The general feel of the songs were there when we went to the studio, but he tried to make it sound different than we had sounded before.

Were the Hendrix-y guitar solos a conscious decision?

That’s just how they unfolded in the basement. We just stretched out a little bit, put more space in songs. We used the space in a different manner for us. There are a lot more instrumental passages in parts of songs that aren’t vocal based. It wasn’t conscious. We started improvising our live shows and I think that influenced the record more than anything else. We started improvising probably a year before we made the record. I think that changed how we looked at ourselves as musicians and what we thought about the band and what we’re capable of.

This year, I noticed you’re doing the European festival circuit, plus you’re opening for Pearl Jam. Has playing to these mega-audiences affected your style at all?

We’re only playing two festivals in England, actually. We’re not big fans of those festivals. If we had to play the whole circuit, we’d probably go crazy. I think hearing our music in such a large place, hearing the instruments reverberate, and hearing our fans in a new context does shed new light on what we can do, what we want to do, and how to make it unique for us. We can put more space and allow the notes to ring out a bit more.

Rock music for years has been dominated by male bands; I think it still is. Do you see yourself as musicians or female musicians?

Do you see yourself as a male writer?

Yeah, I do, actually.

I don’t think we think of ourselves like that. We’re women. We’re musicians. Corin’s a mother; I’m a sister. There’s so many ways to think about myself. I think it’s so limiting. I can’t imagine any guy in a band thinking, “I’m a guy in a band. I’m a man. How do I feel this morning being a man. How does that affect my songwriting.” It’s who you are. It’s not something you wrestle with or debate within yourself. Of course, we think of ourselves as musicians. I don’t think women and men play in a different way. The way you relate to a man and a woman can be different within a band structure. Being in a band with all women can change the dynamic of the band but it doesn’t change what kind of musician you are or how you see yourself. To me, that would be incredibly depressing.

I think, coming at it from the standpoint of a fan, I tend to listen to the lyrics a bit more.

That’s your choice. I don’t put any rules or regulations on the listener. They can put it in any category they want. Coming from me, the person making the music with my friends, I would never want to put that in any kind of box. It’s totally different from listening and creating.

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