Punk Rock Grrls

When Kathleen Hanna screamed, "Don't need your dick to fuck!" on Bikini Kill's first album, she defined the burgeoning riot-grrl movement in one blunt lyric. It was 1990, and a network of punk rock "grrls" in Olympia, Washington, had formed bands to rail against male domination in the punk scene and society as a whole, confronting in underground fanzines and punk shows issues like childhood sexual abuse, rape and abortion rights.

By 1992, riot-grrl punk had snagged the attention of the mainstream media. CNN broadcast images of grrls with "SLUT" and "RAPE" painted across their stomachs, USA Today sneaked into the Riot Grrl Convention in Washington, D.C., and ABC news producers, frustrated by vain attempts to crack open the insular scene, attempted to pay off riot grrl-ies to report a news special on the movement.

Most of the stories portrayed riot grrls as naive, baby-doll radicals who lacked the talent to match their strident ideology. The grrls responded with a media blackout and slipped back to the underground. The media refused to relinquish their new favorite buzz phrase and slapped it on everyone from Courtney Love (who dissed the movement as immature) to Gwen Stefani. Last year, New Times music editor David Holthouse, who knows better, even put chick rockers L7 in the riot-grrl category.

Out of the spotlight, the grrls were left to grow up and refine both their politics and songwriting talents. Last year, Bikini Kill released its most accomplished album (Reject All American). Other formative riot grrls left their original bands for new ones--Bratmobile's Allison now fronts Cold Cold Hearts. Molly from Bratmobile drums for the Peechees, and Heavens to Betsy's Corin Tucker is now the lead vocalist and guitarist for Sleater-Kinney.

Last year, Sleater-Kinney, comprising guitarists Tucker and Carrie Brownstein (of Northwest punksters Excuse 17) and drummer Lora MacFarlane (of Australia's Sea Hags) released a benchmark album for riot grrls' newfound maturity: Call the Doctor. That album, released on Donna Dresch's (of queer-core mainstay Team Dresch) Chainsaw label, drew critical acclaim from both the mainstream and underground media for its raw vulnerability and evolutionary punk sound. Sleater-Kinney members resigned themselves to interviews and became the media darlings of post-riot-grrl femi-rock, making the Top 10 of '96 lists in several major magazines.

Last December, former lovers Carrie and Corin went into the studio again, this time with Janet Weiss of Quasi on the drum set, to record Dig Me Out, their first recording for Kill Rock Stars. Dig Me Out is the definitive document of three young women rocking out--the songs are about rock 'n' roll ("Words and Guitar"), love ("Heart Factory"), breakups ("One More Hour") and all the confusion in between. The songwriting chemistry between Carrie and Corin, as well as the interplay between Carrie's background screaming and Corin's quavering voice, is the critical element that should make Sleater-Kinney the buzz band of the late '90s.

Although the band has no plans to go major on us, it has one hell of a publicity grrl, and you can bet on seeing S-K everywhere soon. Revolver tried to get a jump on the rest of the vultures in a recent interview with Carrie Brownstein, but the frenzy was already under way. By print time, Rolling Stone had scooped us by an issue.

Revolver: So how is it, being the next big thing?
Carrie Brownstein: It's getting pretty old. This is my sixth interview today, actually. I hope we have more staying power than the "next big thing," 'cause the "next has-been" comes right after that.

R: Was turning media-friendly a calculated move?
CB: Well, we wanted to reach a wider audience because I think the music we write is transcendent of any specific genre or age group or gender or whatever. So we had to make compromises, and open ourselves up to doing interviews with the big magazines. It's a little strange seeing myself in Rolling Stone, though.

R: Let's talk about Dig Me Out. What's your perspective on the first album versus the second?

CB: I think Call the Doctor was very desperate and out of control. It's energetic and powerful, but the intensity came from a darker place. Dig Me Out is a much more celebratory album. The energy is a lot lighter, but I also think it's equally political and powerful in terms of what we're writing about--desire and about wanting. I think it's important for women to write about that, 'cause traditionally we're taught to suppress those things, not to have those desires. Musically, I think we've gotten much better and our songwriting is better. Corin and I speak a very similar musical language, so we find it easy to co-write, but I think we put a lot more thought into how we wanted to shape the songs on this album. We've tried to make our songs more metaphoric and channel them through different filters, so hopefully anyone of any gender can hear a song and apply it to her life or be affected by it. It's important for us to be empowering to other women especially, but we don't really have one specific agenda.

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