PHOTO CREDIT: John Clark/Robert Paul Maxwell
Sleater-Kinney – Dig Me Out
I don’t think anyone was expecting…
the news to come through regarding Janet Weiss’ departure from Sleater-Kinney. She has been the band for twenty-four years and it has come as a mighty shock. Here, as Pitchfork explains, it is a big revelation:
“Janet Weiss has announced her departure from Sleater-Kinney. “The band is heading in a new direction and it is time for me to move on,” the drummer writes. Read her full note below. Weiss joined Sleater-Kinney in 1996, first appearing on the album Dig Me Out. She has played on every record since, including The Center Won’t Hold, their upcoming album produced by St. Vincent.
In a statement, Weiss’ bandmates responded to her announcement: “We thank her for joining us on this journey many years ago; we will always cherish our friendship and our time together.” Representatives for the band offered no further comment when reached by Pitchfork”.
I think Weiss has cited a new musical direction for her departure, but I am not sure what that means. Whether she is not keen on the current album or feels she has reached the end of the road, it is a big change for Sleater-Kinney. The new album, The Center Won’t Hold, is upcoming and, from what I have heard, it is going to be terrific. Perhaps there is a bit of St. Vincent in the album in terms of sound but I love the direction. It is hard to say what truly motivated Weiss to make that decision but I know the band will carry on and, with a new album to tour soon, they need to continue and stay strong.
IN THIS PHOTO: Sleater-Kinney today (including Janet Weiss, right)/PHOTO CREDIT: Charlie Engman
Thinking about Sleater-Kinney and their new album has got me considering their past and when they arrived in my life. I have heard all of the band’s albums but, if you want their classic album, then you need to investigate Dig Me Out. Released on 8th April, 1997, the music is slightly different to 1996’s Call the Doctor but a lot of the same ingredients remain: a general lack of bass, killer songs and something pretty immediate and raw. If Call the Doctor was motivated, in part, by a bad job guitarist Corin Tucker had, Dig Me Out is more about survival, heartache and determination. If you have not purchased Dig Me Out on vinyl then make sure you right that and let it play. It is a fantastic record and, like its predecessor, recorded fairly quickly and burrows in the brain instantly. Lora Macfarlane drums on Call the Doctor and Janet Weiss joined for Dig Me Out. Not that there is a radical difference but one can sense a new drumming style and influence emanating from the back. Alongside producer John Goodmanson, Sleater-Kinney recorded the album in eight days and, whilst that sounds pretty rapid, it was actually quite a luxury for a still-rising band without a huge budget. Dig Me Out is a harder, rockier affair than Call the Doctor. It digs deeper and Weiss’ Classic Rock/Pop influences come to the fore – she was inspired by bands such as The Kinks and The Beatles.
At once, Weiss was a key element and brought in new Blues and unique edges. It was a bit of an eye-opening appointment and, as such, Sleater-Kinney broadened their music and hit new peaks. There is a greater connection between vocals and guitars on Dig Me Out and, in so many ways, Sleater-Kinney realised what was possible with their sound. Heartache and revival runs right through the album. Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein talk about their struggles and lives in a very relatable and honest way. The fact Brownstein and Tucker were dating was a bit of surprise to many – the media didn’t exactly hold back when it came to invading privacy! Dig Me Out is a very real album where Tucker and Brownstein are conversing, battling and consoling one another. In a year when The Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy and Radiohead were ruling the scene, Sleater-Kinney provided something alternative; a Punk-Rock kick that spoke to so many people. Dig Me Out is considered one of the finest albums of the 1990s and, to many, it is Sleater-Kinney’s breakthrough and finest moment. Pitchfork, when looking at the band’s back catalogue, talked about Weiss’ arrival and how things changed for them:
“In practice, Sleater-Kinney were humble, imageless indie-rockers; in song, they demanded icon status. This streamlined set, Start Together, captures that dichotomy, archiving the Sleater-Kinney canon with care: from the ideological-punches of thirdwave feminism to their post-riot grrrl classic rock revisionism, all seven albums have been remastered and paired with a plainly gorgeous hardcover photobook, as well as the surprise of a reunion-launching 7" single. In all, Start Together tells the unlikely story of how this band carried the wildfire of '90s Oly-punk to pastures of more ambitious musicality—a decade that moves from caterwauling shrieks to glowing lyricism, from barebones snark to Zep-length improv, from personal-political to outright (left) political.
