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It’s inevitable: After the heartbreaking breakup (in this case, veteran indie rockers Sleater-Kinney) comes the supergroup, featuring members of the defunct band. In the case of Wild Flag, the group features Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss alongside Mary Timony (of the Mary Timony Band) and Rebecca Cole. This is a very good thing.
First, a bit of history: Sleater-Kinney were birthed from the Olympia, Washington-based riot grrl movement in 1994. Known for their landmark ’90s and ’00s albums such as Call the Doctor and One Beat, they transcended stereotypes and scenes on the strength of Brownstein’s furiously intricate guitar work, Weiss’s centered drumming and Corin Tucker’s inimitable wail. In 2006, after the band channeled their forces into the Led Zeppelin blast of their arguably best album, The Woods, Sleater-Kinney broke up. Rumor has it Tucker wanted to spend more time raising her child.
Now, four years later, Brownstein has gathered a new band with Weiss (who also drums for indie rockers Quasi and Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks) and Timony, who gained notoriety in the mid-’90s spinning out sexy, dangerous tunes in Helium. Helium’s 1995 album, The Dirt of Luck, appeared on year-end best album lists, and videos such as “Pat’s Trick” were seen on Beavis & Butt-Head—truly the sign of ’90s cult stardom. Add Cole, who played with indie-pop group the Minders (associated with the Beatles-worshiping Elephant 6 collective), and you have a ’90s indie-rock dream team.
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“I enlisted Janet and Rebecca to help me with a score for a documentary film,” Brownstein explains. “The experience was really fun, and we decided to keep playing. Deciding to add Mary was a very logical choice for us. We’re all old friends, and we love her music and playing style.”
And Wild Flag are hardly backward-looking. “We can’t worry about people’s expectations; that’s too debilitating a task,” Brownstein says. “But our own expectations are very high.”
Those expectations have yet to be met because at the time of writing this, Wild Flag hadn’t once performed live. With Weiss on drums, Cole on keyboards, and Brownstein and Timony sharing guitar and lead-vocals duties, the band are setting out on tour without a recording. Brownstein and Timony released a spare, eerie EP in 2000 under the name the Spells; Cole and Weiss have had a side project called the Shadow Mortons; and the women have toured together previously.
Early songs were brought in by Brownstein and Timony, and the band continued to collaborate, with Weiss sharing in arrangement duty and Cole and Weiss singing backup. But what does it sound like? On their Facebook and MySpace pages, the band offer such explanations as “What is the sound of an avalanche taking out a dolphin?” and “What do get when you cross a hamburger with a hot dog?”
Brownstein herself isn’t any less cryptic (“Describing our music is best left to the describers: the audience and the writers,” she says), but she does say it will be more pop-oriented than her previous work. And as stalwarts of lo-fi guitar rock, they’re taking two upstarts of the genre on the road: Royal Baths and Grass Widow, who sound like young, caffeinated acolytes from the Sleater-Kinney temple.
And what of that beloved band, who have hinted at a reunion?
“I have a feeling that will still happen one of these days, but I have no idea when,” Brownstein says.
Wild Flag, she says, are “semi-permanent,” with the band living in two cities (Portland, Oregon, and Washington, D.C.), and each member is involved in other projects. Brownstein has blogged for NPR, writes and performs for the IFC show Portlandia and is working on a book. Timony plays in a band called Soft Power, Cole is in the Consortium, and Weiss continues to perform with Quasi and the Jicks.
But Wild Flag couldn’t have come around at a better time, given the relative dearth of prominent female-led, hard-rocking, intellectually stimulating bands. Critical darlings such as Sleater-Kinney and Helium were pretty much untouchably great, and their work looks to stand the test of time.
Wild Flag perform with Grass Widow and Royal Baths at Aladdin Jr., 296 W. Second St., Pomona. Sun., 8 p.m. $10. All ages.
This article appeared in print as "Waving the Wild Flag: There’s no looking back for these riot grrl veterans."