Filthy Friends: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker form Filthy Friends

When Peter Buck needed another voice on his first solo album, 2012’s Peter Buck, he called on his Portland neighbor, Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker. Buck has known Tucker’s husband, filmmaker Lance Bangs, for decades; Bangs worked with R.E.M. for a good portion of its tenure. Neither R.E.M. nor S-K were active then, and Buck thought it would be fun to continue to work and write with Tucker.

So began what would coalesce into Filthy Friends, a band that includes players who have moved in related circles for years. Bassist Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows) and drummer Bill Rieflin (King Crimson) both play with Buck in the Minus 5 and the Venus 3 and were in R.E.M.’s touring band, while guitarist Kurt Bloch (Fastbacks) played with McCaughey in the Young Fresh Fellows. Tucker sticks mostly to vocals, although she occasionally joins the guitar battalion. The group expanded when Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic dropped by the studio and ended up playing bass on a couple songs.

Buck says the project began without a clear intent. “We worked for a while without really knowing where we were heading,” he says. “Then we recorded a bunch of stuff that kind of seemed like a record.” They played some shows around Portland (Tucker remembers Super Earth being an early band name), and they continued to write.

“He’s super great to work with, really easygoing, very creative, has a ton of ideas and is not at all uptight about changing things around and messing with things,” says Tucker of Buck. “That’s really kind of the crucial thing for me. Our Sleater-Kinney thing is we change things all the time on the fly. In the studio, we’re always writing and rewriting and trying to make the songs better and catchier. That’s something I really enjoy doing, and so I was very pleasantly—not surprised—but I was very happy to find out that he is also like that and really enjoys the puzzle of songwriting.”

“When you start writing with someone, you’re really forging a relationship,” says Buck. “You’re learning what each other likes. We both realized pretty early that we both work really quickly; we’re both good at throwing ideas up in the air and catching them and figuring out where we are going. It’s fun for me to come up with music and have her singing and coming up with words immediately. We just did it yesterday. About once a week, we go to my basement and just hang out and play guitars and show each other pieces of music and work on them. Once we finished making the record, we just continued writing. We have a bunch of finished songs that we’re kind of working on.”

The songs turned out to be short, loud, loose and full of musical allusions. At Tucker’s suggestion, they covered Roxy Music’s “Editions Of You” on a Record Store Day single this past spring. “Come Back Shelley” rides a T.Rex “Bang A Gong” groove; “Windmill” takes cues from Television’s “Marquee Moon.”

“I think we can do that without taking ourselves too seriously,” says Tucker. “We’re never going to improve on any of those bands. But part of the point is saying, ‘This is what we love’—and that, I think, is good enough, you know.”

“Corin doesn’t have any fears about approaching different types of music,” says Buck. “Listening to Sleater-Kinney you might not notice how knowledgeable she is about other kinds of rock music. Once we got together and started throwing things around, we realized we could do anything.”

Many of the lyrics have a self-referential element. “One song means everything,” Tucker sings on “Windmill,” which is, in part, based on Tucker’s pilgrimage to Athens, Ga., when she was 17. But some of the tunes have a strong political bent. Filthy Friends contributed tracks to both Dave Eggers’ 30 Days, 30 Songs project and to Battle Hymns, this year’s protest compilation organized by Tucker’s S-K bandmate Janet Weiss and Weiss’ Quasi partner Sam Coomes.

“We’re influenced by the life we live and where we live it and when we live it,” says Buck. “All the songs on the record were written before the election, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of stuff going on in our culture that would have an impact on us.”

“I think now is a really intense, turbulent time, and it’s important to be able to have an outlet like music to write about it,” says Tucker. “It feels like a really healthy thing to do with all those feelings.”

All the group’s members remain committed to other bands; Rieflin has had to bow out to tour with King Crimson, and Linda Pitmon, who’s in the Baseball Project with McCaughey and Buck, has taken the drummer’s chair. But Filthy Friends isn’t a temporary gig. Tucker is already talking about a batch of songs slated for album number two and says she’s playing more guitar on those. And Buck says Filthy Friends is for real.

“I think when we started, we didn’t have any idea where it would end up, but we’ve done shows, and it feels like a band,” he says. “We’ve got a lot of songs and new stuff we want to accomplish, so it feels real. It’s a real group, so we’re going to follow it for a while.”

Steve Klinge