The Carefully Negotiated Return of Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker
The first thing you hear on Corin Tucker's new album is a distorted roar, something along the lines of Johnny Marr's "How Soon Is Now?" guitar shudder, a familiar sound packed with big, noisy possibility. The sound is quickly put in its place by what comes next: an acoustic guitar, whose rhythmic strum relegates the would-be noise to little more than background. "And I'm alive after a thousand years," coos Tucker, kicking off a song and an album that carefully leaves the clamor in the dust.
It's a fitting start for Tucker's first record since the disbanding of Sleater-Kinney, the late riot grrrl miracle group known far and wide for their roar. Over Sleater-Kinney's ferociously intricate racket, created by guitarist/vocalist Carrie Brownstein, drummer Janet Weiss, and her own noisy guitar, Tucker unleashed the band's primary identifier—a penetrating vibrato wail that repelled some and thrilled more. For the latter, Tucker's howl was a sound we'd waited our whole lives to hear. Unshakably robust and distinctly feminine, Tucker's powerhouse voice is reminiscent of Go-Go's-era Belinda Carlisle, if Carlisle hadn't been driven to bury all her love, lust, hope, fear, and anger under mountains of coke. Tucker howled her way around the globe with Sleater-Kinney until the band amicably went on hiatus in 2005.
Since then, Carrie Brownstein has devoted herself to radio journalism and music writing with NPR, and sketch comedy with Fred Armisen. Janet Weiss has recorded and toured with Quasi and Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. More recently, Brownstein and Weiss formed the band Wild Flag with Mary Timony of Helium and Rebecca Cole of the Minders. Meanwhile, Corin Tucker has spent her days as a stay-at-home mom in Portland, where she lives with her filmmaker husband, Lance Bangs, and their two young children. And so things proceeded until March of last year, when a benefit show for Portland's "independent press emporium" Reading Frenzy brought Tucker back to the stage, where she performed early versions of three new songs and soon found herself back in the thick of it. "Kill Rock Stars asked me about making an album, but I just wasn't sure," Tucker tells me over the phone. "So I thought about it for a while and said, 'I'm not gonna be able to tour very much,' and they said, 'Well, what if you did a handful of shows?' and I said, 'I could do that...' There was a negotiation process."
The end result: 1,000 Years, the new album by the Corin Tucker Band, in which Tucker is joined by drummer Sara Lund (formerly of Unwound) and multi-instrumentalist/producer Seth Lorinczi of the Golden Bears. Lorinczi also served as the record's de facto musical director, supplying Tucker with a world of sounds, from lush strings and lone piano to the occasional glitchy synth beat. The core instruments remain guitars and drums, but as often as not, the guitars are acoustic, infusing this self-described "middle-aged mom record" with an audible maturity.
In Sleater-Kinney, cowriters Tucker and Brownstein never stopped chasing each other to higher levels of intensity and concision, sometimes collapsing two songs on top of each other and playing both at once (see The Hot Rock's awesome "Burn, Don't Freeze!"). By comparison, the songs on 1,000 Years are conventional, with straightforward verse-bridge-chorus structures marching past in an orderly fashion for the requisite three and a half minutes (some of the best Sleater-Kinney songs didn't break two). But whatever the songs may lack in innovation is made up for in depth and focus, as Tucker casts a sharp eye over her life as "a 37-year-old parent" and one half of a marriage of artists whose work regularly restricts their opportunities to share a time zone. Distance—physical, emotional, temporal—is a recurring theme.
Still, compared with the gold standard of the "punk-goddess-turned-stay-at-home-mom-returns-with-solo-album" genre—Patti Smith's immaculately produced, mystically inclined Dream of Life—Tucker's 1,000 Years is scrappy and resolutely down-to-earth. The lyrics deal with the things of here and now—cupboards and winter coats, lost jobs and distant lovers—and the record's sound is pure basement simplicity.
Having been told of Seth Lorinczi's hands-on direction of 1,000 Years' music, I ask if any of his suggestions made Tucker itchy. She immediately recounts two: "With the song 'Dragon,' he said, 'What if we really make this an acoustic song—just acoustic guitars with strings added?' and I was like, 'Okay...' So, yeah, just singing while playing acoustic guitar and just going for it—that's very itchy. And 'Half a World Away' was a song I'd written as a totally slow ballad, and Seth was like, 'I really think this song is a rock song.' I was like, 'No, no, no, no, NO!' and totally resisted until he begged to just once try it fast. As soon as we started playing it, I knew he was totally right."
Ironically, this Lorinczi-juiced rock version of "Half a World Away" is 1,000 Years' most Sleater-Kinney-ish track, with guitar arpeggios and an angular beat that hark back to the band's 2002 release One Beat. But instead of Sleater-Kinney's concentrated blast, the Corin Tucker Band flesh out the song with roomier garage-style rock 'n' roll, laced with artsy found percussion. Elsewhere the record offers orchestral pop ("It's Always Summer"), slamming rock (the lead single "Doubt"), and a full-on piano ballad (the gorgeous closer "Miles Away"). The whole thing sounds like an exemplary version of just what it is: a world-class talent taking a break from full-time motherhood to bang out some beautiful music with her friends.
I mention the pleasure of getting young parents out of the house for a night, where their days spent tending to the minute-by-minute needs of others make them ferociously ready to Have Fun Now.
"Totally," says Tucker. "All three of us are parents with little kids, who put a lot of really wonderful time and energy into it. We all love it, but when we had our time together, it was intense—intense!—and really fun."
"Correct me if I'm wrong," I say, "but this is both your first band with a bassist and first band with a dude, right?"
"Exactly!" Tucker says. "Two dudes now—we have Seth, who'll play guitar and keyboards live, and then we have Mike Clark, who's going to play bass live. It's so fun."
I ask her how her 9-year-old son has responded to seeing mom back at work. "It's like any job," she says. "It's 'mom's thing,' mom's job, so he finds it tremendously boring."
Does he have his own musical tastes yet?
"He loves the Misfits and Green Day. And I bought him an Operation Ivy album for his birthday. That was my contribution."
I mention how difficult it would be to refrain from bossiness during a child's musical development.
"There's always a chance it's gonna backfire," Tucker tells me. "I try to introduce different things with a very light touch."
This article has been updated since its original publication.