Interview: Errors

errors

This feature originally ran in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on April 3, 2015.

If you’re ogling the cover of Errors’ ace new album, Lease of Life, look sharp. At first glance, the sleeve appears to be a photo of lush potted ivy or some-such, but closer inspection reveals it as an entirely computer-generated image. Such uncanny ambiguity defines the Glasgow electro-prog trio’s fourth long-player.

Its capricious (yet cohesive) sonic palette is at once familiar and unsettling, as it journeys from the ghosts of pipe bands and ancient folk through Vangelis, Caribou, 808 State, Tangerine Dream and Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. The album’s themes are similarly vivid yet uncertain: its dreamy kosmische-disco songs insinuate post-apocalyptic alien rule, information overload and cannibalism. But they might just be about human contact.

“The idea of not quite knowing what something is – if it’s real or synthetic – has always interested us,” says the band’s co-founder and co-songwriter Steev Livingstone. “We wanted the Lease of Life artwork to be hyper-real, so you can’t tell the difference, unless you really study it. And we think about that a lot with our music too. We used a lot of synthesised organic sounds – string sounds, choir sounds – and we wanted to play around with the idea of what’s real, and what isn’t, while also trying to come across as more organic.”

True to this, Lease of Life is created by technology and preoccupied by cyber-anxiety, yet rooted in a rural utopia: much of the album was written and recorded on the Isle of Jura. And the record contains, amid myriad surprises, synthesisers that elicit bagpipes (or vice versa) on the title track. “Oh yeah, I know the sound you mean,” says Livingstone with a laugh. “We’ve actually been accused of the bagpipe thing before. The last track on our last album [2012’s Scottish Album of the Year Award-nominated Have Some Faith In Magic] has got a bit of that going on.

“I think it’s partly because we use a pentatonic scale, which can sound kind of Scottish,” he continues. (It’s also a favoured musical mode of their Rock Action label bosses, Mogwai). “We use it because it’s a really easy scale to write with – you can play anything and it sounds good, basically – but I’d also been thinking about bagpipes in terms of world music instruments. I think other tracks like New Winged Fire were tapping into that kind of world music thing too, and ideas of Indian music,” he says. You can even discern some far-flung disco panpipes on the latter track. But it might just be a tech-illusion.

There are some entities on the new album which are, however, undoubtedly real – namely, voices, choirs, and saxophones. Livingstone’s own voice has increasingly come to light since the band formed in 2004, and the album also features Oliva Bek (Magic Eye, who also starred on their Relics mini-LP) and Cecilia Stamp, whom Livingstone asked to contribute after hearing her sing on karaoke.

The saxophone and choir meanwhile, give the album a sense of celebration. Livingstone nods. “I think we felt like it was make or break time a bit with this record. We’ve been doing this long enough, and the only people who can make these things happen are me and Simon [Ward; they’re joined in the band by James Hamilton]. So we did what we really wanted this time. And we wanted a saxophone.”

The saxophone wields an extraordinary power in electronic music – it’s loud, and brash, and alien – but it can work wonders, as it does on ecstatic electro-pop aria Genuflection. “Yeah, but there’s a really fine line with that sort of thing,” Livingsone offers. “For a lot of people, the saxophone comes with cheesy Kenny G references. When it enters into our record for first time, it comes as a shock or a surprise to people, which obviously I didn’t consider because it was always in my head as a saxophone part.”

Did he always envisage a choir for the album’s epic techno-gospel swansong, Through The Knowledge Of Those Who Observe Us? “Oh yeah, that was never just going to be 20 versions of my voice,” he says. “The Glad Community choir was amazing. There’s such a range of ages and voices, male and female. I was deliberately referencing religious music with the choir, and the euphoria that comes with that. I’m not a religious person, but I’m definitely interested in a group of people singing together. I think there’s something pretty powerful about that.”

The gospel and religious allusions echo the notion of rave culture as secular spiritualism – of ecstasy, worship and communion on the dance-floor – too. “Actually, I hadn’t even considered that, but absolutely – that’s what I’m going to say it means from now on,” Livingstone laughs.

“I suppose the thing is, in the past we’ve held back on doing things, like the choir and the saxophone. This time, we decided we’d actually make the record we wanted to make,” he says. It sounds like the real thing.

