Black Threads to Dreads: Sleater Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein Takes a Phishing Expedition


Back in 2000, I was walking around Alpine Valley Amphitheater with a DV camera.  I had been traveling and trying to  shoot footage of runaway Mormons for a documentary that I eventually abandoned.  I had just come up from Deer Creek, in Indiana, and was now in the lot of a Phil Lesh show.  It was a full on hippie fest (opening acts were Bob Dylan and Widespread Panic).  Once inside, I was surprised to see a girl sporting a straw cowboy hat and a yellow Sleater Kinney T-Shirt.  My shock wasn’t as much from the idea that it was “out of place,” as it was from that fact that, until then, I didn’t even realize that Sleater Kinney was famous.  For those that don’t know, Sleater Kinney is more than just a band name; it is also the name of a road in Lacey, Washington, just outside of Olympia.  When I lived in Oly, I used to take that road to get home and/or to stop and eat mulitas at a taco truck located on the street.  The trio was local but they were, apparently, spreading their fan base.  At least as far as Troy, Wisconsin and at a “jam band” show, no less.

Thanks in part to the blossoming festival circuit, varying musical genres have been able to merge fans as much as ever.  I never got into Sleater Kinney‘s music, but I enjoy drummer, Janet Weiss‘ work with Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks and, with her ex-husband Sam Coomes, in the band QuasiPHISH‘s Trey Anastasio is an outspoken fan of Malkmus‘ work with Pavement and the Jam band even covered the song “Gold Soundz” [Crooked Rain Crooked Rain] back in 1999Marco Benevento, organist and member of PHISH sideproject  GRAB , covered the Quasi tune “Clouds” on his Live At Tonic release.  I have even found evidence of the Grateful Dead‘s influence in the music of artists like Malkmus and the extended jams of Sonic Youth but, for the most part, the “Jam” and “Indie” worlds are still generally considered to be very different, and often opposing, genres.

This week, Sleater Kinney front-woman, Carrie Brownstein has made an oath to exit her comfort zone and enter into the world of psychedelic noodle jams. After the riot grrl trio’s 2006 hiatus began, Brownstein began blogging for NPR in her own section called” Monitor Mix“.  On Friday July, 10th, she created a post entitled “Justify Your Love“, which began with the statement, “No matter what I think about someone’s taste in music, one thing I never cease to appreciate is a well-thought-out argument defending one’s contrarian views.”  She then urged readers to respond with their “best argument as to how (they) can justify the seemingly unjustifiable” in under 200 words.  From the entries, Brownstein gave special attention to one that was provided by an individual named Cameron Norbert, who expressed their affinity for the music of PHISH.  In this follow up post, titled “How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Phish“, she also announced her intention to explore the work of the band for the first time, by listening to PHISH, and nothing except PHISH, for 5 days straight.

For this “experiment”, the musician turned blogger requested that “PHANS” help to “steer (her) toward the right albums, concert footage and songs” by sending in recommendations.  She even scheduled a meet-up at the Portland, Oregon pub Moon and Sixpense, for those that wanted to contribute suggestions and/or burned CD’s to the cause in person.  Over the 5 day period, Brownstein is posting regular updates about her study, including photographs to monitor if it has any effect on her over all appearance.

Here is a video of Carrie Brownstein purchasing the begginings of her PHISH collection, prior to the meet-up:

Back in Olympia, there was a societal anomaly that my homie, Mac Dawg would often refer to as “Dreads to Black Threads“.  Kids, decked out in their text book hippie gear, would relocate to attend The Evergreen State College and, over time, many would gradually alter their appearances to fall more in line with the indie rock/scenester crowd.  Hemp necklaces, dreadlocks, and Jerry Bear sweaters are replaced with slim pants, black framed glasses, and slimmer sweaters, etc.  I have witnessed the reverse to also be true.  I’m not sure that Brownstein will be making such a drastic change within a 5-day time span, but I have to commend her for trying.  Based on her comments, it appears that her intentions are earnest and that she is being as genuine as can be expected.

Here are a few that were included in her mission statement:

Unlike other frequently maligned bands that have an equally maligned fan base, such as The Grateful Dead (whom I love) or the Dave Matthews Band (whom I don’t love), Phish has never had a radio hit for non-fans to use as fodder or evidence. In fact — and this is the most shocking, and what makes the band a rare breed — many Phish-phobes have never even heard Phish’s music!

This dismissal of Phish by a large portion of us is both unfair and unwarranted. And that’s why I’m willing to change

Ironically, I have to admit that I feel a little guilty for adopting a similar unwarranted disdain for Sleater Kinney‘s music, which I’ve never actually consciously listened to.  {no, I won’t be doing an experiment of my own anytime soon}

Brownstein‘s experiment ends tomorrow, Friday July 17th.  To see how it all pans out and read more on her venture into the whimsical land of Gamehenge, go to Monitor Mix.

Dead C

Located in Seattle, Dead C is the founder/editor, as well as the principal writer and photographer, of Monster Fresh. Creating the site in 2007, he did so with a specific dream in mind. Unfortunately, being a muscle relaxer-fueled fever dream, it's hard to recall all of the details. "I remember that my mom was there, but it wasn't actually her in the dream, it was actually 70s heart throb, Jan Michael Vincent. And everything took place here, in this room... but it wasn't actually here... it was different. The colors were washed out and, for some reason, there was a raccoon kicking it with us and it was wearing a holographic monocle."

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