- 22 May 19
When the guitarist from REM teams up with one of the songwriters from Sleater-Kinney, you have a match forged in indie-pop heaven. Filthy Friends’ singer Corin Tucker talks about collaborating with Peter Buck and what unites and divides #MeToo and the ’90s Riot Grrrl movement.
Shuddering, Corin Tucker casts her mind back to the bad old days. By this we mean that time – distant yet not quite as alien as it should be – when the music business got its jollies off objectifying and ridiculing women. She also remembers REM showing her, and the rest of the world, a better way.
“REM were pioneers,” says the singer, an indie-rock icon in her own right by dint of her work with the iconic trio Sleater-Kinney. “The music industry in the ’80s was horrible. You had heavy metal – the worst depiction of women ever. To a young woman growing up looking at that, it was really repulsive to me.” And then, at the height of Mötley Crüe, Guns N’ Roses etc, came REM – a rock band with all the machismo removed. It was revolutionary – and why Tucker is so thrilled to be continuing her collaboration with REM guitarist Peter Buck under the Filthy Friends moniker (they’re coming to Dublin and if you are a fan of either of their other bands you really need to be there).
“I clung to REM because they were very thoughtful and intellectual,” says Tucker. “A lot of their lyrics were about things that mattered. They presented themselves as artists and treated people with respect. I grew up in Oregon rather than California. But we were close enough to that [Sunset Strip] culture… the dominant culture that was very macho. The roles for women were really horrible. REM definitely opened some doors in terms of facing down gender stereotypes.”
She got to know Buck through REM touring guitarist Scott McCaughey. She and McCaughey live in Portland, Oregon and Buck spends a great deal of time in the city. Via McCaughey, Buck asked Tucker to sing on his 2013 solo record. Now they’re all in a band together.
Tucker herself played a significant part in the evolution of alternative rock with Sleater-Kinney. She brings all of her incendiary abilities to the second Filthy Friends album, Emerald Valley – a record that interrogates her hate/hate relationship with Donald Trump and her fears for the environment in her home state of Oregon.
“It has been such a rollercoaster of emotion,” she says of Trump, whom she skewers on single ’November Man’. “There have been times when I’ve been super-anxious or totally depressed. And there are moments you think, ‘I just can’t deal with this any more.’
“That is totally valid too. People are like, ‘I have to tune out… it’s too much.’ I totally get that. But as we get ready for 2020, there has been a change. People are a little more willing to talk about it.”
Her fears for Oregon are, if anything, more urgent than her Donald dread. Along with California, the state is at the sharp end of global warming. There have been hugely destructive wild-fires. And she worries about the disconnect she sees among foodies in the hipster mecca of Portland regarding the backbreaking migrant labour required to keep the middle classes in the manner to which they are accustomed.
“I grew up in [Oregon’s second largest city] Eugene. It’s such a beautiful place. The nature we have here is very special. Really unique. We are being affected by climate change. The wild fires we have had here are just outrageous. It is something we need to take a stand on.
“The region is also growing a lot. That is great. But I don’t think people always realise what is going on behind the scenes to make that happen… the migrant workers who come here and pick all that food for us. And how they are being treated. I don’t think we can stand by and drink our lattes and not say anything about what’s been going on.”
Sleater-Kinney, founded in 1994 in Olympia, Washington by Tucker, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, are too important a band to be identified with a specific music scene. They were however regarded as adjacent to the Riot Grrrl movement. Given that #MeToo has taken up any of the causes promulgated by Riot Grrrl, it feels reasonable to ask if she sees any differences between then and now.
“Riot Grrrl was our way of speaking out,” she says. “There was a lot of reaching across. It wasn’t as if the men we hung out with were unmoved by that. It was a little less about cancelling people, more about, ‘Hey, this is the problem… we need to work on this.’
“I went and saw the Beastie Boys Story [ a Spike Jonze -directed stage show in which the surviving Beasties look back at their career] in New York a couple of weeks ago. I gotta say it was pretty moving that they included their own mistakes [such as touring with dancing girls in cages]. They own up to it. They say, ‘This was a huge mistake, it was really sexist of us.’ That’s what we need to do. ‘People called you on that and you owned up to it. Let’s do something different next time.’”
Emerald Valley is out now. Filthy Friends play Button Factory, Dublin May 29.