Related articles:
Errors interview (The Herald, 2012)
Errors interview (The List, 2010)

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Live Review: Sleater-Kinney

Sleeater_Kinney_NEW_small

This review originally ran in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on Friday March 27 2015.

Sleater-Kinney

02ABC, Glasgow

March 25

(Five stars)

You wait ten years for a punk-rock revolutionary, and then three come along at once.

A decade since Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss called time on Washington’s Sleater-Kinney, the alt-rock insurgents bounced back with a vengeance – first with a brilliant new album, No Cities To Love, and then with a world tour, which struck Glasgow like lightning on Wednesday night.

It’s 21 years since Brownstein (guitars, vocals) and Tucker (guitars, vocals) formed Sleater-Kinney. Their roots were in the femme-punk uprising of riot grrrl, whose DIY activism still makes waves, as evidenced by local feminista-pop collective TYCI: they threw the gig’s official after-party, collected donations for Women’s Aid, and bagged a righteous on-stage shout-out from Sleater-Kinney for their excellent endeavours.

The band’s incendiary set was enlivened by leaping, axe-duelling and rock theatrics, and loaded with fired-up favourites including 1997’s barbed grunge lullaby Little Babies (which they dedicated to Zayn Malik on the day of his fleeing One Direction), the snarling, sublime guitar-pop of 1999’s Start Together (camaraderie is their modus operandi), and a show-stopping rendition of 2005’s browbeaten and down (but not out) Modern Girl.

Their new tracks – each with words to live by – were particularly powerful live, and offered a vivid visual and physical manifestation of the trio’s unique dynamic: Brownstein and Tucker’s guitar and vocal interplay was thrilling on Price Tag (“I’ll choose sin till I leave”), powerhouse drummer Weiss’ fearless beats raised the roof on Bury Our Friends (“We’re wild and weary but we won’t give in”), and the trio unleashed A New Wave to adoration as they hollered, “Let’s destroy a room with this love”.

Let’s take on the world with it.

*

Related articles:

Sleater-Kinney interview: The Herald, February 2015

On Sleater-Kinney, Sacred Paws and Riot Grrrl: The List, January 2015

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Album Review: Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat

bill wells and aidan moffat

This review originally ran in The List Magazine

Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat

The Most Important Place In The World

Chemikal Underground

(Four Stars)

There’s a lot to be said for the joys of winking. But it can also result in one veering off the rails – or road, of course – as the winking beat of the car indicator that opens this glorious album reminds us.

The second long-player from Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat starts with ‘On The Motorway’ – an in-car ode to being stifled, restless and bored, and to broaching crossroads (that way, temptation lies). It’s a fitting route into a record that navigates life, love and sex; that maps the body and heart (and other organs); that charts an insatiable yearning for the city (as temptress, guardian, grand passion and confidante). ‘The city wants to take me back … her legs are spread,’ sings Moffat in the opening track, atop the indicator’s rampant winking. Does our protagonist take the right turn? That’s for the rest of the record to intimate.

One thing is evident: if ‘On The Motorway’ signals a turning point, perhaps even a boundary crossing, then rest assured it doesn’t imply a change in musical direction for Wells and Moffat. The avant-jazz torch-songs and poetic cocktail-pop that defined 2012’s SAY Award-winning Everything’s Getting Older return with a vengeance (‘This Dark Desire’, ‘Far From You’, ‘Any Other Mirror’) – but there are myriad deviations too, including cloven-hooved Caledonian gospel (‘Street Pastor Colloquy, 3am’), pragmatic, euphoric electro-pop (‘The Eleven Year Glitch’), and a clanging, Tom Waits-ian jazz-skronk dirge (‘Lock Up Your Lambs’) – not to mention the shadowy vestiges of a guilt-averse power ballad on ‘The Unseen Man’ (‘They still won’t wink and they still won’t smile…‘).

Moffat duly rules the roles of noir-pop eroticist (‘Nothing sounds sweeter than a stolen sigh‘); raving, roving werewolf librettist (‘I howled a poem at the first moon I saw‘); and murmuring urban natur(al)ist eyeing up the city’s wild life (‘This is the soul of the city, her glory stripped, her passions laid bare‘) – while Wells’ exquisite piano melodies and jazz-by-stealth chorales are as fascinating and seductive as ever.

