Sleater-Kinney On 'The Center Won't Hold' And Continuing Without Janet Weiss The Center Won't Hold casts an uneasy gaze on technology and politics; it's also the band's last album with its longtime drummer. NPR's Rachel Martin speaks with Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker.

Burn, Don't Freeze: Sleater-Kinney On Making Art In The Midst Of Change

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It's hard to overstate the musical creativity coming out of Washington state in the 1990s. Yes, there was Nirvana and Pearl Jam and grunge. But there was also an underground scene that was redefining punk music and who got to make it - movement was called riot grrrl. And in the middle of it all was Sleater-Kinney.


SLEATER-KINNEY: (Singing) I got it, words and guitar. I want it all. Can't take this away from me. I want it all. Music is the air I breathe. I want it. Can't take this away from me. Words and guitar.

MARTIN: They have been at it, off and on, for 25 years. And today, their ninth album is out. It's called "The Center Won't Hold."


SLEATER-KINNEY: (Singing) Disconnect me from my bones so I can float, so I can roam. Disconnect me from my skin...

MARTIN: In some ways, it's a new beginning. They experiment with song structures and sounds they've never worked with before. It's also the end of an era. Their longtime drummer Janet Weiss left the band after the album was recorded.

I talked with the two remaining members, Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein, about the stories they are telling in this new work. Here's Corin.

CORIN TUCKER: It was taking on a lot of different voices. Some are mourning, and some are reveling in the corruption, you know? And I think that it was more meaningful to feel all of these emotions instead of just coming up with, like, a mission statement or a slogan.


MARTIN: There's a lot of angst on the album and a particular dissatisfaction with how technology has changed us.


SLEATER-KINNEY: (Singing) I end my day on a tiny screen. I try to reach for you through the empty sheets. I close my eyes and try to find some piece of what's left of us and who we used to be. Tell me if you feel like you are lost and alone.

MARTIN: Here's Carrie Brownstein on the perils and isolation of social media.

CARRIE BROWNSTEIN: Where I feel empty is in the space between hitting send or posting and then realizing that I have now set myself up on this very tiny stage, and I'm waiting for all of this applause. I just think where - how have I gotten to this point in my life? How have we all gotten to this point in our lives where we are - every aspect of it is a performance? That, to me, feels very dark. And I think there is a loneliness that comes from standing on a stage every day, waiting for applause. How could we not feel - how can we not feel empty there?

MARTIN: But you guys signed up for that anyway. I mean, you actually do that. You go on stages and wait for applause.

BROWNSTEIN: Exactly. I mean, social media, to me - like, that - it is the karaoke of the Internet...


BROWNSTEIN: ...Where it's just...

MARTIN: What does it say about me that I love karaoke, though?


MARTIN: It's so great.

BROWNSTEIN: But - it is, but it's just simulacra, you know? We're - all we're doing is - we're just going through the motions.


BROWNSTEIN: And I think that there's a very momentary fulfillment there, and then there is a deep, deep emptiness. And I mean, I don't have a specific example, except I have an example every time I post.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Except every day of my life.



SLEATER-KINNEY: (Singing) I need you more than I ever have because the future's here, and we can't go back.

MARTIN: Corin, can you tell me about the song "LOVE" on the album?


SLEATER-KINNEY: (Singing) It took a little while, but now I see it's love...

TUCKER: Yeah. That song goes through the story of our band. It really talks about the relationship that Carrie and I have had and the kind of journey that we've been on for 25 years and the ups and downs of being in an indie rock band.


SLEATER-KINNEY: (Singing) Calling card is empty, sleeping in the van. But things are looking better. We're only down a grand. Been to every state from New York to insane. If I turn up any louder, I won't know my own name. What's love...

TUCKER: It's, you know, platonic love. It's love for your collaborator and your friend and the willingness to just throw your lot in with this other person in life and go for it. I think that's - it's a really wonderful relationship to have. And it's also really special.

MARTIN: Does it feel strange not to include Janet Weiss' name when you're talking about that?

TUCKER: Yeah, it's sad that she's left the band. But I think that, you know, we have a great respect for her and the time that she's joined us in this band. And we wish her well.

But also, the story of the band was started a couple years before Janet joined us. And we've been on a - quite a journey, Carrie and I, to make this music together, and we're very much going to continue to do that.

MARTIN: I know you don't want to dwell on it, but do you understand the reason that she gave? She released a statement saying the band is heading in a new direction, and so it's time for her to move on. May I ask how you interpret that?

BROWNSTEIN: You know, we really wanted her to stay in the band. We asked her to stay. I think that it's hard to do anything for almost 25 years. Any relationship that has lasted that long is one with the normal highs and lows. So I think all I can sort of interpret from her decision is that she was ready to do something else. And I have to respect that even though it's hard.

And ironically, you know, we made this album called "The Center Won't Hold," which speaks to, you know, things that we rely upon falling apart and changing. And I think even though it's hard for us and I think it's hard for some of our fans, I think it's - you know, you can't look out into the world and find something that existed 25 years ago that is existing in its same form. You know, things change and evolve.

And I think Corin and I just feel so lucky to do this. And we really need this band - that we will continue without her. And if you're lucky, you get a next chapter. And we will embrace that in whatever form it takes.

MARTIN: Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney. The new album is called "The Center Won't Hold." Thanks so much to both of you.

BROWNSTEIN: Thanks for having us.

TUCKER: Thank you.


SLEATER-KINNEY: (Singing) It is a restless life, a restless life.

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