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Sleater-Kinney Are Embracing Whatever Comes Next

Sleater-Kinney

Photo courtesy of Mom + Pop 

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Sleater-Kinney Are Embracing Whatever Comes Next

One week out from releasing their ninth studio album, 'The Center Won't Hold,' the punk torchbearers talk about their latest project, being in the studio with St. Vincent, losing drummer Janet Weiss and why we need to tell older women's stories

GRAMMYs/Aug 8, 2019 - 06:57 pm

When Yeats famously wrote, "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold," he was specifically referring to the chaos of post-WWI Europe, but with daily mass shootings, white nationalism on the rise and a president who has been accused of sexual misconduct by at least 22 women, it's a sentiment that, sadly, feels particularly relevant to 2019.

It makes sense, then, that The Center Won't Hold, Sleater-Kinney's first album of the Trump presidency (out Aug. 16 via Mom + Pop)—their follow-up to their 2015 comeback, No Cities To Love—would be rooted in that tumultuousness. But to assume that it's all despair is an oversimplification.

"It's not really the job of the songwriter or the artist to make sweeping statements that are a summation of phenomena or moments but to grapple with opposing or contradictory truths or multiple ideas or multitudes, and I think that this record is an exploration of a time of chaos, a time of brokenness, fragility, and it acknowledges that within that sort of mode of despondency that there are glimmers that feel hopeful that I think we speak to—collaboration and community and friendship as the fulcrum for resistance," Carrie Brownstein tells the Recording Academy over the phone. "I think if anything it speaks to the idea that many people right now have to withstand various forms of trespass and discrimination and trauma, and it's kind of seeking like how do we do that, and what are the moments in that journey where there is an allowance for happiness. And so it veers into happiness and hopefulness at times, but I wouldn't say that overall it's a hopeful record.

"I think it's a contemplative record, it's a very personal record, and I think we always hope to connect to people and for people to feel seen and heard by our music, but I think we'd rather share all of the feelings than just 'here's one,' you know?" she continues. "I think we're not afraid to have there be moments of discomfort or anger or sadness, but the counter to that is there are instances of levity. So is it hopeful? Maybe not. But I think connection is a form of hope."

Those contradictory truths can be heard throughout the album, perhaps most obviously on the deceptively catchy "Can I Go On," which juxtaposes its danceable melody with grim lyrics from a narrator who admits that "maybe I'm not sure I wanna go on at all," and, as Brownstein puts it, is "kind of stunned by the ways people feel necessary to sort of perform outward modes of joy when really inside they feel awful." In addition to that variety of moods and feelings, The Center Won't Hold features an expanded sonic palette from the band, thanks in part to their decision to have St. Vincent (also known as Annie Clark) produce the record.

"I think that we originally had thought that we might work with more than one producer on the album to kind of break it up a little bit and do something really different, but we've all known Annie for a long time and are friends with her, and she offered to go into the studio with us and try producing, and so it was really on a kind of 'let's see how this goes' basis that we went into the studio with Annie," Corin Tucker says. "In the summer of 2018, we just had a few days and we were gonna get a few songs done, but she was so full of ideas and energy and so productive that we were kind of blown away with how it sounded, and we were definitely like, 'Oh, we should make the whole record with Annie.'"

"After No Cities, I think we felt a sense of accomplishment in setting out what we'd hoped to do, which was to return to playing music in a way that wasn't nostalgia-based or playing into any sort of sentimentality, but that we knew there was sort of this next chapter of the band and that we wanted to focus on new music and moving forward," Brownstein adds.

Of course, it's impossible to talk about next chapters for Sleater-Kinney without addressing the recent, unexpected departure of Janet Weiss. After 23 years with the band, the drummer took to social media on July 1 to announce that "the band is moving in a new direction and it is time for me to move on," shocking fans and leading to speculation over why she left. (Two days before we speak, Brownstein responds to a fan's joke about Weiss leaving on Instagram, writing, "What am I supposed to say? She left. We asked her to stay. We tried. It’s hard and sad. Most people would ask me, 'hey are you ok?' That’s the human response.")