They’re brilliantly embellished by saxophones, trumpets and strings – and, of course, that winking indicator, whose monotonous rhythm reappears in the album’s swansong, ‘We’re Still Here’. It’s a heartening salute to moving on from crossroads and cross words, to roads to nowhere and resilience, to defying the odds, to staying power – to quietly celebrating the precarious art of getting by.

*

Related articles: I spoke to Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat about The Most Important Place In The World for The Herald.

Footnote: I sat in for Vic Galloway on BBC Radio Scotland a few weeks back and closed the show with ‘Street Pastor Colloquy, 3am’ – you can listen again here.

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Interview: Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat

Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat 2015-1

This interview originally ran in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on March 12, 2015, under the heading PRIZE-WINNING DUO BACK TO TAKE THEIR IMPORTANT PLACE.

There is something of the night about the new album from Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat. It’s in the nocturnal torch-songs and after-hours pop. It’s in the shadowy titles of its songs (This Dark Desire, The Unseen Man). It defines its time-zone and landscape (the moon-lit city). And it’s in the record’s very inception: the music, on more than one occasion, came to jazz alchemist Wells in a dream.

“I dreamt about seeing this choir on the television, and that became Street Pastor Colloquy, 3am” recalls Wells, about a joyous urban gospel anthem on the new LP. “They were singing the melody that you hear on the record, and singing all of the words in the chorus. So I sent Aidan a demo and said, ‘That seems a good tune, if you fancy doing something with it?’”

Moffat worked his cunning linguistic wonder, as Moffat does. That demo became an album highlight – a saxophone-fuelled, Satan-toting, sing-a-long ode to the city-as-saviour, starring the Glad Cafe Community Choir. It’s one of countless surprises on the second LP from the Falkirk-born, Glasgow-based artists, which maps the city and its secrets, which explores temptation and what lies beyond, which (sometimes) finds its way back home. It’s called The Most Important Place In The World.

Moffat and Wells’ debut, Everything’s Getting Older, won 2012’s inaugural Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) Award. When did they decide to record a follow-up? “I can really remember, but it wouldn’t have been long after the SAY Award,” says Moffat on a rainy night in a Glasgow cafe. “We did a mini-tour after that, and which was the end of the lifespan of the first record, so I think it started pretty much after that. I don’t think Bill thought we were going to do another album though. You were quite surprised, weren’t you, Bill? ”

Wells nods and stirs his coffee. “Aidan had once said this thing about never working with the same person twice,” he explains. “So I thought that was that.”

“Aye, I think Bill was a wee bit confused,” adds Moffat. “But now he realises that I change my mind at least once every day.”

The first new track they worked on opens the album. Entitled On The Motorway, it embarks on an album-long voyage that crosses boundaries and eyes up alternative routes. Its title and quest for new horizons echoes Car Song, Moffat’s 2012 collaboration with RM Hubbert. “I’d never really thought about that,” says Moffat. “Of course, Car Song’s not really about cars – that’s about being miserable,” he says with a laugh. “And On The Motorway is more about shagging – or desire, rather, let’s be posh – and things getting in the way of desire.”

That theme recurs throughout the album, as do notions of love, guilt, (lack of) excitement, and the universal truth that we never really change – not at heart, anyway (“we didn’t evolve, we just grew in all the wrong directions”). There are wandering eyes, minds and hands; obstinate dishes, high chairs and chores; and there’s the occasional monster lurking – notably on industrial jazz-skronk entreaty, Lock Up Your Lambs, which re-casts Moffat as a wolfish Tom Waits.

“Lock Up Your Lambs was originally a loop from the [Bill Wells] Octet,” Wells recalls. “I gave Aidan a whole lot of melodies to work from – we usually start with the music and then he’ll write lyrics around it – but I think I gave you about ten loops too?”

Moffat nods. “Lock Up Your Lambs was one of those loops, and it inspired this idea about when you go out for a pint, or go to a party, and everyone’s waiting for something to happen. It’s hardly an original thought – that you’re invoking a demon when you drink or take drugs – but I wanted to do this literal incantation about waiting to get pissed.”

Lock Up Your Lambs also features free-sax that’s wild and yet contained, underscoring the song’s latent potential for total mayhem. “Yeah, that saxophone’s one of my highlights on the record,” says Moffat. “John Burgess [sax] understood exactly what we wanted right away.”

