Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Janet Weiss of Wild Flag on supergroup dynamics; show Wednesday at RecordBar

Wild Flag is set to play The Record Bar tomorrow.

Posted By on Tue, Oct 4, 2011 at 10:04 AM

Much has been made of recently rejoined Sleater-Kinney bandmates Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, who, along with Helium's Mary Timony and Rebecca Cole of the Minders, are now Wild Flag. The quartet's self-titled debut is one of the year's most talked-about records. Released on Merge last month, Wild Flag is a rock-and-roll affair, fueled especially by the album's early single, “Glass Tambourine.” That track is powered by the drumming of Janet Weiss, who — in addition to her work in Sleater-Kinney and Wild Flag — has played with Quasi and Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks. She's got chops; she can switch from a loose, bouncy rhythm to militaristic cadence with nary a dropped beat. Weiss was kind enough to speak with us by phone about Wild Flag's genesis in advance of the band's show at RecordBar this Wednesday (October 5).

The Pitch: Is this the first full tour that Wild Flag has done?

Janet Weiss: Well, we toured down to South By Southwest and back for three weeks. To me, that's a full tour. But, yeah, this is the first full tour of the United States that we've done. I mean, this is the longest tour that I've been on in years — in over 10 years. Yeah, but I guess you would consider this our first “full” tour. Correct.

How did you four women come together to form this band? Obviously, you and Carrie Brownstein have history.

Yeah, I have a history with Rebecca and a history with Mary. We're very intertwined, the four of us, already. But Carrie was working on a soundtrack [to the documentary !Women Art Revolution] and she asked me to come and play, and think of some ideas. Just kinda goofy, instrumental music. It was nothing like, “Let's be in a band” or anything like that. It was just kind of, “Let's go into the practice space and see what kind of instrumental things we can think up.”

And I had just been playing with Rebecca in this cover band called the Shadow Mortons, so I said, “Hey, let's get Rebecca down here,” and Rebecca came in, and we went in for a day and recorded. Carrie and I being in the practice space, and having Rebecca there just reminded me of the ease with which we write, and the language and telepathy Carrie and I have developed over the years. I was kind of reminded of that, in a small way. We wanted to put vocals on it, and we were kind of like, “Well, let's call Mary. We've always wanted to play with Mary — let's call her in.”

It was very organic. It was like a project, it wasn't like, “Let's work at starting a band,” you know? I think that when you get to pick — you get to sort of handpick who you're going to play with — you're setting yourself up for a good situation. It's not like we were people who sort of hung around with each other, so we started a band. This is like, “We need someone to fill this role — let's get Rebecca. We need someone who has a unique voice and is a great guitar player — let's get Mary,” you know? To us, it was a little bit of a dream team, I guess. It still feels like that.

The fact that this is a two-guitar band with keyboards, rather than a bass — was that a conscious decision?

Well, I had seen Rebecca play so many times in her band, the Minders, and she played the key bass. Sometimes they had a bass player, sometimes they didn't have a bass player, and they were just a three-piece — guitar, keyboards and drums — and she played the bass on this thing called the Rheem Kee Bass, which is incredible-sounding. It just always struck me, “Wow, who needs a bass player when you have Rebecca? She's playing the bass and she's playing keyboard at the same time.” That is something specifically that relates to her. We might not have gotten a bass player, but it's so good to have bass sometimes, but not all the time. It's not like there's a bass player who has to write a bass part for every song. So she can bring it in when we need it, and she can leave it out when we need it. She really is like two people. She's an incredible secret weapon, and I think it really makes the music more flexible because of that, because of her ability to do two things at once.

You'd mentioned how easy it was to get back in the flow of things, in terms of songwriting. Are all of the songs a collaborative affair among the four of you?

Yeah, it's definitely a collaboration, for sure. There are just little pieces in each song each of us worked on. You wouldn't know, from the outside, who wrote what … for the most part, who's singing is singing their part. That is usually almost always the case, but sometimes Mary will have an idea for my backing vocal or Rebecca's backing vocal, or I'll have an idea for a bass part or a guitar part or a break in a song or a bridge, you know?

It's just very collaborative and it feels very creative, because it's difficult sometimes when a songwriter brings in a whole song, and there it is. You just write your part, and you're done. It feels less like singer-songwriter-y and more like a band. Like a group. Like a gang. Like our personalities are all present in the music.

It's the sound of Wild Flag, rather than the sound of Mary Timony or whomever.

Yeah, exactly. Definitely.

Each band member has been in a different, rather high-profile act. What do you bring to the table from the different acts that you, personally, have been in?

I think I bring the same things to the table, no matter what band it is: serving the song and serving the music, and really trying to convey my ideas and my emotions and my past and my experiences through the music, and in a way that makes it more interesting or makes it more exciting. Sometimes that's easier than other times.

Sometimes, there are times where I have to lay back and fit in a little more, and then there are times where I really get to express myself. This is a band where I feel so lucky to be able to express myself, really more than I ever have before. But I love playing with new people, and I love getting into people's heads and trying to figure out, “How could this song be better? How could this song take off or really dig in or mean something? You know — like, really feel something? When someone puts their headphones on and listens to the song, how can we make them really feel something strong?”

I'm interested in not being passive. I'm just not, like, a passive person at all. I want our music to be explosive and active, and I want people to participate and feel like they're part of the music. Not, like, sitting back and watching it from a distance.

They're hearing it as opposed to just listening to it?

Yeah, and like, feel like they could do something better, take action themselves, or be inspired. It's really important to me that music occupies a space of being important in someone's life, like it was in mine — like it is in mine, currently. I'm just not interested in background music or music that placates.

I was talking to Sam [Coomes], my Quasi bandmate, and I was just like, “I'm not interested in hugs.” I'm not about hugs. You get hugs from your parents and your pets, and music, to me, is full of life and jars you or inspires you to move and to act and to make things yourself and to be a part of something.

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