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Sleater-Kinney Week – Day 1: Writing About Dig Me Out

TO CELEBRATE THE RECENT RELEASE OF OUR 33 1/3 ON  DIG ME OUT, WE’RE PLEASED TO BRING YOU THE FIRST INSTALLMENT OF SLEATER-KINNEY WEEK BY AUTHOR JOVANA BABOVIC!

The hardest part of this project was picking an album to pitch to Bloomsbury in the initial proposal. I toyed with ideas for months, but I kept coming back to Sleater-Kinney’s Dig Me Out because it left me asking questions about a time that I’d lived through but, as it turned out, had hardly understood. During the fall of 2013, I started reading about punk, riot grrrl, and popular culture in the 1990s and thinking about how Dig Me Out fit into these worlds. As 2013 gave way to 2014, an icy Illinois winter barricaded me indoors with stacks of books like Sara Marcus’s Girls to the Front and Daniel Stinker’s edited collection of Punk Planet interviews; that’s when I finally began crafting the proposal.

As the pitch for Dig Me Out took shape, unbeknownst to me, Sleater-Kinney were recording a new album, their first in ten years, at the very same time. In the spring of 2014, I heard the good news that Dig Me Out would be joining the roster of the 33 1/3 series, but I still had no inkling of the announcements the band would be unfolding in the fall. In fact, I went on to conduct most of my research, including interviews with some band members, before anything had been unveiled. That fall, Sleater-Kinney released the box set compilation Start Together, then, several months later, the new album No Cities to Love came out, and the band kicked off a tour in early 2015. By then, it felt like Sleater-Kinney had simply picked up where they’d left off a decade earlier.

It was an exhilarating time to be writing about Dig Me Out. At times, it was also overwhelming. As a historian, I’m adept at making sense of the past. But when Sleater-Kinney reformed as a band, it caused me to question the lens through which I was thinking about Dig Me Out because there was suddenly so much being written about the band, the arc of their career, and the importance of their music. As I began to put together the book, however, I realized that the story of the album was delineated by the late 1990s – it existed in a particular form because it existed in a particular time – and that is the context within which I’ve captured it.

As I wrote in first part of 2015, I kept my focus on that moment in which Dig Me Out was created. I first contextualized Sleater-Kinney within Olympia’s punk scene and the riot grrrl movement, where Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein came of age as musicians and where Janet Weiss later joined the band as their permanent drummer. I then narrated how the band struggled to record the album on a tiny budget and during a massive snowstorm. Next, I analyzed the flood of mainstream media coverage that followed the release of Dig Me Out and how it superimposed ill-fitting categories onto Sleater-Kinney. I reconstructed the American leg of the Dig Me Out tour to show that it was not just in the press, but also on the road, that the band struggled to define themselves. Finally, I devoted an entire chapter to Sleater-Kinney’s fans who thoughtfully listened to, wrote about, and engaged with the band in the late 1990s. As I finished the book in the spring of 2015, the band’s salience in American popular culture was unmistakable. The story of Dig Me Out chronicles a moment in Sleater-Kinney’s history when the odds were stacked against them – and how they beat them anyway.

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