Every Wednesday, Douglas Wolk explores the people, places and coincidences that tie disparate musicians together.
One of the surprising things about the Corin Tucker Band, whose second album, Kill My Blues, came out this week, is that it’s the first context in a long time in which Tucker’s genuinely been a frontwoman. Tucker’s best known, of course, as one of Sleater-Kinney‘s two singer-guitarists — the one with the blow-down-the-walls voice. But Sleater-Kinney built its sound around the idea that songs could be a constantly shifting conversation, initially between her and Carrie Brownstein and later between the two of them and drummer Janet Weiss. The Corin Tucker Band’s name makes it clear who’s in the spotlight. Here’s the video for “Neskowin,” which debuted on NPR yesterday:
Still, the CTB isn’t exactly a star-plus-pickup band affair. The songs on Kill My Blues were co-written by the entire group, and all four of the current members have a long history in underground rock, with pedigrees stretching back as much as a quarter of a century. The earliest roots of the Corin Tucker Band were in 1986 or so, when their bassist Seth Lorinczi’s first band, the Vile Cherubs, briefly blazed across Washington, D.C.’s garage-rock scene. Here’s their best-remembered song, “The Man With the Photograph.”
Tucker formed her own first band, Heavens to Betsy, in 1991, when she and drummer Tracy Sawyer were undergraduates at Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. Here’s some rough but ferocious live footage of the duo playing “The Ones” sometime around 1992 or 1993.
Olympia’s been spawning jagged-edged rock bands for 30 years or so, but the early ’90s were a particularly lively time there. In 1992, the Olympia- and Tumwater-based art-punk trio Unwound completed their classic lineup with drummer Sara Lund, who’d play with them for the next decade (and is now in Tucker’s band). There are plenty of live videos of Unwound in circulation that show off Lund’s full-throttle attack, but here’s the animated video for their 2001 song “Scarlette.”
Meanwhile, back on the East Coast in the early ’90s, Lorinczi had joined Circus Lupus, a post-hardcore group that had formed in Madison, Wisconsin, but then relocated to Washington. Their 1993 single “Pop Man” was produced by Joan Jett, who also sang background vocals on it.
By 1994, Tucker had formed Sleater-Kinney with Carrie Brownstein, who’d been playing in another Olympia band, Excuse 17. Sleater-Kinney don’t need much of an introduction at this point, but here’s their 2000 video for “You’re No Rock n’ Roll Fun.”
One of the immutable laws of Pacific Northwest bands is that nobody can be in just one. Over the years, Tucker has also played in a handful of other projects, notably Cadallaca, a late-’90s collaboration with singer/songwriter/keyboardist Sarah Dougher and a drummer known as sts. They were filmed performing this version of “Your One Wish” in 1998.
The other two laws of Pacific Northwest bands are that every musician plays everything and no band ever breaks up for good. In the mid-’90s, Mike Clark — now the bassist for the Corin Tucker Band — became the longest-lasting drummer (there were many others) for a very silly garage-rock group called the Surf Maggots. They broke up in 1997, but reunited earlier this year for a show at Reed College, including this performance of their anthem “Hello God, It’s Me, Maggot.”
Clark also had a long stint as a guitarist in the Portland, Oregon power-pop band the No-No’s. In 2000, they made this hazy but spirited video for “Bigger and Bigger.”
In the mid-’90s, Circus Lupus mutated into the trio Antimony; at some point after they broke up, Seth Lorinczi relocated from the D.C. area to San Francisco. Jen Smith, Julianna Bright (who played on the first Corin Tucker Band album) and Lorinczi formed the Quails there, and released three terrific, too-little-heard albums. Here’s a pair of songs, “Power” and “This Is a Cold War,” from a 2003 live gig.
Lorinczi and Bright moved to Portland in the mid-’00s, and debuted their duo the Golden Bears in 2006. They’ve continued to play under that name ever since–this Melody Owen-directed video for their heart-on-sleeve pop song “We” was released just a few weeks ago.
Portland is also the home to Stephen Malkmus‘s band the Jicks, in which the CTB’s Mike Clark has been playing guitar and keyboards for the past decade. (Sleater-Kinney’s Janet Weiss played drums with them for a few years, too.) Clark appears briefly in Malkmus and the Jicks’ video for “Senator,” from last year — and yes, that is Jack Black in a prominent role.
Sara Lund has been a Portlander for a long time, too; she also has another band these days, Hungry Ghost, whose first video, “Epic Sadness,” debuted a couple of weeks ago. If the opening moments of the song don’t seem particularly close to the punk rock lineage that’s led up to the Corin Tucker Band as we know it, just wait about 30 seconds until Lund makes her appearance.