According to Corin Tucker, the dressing room at the El Rey in Los Angeles has seen better days. “Last time I was here, it was like beautiful mirrored walls everywhere,” she says. “Very Old Hollywood.” This afternoon, the vibe is more Gitmo break room: cinderblock surfaces, harsh fluorescent lights, a bucket of warm Heinekens. But, hey, it’s been a while. Tucker ended her run with Sleater-Kinney in 2006 in order to raise her kids. Now she’s back with a thoughtful new solo album, 1,000 Years, that trades Sleater-Kinney’s four-alarm fire for a more introspective burn. “Corin is known for her distinctive singing voice, but she has a really distinctive writing voice, too,” says Seth Lorinczi, who produced the record and plays guitar out on tour with her. (Sara Lund of Unwound plays drums.) “In the skeletal songs she brought in, I could hear these things that were clearly her. No one else could have written them.” We chatted with Tucker at length about it all; here are some excerpts.
My favorite song on 1,000 Years is “Miles Away,” which begins, “New moon peeking through/Now the sky is brand-new.” You wrote it for the second Twilight movie, but it didn’t make the cut. I was a big fan of those books—I am a big fan of those books. I really related to the voice of Bella. She’s this young teenage girl figuring out who she is—she’s really hungry for experience, and she’s in love with this guy who everyone thinks is bad news. At the beginning of New Moon, she gets dumped, and there’s this part in the book that’s like blank page . . . blank page . . . blank page—she’s existing, but she almost isn’t there. Then she has this relationship with her friend, Jacob, and climbs her way back into her life. For me, that related to doing music and being out of touch with this other side of myself.
Most bands I talk to about Twilight are like, “Yeah, the shit sucks, but you gotta do what you gotta do.” The story of Stephenie Meyer somehow juggling being a mom and being a writer was hugely inspirational to me. I hadn’t written anything in a long time, and I started reading those books and was like, “Could I do this?”
Does music fit into your life differently now than it used to? I’m still thinking about it. Art’s not necessarily a good way to make a living; it’s hard to fit it into wanting that stability of being at home and being with my kids and giving them a routine. At the same time, I really struggle with this desire to do my work—to create a connection with an audience. That’s very intense. Being a mom with most of the responsibility—it’s a hard job, and it doesn’t have any of that stuff in it, especially if you don’t go out into the workplace and you don’t get any kind of competition and drive and thanks and excitement. There’s no “Oh, my God, your peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich is better than the other moms’!” But when you go in and kill a live show, it’s super-rewarding. That’s hard to replace.
Is this record in some way about illuminating that sort of unsung struggle? Part of what I do as a writer is tell my story, and I think it’s a different point of view probably from what you’d get from other books or songs or television shows. “Half a World Away” is an example. My husband, Lance Bangs, is a really talented documentary filmmaker, and he made this really important film about antiretroviral treatment in Africa. It was so important for me to support him and have him go to Africa; he definitely saved a lot of lives. At the same time, the selfish artist still lives—she’s still in there, she still wants it. And I feel like that story is rarely told.
What was your husband’s response? He wasn’t that excited to hear this record. It’s hard for him—it’s hard for me not to always be a cheerleader: “Everything’s great! The kids are great!” But I don’t always feel that way, and I don’t think most moms do. There’s that moment where you’re like, “I haven’t talked to you in two days, and I know that you’re being exposed to all these intense things, but it’s really hard to be alone all the time.”
The songs on 1,000 Years are less immediate than Sleater-Kinney’s were. They take a while to open up. That was part of the concept, in a way. I wanted to challenge myself to really take the time to draw out an idea. I think being in bands from such a young age, I had been a really anxious songwriter sometimes—I just wanted to get to the point. In these songs, I wanted to start with an idea and let it fully unfold.
You’re in the middle of your first run of live shows. How’s getting back onstage been? Fantastic. Difficult, at times. It’s definitely smaller audiences. Once we got to San Francisco, I feel like we played a great show. People were dancing and clapping—it all happened. But two nights before that, we played in Eugene, and it was really, really sparsely attended. It was like underground music before it got popular. We all came from this punk scene where a good show was like 25 people, and it was like déjà vu: “Oh, my God, how did I get back here?”
Given that playing shows requires a significant sacrifice in your personal life, does an experience like that make you think— Why bother?
Yeah. If you’re out on the road and your kid’s at home, it’s really hard. But I say keep your mind in the game. Just play your best shows and don’t try to answer any of those big questions when you’re out busting your butt. It’s not the right time to sort everything out.
Does that apply to the larger question of your commitment to music right now? Is this an open-ended deal? It’s totally open-ended. It’s a gigantic question mark.
Corin Tucker plays Bowery Ballroom October 26