Wells smiles. “I must admit, when Aidan first said he wanted a saxophone, I thought, ‘Oh God’ – because I’m always trying to keep the jazz off our records,” he says with a laugh. The saxophone also has excellent 1980s power ballad connotations of course. “Yes, and again, that’s not something I would necessarily want,” he jokes. “But you know, it works.”

Wells and Moffat are no strangers to pop balladry. They reconfigured the smouldering dejection of Bananarama’s Cruel Summer into a sultry avant-jazz lament, and they created the greatest 80s avant-pop medley of all-time with The Powers and the Glory of Love, a brilliant homage to the best “Power” ballads (Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Huey Lewis and the News, Jennifer Rush).

The new album’s most euphoric pop moment comes in the guise of The Eleven Year Glitch, an electro anthem that variously conjures The Pet Shop Boys’ West End Girls, Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive and Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmas Time.

“I’m not even sure where that song came from,” muses Moffat. “Did that start with a drum beat?”

“I think so, yeah” nods Wells. “Actually, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this to you, Aidan, but at the time we were doing that song, I was actually in Japan. I went to Japan without telling anybody. And I didn’t have keyboards or anything with me – all I had was my computer. So I had to use this piano on the computer for that song – that’s why the chords are so simple,” he chuckles. “That’s why there were these four bars that only had one note. I was sat in Japan, congratulating myself that I managed to get that far with such limited means.”

And Moffat was none the wiser? “No but I’m glad I know now though,” he says with a hint of faux-menace. “Slacker. Still, to be fair, you made up for it with the strings, I’ll give you that. Bill actually wrote two entirely different string parts for the Eleven Year Glitch. I see now though that was probably through a sense of guilt,” he quips.

The strings on the Eleven Year Glitch, courtesy of the Cairn Quartet, are glorious, and they’re equally uplifting on We’re Still Here, the album’s exquisite, heartening, swansong – a kitchen-sink salute to the labour of love and defying the odds.

“The album’s about lots of things” offers Moffat. “Mainly temptation, and secrets, and life – and aye, it’s about love being hard work. Or it is for me certainly. I’m sure there are plenty of people who’re very happy but I don’t trust them,” says the sage raconteur with a laugh. “I don’t trust people who say they’re happily attached and they have been for 10 years. That’s nonsense. If it’s true, you’re not living life.

“And it’s a record about the city,” he continues. “But it’s abstract, not geographical. It’s about the city as an idea, as a temptress, and even as a God in one of the songs. It’s something to be worshipped.”

It sounds like the most important place in the world.

*

The Most Important Place In The World is out via Chemikal Underground on March 16.

Related articles: Album Review, Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat – The Most Important Place In The World – The List

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Interview: The Rezillos

Rezillos (1)

This article originally ran in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on March 5, 2015.

Edinburgh day-glo pop mob The Rezillos were light years away from other punk bands. They eschewed nihilism for flying saucers; shunned irascible bile for trashy b-movies; and while The Clash would issue six long players, and The Ramones would double that number (and then some), The Rezillos issued just the one album – 1978’s Can’t Stand The Rezillos, starring their biggest hit, Top Of The Pops – and then self-imploded four months later. But now, almost four decades hence, they’re defying convention again: they’re set to launch a follow-up record.

Said new LP is a full-throttle rock ‘n’ roll blast through neon punk and cosmic grrrl-pop, and it finds the band – Fay Fife (vocals, theremin), Eugene Reynolds (vocals), Angel Paterson (drums), Jim Brady (guitar) and Chris Agnew (bass) – in stellar form. The album is a consequence of a gradual return to life for The Rezillos, who split after the departure of co-founder Jo Callis (he went off to join the Human League, and co-wrote Don’t You Want Me Baby, among other hits). Original members Fife and Reynolds formed The Revillos shortly thereafter, but since 2001 they’ve operated under The Rezillos banner. One reunion gig led to another – and eventually to a brand new album.“It’s quite bizarre, doing a record after all this time, I know,” says Fife. “But we’ve always just gone about things in our own way.”

The new album (and central track) is called Zero, for countless reasons, as Fife explains. “The idea with Zero is that it could mean infinity, or complete nihilism – you just don’t know which way it’ll go. That feels like a punk philosophy,” she says. “And then there’s the idea of liminality – that you’re right in the middle of nothing, right in the middle of a space where anything could happen. Also, psychologically, we were zoning in on how meaningless people can feel sometimes, which is quite a common experience, and there’s something quite heroic about that,” she adds. “So it’s personal, psychological and social at the same time. Plus, if you look at the word Zero, the letters in it are also in The Rezillos. We liked that. We wanted something of our essence. Eugene and I have a really dynamic creative partnership, and we also have quite obscure ways of thinking about things.”

