IN MARCH OF LAST YEAR, singer/guitarist Corin Tucker debuted a handful of brand-new songs at Holocene during a benefit for the Reading Frenzy bookstore. It was the first new material she'd played in public since Sleater-Kinney went on hiatus in 2006. Now Tucker is prepping her debut solo album, an 11-song affair due out later this year on Kill Rock Stars.
She's recording it at Little Golden Book Studio in Northeast Portland, which is actually the home of Seth Lorinczi and Julianna Bright—better known to discerning Portland music fans as the Golden Bears. On a remarkably windy Monday, Tucker and Lorinczi are in the midst of laying down tracks in the basement along with Sara Lund of Hungry Ghost. With Tucker's voice and guitar, Lund's drumming, and Lorinczi on a wide array of other instruments (there is talk of overdubbing "goat nails" on the record, which is actually a shaker-type instrument made out of real, gross, dead goat hooves), the trio is in the process of fleshing out the songs Tucker has slowly developed over the past year.
Over a conversation in the dining room, Sinéad O'Connor's The Lion and the Cobra is cited as a reference point for the album in progress, as are the Slits, the Raincoats, and the English Beat. All three musicians agree, meanwhile, that the new Quasi album, American Gong—which includes Tucker's former Sleater-Kinney bandmate Janet Weiss on drums—has inspired them to up their game.
MERCURY: With this project, did you deliberately set out to do something on a smaller scale?
CORIN TUCKER: Yeah, for sure. My life's a lot different now. I have two kids, and any work that I do needs to be on a much different scale and schedule. For a long time, doing music seemed too overwhelming with the amount of responsibilities I have now. But as a fun project, I did a couple songs with Blue Giant and the Golden Bears for that benefit show last year, and it was all born that night. I was like, "This is so cool!"
Were those songs written with a project in mind?
It was this creative challenge: to play a solo show and write some solo material, like a little assignment. And it was just really fun, and a neat accomplishment. Playing with Seth and Julianna, I was like, "Wow, this is really great—how can I possibly pursue this and make a whole album so that people can hear it?"
But there was a point where you decided that music wasn't something you were focusing on.
Yeah. I took some years off. I really wanted to become a civilian, and just be a mom for a while. I've been fortunate enough to do music as a career, and that was really fantastic, but it's a pretty grueling schedule. The amount of touring that most bands need to do is pretty intense. With this, we're doing a creative project, with a really low budget, on a really small scale, and [we'll] do a handful of shows to have people hear about the record. And I'm so, so grateful that Kill Rock Stars is giving me that chance, and is willing to work with me as a working mom. That's pretty incredible and unusual. It's not that I'm going to be a stay-at-home mom for the rest of my life—obviously I'm not. I hope to have some kind of music in my future. But I can't just shift gears suddenly, and be like, "I'm going on tour! See ya!"
What will happen once the record is released?
We are definitely going to do some shows. I think our vague plan is to do a little bit on the West Coast and a little bit on the East Coast, and see what happens. The jackpot would be to do some great festivals, to go somewhere really cool and play.
What's the timeframe?
We are hoping to finish recording and mixing by June, and then hopefully putting the record out in October. Which means we have a crapload of things to get done by then!
Was the intention to do something different? Or is that just the way it happened?
Part of thinking about "how does one make a solo record?" is the challenge to reinvent yourself and do something different. I was like, well, let's go for it. I play an acoustic guitar and challenge myself to do things that are difficult. It's been really rewarding to just try something different.
Does this album work off any particular theme?
It's definitely more of a middle-aged mom record, in a way. It's not a record that a young person would write. But I am the worst person in the world to describe my own lyrics, so I'm not even going to try! I do think I'm trying to write stories, though, and that I take certain feelings or certain experiences and put them into a little story. And there are definitely some ghosts on the record, too—ghost songs. There's some sadness, some reinvention, some rebirth. I think the goal for me is to write some good stories.
Is there a name for the record yet?
I'm not sure! We'll see. I'm a little superstitious about that one.
What's your favorite part of the process—writing, recording?
Everything's been really great. I think writing is sort of a grouchy thing to do. I'm really grouchy when I'm writing. But I took a really long time to write this record, which was good. I wrote a lot of different things that I didn't use. It felt really satisfying, like an accomplishment. My favorite part so far has been playing with these guys, and having the doors flung open on the songs. And this is a wonderful, wonderful working situation.
How would you describe the sound of the record, particularly in comparison to Sleater-Kinney?
I think some of the songs are in the ballpark. It's definitely my voice and my songwriting style. But like I said, it's different instrumentation on some of the songs and a different collaboration. Seth's producing and arranging things, so that's different, too. It may be more traditional with some of the arrangements.
Here's the loaded question: Do you think some Sleater-Kinney fans could be disappointed by the record—and that others who might ordinarily never listen to Sleater-Kinney will pick it up?
It's possible, yeah. Part of being able to write a record again was to put all those expectations away and just write something I can believe in and commit myself to. So I'm just proud of that accomplishment. But when you come to the arena of who's going to like this record or who's not, I think that's always part of being a musician and a performer. It's being able to say, "Well actually, I believe in this material and I'm ready to let people hear it." So, probably yes to both parts of your question!
In an interview with IFC, Carrie Brownstein recently hinted at the possibility of Sleater-Kinney getting back together in the future.
The door is open. We ended things on a hiatus so that it was always something that could happen in the future. You know, I'd love to live a long productive life and do a lot of different things. This has been the challenge of trying different musical styles, and I'd like to do more of that—regardless of Sleater-Kinney or other projects.
Do you have any sense of competition with Quasi at all?
Just as a joke. It's just so inspiring that they did it—that Quasi made this fantastic record. They reinvented themselves for sure. That feeling of, "How can we do something that just grabs people like that?" It's just a great bar to set. I don't know if we'll do it, but it's definitely inspiring.