Sleater-Kinney, Interview w/ Janet Weiss
Since their eponymous 1994 Chainsaw record debut, Olympia, Washington trio Sleater-Kinney (Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein on guitars and Janet Weiss on percussion) has earned international acclaim for their intricate melodies, politically-charged lyrics, and passionate intensity. Six years and four albums later, the trio has only gotten better, lyrically moving from the general political rants that make up so much of punk rock to boldly confronting gender inequity and the male-dominated world of indie rock.
Brownstein and Tucker first met when Tucker’s band, Heaven's to Betsy, played a show at Western Washington State University. Later, Brownstein transferred to Tucker’s alma mater, Olympia’s Evergreen State College, and Brownstein started up the band Excuse 17. Eventually, the two began playing guitar together, and the first incarnation of Sleater-Kinney was born.
Meanwhile, Weiss was tooling around the Washington area playing in a variety of Portland-area bands as a sit-in studio musician and as a full-time drummer for Quasi (along with ex-husband Sam Coomes). After recording two records with Australian drummer Laura McFarlaine and one US tour with Toni Goggin, Sleater-Kinney hired on Weiss as their permanent drummer in 1997. "I remember our first practice in Corin's basement," says Weiss. "All they had was one song, ‘Dig Me Out,’ and they had me put drums to it. We just clicked right away, and like a whirlwind, wrote and recorded the whole record in just a few months."
[Holly] How did you all first get into playing music?
[Janet Weiss] I've been a music fan since a very young age. Listening to the radio and buying records has, and continues to be, a rewarding part of my life. In college I took up the guitar in a casual way, strumming along to songs when I could. At 22 I received an offer to join a local San Francisco band on a three week tour... as the drummer. Although I never had played a drum kit, took a stab at it and accepted. Two weeks of practice and I was on stage. Drumming has been my passion ever since.
[Holly] How did your families take it when you decided to pursue music as a career? Was there any other career path you were originally planning to take?
[Janet] For a long time my parents would refer to my drumming as a hobby. Until I quit my job and supported myself entirely from my music did they realize this in fact a career. Since I started playing drums, writing music, collaborating with other musicians, it's been obvious to me that this is my only path. I haven't seriously thought of another career since.
[Holly] You all come across as really strong women in touch with yourselves-do you actively consider yourselves feminists? What do you think are the positives and/or negatives of the way women are perceived in music today, as opposed to 10 years ago?
[Janet] We would all consider ourselves feminists. We are interested in writing music that conveys our ideas and opinions, social and political. Not only the way women are perceived in music, but the way we are perceived in general hasn't changed so much in the past ten years. Women are still seen as objects
and victims, and our abuse "acceptable" within society's desensitized moral codes. Very few women artists who you hear on mainstream radio write their own music or express their own uniqueness or philosophies. The feminist dialogue is closed to the mainstream. But we can use our place as cultural entertainers to inspire and inform those who are willing to listen. And we encourage other women and girls to do the same... START YOUR OWN BAND!!!!
[Holly] Have you purposely kept releasing records on small labels, or are you planning on courting major labels in the future? What're the advantages/disadvantages of being on an independent label?
[Janet] We are really happy with Kill Rock Stars and have no plans on working with a major label in the future. Being on an independent label has many advantages. The biggest being that we have complete artistic control over every aspect of our music making. KRS is our partner, our support system, and
is operated by people we know and care about. The fruits of our hard work are reinvested into the label, and the independent musical community that it supports. It's rewarding to see our success affect other bands, opening the door for them in a way.