Things

Former riot-gr­rrl rocker Car­rie Brown­stein is back with a new band – but for­get nos­tal­gia, Wild Flag is all about the here and now, writes Jim Car­roll

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

YOU COULD call it a come­back, but Car­rie Brown­stein would prob­a­bly roll her eyes at that one. A come­back? C’mon, you can do bet­ter than that. You could call Wild Flag a su­per­group, but Brown­stein would pos­si­bly wince at that one and its con­no­ta­tions, too.

What’s un­de­ni­able, though, is that Brown­stein’s new band have pro­duced one of 2011’s most vis­ceral, en­gag­ing and down­right rock­ing al­bums.

Given their past form, you’d ex­pect noth­ing less. But given their past form, you might not have ex­pected some­thing quite as of-the­mo­ment as this.

Make no mis­take, Wild Flag have form. Many will re­mem­ber Brown­stein and Janet Weiss from their days with fiery riot-gr­rrl rock­ers Sleater-kinney, while Re­becca Cole and Mary Ti­mony clocked up time in The Min­ders and He­lium re­spec­tively.

When you get a clat­ter of in­die rock’n’roll roy­alty com­ing to­gether like this, folks take no­tice and ex­pec­ta­tions are raised. But the most thrilling as­pect of the Wild Flag foray is that this isn’t some sort of nos­tal­gic han­ker­ing for the old days. Rather, they’ve de­liv­ered a glo­ri­ous, mag­nif­i­cent, bad-ass, bois­ter­ous de­but al­bum, which zings from one fierce, fren­zied track to the next. There’s lit­tle paus­ing for breath or midlife in­tro­spec­tion here. It’s not that sort of al­bum, and they’re not that sort of band.

“You can’t be con­tent if you’re al­ways yearn­ing for the past or if you oper­ate from a sen­ti­men­tal, nos­tal­gic base,” says Brown­stein. “You have to em­brace the here and now. I al­ways found that you have to be the

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thing we’d al­ready done and achieved: it was about what’s to come.

“Those were the songs we had, and they had a sense of ur­gency and a messi­ness and chaos to them. But they were also poppy and had these melodic el­e­ments.

“It was our first al­bum and we wanted it to be a doc­u­ment of who we were and what we sounded like. Be­cause of that, we wanted it to be un­adorned. For later al­bums, we could be more de­lib­er­ate and con­sid­ered, but for this one we just wanted to show the rock sound that we have.”

Af­ter Sleater-kinney called it a day, Brown­stein stopped play­ing and per­form­ing as a mu­si­cian and moved onto other ca­reers. She cre­ated and starred in TV sketch show Port­landia and wrote for web­sites and magazines like Slate and the Believer, as well as National Pub­lic Ra­dio’s All Songs Con­sid­ered show.

“I didn’t miss play­ing mu­sic very much,” she says. “I re­ally en­joyed writ­ing and do­ing other creative projects. When I re­dis­cov­ered play­ing mu­sic, I came back to it in a way which was very or­ganic. I had been writ­ing about mu­sic and had posited my­self as a fan of mu­sic, which is where I came to play­ing in the first place.

“If you lis­ten to enough mu­sic, you draw enough in­spi­ra­tion from it that even­tu­ally you feel this ur­gent sense to par­tic­i­pate and cre­ate by singing and writ­ing. I didn’t come back to it un­til I was ready. When I was ready, I felt this very fresh and pure need for it.”

As a critic, Brown­stein found her­self drawn to “songs and mu­sic where it feels like peo­ple re­ally want it and can’t live with­out it”. She also found her­self over­whelmed by the amount of new mu­sic com­ing at her. “You just have to find peo­ple to trust who can help you nav­i­gate through what’s out there and what you should be lis­ten­ing to. There’s a lot to love and it’s a good time, but you need those fil­ters, like a good blog or record store, to help you make sense of it.”

Re­turn­ing to the stage with Wild Flag, she rel­ishes the per­for­mance as­pect most. “The most sat­is­fy­ing el­e­ment is that abil­ity to con­nect with peo­ple in a way which is very spon­ta­neous. I like be­ing on­stage; I like the el­e­ment of sur­prise. It’s a way to get out of my head a lit­tle bit and get to a point which is un­ex­pected, and it de­vi­ates from the brainy part of my­self and my ev­ery­day life. I can let go a lit­tle bit. I need it.”

As for Sleater-kinney, Brown­stein looks back at it with fond­ness. “I think it ended in the best way it could,” she says. “We didn’t come skid­ding to a halt af­ter los­ing mo­men­tum. We did what we set out to do. We were in a band which was very im­por­tant to us and many peo­ple. I don’t like to think we had un­fin­ished busi­ness . . . We went out at a time when peo­ple didn’t want us to go, and that’s a much bet­ter feel­ing than over­stay­ing your wel­come.

“We were just three peo­ple who wanted to play mu­sic and wanted our mu­sic to mean some­thing to us and to other peo­ple. It was not an agenda-based band; it was just about want­ing the songs to be good. We were ap­proach­ing it like any other band. We wanted to write great songs and make mean­ing­ful mu­sic. And agen­das are not songs.”

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