Kill My (feminist) Blues: Corin Tucker returns to riot grrrl roots

By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly

The Corin Tucker Band's new album "Kill My Blues" dropped Sept. 18 in the midst of a month-long tour that ends in Portland Oct. 13. Photo by John Clark

Former Sleater-Kinney frontwoman Corin Tucker says that “a little bossiness” is the common thread connecting her rock star persona and her super mom alter ego. If motherhood is to thank for the return of Tucker’s commanding siren call, then her time away from music was well spent.

Equal parts haunting and urging, Tucker’s trademark wail is back in full force with the Corin Tucker Band’s second album, “Kill My Blues.” Released Sept. 18 to strong reviews, the record harkens back to Tucker’s riot grrrl days with the power and perspective of a revolutionary musician looking into the rearview mirror.

And the 39-year-old indie rock veteran isn’t happy with the view. While the album is laced with frustrations of a grown-up feminist, the “WTF?” is clearest in “Groundhog Day.”

“I’ve just woken up/Like Rip Van Winkle in a denim mini skirt /Wait, you see, now, I took a rest /I took some time to be a mom and have some kids/What’s up y’all? I thought we had a plan/Gonna move things forward for us and women round the globe/Awake now, outside it froze/Instead of going forward, where the hell we going now?”

When Tucker first emerged in the Olympia, Wash. music scene through pioneering bands Heavens to Betsy, Cadallaca, and Sleater-Kinney, she was among the standard-bearers of a DIY approach to feminism and social change. But that wave of momentum hasn’t played out the way she hoped it would.

“I sometimes feel like I’m having the same conversation over and over again. I’d love to see a United States where women had more political power i.e. matching our 51 percent of the population,” Tucker tells PQ the day before heading out on tour. “I do think that talking about women’s issues has made my generation of men more aware of them, and I appreciate that.”

“Kill My Blues” is both a kick in the pants from the cool older sister who knows you can do better, and a balm for the bruise that’s sure to follow. It says, “Shit’s fucked up. Let’s dance it out and then do something about it.”

Tucker says the upbeat tempo of the songs — a contrast to the more mellow “mom” vibe of “1,000 Years” — was a response to fan feedback.

“We noticed people really wanted to dance at our shows, to move around, so we tried to write some dance songs for people,” she says.

That energy is captured is the video for “Neskowin,” directed by Alicia J. Rose, a semi-auto-biographical tale of two teenage girls who sneak out and into a club for a life-changing performance by Poly Styrene (played by Tucker) and the X-ray Specs.

“‘Neskowin’ ‘is a coming of age story of two young women in the early 80s. It does have an autobiographical element,” Tucker says. “I did go on vacation there with my best friend’s family at the time, but the daring escapades are entirely fictional.”

In the video, a club full of 80s punk fans rock out to the song’s riotous upbeat while Tucker rocks the mic in a full-on Styrene get-up (which initially included fake braces, later tossed aside because they made it too hard to lip-sync). The resemblance, both in appearance and significance, is striking.

“I guess that Alicia Rose has always thought I bear a resemblance to her and that seed has been alive in her brain since the ‘90s when we first met. It’s Alicia’s vision all the way so I’m just happy to work with her,” Tucker says. “I’ve been a huge fan of Poly Styrene and the X-ray Specs for a long time, so it’s meant as an homage to one of my favorite bands.”

But it’s not just Tucker’s stories that are told on the album. “Kill My Blues” was a collaborative effort from all the band members — including Seth Lorinczi (Golden Bears), Sara Lund (Unwound, Hungry Ghost) and Mike Clark (Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks).

“We really opened the doors to a fully collaborative process on this album, working on most of the songs all together in the practice space,” Tucker says. “Sometimes I’d come up with a guitar line or verse and chorus, or sometimes we’d just jam together on a song.”

Though Tucker’s life (much like her bandmates’) has many of the trappings of “normalcy” — carpools, a part-time web development job, and a house on a quiet neighborhood street — her legacy as a trailblazing musician remains.

As the front woman for Sleater-Kinney, she carried her punk rock brand of empowerment to women and queers around the world. Though she and bandmate Carrie Brownstein weren’t thrilled when a 1995 SPIN magazine article outed them as bisexuals by mentioning that they had dated, Tucker says she realizes the positive impact that visibility may have had on fans.

“I think it probably helped some young people who were coming to terms with their own sexuality, and that is a good thing,” she says.

These days, she is still helping young people — namely her children Glory!, 4, and Marshall, 11. Of course, it’s a two-way street. Her son teaches her about dubstep and has recently introduced her to the likes of Skrillex and deadmau5, while her daughter reminds her that what she does is totally normal.

“I think my daughter thinks that all moms have rock bands, which is great,” she says.

(Note to Mom: You’re slacking.)

The “Kill My Blues” tour started in Minneapolis, Minn., on Sept. 13 and will wrap up in Portland with a show at Bunk Bar Oct. 13. For more tour information, visit Read the full interview with Corin Tucker on our blog.