Your new song “Complex Female Characters” pokes fun at the hypocrisy of this time, where we’re hitting all of these diversity­-and-inclusion milestones but the overarching power structures in the entertainment industry still favor men. You don’t have to compartmentalize those things. Brownstein and Tucker split their time among the numbing routines of life in quarantine, protests, and the studio. I do think news of the lineup changing cast The Center Won’t Hold in a certain light. Or you’re trying to hold your city close, but it’s in the process of dismantling. Thank you for supporting our journalism. But I also saw the process of making a record as an act of resistance and perseverance. I’ve been all over the world. I don’t know what I’ll be making. For weeks, protesters marched through the city, demanding racial justice while being tear-gassed by the Portland Police Bureau. What was it like to be writing and recording in Portland last summer during that flash point?CT: It was such a haven being able to go into Halfling Studio and make a record. I’m curious how you feel about that characterization.CB: I mean, anyone who thinks there aren’t multiple perspectives and sides to this is either being willfully ignorant or perhaps lacks their own real-life experience. We’ve had the great privilege of working with a lot of different people over the years. There were stages where I participated and I was part of the protests, as was Carrie. I think that all came into play when we were putting this record together. We have to make it a lifetime of work. It was a really difficult time. Path of Wellness touches on themes that I think are central to 2021. I thought, Well, what is a producer going to do at this point? (Those still looking for more Carrie and St. Figuratively. But we have often sat in a room together and just laid bare an idea that could honestly be terrible. We like working on ideas together, and we’re not afraid of trying something, having it fail, and trying something else. In the early days, if Corin said, “I’ve been listening to Dolly Parton,” I would’ve been like, “Well, we’re not Dolly Parton.” Now, if she says, “I’ve been listening to Dolly Parton,” I’m like, “Eventually, it’s not going to sound anything like Dolly Parton, but show me your Dolly Parton song.”

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. CB: I find it really interesting that the same people who reject conservatism [in politics] will insist upon a very orthodox view of this band, that people who rail against binary oppositions on all fronts will settle for reductive, fixed, black-and-white narratives of Sleater-Kinney through refusing to acknowledge nuance or multiple truths. I mean, that is not something you would even do with a romantic partner, necessarily. There was another stage where the wildfires in Portland were really extreme, where I was watching to see if my house was going to be on the evacuation line. CB: When we were writing those songs, we were preparing to go on this tour with Wilco, which was supposed to happen last August — and which is now miraculously happening this August, knock on wood. We were all supposed to be making amazing art. It felt like four different years crammed into one summer, but it felt like shelter going into this recording studio to make music, you know? When we had the demos done, they already had keyboard lines and bass lines. I can feel the tension of constriction and expansion in the lyrics. It just felt like, “Well, let’s just sit back and wait. I do think a lot of the songs are grasping at lifelines. You’re holding this person close, but they also feel far away. We’ve basically laid out exactly how we want this record to sound. Sign up here to get it nightly. Some people thought the band took a sharp left into pop music and kinda came apart.CT: Personally, I’m always wanting to try different things and to be creative in different ways. CB: We have gotten used to that feeling of being exposed in front of the other person. The press coverage for the new album so far is zeroing in on the notion that the band is now a duo.CT: I love it. Sometimes it seemed like the reaction to The Center Won’t Hold was more about us refusing to conform to a codified and static version of ourselves. We’ve always seen our role as being out of step with what people want. She speaks her mind, which is one of the reasons that she’s an amazing human. Even your own sense of being is recalibrated. (Brownstein said at the time that this came as a surprise.) The pop-oriented songwriting of the last album with Weiss, The Center Won’t Hold, produced by St. It felt like the biggest privilege in the world to have that. It was based on our ideas and our guitar playing. Those moments are a reminder: Let’s not just be asking to get in the door. We tried a lot of different things. In contrast, Path of Wellness, the first album Brownstein and Tucker produced themselves, takes cues from Sleater-Kinney’s forebears in punk and classic rock. Photo: Holly Andres

