Corin Tucker has never been shy about expressing her opinions through music. But like most longtime songwriters, she has also written her share of tunes where the true meaning is veiled by symbolism, poetic license, or willful obfuscation.
Now, however, is not the time to be subtle, according to Tucker, who’s also the lead singer and co-founder of the local supergroup Filthy Friends. “It’s really time,” she says during a recent phone interview, “to stand up and be counted right now.”
That explains why Filthy Friends’ new album, Emerald Valley, is a collection of rock songs that are remarkable for their clarity of purpose. Across 10 tracks, Tucker mostly trades metaphors and wordplay for plainspoken lyrics about the 2016 Standing Rock protests (“spoil the land and the people can’t live” from “Pipeline”), gentrification and income inequality in Portland (“Rents sky high, vacancy low/Too many find they have nowhere to go” from “One Flew East”), the Trump administration’s family separation policy (“The suffering of angels, torn apart by fools/From the arms of mothers, fathers” from “Angels”), and the plight of migrant workers (“Workers come to start their day/Back-breaking work for little pay” from the title track), among other topics.
Tucker says her lyrics on Emerald Valley “happened organically” based on what was going through her mind at the time of writing. And in some cases, what was going through her mind was influenced directly by what was going on around her.
“The amount of wildfires we’ve had the past couple summers, I remember recording and being not able to breathe because of the smoke in Portland,” she says. “To me, it’s like if something is on my mind, it will also come out in a song. And it just naturally did really strongly this time.”
Filthy Friends is not just the Corin Tucker Show, of course. The band is an all-star cast of veteran Northwest rockers, including bassist Scott McCaughey (the Minus 5, Young Fresh Fellows), guitarist Kurt Bloch (Fastbacks, Young Fresh Fellows), and drummer Linda Pitmon (Steve Wynn & The Miracle 3), who replaced Bill Rieflin (Ministry, King Crimson) between the release of Filthy Friends’ debut, Invitation, in 2017, and Emerald Valley. And then there’s Tucker’s co-founder and collaborator, former R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, who helps out with themes and lyrics, but mostly contributes his distinctive riffs and tones to the project.
“Emerald Valley,” for example, is an unhurried bluesy jam with a squealing psychedelic guitar solo. The punky “Last Chance County” is built on chunky chords and comes closest to the sound of Tucker’s longtime band Sleater-Kinney. “Only Lovers Are Broken” kicks off with some warm, familiar R.E.M.-style jangle. And the guitars on “November Man” resemble hot needles and roaring buzz saws, which match up nicely with the anti-Trump vitriol in the lyrics.
“November Man” also happens to be the song that Buck was most involved in thematically. “I never need to worry that I’m being too political or something for Peter,” Tucker says. “He’s really supportive of my lyrics. He really he gets what I’m trying to say, but mostly he’s just supportive of what I do.”
And what Tucker wants to do at this point in her career is offer a voice for the voiceless—the land, people, culture, a city, all hurting under the weight of policies and practices driven by greed.
“I just feel like we are in crisis in this country more than I’ve ever felt in my lifetime, and so in a way it seems like a natural response to me as a writer to write about these things,” she says.
“I honestly wasn’t that conscious about it, but I do feel... like I have no interest in being subtle or obscure or playing it cool,” she continues. “I feel like it’s pretty extreme, what we’re going through—so I’m pretty fired up and I feel like this is my opportunity to speak my mind and say what I have to say.”
The early response to Emerald Valley has convinced Tucker that people want to hear someone speaking truth to power, loudly and clearly. In turbulent times, there is comfort in shared experiences, there’s strength in numbers, and there’s power in music that doesn’t mince words.
“One thing I’ve noticed is that people appreciate you being direct and saying what you have to say,” she says. “Sometimes people say to me, ‘Aren’t you just preaching to the choir?’ But you know what? Sometimes we all need to sing along, even if everyone in the room feels the same way. We’re going through these things that are pretty intense and sometimes it’s okay just to mark the time that you’re living in with a song.”