Corin Tucker’s Thrift-Town Rock

The Sleater-Kinney vocalist pens a recession-era solo record.

“You arethe third person that’s coached me today!” Corin Tucker tells me, speaking via phone from her Portland home. “I feel like I have a sign on my head that says ‘Please help me with my career!’ It’s hysterical!”

I’m asking the former Sleater-Kinney frontwoman and mother of two how she would define success for herself now that she has launched a new solo project, succinctly christened The Corin Tucker Band. Forged with help from former Unwound drummer Sara Lund and bassist Seth Lorinczi, the band’s debut, 1,000 Years, drops via Kill Rock Stars this week.

“It’s more of a picture of where I’m at right now and the kind of concerns that I have as a parent,” explains Tucker, whose son Marshall, 9, and daughter Glory, 2, have been her primary focus since Sleater-Kinney went on a self-described “indefinite hiatus” (see sidebar) four years ago. Tucker may have been out of the indie limelight for a spell, but today she’s just as aware of the motives behind her creativity as she was in her now-distant 20s. “I think there’s a weight to it that has to do with age and responsibility. But the music itself is still related to a lifelong love of rock and roll.”

In August 2006, after a 12-year career defined by progressively refined, guitar-driven punk rock with liberal feminist leanings, Sleater-Kinney played their final show at Portland’s Crystal Ballroom. Though the three members have not played together since, they deliberately left the door open.

“We all discussed it and said we really think we need a break. It wasn’t like ‘Oh, we’re breaking up, I’m never talking to you again’ at all,” she says. “We discussed it a lot. We agreed to play some final shows and tell people we were going on hiatus. We wanted those intense, passionate fans to be able to come and see us before we went on and did other things. I didn’t pick up a guitar for probably two years. I just needed a break, and I knew I wanted to have another child and that would probably involve being on bed rest, and that I just needed to let that happen.”

In early 2008, not long after Glory was born, Tucker wrote a couple of songs with Blue Giant, the Viva Voce side project led by Kevin and Anita Robinson, where she intersected with Lorinczi, who was also collaborating with the couple.

When the Olympia-based Kill Rock Stars label heard about Tucker performing with Blue Giant at a benefit show in Portland, they approached her about doing a solo record.

“I knew that Corin would come back to writing/playing music again,” Kill Rock Stars VP Maggie Vail said in an e-mail. “I just wanted to be a part of that whenever and however it manifested itself. Who knows how much influence us asking Corin about a solo project [had]; there’s always so many things that lead to those sorts of decisions. But I’m really, really happy it happened.”

Though Tucker was initially reluctant because of her maternal responsibilities, fellow parent Lorinczi encouraged her, and over the next six months they began writing the songs that would make up 1,000 Years. Thematically, much of the record reflects Tucker’s reaction to the recession’s effect on her immediate community, from close friends struggling to parents at the park trying to make ends meet. “It’s crazy. And these are people that have two kids to raise,” Tucker says. “Those kinds of real responsibilities and hardships aren’t something I’ve experienced, but I’ve been close to it, and that impacted the record.”

The song “Thrift Store Coat” in particular exemplifies this, taking root in Tucker’s psyche when she walked into a fund-raiser for her son’s school. “We have to raise money for the schools because the Portland school system is in such poor shape financially,” she explains. “So we have these ridiculous auctions where people put tons of money on their credit cards and act like they can afford it. I remember going into this benefit and literally every single coat was thrift-store, and it was like ‘Oh my god, we’re all so broke!’ It was so ‘shabby chic,’ but it was clear everyone’s just barely hanging in there, financially.”

Sonically, 1,000 Years is a fascinating deconstruction of Tucker’s artistic origins. While the her signature wail is restrained for the most part—save for thoughtful appearances on “Doubt” and “Riley”—its unearthly power is still present in a subtler capacity. A graceful sense of muscle drives downright sensual tracks like “Handed Love”; a subdued sweetness softens the opening of “Pulling Pieces,” yet shifts seamlessly to an impassioned lilt as the song progresses. The guitars sound more familiar; Tucker’s angular, articulate approach to her instrument remains instantly salient, if logically recalibrated in volume.

As for that career guidance we were discussing, Tucker is pragmatic. “I guess I would just love to have a music career, although that seems like almost an oxymoron right now. It’s just not a good time to be a musician. I’m trying to just enjoy the moment right now.”