The death and rebirth of Sleater-Kinney

Twenty-five years after practicing for the first time in an Olympia basement, Sleater-Kinney are back — and they’ve created one of the most furious, dynamic records of their career.

Janet Weiss lives a few minutes on foot from a cemetery deep in Portland, Oregon’s picturesque, sleepy Northeast region. She has a one-and-a-half-year-old Texas Heeler named Dizzy who’s so excited to see Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker — Weiss’s bandmates in Sleater-Kinney for a quarter-century — that he falls onto his back, paws in the air, the moment they walk through the front door.

Weiss walks to the kitchen to turn on the kettle and motions towards a paw print preserved on the mantle. “My soulmate,” she says of her late canine companion, Mac, before turning back towards Dizzy. “No offense, Diz. He hasn’t been around long enough to be the soulmate.” Dizzy lowers his head towards the carpet, suddenly depressed, and Weiss stares at him in quiet awe: “He’s just that kind of dog. They’re paying such close attention.”

On a typically rainy afternoon in the Pacific Northwest, Sleater-Kinney are sharing stories about their pets. They’re excited about going for dinner tonight at a fancy restaurant; Corin Tucker has to pick her daughter up from soccer practice soon. They’re figuring out if they’ll have time to rehearse tomorrow. The band’s a little anxious about a trip to New York next week, where they’ll play Fallon and officially announce their new album, The Center Won’t Hold.

Sleater-Kinney are a band no longer on what they call the “hamster wheel” of constantly writing, recording, and touring. “That’s just brutal,” Weiss says. “It’s why bands break up — it creates so much pressure.” For a decade, it was their entire existence. After Weiss joined the band in 1996 for their third album, Dig Me Out, they released six albums in nine years, eventually growing into one of the world’s most formidable rock bands — and it shattered them. “All you want is entertainment,” Brownstein growled on “Entertain,” a polemical highpoint from 2005’s The Woods, their final album before splitting up a year later. “Rip me open, it’s freeing.”

The breakup was never publicly discussed until their reunion almost a decade later. In her 2015 memoir Hunger Makes me a Modern Girl, Brownstein detailed a punishing tour for The Woods punctuated by sickness and turmoil. Moments before walking on stage in Brussels, Brownstein started punching herself in the face and wouldn’t stop. “I boxed myself into oblivion,” she wrote. “I was going to make myself extinct.”

“The story I was attempting to tell was of finding myself through community and creativity,” she says of the memoir while sipping on black coffee. “It seemed important to speak to the power that exists within a creative collaboration — it can make you and destroy you. If you give yourself over to it, there’s a risk there.”

As the years passed, Brownstein wrote, produced, and starred in Portlandia alongside Fred Armisen and released an album with Wild Flag, a supergroup that included Weiss, Helium’s Mary Timony, and The Minders’ Rebecca Cole. Weiss split her time between Wild Flag, her old band Quasi, and stints with Bright Eyes and Steven Malkmus and the Jicks, while Tucker released two solo records. Life went on, and Sleater-Kinney was dead.

And then they came back to life. Twenty-five years after Brownstein and Tucker first played together in a basement in Olympia, Washington, and four years on from their comeback album No Cities to Love, Sleater-Kinney are off the hamster wheel — and they’ve created one of the most furious, dynamic records of their career.

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