Obscure, perhaps, but original too, and endlessly thrilling. “We’ve always been aware that we were different,” Fife nods. “I’m still aware to this very day. I’m aware of the unique aspect of this band. And it would be a mistake to see what we do – what I do – as something that’s just entertainment, because it’s not. Some things might come across as being quite light, but they’ve got a dark edge. And some things might come across as pop, but they’re referencing lots of [issues] and they’re intentionally like that. The Rezillos aren’t an overtly political band by any stretch of the imagination, but social consciousness and a strong conceptual perspective underpins what we do,” she continues. “It comes out in a very peculiar fashion – like it’s gone through an art school masher and come out the other end – but picking up things that are there in the real world definitely informs us. There’s never been anything banal about what we do.”

They’ve also been hugely influential, and Fife remains an incendiary role model in rock and pop (counter) culture. You can discern her agitated femme-punk voice in Garbage’s Shirley Manson and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O, among myriad others. “To hear that I’ve influenced people – particularly women – is flattering, and gratifying and really affirming,” Fife enthuses. “Long may it continue.”

Pop music has historically cast women in a passive role, and it’s a (mis)representation that Fife has long railed against, both as the band’s fired-up, hollering vocalist – wreaking PVC-clad havoc all over the stage and all over the male-dominated punk landscape – and via the band’s unruly titles and badass characters: witness Animal from the new album. Or She’s The Bad One, or the annihilative Spike Heel Assassin.

“That’s really really important to me,” says Fife. “And it’s getting more important as I get older – God knows what I’m going to be like when I’m 90 – because at this time in my career, this time in my life, I’m more interested in female identity than ever. Not only do you pick up the projections of what people want you to be as a woman, but you also pick up a whole host of other projections about what people want you to be as a slightly older woman – I’m not 20 any more and I don’t want to come across as if I am – and I’m also the front-person in a rock ‘n’ roll band. I think there’s always a fight to try and find your own identity within these different projections and ideas of what you ought to be,” she suggests. “That creates an interesting artistic dynamic. Interesting things come out of that.”

Zero is a case in point. “Absolutely,” nods Fife. “Take She’s The Bad One, for example – that references lots of things to do with rock ‘n’ roll, and female images, and real women as well.” Indeed, it bears noting Fife’s brilliant and wry punk-rock moniker (she’s so-called because she hails from the kingdom) has its roots in her youth, and its mining-village matriarchy. “Women were the powerful ones when I was growing up,” she recalls. “They all wore these great tweed skirts and they were just extraordinary. And it was quite a powerful, dark image as well – it wasn’t all light and fun – they were pretty indomitable. That’s really important to me, that side of Fife, and even though I left a long, long time ago, it still comes through you.

“So yeah, She’s The Bad One references all of that,” Fife continues. “And it draws on The Ronettes and The Shangri-Las and the biker girl image, and what all that is about, which is: the power of being different. You’re not in the mainstream culture, you’re standing slightly outside it, almost as an artistic onlooker in a way. There’s a a sense of alienation.”

The Rezillos have always been preoccupied with alien nations, from their debut album’s kitsch-punk opener, Flying Saucer Attack and 1978’s Destination Venus, to Zero’s Out Of This World and martian serenade Tiny Boy From Outer Space. The cosmos and its imagined inhabitants play a vivid role in the band’s lyrical vocabulary and vintage comic-book aesthetic. “Yeah, the space thing has always been there, from the start of The Rezillos,” Fife nods.

“But I don’t think our interest is really in things like science fiction – at least, mine isn’t. It’s more that the idea of space provides an interesting metaphor to talk about other things. Because with The Rezillos, it’s real, but it’s one step outside reality at the same time. And that’s something we still want to explore,” she ventures. “We’re planning another album soon, much sooner than the years and years we waited between the last album and Zero.” The 21st Century Rezillos have lift-off.