"I think the conversation has shifted," she explains. "I think obviously people feel a real connection with this band, and I think originally [the fan response] was sort of the same way we felt, which was surprise and sadness and questions, but I think with time there's a more holistic response, which is to realize that a band is a relationship, and relationships change over time, and it's just as hard if not harder for Corin and I to lose a collaborator. It's just as hard for us as it is for the fans. And I think Corin and I feel very strongly that we have an obligation to our fans, and also it's a privilege to get to keep playing and keep going. I think all that stuff becomes part of a bigger conversation about change and transformation and art, and I like those bigger conversations. I think those are interesting. I think some of the more knee-jerk, very reactionary kind of comments are less useful, and I think with more time people start to realize like, 'Oh, almost nothing upon which we rely has been static, and change and evolution are kind of the only things that we can count on, and bands are no different.'"

"And even though this was not what we wanted, obviously we wanted Janet to stay, she didn't feel like it was something she wanted to do anymore," she adds. "So we have to respect that and we have to embrace whatever comes next. And also, her playing on this record is amazing and I'm really, really excited for people to hear it. We all worked really hard on it."

For all the changes, The Center Won't Hold is still very much a Sleater-Kinney record—bold and feminist and unrelenting. It ends with a gut-punch, the piano ballad "Broken," where Tucker sings, "Me, me too / My body cried out," inspired in part by the #MeToo movement and the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford. It's a bleak way to leave listeners, but it's an important one.

"Even though we're one of the first all-female bands to be at this precipice, I hope we're not the last."

"We wrestled with the sequencing of the album a lot," Tucker says. "And you know, I think we thought about that and I think we really gave ourselves permission to just be on this album and not have to be optimistic in every song or present like a solution to any of our problems. This album is much more about just noticing where we're at and speaking out and commenting on it and speaking our feelings without any kind of prescription of how we're going to make it better. I feel like that was a really freeing sensibility in terms of writing. We were just gonna write for ourselves, first and foremost...I think that in this cultural moment it's hard not to feel reduced by the kind of language around women and around people of color. It's hard not to feel constricted and reduced and silenced by that, and the band has always been a place of exploration of self and a place to expand identity and to explore that, and so I think that this album, the writing process was a really natural place to do that in."

Ultimately, that place to explore and expand and connect with listeners who may be experiencing similar things in their own lives is essential—and it's why, after 25 years, Brownstein and Tucker have no intentions of stopping.

"I think that it's so important to have a multitude of stories in the world, and I'm so grateful to hear younger women's stories and stories by young people in general. But I think in music, especially within more heavy rock vernacular, there's sort of less stories being told by older women," Brownstein says. "And I just want that spectrum to exist. So I also hope, you know, even though we're one of the first all-female bands to be at this precipice, I hope we're not the last. Because I feel like what's wonderful about music is that you get a sense of life from beginning to end, but you need those voices from the middle. You need those voices from the later years to really understand the whole human experience. So I'm glad that we're putting something out in the world that's a very honest assessment of bodies and life and growth in a slightly later stage."

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Sleater-Kinney Drop Album Release Date, Share New Song & More Tour Dates

Sleater-Kinney 

Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for The New Yorker

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Sleater-Kinney Drop Album Release Date, Share New Song & More Tour Dates

Their latest song from the St. Vincent-produced 'The Center Won't Hold' touches on the isolation that can come from a technology-driven culture

GRAMMYs/Jun 15, 2019 - 12:17 am

Indie-rock band Sleater-Kinney have dropped a release date for their much-awaited 10th album, The Center Won't Hold. They've also released a new song: "The Future Is Here."

The Center Won't Hold is out Aug. 16, but fans can pre-order now. The band first confirmed the new album, which is being produced by GRAMMY winner St. Vincent, in January. The album is their first since 2015's No Cities To Love.

