Corin Tucker discusses how she got started onstage
No matter how successful entertainers become, they’ll always remember the first gig—whether it was disastrous, wonderful, or strange. Gotta Start Somewhere embraces these nostalgic moments by asking established entertainers to tell the story of the first time they graced a stage, as well as their memories of other musical firsts, from the first record they ever bought to the first concert they ever saw. In this edition, The A.V. Club talks to one-time Sleater-Kinney frontwoman Corin Tucker about Ian MacKaye, Kathleen Hanna, and her daunting first show.
Corin Tucker: The first show I ever played was the International Pop Underground Convention in Olympia, Washington. It was girl night, and I was in Heavens To Betsy. I had just turned 18.
The A.V. Club: Did you decide to join a band when you went to college?
CT: I decided to just start a band not really knowing how to play guitar. Knowing a little bit, but not much.
AVC: That’s a pretty good first show.
CT: It was a great first show. I was so lucky.
AVC: What else do you remember about it?
CT: I remember everything about it. It was fantastic. It was at the Capitol Theater in Olympia. It was organized to be all female musicians, all night long. There was a band called Crevice from Canada that was like seven or eight female guitar players, just all guitar. [Laughs.] I think Bikini Kill and Bratmobile both played, but I can’t even remember. It was just kind of a blur. It was incredible.
AVC: How did you land that gig?
CT: My friend Michelle Noel was putting it together, and she was also like 18 at the time. She called me up, and was like, [higher voice] “Hi, I’m organizing girl night at the IPU Convention.” What I had done—this is so crazy—I had gone to Olympia, gone to college, seen all the incredible musicians and everything that was happening there. Then I just shot my mouth off, “I’m going to be in a band, and it’s going to be great, and it’s going to be called Heavens To Betsy, and da da da da da.” So then Michelle called me and was like, [higher voice] “Yeah, we’re going to put on this girl night.” And I was like, “Oh my God. I actually have to write songs.”
So I was at my parents’ house after that first year in college and got my friend from high school to play drums. She was going to Evergreen [State College] too. Started the band, wrote some songs, and played that show in front of all my musical heroes. Like, all of Fugazi was standing there. All of Bikini Kill. All of Bratmobile. Calvin Johnson. All of K Records. It was unforgettable. It was just a great moment, though, because they were so supportive.
AVC: Do you remember seeing Ian MacKaye while you were playing?
CT: Ian was fantastic. Ian started being my pen pal afterward. He started writing me these postcards that were like, “Great job. I love your voice. I love your band.” I was so fortunate.
I look back now, and I totally hit the jackpot as an artist. I jumped into the scene. Kathleen told me she had tears in her eyes when I was singing. Kathleen Hanna. Yeah. It was incredible. I hit the jackpot that night.
First Corin Tucker Band show:
AVC: You had your first Corin Tucker Band show in 2010 after Sleater-Kinney went on hiatus. Do you remember what that was like? Did you feel any pressure because you were doing your own thing?
CT: It was simply nerve-wracking. I don’t know if it was our first show, but it was like our first big show was at the Aladdin [Theater in Portland, Oregon], which was probably way too big.
It had some similarities to my first show ever. Capitol Theater was a huge venue too, and a seated venue where people weren’t standing up. And I was really nervous for both. [Laughs.] But you know what? I think I’m gutsy. I’m gutsy. I’ll just do it.
First song learned:
CT: That’s the weird thing. I was a part of this scene so immediately that was all about original music that I didn’t learn to play a cover for a really long time. I really was not a well-trained musician at all. I took piano lessons as a child, but for guitar, I wasn’t playing other people’s songs.
AVC: How did you figure out how to write your own songs?
CT: I think having musical training as a child was really, really important. I studied piano as a child. Piano is a great instrument to understand musical theory on. I think I have that in my brain somewhere. [Laughs.]
When I picked up the guitar, people were like, “Oh you want to play a show? Okay. Come up with some songs and play it.” Obviously I had the talent, and I had just rudimentary skills. I’ve always been a writer who does simplistic, simple melodies. But I think it works.
First concert attended:
CT: I’m going to edit myself a little bit, but I did see X at the Hult Center in Eugene as a teenager. That’s a really good one. There’s another one that’s really embarrassing, but I’m just not even going to mention it.
First record purchased:
CT: I remember buying a Pat Benatar record, Get Nervous. It’s the one where she’s in the straitjacket on the cover. I think I was really young, like, “Gosh, she’s cool. Look at her.”
AVC: It seems like, between X and Pat Benatar, what you liked growing up is what you still like now.
CT: Exactly. Exactly. Some of the great singers. Obviously I modeled my career after them.
AVC: When did you start playing piano?
CT: I think I was about 12. I sang and played along with my dad when I was a kid. I did kind of get serious about piano when I was 12, 13, 14. For some reason, I really wanted to play the piano.
First favorite band:
CT: There are so many. I was a really big R.E.M. fan when I was like in my freshman year of high school. I was a huge R.E.M. fan.
AVC: And now you’ve worked with Peter Buck.
CT: [Laughs.] Yeah, it’s pretty crazy.