By Robert Ham
If there was any disappointment in the world about Corin Tucker releasing what she referred to as her “middle-aged mom record” (the restrained, acoustic-driven 1,000 Years) for her first solo endeavor, people mostly kept quiet about. It was exciting enough just to have one of the most powerful vocalists and lyricists of the past two decades back after a four year hiatus following the demise of her previous band, the still-lamented riot grrrl icons Sleater-Kinney.
Kill My Blues, the second album by the Corin Tucker Band, is a blast of fevered rock, with Tucker leaning more on her soul-shaker of a voice and writing some of her most political and personal songs. Sound of the City spent the lunch hour with Tucker in her hometown of Portland, Oregon to talk about the writing and recording of Kill My Blues, writing songs about Joey Ramone, and trying not to freak out when your four-year-old daughter wants to become a polygamist. And before you ask: no, we didn’t ask her when Sleater-Kinney is getting back together. The Corin Tucker Band play Brooklyn’s Bell House tomorrow night.
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– Rock-Critic Pop Quiz #8: Can You Name All Three Members Of Sleater-Kinney
“Groundhog Day,” the opening track on your new album, talks about your frustration with the feminist movement, how it’s stuck in a rut. So I had to wonder if see some inspiration from what a group like Pussy Riot is doing?
I followed the Pussy Riot situation with interest and some serious concern as to the welfare of these young women. Because I felt that Riot Grrl had in some way inspired them. And I felt really excited by that and also just afraid for them because of the extremely oppressive conditions that they’re living under.
Had you heard much about them before the arrest?
I don’t know that much background about them, but that they look really young in their photos. From the news reports that I read, it didn’t sound like they were career political activists or prepared to go to jail. I remember I took my son once when Bush was here, probably in 2004. I remember taking my son down in the stroller and getting a block or two away from where the actual protest was happening. Other people just turned me away. “Don’t go in there with your son. People are getting pepper sprayed. I remember being grateful that they told me that, freaked out that the police thought that was gonna work, really angry about what was going on in our country. I haven’t been to a protest since. I can’t just hire a babysitter and join Occupy Portland.
Were you involved in a lot of protests growing up?
Yeah, I mean I went to Evergreen [State College]. Which is, looking back, amusing because we protested Olympia all the time. I mean we did take over the capital building during the first Iraq war. But I was pretty careful. I never went to jail. Now I kind of wish I did before I had kids. Even in high school, I grew up in Eugene, and we did the peace march every year on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. All the students and teachers, everybody did it.
You talked in previous interviews about wanting to make a dance record. What inspired that move?
I just felt like if people go out and see a show, they really want to move around and have this rock ‘n’ roll experience. With the addition of Mike Clark to the band, we gained a hot rhythm section. They are really capable of a lot of different stuff. And you know we’re all from the same era. We’ve all listened to a lot of ’80s music and late ’70s…that’s some of my favorite music, you know? I’m not really a sad sack. My husband loves that kind of music. I’m like, “Oh my God! Please just give me a beat!”
I had also read that you took most of 2011 writing and recording this album. Was that a positive thing to let you have the time to get it just the way you wanted it to sound?
Yeah, I think it was good thing that we took our time on some of the songs. They evolved in a natural way that sometimes involved totally re-recording it. Sometimes you have to do things over and over again until it sounds like the final piece. Some songs don’t work that way. Like “No Bad News Tonight,” I think I came up with that guitar line a day before we were doing the session, and it just all came together and was done.
It must be great, too, that you’re able to record in Seth’s home studio where you don’t have to worry about time and money really.
It makes a huge difference. Because Seth [Lorinczi] agonizes over everything. He spent so much time after we recorded going back and noodling and turning things backwards and playing around. Which is great because I’m not an atmospheric person.
Is it good for you to have other people working on your songs like that?
I think that’s what really works about this record is that we have that collaboration. I’m more of a nuts and bolts person. I know what I want in terms of drum sounds or guitar sound. But it terms of atmospherics, it’s not going to occur to me.
There are some really emotional songs on this album, like “None Like You.” What inspired that?
That one was about my husband’s grandmother who passed away about three years ago. Today is her birthday actually. She was a nurse in the 1940s in Ithaca, New York. She and her husband started the Bangs Ambulance Service, and they were the ambulance service for a very long time in that town. And I’ve heard so many stories about the lives that she saved. At her 80th birthday party there were so many stories about her, about her rushing into a burning building. There’s several about people she helped die. She just had this really intense strength to her but she was this tiny little Catholic woman. A mom of seven. She was incredibly empathetic and really strong and really able to help people in their hour of need, so I was just really inspired by that.
Do you feel like you’re an empathetic person?
I think I am. But she was so gifted, man. She was so good with children. I think I have empathy for my children but sometimes I get frustrated, sometimes I get caught up in what I’m doing, you know? And she just wasn’t that way.
Am I right in my assumption that “Joey” is about Joey Ramone?
Yeah. He was another person that definitely inspired me. He was part of this really tough rock ‘n’ roll group but he seemed to be this sensitive elegant guy who really seemed kind of sweet in his lyrics. I always felt this connection to him, so from writing the Sleater-Kinney song that we wrote about him [“I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone”], there was a connection. And he did come to one of our shows. But I didn’t get to meet him because he wasn’t well at the time. He didn’t stay. So [the song] is acknowledging how brief everything is and how hard it is saying goodbye and moving on.
What can you tell me about the song “Neskowin”?
Neskowin is a hamlet on the Oregon coast. I went there when I was 13 with my friend’s family. It was this very special treat that we got to go on this luxurious vacation on the beach. My friend and I were just these 13-year-old girls who thought we were the bee’s knees: the outfits, the makeup, listening to Spandau Ballet on the boombox. It was this fun moment of entering into being a woman. All that change those big social interactions were ahead of us so we could just play a little bit. Which I think is really nice that kids get to do that. We were just ridiculous. The amount of brouhaha that we made out of our clothes and makeup. It’s very funny.
Do you see any of that in your daughter?
Oh. My. God. I have to tell you. She went to school today wearing a pink faux fur vest, a gold lame disco miniskirt, and like a Rave riding hat and boots. And she’s 4. This sparkly watch and jewelry, her lips all glossed up.
Do you think about what it’s going to be like when your daughter gets to the age you were in the song? Do you have a game plan in mind?
I think just being there for her and talking things through is the most important thing. Our culture can be really complicated for teenage girls and I think that best thing you can do is talk things over and have an open dialogue about things. She has a…I probably shouldn’t be saying this…this marriage in mind for herself. There’s a young gentleman at her preschool who is interested in marrying her as well as four of her friends. And I was like, “Okay, isn’t it going to be kind of hard to share him with all those other wives?” And she’s, like, “No, because it’s gonna be easier to take care of the children that way. I’m not gonna have babies, but the other women are. And we’re gonna have a big bed.” So, I’m going with the questions and trying not to react. I mean, that’s the thing about living in this world, you have no idea what’s going to happen. I have no idea if one of my children is going to go Mormon at 18. I’m going to keep an open mind, and try and get them to think things through. That’s my job as a parent.
Is that similar to how your mom was with you?
Hmmm…I don’t think so, no. My dad was very much an academic so he always wanted to discuss things and talk things over. So we had a lot of discussion. Both of my parents are fairly intellectual. But my mom was raised in a Catholic boarding school so things were a lot more locked down.
How do your parents feel about your music career?
They’ve always been supportive. They’ve always seen that it’s something that I love to do. I think they were concerned at times. “What? You’re going where?” It certainly isn’t any kind of traditional career. I think that’s been unnerving for them.