"'The Future Is Here' touches on the isolation that can come from a technology-driven culture. "I start my day on a tiny screen/ Try to connect the words, they're right in front of me/ I walk to work out on the city streets/ No one speaks to me, their stony faces beat," lead vocalist Corin Tucker sings. 

The trio also announced a European tour that will have stops in Germany, France as well as the U.K., and additional North American tour dates in Chicago, Oakland, Calif., Portland and Seattle. 

For more information on the album and tour dates, visit the band's website.

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Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

Joan as Police Woman

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Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors

GRAMMYs/Apr 7, 2020 - 07:21 pm

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors. Today, singer/songwriter Joan Wasser of Joan as Police Woman, whose forthcoming covers album, COVER TWO, includes tracks by The Strokes, Prince, Talk Talk, and more, shares her Quarantine Diary.

Thursday, April 2

[10 a.m.-12 p.m.] Went to bed at 4 a.m. last night after getting drawn into working on a song. Put on the kettle to make hot coffee while enjoying an iced coffee I made the day before. Double coffee is my jam. Read the news, which does not do much for my mood. Catch up with a few friends, which does a lot of good for my mood. Glad it goes in this order.

[12 p.m.-2 p.m.] Make steel cut oats with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, fresh ginger, fresh turmeric, a sprinkling of cinnamon and cardamom, and of course, coconut butter to melt on top. If you’re not into coconut butter (sometimes marketed as coconut "manna"), I’d suggest just going for it and getting it (or ordering it) and putting it on your sweet potatoes, your oats, anywhere you’d put butter. I’m not vegan but I do enjoy hearing the tiny scream uttered by a strawberry as I cut into it. 

Contemplate some yoga. Contamplate meditating. Do neither. Resume work on the song I want to finish and send today. I have a home studio and I spend a lot of my time working on music here. The song is a collboration sent to me from Rodrigo D’Erasmo in Milano that will benefit the folks who work behind the scenes in the music touring system in Italy. 

[2 p.m.-4 p.m.] I traded in a guitar for a baritone guitar right before all this craziness hit but hadn’t had the time to get it out until now. I put on some D’Angelo, plugged into my amp and played along as if I were in his band. Micahel Archer, If you’re reading this, I hope you are safe and sound and thank you immensely for all the music you've given us always. 

[4 p.m.-6 p.m.] Bike repair shops have been deemed "necessary," thank goodness, because biking is the primary way I get around and I need a small repair. I hit up my neighborhood shop and they get my bike in and out in 10 minutes, enough time to feel the sun for a moment. 

I ride fast and hard down to the water's edge and take in a view of the East River from Brooklyn. There are a few people out getting their de-stress walks but it is mostly deserted on the usually packed streets.

[6 p.m.-8 p.m.] Practice Bach piano invention no. 4 in Dm very, very, very slowly. I never studied piano but I’m trying to hone some skills. Realize I’m ravenous. Eat chicken stew with wild mushrooms I made in the slow cooker yesterday. It’s always better the second day.

[8 p.m.-10 p.m.] Get on a zoom chat with a bunch of women friends on both coasts. We basically shoot the sh*t and make each other laugh. 

Afterwards I still feel like I ate a school bus so I give into yoga. I feel great afterwards. This photo proves I have a foot. 

[10 p.m.-12 a.m.] Record a podcast for Stereo Embers in anticipation of my new release on May 1, a second record of covers, inventively named COVER TWO. Continue to work on music (it’s a theme).

[12 a.m.-2 p.m.] Tell myself I should think about bed. Ignore myself and confinue to work on music. 

[2 a.m.-4 a.m.] Force myself into bed where I have many books to choose from. This is what I’m reading presently, depending on my mood. Finally I listen to Nick Hakim’s new song, "Qadir," and am taken by its beauty and grace. Good night. 