This article was featured in One Great Story, New York’s reading recommendation newsletter. Historically, one of the great strengths of your band has been minimalism — the tightness of a trio, these interlocking guitar leads chasing each other, not a note going to waste. “It was like restarting the band again, in a way, during such intense chaos and crisis,” says Tucker. Ultimately, the role of the artist, I have always thought, is to experiment and thrash around and make mistakes and just be out. They felt expansive because we were imagining these outdoor spaces. I am not even sure when we got to this place where we loved politicians — this idea that some politician is going to come in and be able to make everything better, whether they’re a Democrat or a Republican. If people are upset when Phoebe Bridgers smashes a guitar on SNL, we’re in the dark ages.CT: I think rock music has always been behind the times culturally. Vincent, and she’d just put out a record with Jack Antonoff, who had just worked with Taylor Swift. We were able to take those new skills and put them to use on this new album. It’s such a crazy time to have lived through that it just makes sense to me that it would come through in the writing somewhat. I also didn’t mind tearing the Band-Aid off and breaking up with some white male critics. That’s how we play. Writing has always been a coping mechanism for me to make sense of when I feel really, really overwhelmed. That can be hard sometimes. I don’t think the record is totally about that, but there are definitely seams of it — thinking about death, and life, and longevity, and mortality. Also, creating work in the world that can help uplift people, or help someone get through a day, is another way. And I feel like we learned so much from the last record, from Annie producing and everything we were trying out. CB: There has been a series of happy accidents in the history of Sleater-Kinney. “Duo.” That’s so funny. Tags: Watching that being stripped away was the hardest part for me. I think that’s part of being an artist and doing work that keeps you interested over a long period of time. It can make you uncomfortable. I love Ann for that. Whatever we’re doing as Sleater-Kinney is Sleater-Kinney. Remember there were all these articles about how Shakespeare wrote during a pandemic? You’re allowed to borrow this, but don’t forget.” When women step out of the space, the small playground they’ve been allowed into, the pushback is very, very intense. Did you do much thinking on a theme?CT: I think we were just writing with a sense of seeking out our own truth of the moment. Otherwise, it doesn’t really have relevance or longevity strictly as a political act. Then, all of a sudden, it was like all of that air was sucked out. Subscribe Now! That’s exhausting, but it’s also what it means to be human right now. The mode was insular and claustrophobic. To know that the other person is not going to reply with derision or mockery but that they will sit and hear you out …

Corin does surprise me. I’m much more of a rhythm-guitar player. But as soon as Phoebe used the guitar in a way that people associate with maleness, they’re like, “Wait, no, sorry. Was that a conscious choice, or was it a logistical necessity?CT: We did think about bringing someone in, and it was really impossible. Carrie Brownstein: I’ve always felt about music that is characterized as political that it still has to be couched in a good song. CT: Figuratively. Right now, we’re in the casting process, which, as you can imagine, is one of the most challenging things, because you can definitely get it wrong. To be honest, I’m not interested in continuing to talk about something that really seems to revel in female cattiness and conjecture and confirmation bias. This is what we made.”

Behind the scenes with Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein. Under Democratic presidents, there is just this false sense of security. Outside of music, how did you cope with the pandemic?CT: It was just really hard to watch my kids go through it, to be honest. CB: In terms of making things or being creative, I think early on, I felt this sense of failure. There was a part of the protests where I was turned off by the violence and the destruction that was happening. But kids, this is when they’re supposed to be out in the world, and doing things, seeing their friends. It’s how we started the band a long, long time ago. Vincent lore can check out the forthcoming mockumentary The Nowhere Inn, which stars both.) The title track and opener serves spastic, jagged post-punk riffage and disorienting percussion; later, the chugging “Method” swaggers like ‘70s Alice Cooper, while “Down the Line” tries out the start-stop rhythms and “I know it’s all right” refrains of Led Zeppelin’s “Dancing Days.” The songs are lean and tastefully executed; throughout the album, splashes of notes from bass, clavinet, and Fender Rhodes organ add hues without obscuring the primary colors of Tucker and Brownstein’s guitar playing. I could rest on my memories. I think as much as that was a frustrating moment, it’s always a good reminder that when you are let into the club, burn it down. CB: What was interesting about the Phoebe Bridgers thing is that people celebrate there being so many women who play guitar now. CB: I also appreciated, and was amazed by, the way that Portland turned forms of resistance into routine and ritual as well — that it became part of the daily purpose to show up and participate. “It’s not the summer we were promised,” Brownstein croons on “Down the Line,” a gritty rocker situated in the closing stretch of the new record. We exist in a time where there are these trends of protest. I think that, like you said, now that that album is part of a continuum, to me, it’s not an anomaly. Corin, as you’ll realize in this conversation, has this really nice steadiness and succinctness, and I’m very loquacious. It also felt important to put ourselves on the line again in this way, where we said, “This is who we are. We were able to find local people who could come in, amid all the Covid rules, and play on the record. You hear snippets of something that we might not associate with Sleater-Kinney, like country-and-Western, or R&B, these things that are further back in the DNA of the band, and know that we can shape it into something that fits our vernacular. I came out on the other side with some lightness, but it definitely felt dark for a while. I’m aware that people need these linguistic markers to help them understand. In 2019, Janet Weiss suggested that she had been shut out of decision-making processes in the band and that was why she left. Let’s build a new structure. Each of us takes on a different aspect of protest. Carrie is just a natural lead-guitar player. I mean, we’re happy with working together and being collaborators. Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker recorded Sleater­-Kinney’s tenth album, Path of Wellness, in Portland, Oregon, last summer against a backdrop of unrest. I think showing up in the streets is one way. I’m not saying that’s what we did on the last record. It all felt like parts of the same conversation. “But it was also something that was joyful.”