Then, behold: Janet Weiss. She joined on 1997's breakneck Dig Me Out, an all-time great American punk statement, giving Sleater-Kinney the most crucial muscle a drummer can offer: not sheer force, but heart, taking the momentum to a new plane. Sleater-Kinney released their next four records with the larger Olympia feminist label, Kill Rock Stars, but none distilled the band's sound and attitude like Dig Me Out: sometimes brutal heartache, sometimes a menacing threat, always intelligent and extreme, there are enough hooks architected into these two- and three-minute songs to span several albums, but even the added dum-de-dum sugar seems as though it must be raw Portland agave.
The highlight of Dig Me Out and Sleater-Kinney's career, "One More Hour" is one of the most devastating break-up songs in rock. "Oh, you've got the darkest eyes," Tucker and Brownstein quaver in unison—the song is about their own short-lived romance—and the way Tucker extends the last word, it is like she can't let them go. There are complex feelings near clear ones, which is what break-ups are: someone wants to untangle the mess, someone wants to snip it apart. "I needed it," Tucker howls, hardly distinguishing where one word ends and another begins. "One More Hour" is sublime sadness, a kind one can only know when staring at the end of something and wanting desperately for it not to be so”.
IN THIS PHOTO: Sleater-Kinney (circa 1997)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
It was not just the chemistry and connection between the band members that defined Dig Me Out: a lot of the darker and more harrowing moments stand out – as Diffuser noted in their review:
“Still, it’s the bleaker moments of Dig Me Out that garnered the most attention when it was released, and which still register today, like "The Drama You’ve Been Craving," with its breakneck pace, and the call and response of Tucker setting the scene and Brownstein providing the weary inner monologue. The chugging tandem guitar line that precedes the chorus amps up the tension that doesn’t break until after the second chorus, when Tucker shouts, "Kick it out, kick it in!"
The album still hits hard, even for those who made it.
"Any time I revisit Dig Me Out," said Brownstein recently, "I am struck by its velocity, how I feel almost trapped inside it. I think it's because the album sounds like it takes place in the middle of a much longer ache and scrawl, that there's a life before it and a life after it, that we captured not the launch or the landing but the trajectory itself. The trajectory of the band, of love, of escape, of rage.
"Maybe we were trying to provide a soundtrack," she continued, "both for ourselves and for anyone else who had little desire to go back to the places that haunted them; we'd stay aloft until we destroyed what held us back, or transformed what lay ahead".
PHOTO CREDIT: Anthony Pidgeon/Redferns
It is clear that Sleater-Kinney’s masterpiece was a breakthrough and you can hear so many elements in modern music. The band redefined what was possible for Punk-Rock and broke barriers; they tackled social assumptions and showed that they were not willing to compromise their ethics and beliefs; a rebellious and strong-willed band that provided inspirations for others coming through. To me, Dig Me Out was the introduction of this great band who were so different to anything out there. I was listening to female bands in 1997 but there was nothing as exciting and mind-opening as Sleater-Kinney. Everyone has their own reasons for loving Dig Me Out but, as musician and journalist Katie Harkin reported for CRACK, Sleater-Kinney were more than just music: they were a part of her fabric:
“Over time I have come to believe that, if you don’t see yourself reflected in the world, you can use popular culture as a kind of scaffolding. It’s especially true when you’re younger, while your identity is still emerging, and Sleater-Kinney were part of the scaffold that I built for myself as a teen. Now, a decade after first discovering them, I wondered about pulling the scaffold apart to try and look at it objectively, and to attempt to do justice to the opportunity I had been afforded. I wondered – if I started to dismantle the scaffolding, would the house would stay standing?
After the first show I played with Sleater-Kinney, I was genuinely speechless. I didn’t play every song, and the experience of switching between being in the show and watching the show felt like jumping on and off a moving freight train”.
Dig Me Out is an album that hits against the suffering women endure and asks for compassion. That sense of rage and anger is filtered into songs that are about survival and keeping going; a sense of betterment that cannot help but stir the senses. With Hurry on Home out in the ether, it seems like The Center Won’t Hold will wow critics and, with St. Vincent producing, new possibilities are coming out. Weiss’ departure casts a shadow - but I know Sleater-Kinney will continue regardless. Anyone who has heard Dig Me Out and subsequent albums featuring Janet Weiss realise how essential her presence is and how she transformed the band’s dynamic and sound. It is sad she has left but I wanted to feature (I think) Sleater-Kinney’s finest hour because it is a record that sounds amazing today. The band are going through transformation and I am not sure what lies ahead for them. The outpouring of shock on social media is understandable because so many people were reborn and understood when Dig Me Out was released – Janet Weiss was a key reason for that. It is a shame we will not get to hear her perform on future Sleater-Kinney albums but, for that reason, make sure you get The Centre Won’t Hold and experience Weiss’ magic for one last time. Sleater-Kinney’s Dig Me Out offered the music world something new and alive in 1997 and, twenty-two years later, they are still…
REWRITING the rulebook.