Wild Flag is a Portland, Oregon and Washington, DC-based quartet consisting of Carrie Brownstein (guitar/vocals), Mary Timony (guitar/vocals), Rebecca Cole (keys/vocals) and Janet Weiss (drums/vocals). The members of Wild Flag have played in numerous and notable bands including Sleater-Kinney, Helium, Quasi, The Minders, and Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks.
The quartet has known one another for well over a decade as tour mates and band mates of varying proportions. If you draw a venn diagram illustrating the intersection of the various groups, Brownstein, Cole, Timony, and Weiss would all be in the same tiny spheres. Playing together felt almost inevitable.
Brownstein and Weiss were in Sleater-Kinney and toured with Timony’s band Helium on numerous occasions. Brownstein and Timony collaborated in the late 1990’s, on their project The Spells. They released one EP, The Age of Backwards, on K Records in 1999, and played a single live show in Olympia. Rebecca Cole’s Portland-based band The Minders was a frequent opener for Sleater-Kinney. Weiss and Cole play together in the 1960’s garage-rock cover band The Shadow Mortons.
After the fledgling quartet collaborated on an instrumental score for Lynn Hershman Leeson’s feminist artists documentary !Women Art Revolution!, the ease with which they worked together proved infectious. Further practices resulted in songs, and Wild Flag was formed.
As Brownstein explains, “I think we all realised that we could be greater than the sum of our parts, not four disparate puzzle pieces trying to make sense of the other, but a cohesive and dynamic whole. It’s still about chemistry, it’s still about learning how to play together. You really should try to earn the things you get, and to feel like you have to prove something.”
The band made a hefty splash at SXSW 2011 – according to Pitchfork – “there’s plenty about watching Wild Flag that’ll make your heart sing, Wild Flag are a fun, punked-up rock band from four people who are very, very good at playing in rock bands”.
Wild Flag then headed to Sacramento, California, where they recorded their self-titled album in April 2011 with engineer Chris Woodhouse at the Hangar. All tracks were recorded live except for the vocals.
What is immediately apparent is the incredible energy of this band, their palpable joy at playing in a room together, and the pure inventive delight in the songwriting. This is music to put an extra spring in your step and to crack open your face with a smile a mile wide.
Hear it in the album opener with its interweaving guitarplay and spirited vocal melodies. ‘Romance’ is complete with a handclap breakdown, swirling 60s organ stabs, and Weiss opening a large can of whoop-ass on her drum kit. Then there’s the first Wild Flag single, released on Record Store Day in April of this year, featuring Timony at her glorious anthemic guitar best on the somehow utterly epic ‘Future Crimes’, even though it only goes for 2:44. The b-side ‘Glass Tambourine’ takes a more stealthy approach, building up to a mighty crescendo via sweet harmonies until there’s an all-out feedback and distortion-fest afoot. Rock & roll, people!!
‘Racehorse’ gets its furious groove on, with Brownstein declaring she’s “a racehorse, yeah I’m a racehorse, you put your mon-ey on me”, And frankly, who wouldn’t? With a hugely entertaining chorus of “We’re in the MONEY!” and a runaway train-like finale of Cole’s honky-tonk piano and Weiss’s thundering drums, this is an ecstatic whirlwind that can’t help but blow you away. We finish with ‘Black Tiles’, where classic ‘talky’ guitars animatedly gab at each other, soaring and swooping in arcs across the song while Timony’s more off-beat, subtle vocal draws you in. “Don’t try to fight it” she intones.
Give it up for Wild Flag, the year’s most awesome new band of Pacific Northwest’s most discerning punk rock connoisseurs.