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TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Kai Ryssdal: This being Thursday, we got a report called first time claims for unemployment this morning: they were down just a tad. But the trend number — people making continuing claims — stayed right where it was. That’s the case in a lot of cities across the country, including Portland, Ore.
Today on our series The Art of Money: singer-songwriter Corin Tucker. You might know her originally from a band called Sleater-Kinney. She’s fronting The Corin Tucker Band now, with a new album out about how the economy is affecting her hometown.
Corin Tucker, great to talk to you.
Corin Tucker: Thank you for having me.
Ryssdal: So you’ve been gone for a couple of years now. It’s been like 2006 since Sleater-Kinney was around. Where ya been?
Tucker: I’ve been at home with my two lovely children.
Tucker: Yeah, being a mom mostly.
Ryssdal: How does that go making music, though?
Tucker: You know, actually, it’s been fun. It’s been good. I mean, it’s a juggling act, but I think it is for most working parents.
Ryssdal: How did you and why did you come back to playing music again?
Tucker: Well, I got asked to do a benefit, actually, for this small publication store in Portland, Ore., called Reading Frenzy that was having trouble with the tough economy, and I couldn’t say no to playing the show and doing a couple songs. And so once I played the show, a lot of people said, Wow, you should really record these songs. And Kill Rock Stars said, We’d love to work with you, you know, if you make an album. It just was kind of like getting pulled back in, you know?
Ryssdal: Yeah. But it sounds like it was a good thing.
Tucker: Oh, great thing.
Ryssdal: I mean, they weren’t dragging you right?
Tucker: No, I mean, you know, once I performed for an audience again, it was like, Oh, I love doing this!
Ryssdal: Did you have that musical creativity bouncing around in your head even while you were dealing with the kids in the middle of the night and all that?
Tucker: Oh yeah. I don’t ever think it really goes away: that thirst, I guess, for creativity.
Ryssdal: The bookstore that you mentioned that’s having a tough time in the economy, that is kind of a theme of this album. There are a couple of songs that really point out how difficult it is for people out there. I want to play one of them, it’s called, ‘Thrift Store Coats.’ We’re gonna play a little bit and then I want to ask you something.
Song excerpt, ‘Thrift Store Coats’
Ryssdal: Tell me the story of this song. I mean, it’s a pretty good little story.
Tucker: Yeah, I think it was really around the beginning of 2008 and the end of 2007, that the community of parents that I sort of pal around with in Portland, where my son goes to elementary school, you know, we all hang out on the playground with our kids, just like everybody else. And things started going really badly. And a couple of the people lost their jobs. And then another dad lost his job. And these are families with two kids, one with four kids. And it seemed like it started to snowball. And it suddenly was like, When is this going to end? When is it going to start getting better? Because it just wasn’t.
Ryssdal: And you went into this fundraiser right, Into the Coat Closet?
Tucker: Yeah, the yearly auction for my son’s elementary school, I walked down to put my coat in the coat closet, and I looked in, and I was like, really? And every single coat was sort of a shabby thrift store coat. And it was like, oh yeah, people are just kind of getting by with what they already have.
Ryssdal: There’s a line in that song. It says, “We were spoiled our whole lives through.” It sort of sounds like you feel your generation wasn’t really prepared for this economy and what’s happening.
Tucker: Not prepared at all. I feel like we were the generation that grew up in the ’80s. I mean that was just, you know, of course if you’re a middle class kid, you’re going to go to college. Like, there was grant money, there was funding, there were jobs. You had the choice of which job you were going to have. To suddenly be this generation and to have children and be sort of set up with your chosen profession and then to have those jobs just go away — I think it’s been a shock.
Ryssdal: You are not, by any means, a single mom; you are married, you have a husband, and all of that jazz. But he travels for work — he’s a documentary filmmaker. Which led you to write another song, which is my favorite song on this album, as a matter of fact, called ‘Half a World Away.’
Song excerpt, ‘Half a World Away’
Ryssdal: It’s really hard to do things today, when one parent’s working, one’s with the kids. I mean, you have to make these choices that we’re all making now. And you do it with a huge sense of sacrifice.
Tucker: Yeah. I mean that, it’s definitely part of both being artists and loving what we do. And my husband’s extraordinarily talented, and the documentary he made in Africa is extremely important. It’s about antiretroviral treatment for AIDS patients.
Ryssdal: We should give his name here. It’s Lance Bangs.
Tucker: Lance Bangs. And the film that he made is called ‘The Lazarus Effect.’
Ryssdal: And not to turn it on its head, he’s away 75 percent of the time. That means you’ve got the kids 75 percent of the time.
Tucker: Yeah, yeah. So I’m Mom a lot of the time by myself, and that’s sometimes difficult too.
Ryssdal: So look back on the 22-year-old Corin Tucker, and Heavens to Betsy, your first band, and Sleater-Kinney. How has the business of making music changed? I mean, when you first got going, there was none of this filesharing, there was no iTunes, I mean, none of that.
Ryssdal: How do you make a buck?
Tucker: That’s a really good question. I mean, for the most part, I really don’t think that artists have figured it out. I think that the problems, the economic problems, that people are facing, you know, they happened in the music industry first. Unfortunately it’s a lot of the smaller artists that were hit, and you know, sometimes put out of business by not being able to sell their records and CDs anymore.
Ryssdal: You must be at the point now where younger artists come to you and say, How do I do what you did? How do I not just make it big, but have this identity and develop my voice and my instrument? What do you say to them?
Tucker: My main advice is to take risks. Especially, I think, for young women to not be afraid to fail. Not be afraid to write a song that sucks, you know, that people don’t like. Because I think that’s such a hard thing for young women, especially, is feeling afraid of that criticism, of feeling afraid of failure. You have to just let go.
Ryssdal: The new album from Corin Tucker and her band is called “A Thousand Years.” We’ve got ‘Thrift Store Coats’ on our website, just as a teaser for you. Corin, thanks a lot for coming in.
Tucker: Thanks so much for having me.