Little Rope

Little Rope

In the video for Sleater-Kinney’s “Untidy Creature,” freediver Amber Bourke spends two and a half minutes on her back, eyes closed, holding her breath under the water of a full bathtub. That peaceful-seeming setup, juxtaposed with Bourke's re-oxygenating gasps, is an apt metaphor for the tension, anxiety, vulnerability, and catharsis that characterize the Portland, Oregon, band’s 11th LP (and second as a duo following the departure of longtime drummer Janet Weiss), Little Rope. “The album is playing with ideas and feelings and sentiments that could be either or both,” guitarist/vocalist Carrie Brownstein, one half of the duo alongside vocalist/guitarist Corin Tucker, tells Apple Music. “So a little rope could signify the darkest moment for someone, a desire to end it all, but it could also conversely be the thing that someone throws to you to rescue you, to pull you from the muck and the mud.” Over the last couple of years, Sleater-Kinney has experienced a lot more than just muck and mud. In late 2022, just as the band had started writing the album, Brownstein's mother and stepfather died in a car accident while traveling overseas. “There was a sense of fragility and also disorientation,” Brownstein says of that time. “So the act of playing guitar, I understood that ritual. I knew what to do with my hands. So Corin brought me songs instead of baking cakes or bringing me food. Part of it was just tending to this world that we have spent nearly three decades building—and songs were something that were still very much alive. And because the stakes felt higher, I just wanted every song to be perfect.” Here Brownstein and Tucker explain how they made that happen. “Hell” Corin Tucker: “This song really came about organically when I was in a record store listening to music in LA. It was one of those moments where the lyrics just started coming to me and the emotion of feeling like I was having this revelation about what we normalize in our society, the way that we normalize violence, the way that we have accommodated it. It's supposed to be a moment of shock of waking up to that and realizing it in that moment.” “Needlessly Wild” Carrie Brownstein: “I've always been a scrappy, irascible person, and I think this song reckons with outsize emotions that no longer feel sanctioned and that feeling of continual clumsiness, or confusion, or almost being feral. I kept wanting to change the lyrics from the demo version, which said 'needlessly wild' over and over again. But Corin and John Congleton, our producer, liked it better when it was more lyrically austere. And I finally realized that the repetition was the song—that the whole point was that there wasn't an escape route, and that we're not going to find a different end to this repetitive line, just like we can't write alternative endings for things that we don't want or like the outcomes to.” “Say It Like You Mean It” CT: “This song is about when you realize that your time with the people you care about the most, it will come to an end, and you may not know exactly when that's going to be or how it's going to take shape, but you definitely will be saying goodbye. And it's about the wide range of emotions that come with that: acceptance, the tender feelings, and also a feeling of frustration and even anger in the imperfection of the intimacy that we have together during the time that we have.” “Hunt You Down” CB: “I was listening to a podcast that featured an interview with a poet, an undertaker named Thomas Lynch. And he was talking about a meeting he had with a father as they were planning the burial of this man's child, and the father said to Thomas Lynch, 'The thing you fear the most will hunt you down.' It was such a striking and devastating line, and it had such an axiomatic quality to it. It is just the truth. This sounds very depressing, but the music of the song—the rhythm, the vocal melody—it's catchy. The more you sing something—even if there's pain or sadness in the lyrics—when you put that over something that actually buoys you, it can change the meaning of what that is until there's freedom in letting go of that great fear.” “Small Finds” CT: “When we started playing this song, it was just kind of like a jam on guitar. It’s a weird song. It definitely comes from our love of discordant guitar—bands like Television and Sonic Youth—and music that has some real grit to it. And then the fun of it is making a puzzle that works as a song. With the lyrics and the vocals, I wanted to do something that gave it a bit of swing into a catchier song, so that it had a story to it that wasn't just bits and pieces. So the character in it is a dog, and it's about taking away all of that cerebral angst that we live with every day, and we worry about things and getting into our bodies and thinking about, ‘Well, what is meaningful in the everyday life? What is some joy I can seek out?’” “Don't Feel Right” CB: “This is that duality between dark and light. To me, when I was writing it, we needed a fast song. I like songs that feel like songs you drive around to. It's such a classic way of listening to music. And I wanted a song that you could sit inside and go on a journey with, musically. It has that repeating riff and this just constant drive to it. When we sing the chorus, it really conjures Tom Petty to me, who I think is very good at taking heartbreak and heartache and turning it into something melodious.” “Six Mistakes” CT: “I think it was something that we were messing around with sonically to have it be like a New Wave or Devo song. But as we got into the studio with the rest of the songs and the emotion and the rawness of everything, it took it to this very heightened level, where it's a song about feeling outside of being loved, and outside of being seen. So it's almost a character of a woman who can't understand why people can't see her. That's something that I think comes up on this record a lot: aging and feeling like a woman—your identity really changes over time, and taking back your power with that and playing with it.” “Crusader” CB: “There's a handful of methodologies with which we work, and one is just Corin and I still sitting in a room together playing guitar, and you can hear that on this song or 'Small Finds,' just that very fundamental, central Sleater-Kinney quality of intertwining, angular guitar lines. Thematically this song zooms out a little bit, surveys the landscape, grappling with this harsh reality that's sometimes unimaginable and that's grown dire. And just the idea that someone's very existence is a threat to someone else, and the trespasses on bodily autonomy. I think the song imagines that instead of shrinking, you grow to possess something grander and brighter. It's a little bit of a hype song in the middle of a broader narrative—of this album that is about resistance and grappling with smallness and self-effacement.” “Dress Yourself” CB: “This song speaks to the modern-day predicament of somehow getting out of bed and getting ourselves prepared for the day, despite all of the existential threats. It's almost shocking what great pretenders we all are, and the normalcy and steadiness that we can project out into the world. It's a rallying cry for those of us who can't believe we're upright every day.” “Untidy Creature” CT: “This one’s meant to be a very personal story about feeling trapped in a relationship, but it's also meant to look out as a window on what women are going through in this country in the past couple of years, losing our bodily autonomy, losing our sense of being able to control our own destiny. And so it's meant to mirror the personal and the broader world at the same time.”

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