Wild Flag unfurls its assertive sound

by Todd Martens

Los Angeles Times (MCT)

8 November 2011

 

LOS ANGELES — Wild Flag was unveiled in a pall of mystery in the fall of 2010. Little was known other than the fact that the band was anchored by two-thirds of the rock offensive that was Sleater-Kinney, an Olympia, Wash.-based group that hailed from the thriving ‘90s indie scene of the Pacific Northwest. The all-female group split in 2006, but not before defining the riot grrrl movement and providing an alternative to the male-dominated grunge scene.

Wild Flag’s birth was announced sans music, and with a short news release that compared the group to the sound of an avalanche pummeling a dolphin. The ambiguity, however, wasn’t for long. The band’s self-titled album, released in September, is loud, assertive and lean. Its 10 tracks capture the unrestrained passion of the riot grrrl era, but do so with a mix of grown-up levity and confidence.

“We needed a no-frills, direct, energetic feel,” said Janet Weiss, the rhythmic stronghold in Sleater-Kinney and now Wild Flag. “We needed a record that jumped off the vinyl and jumped off your speakers. It’s very clear what’s happening. You can hear everyone playing, and there’s not much that’s buried. This is bold.”

In the track “Racehorse,” vocalist-guitarist Carrie Brownstein — Weiss’ Sleater-Kinney partner, star of IFC’s “Portlandia” and ex-National Public Radio blogger — snarls, “What you don’t know is me.” The sludgy, adrenaline-building groovy punk stomper clocks in at nearly seven minutes. Throughout, Rebecca Cole’s vintage organ serves as a bass, and guitar wrecker Mary Timony delivers garage-rock psychedelics.

Weiss said it wasn’t until March of this year that she began to “feel like we were really onto something.”

“We needed a gestation period,” Weiss said. “There’s no security in being in a rock band. There’s not an idea that this is a band and we can go forever. The plan is to just get through the things in front of you and keep challenging yourself.”

The members of Wild Flag, who range in age from the mid-30s to the mid-40s, all padded their impressive rock resumes in the indie scene of the ‘90s. Timony steered the adventurously hard-hitting Helium, and Cole is a veteran of the more pop-leaning Minders. Weiss and Brownstein haven’t played together since Sleater-Kinney split.

Weiss was aware there would be a “certain amount of eyes” on Wild Flag due to its members’ pedigrees. It is, in fact, one reason why Wild Flag’s debut was recorded live, with no studio finessing. It was intentionally conceived as a straightforward reintroduction.

“This is a document of a birth,” Weiss said. “If I think back on all my favorite first records, they’re usually direct. It should be a chance for the listener to get to know you.”

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