Listening to Dig Me Out on its 25th anniversary feels a little like finding an old Polaroid of our younger selves that used to hang on our bedroom wall. There we were, all wide-eyed in that ready-made frame, but we longed for someone to peel back the film to expose the layers underneath. Sleater-Kinney peeled back the layers for us, and then they stayed to tear the whole damn wall down.
Sleater-Kinney, which started as a side-project of Olympian singer-guitarists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein, became the only project. In 1997, with then-new drummer Janet Weiss, they were carving themselves out of the Pacific Northwest’s Riot Grrrl movement. They had already released two LPs: 1995’s self-titled debut and 1996’s Call the Doctor. Both albums had gotten attention, but Dig Me Out (Kill Rock Stars, 1997) was about to change the trajectory of Sleater-Kinney forever. A month after Dig Me Out arrived, Sleater-Kinney went from performing in coffee houses and record shops to packed houses across the country, including CBGB in NYC.
In the YouTube video of Sleater-Kinney at CBGB in 1997 (below), Brownstein approaches the mic with her signature red Epiphone strapped over her shoulder, having not upgraded to a Gibson yet. Across from her, Tucker plucks her guitar to help Brownstein finish tuning. Finally, they tune down to C#, which Brownstein admits gives them an intentional “sourness”. Weiss on her throne at the center, behind them, with her hair in quintessential late ’90s pigtails. The stage lights dim, and their set begins with the album’s title track in near darkness. Brownstein is explosive. Tucker wails. Weiss is a force. By the time the lights come up, halfway through the first verse, the audience is awe-struck. Best of all, no one in the crowd has a cell phone yet.
I’ve distilled Dig Me Out down to my favorite trio of tracks—”Dig Me Out”, “One More Hour”, and “Words and Guitar”—which Sleater-Kinney fans are welcome to debate me on. While solid songs fill the record, those three are the ones I’ve returned to year after year.
“Dig Me Out”
Coming from the DIY punk/Riot Grrrl movement, Sleater-Kinney had more creative control than more mainstream bands. I imagine they chose “Dig Me Out” as the first track because it’s the title track and because the sound exemplifies exactly who they are as a band. It’s real, it’s raw, and it’s ready for anything. In an interview with Sound Opinions, Brownstein described Tucker’s voice as “unapologetic” and able to “[say] more in a note or series of notes than most people need a whole song to say”.
Tucker’s voice literally digs down in each verse, creating a word painting to reflect the text she’s singing:
Dig me out
Dig me in
Out of this mess
Baby, out of my head
Dig me out
Dig me in
Out of my body
Out of my skin
“Dig Me Out”, and almost all of the tracks on the album, are even better when listened to with headphones. Tucker’s guitar is in one ear, Brownstein’s guitar is in the other, and Tucker’s voice and Weiss’ percussion are everywhere all at once. Weiss has a series of snappy drum rolls throughout, and there is almost no better collision of sound than when she hits the crash as Tucker roars in the chorus.
“One More Hour”
Since the start, Tucker and Brownstein’s emotional dynamic fueled Sleater-Kinney’s musical fire and made fans blush. If a casual listener hadn’t figured out by the third album that they’d dated and split up, unfolding the CD’s liner notes and reading the lyrics to “One More Hour” clued everyone in:
In one more hour, I will be gone
In one more hour, I’ll leave this room
The dress you wore, the pretty shoes
All the things I left behind for you
Tucker and Brownstein’s lyrics overlap in the chorus in a sort of mournful call and response. Listeners hear the intimacy between them and may even get the feeling they are eavesdropping on an unfinished argument. Brownstein has said, “[Corin and I] learned how to play guitar in relation to each other . . . [our] partial chord formations don’t make a lot of sense until the other person is playing their part”. Vocally, too, this track sees each performer “plays their part”, and it’s only after hearing them together that we can feel the weight of what’s transpired between them. It’s arguably one of the best queer break-up songs ever.
“Words and Guitar”
The upbeat “Words and Guitar” is the sixth track on the LP. As with most all of Dig Me Out’s tracks, the band is on fire here. Brownstein’s surf-rock guitar riff is playful and catchy, Tucker’s vocals—as always—are relentless, and Weiss’ fills and syncopated rhythms keep our Doc Martens tapping.
A closer look at the lyrics indicates that Sleater-Kinney is grappling with new, and perhaps unwanted, media attention:
Take, take the noise in my head
Take, take the noise in my head
C’mon and turn, turn it up
I wanna turn, turn you on….
The self-referential “Words and Guitar” works on many levels, but mostly it’s an exciting listen. Esquire’s Greil Marcus described Tucker’s voice as “[having] the ability to take a note and ring it like a bell in a tower” (68). In “Words and Guitar”, Tucker is ringing away in that bell tower.
Since 1997, Sleater-Kinney has released seven additional albums, including two more of my favorites: The Hot Rock (Kill Rock Stars, 1999) and The Woods (Sub Pop, 2005).
In 2019—before the release of their ninth album, The Center Won’t Hold (Mom+Pop)—drummer Weiss announced that she was leaving the group. Rumor has it that the band was heading in a direction with new producer Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) that wasn‘t where Weiss wanted to go. So, she rejoined her original band, Quasi, a duo with former spouse Sam Coomes. Quasi signed to Sub Pop in March 2022 and is currently touring. As for Sleater-Kinney, the now-duo issued their tenth album, Path of Wellness (Mom+Pop), in June 2021.
Huffman, Eddie, and Charles R. Cross. “Performance.” Rolling Stone, no. 757, Apr. 1997, p. 32. EBSCOhost.
Marcus, Greil. “The Best Band in the World.” Esquire, vol. 131, no. 4, Apr. 1999, p. 68. EBSCOhost.