The Ballad of a Ladymom

An Interview with Corin Tucker

by David Grossman

18 September 2012

Corin Tucker's back with her second album from her new band, and the riot grrl superstar is as loud as she ever was. Pussy Riot, equal pay for equal work, and Joey Ramone are just a of few things on her mind.
cover art

Corin Tucker Band

Kill My Blues

(Kill Rock Stars)
US: 18 Sep 2012

Outsized political beliefs, unbridled D.I.Y, and loud, loud guitars -— it’s a shock that the Riot Grrl Rrrrevival has taken as long as it has to get off the ground. But we’re two years into it now, with copies of Sarah Marcus’ Girls to the Front and Wild Flag’s self-titled debut sitting side-by-side on the shelf. While Carrie Brownstein and Mary Timony’s supergroup gained garnered headlines for their classic Nuggets-rock sound, Brownstein’s Sleater-Kinney bandmate, Corin Tucker, released 1,000 Years, with a quieter, even acoustic sound. The Corin Tucker Band wasn’t quite James Taylor, and it was generally received very positively, but older fans couldn’t help but wonder where the aggression had gone. 1,000 Years was good, but in her first riot grrl band, Heavens to Betsy, Tucker sang in a cool monotone, “My hate for you is a passion/ that will run one million years.”

They needn’t wonder anymore. While there’s nothing quite like the rage of 1994 on Kill My Blues, the band’s follow up, every song either wants you to shake your ass or punch you in the gut. Only a selective memory will think that every riot grrl song came from a place of anger, and only someone stuck in the past would think that a new Corin Tucker album could only work if it was called Two Beat, but there’s a tension that runs through Kill My Blues, one frustrated with the seeming lack of progress since 2005, when Sleater-Kinney went on hiatus. “What’s up ya’ll?? I thought we had a plan! To move things forward for us and women ‘round the globe!” she hollers on lead-off, “Groundhog Day”. “Don’t you want a seat at the table?” she asks on “Summer Jams”, and it’s hard to figure out any reason why you wouldn’t.

Listening to Tucker sing almost requires footnotes. She has one of the best voices in rock, and not in some whiskey-soaked alcohol metaphor way. Few singers can get as many emotions out of a single inflection as she can, the slightest variation drastically changing the tone. She’s direct, but her voice is filled with the complexities of direction that populate real life. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that our conversation jumped from Pussy Riot to Joey Ramone without skipping a beat.

* * *

The first thing I wanted to talk about was your new single “Groundhog Day”. For the last couple years, people have been openly asking about what happened to politics in music. And suddenly, we have Pussy Riot come along, openly citing riot grrl as an influence. I was wondering what you think about them, and what you think it takes for political punk music and political punk acts to get noticed.

Well, I think Pussy Riot is amazing. I’m honored that they were inspired by riot grrl, and obviously they’re making history around the world. I think… I worry about the women in Pussy Riot as well, their future. Going to prison is no small tragedy for them and I really hope that the appeals are able to go through and they’re able to get out.

I feel really privileged that I’ve been able to be an activist and a musician for over 20 years now, and I’ve always been able to say whatever I want. I think that’s something we Americans really take for granted, but it’s a big deal, and it’s not something most people in the world are able to do. I think there’s a huge lack of political artists in America, and I think it really speaks to our consumeristic culture and how people are driven to be financially successful here. It’s such a shame that we don’t have people who are more inspired than that.

Do you think that’s because of the freedom of speech, the lack of active oppression?

I think that by and large the predominant voice we hear in rock music is a white male voice. Unfortunately, I think that’s still true today. I think that the resources available to women and minorities is not what it should be, and I think that’s part of the reason for being a female musician. Thinking about that, speaking up about it. Thinking about women receiving paid for equal work. I think that if we don’t keep fighting for these things, then we’re never gonna get them.

You called 1,000 Years a “middle-aged mom” record. Kill My Blues is certainly a different record, a lot more raucous. Would you call it a mom record?

I think that being a mother is definitely one of the themes on the record, but this record is more extroverted. Stuff about the outside world rather than just the inner world. I think that’s a part of it, but I think that it’s also a record that draws on a lot of different time periods a lot of different identities all at once, in a way.

Definitely. And what’s amazing, the last couple years, is how we’ve seen the internal world and external world combine. Sandra Fluke, speaking at the DNC last night. The personal becoming the political in a very real way.

It seems crazy to me that those issues are still so similar to what they were 25 years ago, when I first started becoming active in politics and music, you know? It seems outrageous, that they’re fucking like, “Birth control should be covered under an insurance policy. It should be just a normal part of women’s healthcare.” That seems radical? Fuck, come on! That just seems crazy to me, that we’re still arguing about that.

One lyric from Kill My Blues that caught my eye was on “No Bad News Tonight”, when you mention texting. Do you think things like texting, or the Internet, would have changed anything about the Olympia scene you started off in?

Oh yeah, yeah. I mean, it was such a weirdly internal scene. People just turned out to things for their friends. People really were drawn to other music fans in this way, it seemed really due for. Yeah, I wonder what all of the technology we have today would have done to that scene. We wouldn’t have been as close as we were. I mean everyone in that town, it was so small, and you see everyone all the time, and you talk about music the whole time. That, it really seemed to allow me to intensely focus on other songwriters and how they made live shows. You know, we spent all our time thinking about that. It was so intensive, but I wonder nowandays, if people are just so distracted by the many, many things you could be doing. Would we have that same kind of experience? I don’t know.

How does it feel to have your name on the band? To have it be the Corin Tucker Band?

Well, I think that it’s evolved a little bit. With the last record it was much more of a project, and this idea of being a solo record. But I think with this record it’s really evolved into a band, we really collaborated on this record. Everyone was a part of it. So it’s kind of become this different entity, but it’s still—I’m the president. I still have veto power. [laughs]

[laughs] The Barack of the Corin Tucker Band.

That’s right. [laughs]

And this is the first band, as far as I can tell, that you’ve been in that has any men in it. Have you noticed any differences, going on the road with guys?

Well, they’re better at carrying stuff [laughs]. It’s been really great, it’s been a really nice experience, actually, of collaborating and having it be this co-ed situation, and really having a true respectful kind of work environment. It’s been really great. I think there’s so much that’s just the same between men and women, ya know? There’s more in common then there is different, that’s for sure.

The first thing I thought of when I heard “Joey” [off Kill My Blues], the first thing I thought of was “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” [from Sleater-Kinney’s 1996 album Call the Doctor]. Any connection?

Yeah, definitely. I think that song is a tribute to him and it’s also marking the passage of time, you know? It’s sort of a looking back, thinking about the time that’s passed in between that moment and now. It’s a long time. I’m really glad to be here, and I really am happy to be around still playing music. It’s sad that he’s gone, and that all these other people that I love are gone, but you have to just enjoying being here, enjoy every moment you can.

Was there any time that you weren’t sure you’d still be playing music at this age?

Definitely. There’s been times where I’ve thought, “I don’t know if it’s worth it.” It’s not an easy way to make a living, for sure. But I love doing it, and that’s what’s really important.

You also do have a job as a web developer for a medical supplies company, right?

Yes, I do.

How’s that going?

Good, really good. I’m really fortunate to have a job and am grateful that they’re able to be flexible with the other things I do.

So I’m sure everyone’s you about a possible Sleater-Kinney reunion. What I was curious about is, if you’ve ever thought of doing a Cadallaca reunion [Tucker laughs]. That one album and EP are so good.

Thanks! You know, I just feel super happy with what I’m doing right now, but would never say no to anything, really.

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