Does creating music during rapidly changing times throw a wrench into the process? I’m not comparing myself to Shakespeare. I started worrying that I no longer had a sense of what was happening in the world. I spoke to Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein over the phone the day after the release of The Path to Wellness’s lead single “Worry With You” this month about making art in Portland while the city battled for its very soul, and the continuing evolution of Sleater-Kinney since reconvening in 2015. When Ann Wilson, from Heart, mentioned that I was directing last year, it wasn’t official yet. (Drum duties were handled by a rotation including their post-Weiss touring drummer Angie Boylan, Brian Koch of Pacific Northwest indie rockers Blitzen Trapper, and Vincent LiRocchi, a veteran of Portland’s music scene.)

The album is, as its title suggests, a song cycle about weathering rough times and learning to live and love again afterward, experiences we’re all processing to one extent or another this year. Is that something you worked out with intention, or is it a learned language?CT: We recognized from the beginning that we’re very different, musically, Carrie and I. There is nothing mediating this experience. I’m not saying they were all successful, but it was different. We were working out arrangements and composition and editing, trying different choruses, and changing the top-line melody over and over again. CB: That “duo” terminology … I didn’t really think about it until I started seeing some of the press, because I just think of us as Sleater-Kinney. If everyone’s aiming for the same bull’s-eye, you end up with conformity, so we’ve always seen our role as being out of step sometimes with what people want. Then you’re searching for how to find a sense of freedom and joy and love in the tiniest, smallest of spaces. There’s almost nothing more vulnerable and embarrassing than sitting in a room with a very rudimentary sketch of a song — just a fleeting idea of a guitar line or a melody line or a vocal melody — and performing that for someone. Production Credits

Photograph by
Holly Andres

Hair by
Sheri Mendes

Makeup by
Jessie Powers

Styling by
Megan Diana

Director (video):
Holly Andres

Editor (video):
Megan Eleanor Clark

One Great Story: A Nightly Newsletter for the Best of New York
The one story you shouldn’t miss today, selected by New York’s editors. You have songs about making yourself available for love again and yearning for freedom and coping with political upheaval. When I was growing up, women were usually just sex objects in the rock world. All this great literature and film will come out of this.” I thought, But I can’t get out of bed right now. I’ve actually been approved to direct. *This
article appears in the May 24, 2021, issue of New York Magazine. I think those themes were more about living in that moment than a conscious decision. That’s when I’m usually trying to write a song. It’s still really behind the times — it doesn’t see women as protagonists, as the ones who are controlling things and making things and defining culture. Path of Wellness is also the first record produced solely by the band. I lived a pretty good life. “It’s the summer that we deserve.”

For Brownstein and Tucker, the album, out June 11, is a recommitment: the band’s first since 1996 recorded without drummer Janet Weiss, who left Sleater-Kinney in 2019 because she felt she no longer had an equal say in its direction. I’m old. CB: Thank you, Corin. How do you find ways to keep surprising each other when you’ve been in a band since the ’90s?CT: I think Carrie and I are both really open to trying different things. You were working with Annie Clark from St. Terms & Privacy Notice
By submitting your email, you agree to our Terms and Privacy Notice and to receive email correspondence from us. They can be quotidian. In retrospect, it feels wrong for us to have seen The Center Won’t Hold as the end of an era, knowing now how you followed it up.CB: Annie is a brilliant musician. I like the messiness of art and the ability to toy with mythology and fiction and weave those into things that are also more grounded, but I think our goal is always just to write from a place of honesty and earnestness. Early on, we fell into these certain roles where, as Corin said, she was occupying what would more traditionally be a bass line, even though she was playing guitar, or rhythm guitar. They are constant, evolving. Vincent’s Annie Clark, looked to some fans like a curveball. Is there anything you can tell us about that?CB: I’m hoping it’s going forward. I will direct it if it happens. Biden’s not a panacea. Email

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Terms of Service apply. We’d never really written with keyboards. Do you feel like more is asked of you as a band celebrated for its politics?Corin Tucker: That’s just part of being human during this year. It can be difficult. There’s no other entity through which you can filter what this is. The guitar still signifies maleness. CB.: As we were writing and demoing songs, we were adding so many elements. We learned a lot from her. Carrie, last fall it was announced that you were writing and directing a biopic about the band Heart.