If you wish to support our efforts to assist music professionals in need, learn more about the Recording Academy's and MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.

If you are a member of the music industry in need of assistance, visit the MusiCares website

Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"

Hero The Band perform at the Recording Academy Atlanta Chapter Annual Membership Celebration
Photo: Marcus Ingram/WireImage

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Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"

How sound planning for a creative future in our urban areas makes all the difference for artists and musicians

GRAMMYs/Oct 24, 2019 - 01:27 am

The future, as they say, is now. And for music makers around the world, building a future for themselves often starts at home, in their local creative community and in the city where they live. While technology has expanded communication and made the world smaller, cities continue to grow, making planning for the future a critical cultural mission of the present.

To that end, a new report by global organization Sound Diplomacy titled "This Must Be The Place" examines, "The role of music and cultural infrastructure in creating better future cities for all of us." The 37-page deep dive into community planning and development highlights the importance of creative culture in what it calls "Future Cities."

"The government defines ‘Future Cities’ as 'a term used to imagine what cities themselves will be like," the report states, "how they will operate, what systems will orchestrate them and how they will relate to their stakeholders (citizens, governments, businesses, investors, and others),'"

According to the report, only three global cities or states currently have cultural infrastructure plans: London, Amsterdam and New South Wales. This fact may be surprising considering how city planning and sustainability have become part of the discussion on development of urban areas, where the UN estimates 68 percent of people will live by 2050.

"Our future places must look at music and culture ecologically. Much like the way a building is an ecosystem, so is a community of creators, makers, consumers and disseminators," the report says. "The manner in which we understand how to maintain a building is not translated to protecting, preserving and promoting music and culture in communities."

The comparison and interaction between the intangibility of culture and the presence of physical space is an ongoing theme throughout the report. For instance, one section of the report outlines how buildings can and should be designed to fit the cultural needs of the neighborhoods they populate, as too often, use of a commercial space is considered during the leasing process, not the construction process, leading to costly renovations.

"All future cities are creative cities. All future cities are music cities."

On the residential side, as cities grow denser, the need increases for thoughtful acoustic design and sufficient sound isolation. Future cities can and should be places where people congregate

"If we don’t design and build our future cities to facilitate and welcome music and experience, we lose what makes them worth living in."

For musicians and artists of all mediums, the answer to making—and keeping—their cities worth living in boils down to considering their needs, impact and value more carefully and sooner in the planning process.

"The report argues that property is no longer an asset business, but one built on facilitating platforms for congregation, community and cohesion," it says. "By using music and culture at the beginning of the development process and incorporating it across the value chain from bid to design, meanwhile to construction, activation to commercialisation, this thinking and practice will result in better places."

The report offers examples of how planners and leaders are handling this from around the world. For instance, the Mayor Of London Night Czar, who helps ensure safety and nighttime infrastructure for venues toward the Mayor's Vision for London as a 24-hour city. Stateside, Pittsburgh, Penn., also has a Night Mayor in place to support and inform the growth of its creative class.

Diversity, inclusion, health and well-being also factor into the reports comprehensive look at how music and culture are every bit as important as conventional business, ergonomic and environmental considerations in Future Cites. Using the Queensland Chamber of Arts and Culture as a reference, it declared, "A Chamber of Culture is as important as a Chamber of Commerce."

In the end, the report serves as a beacon of light for governments, organizations, businesses and individuals involved in planning and developing future cities. Its core principals lay out guideposts for building friendly places to music and culture and are backed with case studies and recommendations. But perhaps the key to this progress is in changing how we approach the use of space itself, as the answer to supporting music may be found in how we look at the spaces we inhabit.

"To develop better cities, towns and places, we must alter the way we think about development, and place music and culture alongside design, viability, construction and customer experience," it says. "Buildings must be treated as platforms, not assets. We must explore mixed‑use within mixed‑use, so a floor of a building, or a lesser‑value ground floor unit can have multiple solutions for multiple communities."

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