The Ballad of a Ladymom: An Interview with Corin Tucker

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.

Corin Tucker Band

Kill My Blues

Label: Kill Rock Stars
US Release Date: 2012-09-18

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.


The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

Keep reading... Show less

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)

In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.