Coming straight off the bat with the release of a new record, 2015’s critically acclaimed No Cities to Love, the band has toured relentlessly since, honing and sharpening their live performance and band chemistry. The band’s recently released Live in Paris album captures an early show on the tour in 2015, harnessing the raw energy and essence of one of America’s most important rock bands.
The band has come to the end of their almost non-stop two year tour, culminating in several select shows in response to the current US political situation. “The tour is pretty much done, we played a Planned Parenthood benefit after the women’s march here which was amazing,” says drummer Janet Weiss. “It’s a pretty crazy time here in America. We’re all reeling and trying to figure out what we can do as musicians to resist these awful executive orders and religious persecution and all the things we are opposed to.” Acknowledging the power of life and personal outlook influencing art, Weiss continues, “I feel like the best music expresses the lives of the musicians, so I can’t see how this political climate could be subtractive from any art people are making. Whether it’s explicit and direct or indirect, we are all under a great deal of stress and tension from the way politics has turned. I can image that will absolutely in one way or another be making its way into our music. I’m hopeful that notions of resistance and notions of empowerment are going to be stronger than ever.”
Jumping back into Sleater-Kinney and focusing on arguably more socially conscious lyrics and themes than in previous bands Wild Flag and Quasi, Weiss explains the mental approach to the new album and reunion as paramount. “I think we had been away from that reactionary creative process for so long that we were interested in examining what is happening now and what it is and what it can be. That was our challenge and that really drove us and pushed the music and made us dig deeper and work harder on our parts and arrangements and lyrics. We did not stop until we felt we’d reached a level that did justice to the band.
“I hate to call it a reunion album because it makes it sound lame and outdated, but for me the pressure to make it really great is what motivated us to take it to the next level. We were really hard on ourselves and pushed it to not have any weak spots or holes. It’s like dropping a bomb and letting it explode. It really doesn’t let up. There was definitely an intention to say something in a direct way and to try some new things as well. We first and foremost have to be engaged. But it wasn’t all sunshine and daisies, there was a lot of ‘that’s not good enough, we have to do better.’ ”
Deciding to release a live album has historically been a bold move. Not only does the band’s live performance have to be air-tight, but effectively capturing and mixing the sonic representation of the urgency and immediacy of a live performance is crucial. “We record all our shows. The whole tour had a feeling like it was going to be something momentous, with such a great crowd with not only all the new fans bringing a great energy, plus all our old fans – who are our greatest fans – who made us feel so welcome. We thought, ‘Hey let’s do a live album from this tour.’ The shows went off and felt incredible and that Paris show really stood out to us,” Weiss says.
With a back catalogue of eight full length albums, curating a fitting and flowing set is a balancing act that Weiss believes must be taken seriously. “I take a special interest in setlists. When we practice for a tour we’ll discuss which older songs will fit in with our newer songs. Songs from The Woods really cohabitate well with the No Cities songs on this tour, which is great.
“Every time I go and see a band I’ll always comment on their setlist about whether I thought it was great or whether it was terrible and what I think they should have done”
By Joe Hansen