1. “Carey,” Joni Mitchell, 1971
There’s something strange, when you’re a kid, about a song that says your name. Of course, Joni Mitchell is talking about a man named Carey, but I didn’t know that. I was so drawn to it — the song seemed to recognize me in some way, which set me on an emotional course for looking for validation in songs.
2. “Song for a Future Generation,” the B-52’s, 1983
A friend of mine made me a mixtape in high school with 90 minutes of the B-52’s. I had already started immersing myself in punk — the Ramones, the Clash, the Buzzcocks — but there was something about the singing of Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson that excited me. It felt subversive but slightly saccharine, and it was very fun and strange.
3. “Margin Walker,” Fugazi, 1989
Fugazi were my boy band for my teen years. I missed the first wave of hardcore, but the aggression of their music really matched my own angst and frustration. I just wanted to thrash around to “Margin Walker” the way that earlier I would have jumped around to New Kids on the Block or Duran Duran or something.
4. “So Tough,” the Slits, 1979
Discovering the Slits and their album Cut was such a formative moment. The image of these women caked in mud on the cover was so shocking and exciting. “So Tough” was the song that I put on every mixtape. It feels like they put the contents of a junk drawer into a bag, and they’re shaking it, and then they were able to string together something melodic on top of that chaos. I wanted that song around all the time.
5. “Dumb,” Nirvana, 1993
When I moved to Olympia to go to college, there was this sort of marketplace where the commodity was musical knowledge. That was how people judged and valued each other. I had a friend whose sister worked in Seattle, and he gave me a tape of In Utero well before it came out. It felt like I was carrying around a magic stone all summer.
6. “Natural’s Not in It,” Gang of Four, 1979
The sound of Gang of Four was revelatory for me — even before you hear the lyrics, the acidity of the guitar playing tells you what this band is. “Natural’s Not in It” is about how our own bodies and desires are commodified, and as a female I always felt that. It’s such a catchy rallying cry of revolt.
7. “Can’t Hardly Wait,” the Replacements, 1987
When I started touring with Sleater-Kinney, I would listen to this song. It had this soothing lullaby quality. I loved the line “I’ll be home when I’m sleeping” — that really spoke to me as a young traveling musician. I would put on my headphones and feel understood.
8. “Anti Love Song,” Betty Davis, 1973
This whole song, she’s fighting herself. It’s a groan, it’s a growl, it’s full of desire. The lyrics are all about denying herself what she wants, and you can feel that struggle. It’s like she needed that groove to propel herself through her pain and her longing. I love it.
9. “John the Revelator,” Son House, 1965
I would go to record shops all the time on tour, and there was a period when I was collecting a lot of blues records. “John the Revelator” really drew me into blues music. It just seemed so big coming from one guy.
10. “I’m Going to Live the Life I Sing About in My Song,” Mahalia Jackson, 1958
There’s a power of conviction in this song. She’s speaking in terms of good and evil and sin, and she sings with the kind of authority that a lot of people try to sing with. Even as someone who’s not religious, that’s really appealing to me.