Few rock bands ever reach legendary status. Even fewer can say that they did so while changing the game. Sleater Kinney is one of the few who did both. They have written incredible rock albums blending politics and personal experience, all while shifting the representation of women in music media, and inspiring countless women and queer fans to create their own music. After calling it quits for nearly a decade, Sleater Kinney haven’t shown any signs of slowing since re-forming in 2015. Since then, they’ve gone on to release two albums, No Cities To Love (2015) and Live In Paris (released in January), and have toured extensively.
I saw Sleater Kinney at the Glass House in 2005 and I’m pretty sure it changed my life. They were touring on The Woods. It was one of the first times I saw a band of all women headline a concert, and the first time I was surrounded by almost all women and queer people in the crowd. Drummer Janet Weiss played harmonica and drum set simultaneously. There was no bass player, and I had never heard so much space and artfully crafted audible tension created live. I walked out of that show feeling baptized from all the sweat, even though it was the first show I went to without a pit. It made me want to take a break from playing in punk bands and just practice forever. I don’t think I ever had a mohawk or liberty spikes again.
Portlandia creator and Sleater Kinney guitarist and vocalist Carrie Brownstein was not kidding when she wrote in her memoir that Janet Weiss hit so hard and wrote a beat so solid that “you could practically bang your head against it.”
In addition to playing with Sleater Kinney Weiss has worked with The Shins, Bright Eyes, and Elliot Smith. There is a reason someone bootlegged t-shirts that say JANET FUCKING WEISS. I dare anyone to listen to Sleater Kinney’s 2002 album One Beat and not be moved by that drum intro. Or nearly any track she has recorded on for that matter. It’s like she took all the cool parts of John Bonham’s drumming and blended it with the punk musicality of DJ Bonebrake and the rage and intentionality of riot grrrl.
The Weekly got a chance to catch up with Weiss in preparation for Sleater Kinney’s performance at Music Tastes Good in Long Beach, happening October 1st at Marina Green Park.
OC Weekly (Candace Hansen) : I know you are originally from Southern California. What So Cal bands have inspired you?
Janet Weiss: I grew up in Hollywood but left as soon as I could at 17. I didn't relate to beach culture, or the movie industry as a kid and felt pretty isolated as a teenager in Los Angeles. I have two big sisters who introduced me to good music though, and when I started really listening, got a fake ID, and began seeing live shows life became more colorful.
My favorite LA bands are still to this day Dream Syndicate, X, and the Minutemen. Seeing The Clash at the Palladium or Elvis Costello at the Greek Theater were experiences that shaped me into a future musician.
Did you always envision yourself as a drummer?
No. I didn't start playing until I was 22, so very late by most people's standards. My drumming life began when I joined a band as a drummer, so it wasn't really until I played for a while that I realized how natural I felt at it. It grew into an expressive tool for my creativity.
You are able to create drum parts that are exciting and obvious in a way I haven’t really ever heard anywhere else. How did you become such a dynamic and creative drummer, while being able to bring through both power and stripped-down style?
Drums are so personal and emotional to me - as well they are an expression of how I see things and how I want the world to be. I hope to exude power and bravado but also explore melody. I want there to be a sense of freedom and empowerment for musicians. But first and foremost I'm trying to make the song as good as possible!
I thought Drumgasm was such a badass concept and album. Can you talk a little about that? What were your inspirations and aspirations?
Ha yeah what a treat that record was to make. There are a lot of classic drum battle records from the 60's and we were playing with the Rich vs Roach concept a bit. The idea was to hole up in a studio, the three of us with our own full kit, for a few days and record everything. What ended up happening was total improv and such a blast! There is a ton more on tape and I hope someday we can do a Drumgasm Pt II.
Sleater Kinney released “Live in Paris” earlier this year, what inspired y’all to release a live album?
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I think we consider ourselves a live band before anything else and it seemed like a good time to get some of that vibe recorded well and released.
What is your desert island drum kit? If you could only play one kit for the rest of your life what would it be?
I prefer late 60's Ludwig kits over all else - best toms, best feel, and a kick drum without too much low end!
Make sure to catch Sleater Kinney at Music Tastes Good Festival on Sunday along with Big Freedia, Digable Planets, Peaches, Los Lobos and more! While you’re there check out Chef Kelly Fields from Willa Jean in New Orleans who created some Sleater Kinney inspired desserts in celebration of Music Tastes Good and thought Janet would be a deconstructed textural red velvet cake.