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Thursday, April 17, 2014 
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Sleater-Kinney Working With Lips Producer

"This is…," Sleater-Kinney guitarist Carrie Brownstein said, pausing to exhale a half laugh and shake her head. "This is a little like if you were watching us in our practice space."

The post-punk, post-riot grrrl trio was playing a secret show at Portland's Slabtown (named for its location below a huge slab of freeway) on October 20, trying out some of the new material — including "Let's Call it Love" and "Nightlight" — that they've just begun to work on in a New York recording studio with former Mercury Rev member/current Flaming Lips producer David Fridmann. The resulting album will be the group's seventh; Sub Pop will release it next year.

It was a surreal experience, watching the women of Sleater-Kinney — one of the best contemporary rock bands — play to fewer than 100 folks in a crummy club with a makeshift stage and a so-so sound system. It felt like I had been transported back in time, back to Sleater-Kinney's basement days, before anyone knew who they were.

Course I wasn't. Still, I had the opportunity to hear a few of their new songs before most anyone else. Wedged in between such classic cuts as "One Beat" and "Dig Me Out," the harder-rocking new material overflowed with intricate, mesmerizing guitar work that seemed to travel for miles, hovering above the sort of powerful, pummeling drumming that gives rock 'n' roll its soul. Allowing the instruments rather than the vocals to take the lead, the new songs felt a little like beautiful jam sessions with subtle background harmonizing.

Of course, much has changed since Sleater-Kinney first got together a decade ago. It's not about them being "girls" anymore. It's not even about them being "riot grrrls" or "trailblazing riot grrrls." It's as if, finally, we can altogether dismiss the fact they've got ovaries and dainty fingers, and look at them as simply musicians — great musicians, but nonetheless musicians, period.

After 10 years of being girls with guitars and brains (gasp!), 10 years of calling Kill Rock Stars home, Sleater-Kinney — though y'all surely know by now — are taking their fierce rock 'n' roll sound to Sub Pop, the label best known for signing Nirvana, and more recently for its success with Postal Service.

"I was neither confused nor hurt by their decision to choose another label," wrote Kill Rock Stars owner Slim Moon in an email. "We respect our artists, including their right to work with whoever they want to, for whatever reasons they might have."

Surprising though the news was to some, the group's decision to switch labels — moving to a larger indie — seems to be strictly business. "They were looking for a place that had an in-house staff of people they could work with," publicity director Steve Manning said. "Kill Rock Stars was a wonderful home for them but just didn't have a staff."

According to a post on the band's site (www.sleater-kinney.com), Sleater-Kinney were simply ready for a change. "We parted amicably with Kill Rock Stars last year," wrote the band. "After a decade of playing music we decided that we wanted to try something new. We will always consider KRS to be part of who we are and have much love and respect for them."

And the feelings are reciprocated. "It has been great working with Sleater-Kinney over these years," Moon wrote. "They are brilliant, and also very professional, even, and decent. A joy to work with."

"People really believe in Sleater-Kinney more than any other band I've ever worked with," Manning said.

You could feel the years of experience driving the new songs at the Slabtown show. You could see the confidence of lead singers/guitarists Corin Tucker and Brownstein and drummer Janet Weiss as they tested out new, harder-rocking material on the small crowd, even while their songs escaped muffled, crackling speakers.

Complex and intricate, the new songs feel as if they started from a vastly open mind where no boundaries exist and anything is possible. Possibly rooted in '70s psych-rock, or even heavy metal, the new songs have less structure and melody, leaning instead toward experimental freedom while still rocking out.

"The new songs are fantastic," said Manning, who attended the Slabtown show. "They're more straight rock, with a little bit of a garage edge."

The new material is still being worked out, certain to grow in different directions, especially once it's messed with in the studio. That's what Sleater-Kinney and Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann are doing right now at Tarbox Studio in rural New York, perhaps moving away from the cleaner approach of John Goodmanson, who worked with the band on most of its albums, including 2002's One Beat.

"We'll have to wait to see how [the new songs] flesh out in the studio," Manning said. — Jenny Tatone [Wednesday, November 10, 2004]


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