The Rezillos tour with The Stranglers at Aberdeen Beach Ballroom (March 26), Kilmarnock Grand Hall (March 27) and Glasgow 02 Academy (March 28)

Footnotes: Fay Fife and I reviewed Kim Gordon’s memoir, GIRL IN A BAND, on BBC Radio Scotland’s Culture Studio with the fabulous Janice Forsyth – you can listen again (and hear a new Rezillos song!) here.

Also, I sat in for Vic Galloway on BBC Radio Scotland a few weeks back and played a brand new Rezillos track, Sorry About Tomorrow – you can listen again here.

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Live Review: Kathryn Joseph

kj

This review originally ran in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on March 9, 2015.

Kathryn Joseph

King Tut’s, Glasgow

March 5

(Four stars)

It is rare to see the King Tut’s stage so barren, or the room so hushed. But you’d expect nothing less from Kathryn Joseph, whose unadorned and exquisite psalms are prone to rendering listeners dumbstruck.

The Scottish singer-songwriter has just released a remarkable debut album, Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood I’ve Spilled, on Hits The Fan – the record label that launched the career of Frightened Rabbit. Joseph’s zoological metaphors are more preoccupied with fragile avians, however, as evinced by soaring torch-song The Bird, and jaw-dropping lullaby The Crow, both of which made sublime appearances at this truly special Glasgow show.

She performed on her trademark vintage piano, augmented by stealth percussionist Marcus Mackay, on a stage bedecked with a single string of fairy lights. Her shadowy, sepia songs quietly illuminated the room, from enigmatic aria The Why, What Baby?, through downbeat pop serenade The Want, to wise and worn-out hymn The Weary. The latter, a devastating album highlight, prompted the enraptured audience to engage in an almost comical battle of loud applause – cheering, whistling, stamping, screaming, twerking (seriously) – in its shell-shocked aftermath.

For songs that are seemingly broken and bloodied, there’s a formidable resilience to Joseph’s performance and work, as brilliantly evinced on hushed piano sermon The Mouth (“And if you fall … cover it up”), which was particularly stunning – as was Mackay’s muted yet blind-siding drumming throughout.

You might hear echoes of Joanna Newsom, Billie Holiday or Karen Dalton (or even Lana Del Rey), but Joseph’s voice is truly her own. Bruised and yet beautiful, down but not out, her wonderful, visceral songs knocked King Tut’s for six. She is the real thing.

*

Footnote: I sat in for Vic Galloway on BBC Radio Scotland a couple of weeks back and Kathryn Joseph played an incredible live session for BBC Introducing. You can watch the songs she played, and an interview we did, here.

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Interview: Sleater-Kinney

Sleeater_Kinney_NEW_small

This interview originally ran in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland)

Occasionally, something happens that makes you realise that you might be an adult. One such thing is catching yourself making a phone call sat on the hall stairs, so as not to be disturbed by your children, as opposed to fearing your parents might overhear. Another is noting that you have loved US indie-punk heroes Sleater-Kinney for a lifetime; from your teenage years to the present day. The two intersect when you find yourself chatting with the band’s Corin Tucker – or rather, whispering down the phone-line, lest the offspring interrupt. “Oh, I hear you,” says the singer and guitarist, laughing. “I’ve done the same myself.”

Many things have changed since Sleater-Kinney emerged from riot grrrl’s femme-punk underground in 1994. Tucker, singer / guitarist Carrie Brownstein and Quasi drummer Janet Weiss (who joined in 1996) have variously created TV shows (Portlandia) and spin-off groups (Wild Flag, The Corin Tucker Band). Feminism has become a more prevalent subject in pop music dialogue. And Sleater-Kinney have been hailed as “America’s greatest rock band” (Time Magazine) and “The best American punk band ever” (Rolling Stone).

But many things are still the same. Inequality and sexual and domestic abuse are still rife, myriad less privileged or dominant voices in society are still unheard, and these were always issues that Sleater-Kinney sought to address through their music and its characters. Plus, the band still sound like nobody else. Returning with a new album, No Cities To Love, after a nine-year hiatus, they’re as relevant, riled and urgent as ever. It’s a brilliant return to form, and it rightly bagged the trio their first-ever UK Top 40 album last month.

