Peter Buck and Corin Tucker are starting over.
Of course, when you're the guitarist from R.E.M. and the dominant voice of Sleater-Kinney, past glories aren't something you can ever outrun, especially together. But with their new joint project, Filthy Friends, the two longtime acquaintances are getting back to basics: scrapping for attention, fighting to win over skeptical audiences, dealing with the occasional cease-and-desist letter. (When the band first played live in 2014, as super-Earth, a similarly named group wrote and asked them to change their moniker. They were nice about it.)
In terms of pedigree, it's about the superest supergroup of full- and part-time Portlanders one could put together—other members include Bill Rieflin of King Crimson, Scott McCaughey of the Minus 5 and Kurt Bloch of Seattle punk vets the Fastbacks.
But as far as Buck and Tucker are concerned, they're beginning from scratch.
That goes for the music, too. On Invitation, Filthy Friends' debut, out Aug. 25 on Kill Rock Stars, the band dabbles in blues, throwback college rock, even T. Rex-style glam. While certain hallmarks are inescapable—Buck's chiming arpeggios, Tucker's paint-peeling wail—it truly sounds like musicians charged by the thrill of new possibilities.
Over nachos at Dots Cafe on Southeast Clinton Street, Buck and Tucker crammed into a booth to discuss the roots of their mutual admiration, their songwriting chemistry, and that time Carrie Brownstein almost ruined their relationship before it even began.
WW: When did you first become aware of each other's existence?
Corin Tucker: Oh, man. What year did Murmur come out?
Peter Buck: 1983. So you would've been…
Tucker: I was 11. We lived in North Dakota, so we basically lived on Mars. Thankfully, my dad, who was a college professor, had really good taste in music. I remember he brought home this album, with these four guys on it, and all these bushes, and it was really mysterious. He was like, "I found this great record, you have to hear this." And we played it over and over again. My mind was completely blown. I was a kid who grew up on the Beatles, so for me, it was like the American cousin of the Beatles but way cooler—more punk rock, with all these interesting influences on it.
Buck: I saw a Sleater-Kinney show the day Princess Diana died. The performance was unbelievable. It was like when R.E.M. had our first audience—it was a world that was extending from the stage, including all the people in front of it. So they were always from that point on my radar.
Corin said something to Rolling Stone about how for years she worried that Peter would confuse her with Carrie.
Tucker: At that show, Peter went up to Carrie and said some compliment, "Good show" or whatever. And then I think you said something like, "But you probably don't care what I think." And Carrie being Carrie was like, "Yeah, I don't."
Buck: It was funny. It was exactly what she should have said.
Tucker: She knew how big of a fan I was. But Carrie has a spiky-ass personality. So she told me that, knowing I'd hit the roof. People used to confuse us all the time. They still do. I know it's crazy, but our voices are somewhat similar, our lyrics are intertwined, so people confuse us. So I was like, "Oh my God! I'm the hugest R.E.M. fan, I can't believe you did that! He'll never listen to our band again!"
So how did you end up becoming friends?
Tucker: We had a common connection because my husband, Lance Bangs, worked with R.E.M. for years and years.
Buck: He made films with Michael [Stipe] for us, from like 1992 or '93 to the very last thing we did in 2010. So we'd see each other around. I was doing my first solo record, and I was writing this song, and I thought, well, it's out of my range, and it's kind of from a female perspective. It just didn't seem like something I would sing. So I thought, would Corin sing it? We got in touch through Lance, and she just nailed it in one take. From then on, it seemed like something we should pursue.
Was the idea initially just to develop some leftover tracks?
Buck: I don't really goof around. If I want to goof around, I can show up at a bar with some friends and do garagerock covers. For me, writing songs is really serious. So we wrote songs, and they were songs I felt strongly about right away.
Tucker: To collaborate with someone else is an intense experience. Especially the way I prefer doing it, which is in person, going over things, writing lyrics and playing together in a room. I like to develop things and change things on the fly before going in the studio right away. I was like, "This is something special." I knew it right away when we started writing together. There was a chemistry there that was unique.
You've said you didn't want the songs to sound like R.E.M. How conscious were you of that while making the record?
Buck: A lot of my songwriting is tied up in musical guitar stuff. My approach to guitar isn't completely unique, but just me playing guitar is going to have some of my hallmarks. But that doesn't mean I can't push it somewhere else.
And did you try to write differently for this group than Sleater-Kinney?
Tucker: I don't think I consciously thought I was going to try to write differently, but the collaboration and chemistry is different. For some reason, it comes from a different place in my mind a little bit. But it's very quick and it's very emotional. I've been listening to his guitar playing for 30 years. So getting to sing to that guitar playing is a pretty incredible opportunity as a singer. I felt intimidated at times, but it's brought a lot of different stories and a lot of different voices out of me as a writer very naturally.
A lot of these songs were written before the election, yet they still feel very current. Where do you feel you were drawing from lyrically on this record?
Tucker: For me, I'm a person who processes news and what's going on in politics in the back of my mind somewhere, and it becomes part of my subconscious as a writer. Things really bother me when there's not another outlet to express them, but when there's something twirling around back there, if we're working on a song, it will come out. A song like "Despierta," that was me thinking about how our country is changing, and where it's going. The demographics are really different than they were three years ago. I feel like it can be a really interesting tipping point as to what our politics are, and who's in power. I feel like it's maybe causing one reason why our politics feel so extreme, because we're witnessing this massive power struggle.
I talked to Peter a couple years ago when he put out his second solo album, and he seemed to really enjoy having no pressure to do any sort of promo for it. Were you apprehensive about getting involved in something a little more time-intensive again?
Buck: I'm not apprehensive about any of that. I don't expect us to have a Beyoncé-type hit. That's not the world we live in. So we did a record I think is really great. It's really exciting to be in a later part of my life and have something really new. We both have a history behind us that's really long, and that can be a drag in some ways. With R.E.M., we had 30 years of history. This has no history. I like the fact that people can walk in, and no matter what their presuppositions are, we have to prove every night how great we are. And you know what? We're great. We'll do it.
Filthy Friends plays Aug. 26 at 2:20 pm.
MusicfestNW presents Project Pabst is Aug. 26-27 at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Get tickets here.
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