Sleater-Kinney was among the most critically acclaimed bands of the 1990s, emerging in the final days of the riot-grrrl movement to fuse radical feminism with challenging, fiery punk. The all-female trio also became dynamic leaders of an alternative-rock movement that had otherwise lost its way in the post-Nirvana years. The band is mostly unknown to the mainstream and has shown little interest in recording for a major label. But for Sleater-Kinny rock & roll is more about empowerment and community than stardom.
Singer/guitarists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein met as students in the early '90s at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Inspired by Bikini Kill and other riot grrrls, both were already in bands (Tucker in Heavens to Betsy, Brownstein in Excuse 17). The two began writing songs together, were lovers for a time, and with drummer Lora McFarlane founded Sleater-Kinney – named for an Olympia freeway off-ramp. The band's self-titled debut in 1995 introduced a sound that was fast and raw. Tucker's searing wail was set against the band's minimalist rock (just drums and two guitars), with lyrics that confronted sexual abuse and inequality while rebelling against the sexist traditions of rock & roll. On 1996's Call the Doctor, Sleater-Kinney claimed its own piece of the rock tradition with the ironic "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramon." Critics took notice, voting the album among the best of that year.
McFarlane quit in 1995. Her permanent replacement was Janet Weiss (Quasi, Elliot Smith, Motorgoat), who first appeared on 1997's Dig Me Out and then 1999's The Hot Rock (#181), both critically acclaimed releases. That was followed the next year by All Hands on the Bad One, which welded clean pop hooks onto the Sleater-Kinney punk sound, bemoaning the corporate raiding of punk culture on "#1 Must Have: and celebrating the need to rock amid continued sexism on "The Ballad of a Ladyman." Tucker introduced a side project in 1998 called Cadallaca (with Sarah Dougher), featuring a sound similar to, though looser than Sleater-Kinney. Weiss continued to record and tour with Quasi (a collaboration with ex-husband Sam Coomes). And later in 200 Sleater-Kinney appeared on a new Go-Betweens [see entry] album, The Friends of Rachel Worth, that Australian band's first recording in a dozen years.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
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