“I know, it’s crazy! It’s amazing,” says Tucker. “It’s just been so overwhelming and rewarding with this record, because we didn’t know what was going to happen, after so long of not being a band. When we decided to write a new album – Carrie and I first started talking about it in late 2011 – we had to reconnect with being a band again. We had to see if we felt like we still had something to say. And we did.” Or, as they holler in disco-punk anthem Surface Envy, “We’ve got so much to do, let me make that clear.”

The tale of Sleater-Kinney’s glorious rebound began last Autumn, when they released a vital, career-spanning remastered box set, Start Together. The endeavour was spearheaded by Tucker – did she learn new things about the songs, or band, in the process of re-inhabiting these records?

“Yeah, I thought that some of the old songs were just hilarious,” she offers. Any in particular? Tucker laughs. “I think Sold Out, from our first album [1995’s Sleater-Kinney], is pretty outrageous – just the persona, and the sexual references. We were outlandish in our characters and voices and everything that we were doing, and I think that’s great,” she says. “When you look at all of the music, you can so clearly hear the struggle of us trying to figure it all out: who are we, who do we want to be, where do we want to go? How do we deal with society’s expectations, how do we destroy them, how do we reinvent ourselves? Looking back, we were struggling with all these different issues. So I have an affection for everything that we’ve done in different ways.”

Start Together consolidated Sleater-Kinney’s rightful place – centre-stage – in the punk-rock canon. But that’s not all. There was also a brand new single hiding in plain sight within the vinyl box set. A seven-inch white label bore the title Bury Our Friends along with an enigmatic series of digits – 1/20/15 – which transpired to be the US release date of a new album (their first since 2006’s The Woods). It was recorded in secret last year. The ensuing online excitement was clamorous.

Bury Our Friends is a furious, joyous call-to-arms – fighting fit and rising from the underground, which is a recurring scenario on the new album. (“Exhume our idols!”) It provided the perfect comeback kick-off. “Yeah, Bury Our Friends was actually the last song we did, but it really became this fiery kind of mission statement, of how to reinvent the band, and why we were doing what we were doing,” Tucker says. “Because we wanted to do something new with this record. We wanted to reinvent ourselves in the present.”

Was there a particular moment, or song, during writing, where they realised the new material was going to work; that their fire was far from out? “I think we had a piece of the song No Cities To Love – maybe just the verse – and I thought it was great and really interesting. I loved it,” Tucker recalls. “But it took us a long time to find the right chorus, and that was typical of the process. We’d find part of a song and then we just had to keep working and working until we found the rest of it.”

No Cities To Love is a gorgeous post-punk chorale, all trademark serpentine guitars, interwoven vocals and formidable drums. Its lyrics are variously transcendent (“My body is a souvenir”), restless (“A life in search of power”) and reinforced by a sense of community (“It’s not the weather, it’s the people we love”). Are the band still roused by the same concerns and frustrations that drove them two decades ago?

“Yeah, absolutely,” Tucker nods. “I think we’re always trying to reach a sense of a larger picture, of what the society looks like, from our point of view. And I think that there’s always that sense of looking at where we’re at, where we’ve come from, and where we need to go. What will happen if we don’t call out some of the things that we see? To me, that was, and is, rock ‘n’ roll. It’s people who have something to say, and who’re not just angry for their own personal frustrations. It’s more about a collective relationship between our selves and our fans. I feel that more than ever.”

Tucker views her mythological riot grrrl status in similarly communal terms (she played in Heavens to Betsy; Brownstein was in Excuse 17). “I feel like I’ve been part of a movement, of a group of people, a group of women, who were trying to raise awareness and work together,” she says of the early-90s DIY revolution that included Bikini Kill, Bratmobile and Huggy Bear. “And maybe that work has the most impact when you view all of the bands, and all of the things we wrote about, together. Then it can really have a sense of force for people.”

True to this, No Cities To Love is galvanised by a collective spirit, from Surface Envy’s battle-cry (“Only together can we break the rules”), to Price Tag’s diatribe against commerce and exploitation (“It’s 9am, we must clock in, the system waits for us”). The latter song opens the new album, and its theme resurfaces in sublime closing track, Fade. “Oh, what a price that we paid,” they lament in unison, on the remarkable conclusion of a thrilling comeback album. When they sing its final words – “The end” – it sounds like anything but that.

No Cities To Love is out now via Sub Pop. Sleater-Kinney play Glasgow 02ABC on March 25 – there’s an official aftershow at ABC2, hosted by the ever-righteous TYCI.

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