Interview: Corin Tucker
My feature on Corin Tucker Band from last week's issue only scraped the surface of my interview with the former Sleater-Kinney wailer. In advance of Wednesday's show at the Wexner Centerwith R. Ring, here's the full transcript of our chat. Press play on the band's sophomore release, "Kill My Blues," and have a read.
Alive: Where are you today?
Corin Tucker: We are driving through Alabama.
Alive: I hear the roads in Alabama aren't kept up very well. Has that been your experience today?
Tucker: Actually it's pretty nice. Yeah. It's a little rustic where we are right now. There's not many services. The roads are actually fine.
Alive: Well, I'm glad to hear they've improved their upkeep. So, your new album's opening song, "Groundhog Day," definitely feels like a manifesto and almost like a reintroduction. Did you intend it to play that way?
Tucker: I think that the song just sort of came out organically in terms of, like, feeling a bit frustrated on women's issues in the U.S. So the song came out in the writing process for writing this record. We played it live a couple times and people really connected with it. I thought that by putting it first on the record, it really reaches out to people, and it's sort of like a heads up for people, I guess.
Alive: It's interesting; it sounds during the song like you're partially faulting yourself for your frustrations, like "Did I fall asleep on the backs of the women who have come before me?" I appreciate that it's not just a finger-pointing thing, but it's kind of got this holistic view of the problems.
Tucker: Yeah, and I think that to me in my life right now it's really obvious that if we want things to change, it's all about working together. You know? For men and women of all different economic strata, it's really important that there is a coalition that's like, wow, it really is important for women to be at the same pay rate as men. It really is important for women to have reproductive rights as part of women's healthcare. Those are things that have been on the table for a long time, but if they're going to get done, men and women, we're all going to have to work together to finish those goals.
Alive: You've had a huge voice about those issues through your music. Do you feel like you've been able to push them forward even during the times when you scaled back your musical effort?
Tucker: I think that being an informed person and voting are two things that are extremely important. And so I think always just reminding people to vote is a huge thing. You can do that if you're a musician or whatever you do in life. There's lots of ways to remind people that they have a voice in this country and just not to take that for granted, I guess.
Alive: Do you feel like your frustration about those things is part of the reason you've decided to ramp up your musical activity again, or are those unrelated?
Tucker: I mean, for me, music is just something that makes me really happy in my life. It's what I really love to do. And if I'm able to do it and make it happen, I want to do it. But when I write, I sort of meditate on things I'm dealing with or going through or thinking about. So all those things come out in my music naturally.
Alive: So it wasn't this situation where you were like, "Things seem really messed up! I need to get back in the music game so I can say something about it."
Tucker: No, I don't think it was that kind of strategy at all. It's just more about playing music with my friends that we really enjoy doing and being able to put out a record. I think we're all just really grateful to be able to do that.
Alive: You mentioned playing with your friends. How did the current lineup come together?
Tucker: Well, it started in 2008 when my friend Seth Lorinczi put on a benefit show in Portland called Reading Frenzy, and he asked me to just play a couple songs for the show. So I wrote a couple things and just played solo. But I played a couple songs with he and his partner Juliana Wright. And I really enjoyed working with them, and Seth was like, "You should really make a record." And so for the first record, he and I worked on it as more of like a solo album. And then we asked Sara Lund to play with us on that record. And then that really turned into more of a long-term musical project as a band, and we added Mike Clark for the second record.
Alive: I've read these interviews where you get asked about how motherhood affects your songwriting and whatnot, but I'm wondering how it affects the logistics of being in a band, like touring and whatnot.
Tucker: Yeah, it definitely does. It's really challenging to have a job where you travel a lot. I think that's true for most working parents. But my kids are a little bit older, so they have their school. And I have a really supportive partner, and he's really willing to help out. And we are also lucky to have our grandparents. They totally jumped in and helped out too, so that's really a big help as well.
Alive: So do those sort of factors somewhat dictate how long the tours can be and that kind of thing too?
Tucker: I mean, we're doing a month right now and that's definitely really long for me and my family. But it's going OK. Everybody's hanging in there and doing well.
Alive: OK, back to the music. Your voice stands out. People recognize it. People respond to it in a way that can't be said of many other singers in rock music right now. You have a very distinct style, and you use your voice powerfully with it. Is that something you intentionally developed, or did it just always sound that way?
Tucker: Well, I think my singing has definitely developed over the years. But I always wanted this really dramatic sound. I think in my first band, Heavens to Betsy, I think I was working towards that, but I was really new at it in the beginning. And so I tried a lot of different things. (laughs) There was a lot of screaming in grunge music in the '90s. I've done that. I've done talking. I've done yelling. I've kind of done it all at this point. But you know, it's just something that I love to do. I love to sing, and I've just found that going on the road, my voice is kind of strengthening up a little bit. The more you work at anything musically, singing or playing guitar or whatever, you develop as you do it more and more. It's been a journey for sure.
Alive: Do you feel like at this point you can just go on stage and belt it out with the confidence of somebody who has mastered her instrument? Can you just let it rip without abandon?
Tucker: I would say it's almost more like being an athlete or something. You have to really warm up. You have to be really disciplined about it. If you're going to do it, if you're going to survive, you have to be more disciplined. Warmup is really important. Taking care of your body is really important when you're a singer because your body is your instrument. So I warm up before every show. I try to exercise every day, and try to eat right on the road, and try and wash my hands so I don't get sick (laughs), and you know, all those things. Because it is almost like being an athlete in the sense that you have to just really take care of yourself.
Alive: Was that regimen always in place, even in your early days?
Tucker: Oh, no. Oh, god, no. (laughs) I was like any other 20-year-old on tour, did every stupid thing. But I lost my voice a lot, and the show kind of suffered because of it. So you know, at certain points I did take voice lessons with an opera teacher. And she was like, "These are the things you need to do. This is what you need to work on. Here's how you can strengthen your body. This is how you can strengthen your diaphragm." I mean, I had sung in school, like in a choir, when I was young. But if you're going to sing professionally, you really need to be disciplined about it. So, you know, just little things like that have over the years helped me.
Alive: You guys released the record on Kill Rock Stars, which obviously you have a long history with. How does it feel to be working with them again after a little diversion to Sub Pop?
Tucker: It's good. It's nice to be on a label that you have such a long history with and you have a lot in common with, and there's so many other great artists on the label. So yeah, it's been really good.
Alive: Do you have the kind of relationship with them where you can be like, "Hey, I want to put out a record," and they'll trust you?
Tucker: I would say in this climate, in this musical climate, it's important not to take anything for granted. So I wouldn't take that for granted either. I'm just so grateful that we've worked together and that we're doing this right now, and that's great.
Alive: Does the setlist on this tour stay pretty consistent from night to night? Obviously you wouldn't want to reveal surprises, but can we expect any? Are you doing anything different from night to night or anything special?
Tucker: We do have fun covers that I will keep a bit of a surprise. And we do try to vary it. The setlist changes from night to night. We do try different things. We may try more songs from our first record on a certain night. It depends on what kind of show it is. That's the great thing about performing live is that it's live. Anything can happen. As a performer, you try to respond to that.
Alive: Is there anything I didn't ask you about that you think is important to talk about in advance of a show in Columbus?
Tucker: We are super excited about playing there, and we just want to remind people to vote. (laughs) Please vote!