In Corin Tucker’s view, it would have been weirder if Sleater-Kinney hadn’t put out a weird record like the one it just released, the one that led to longtime drummer Janet Weiss quitting the band.
“All the way back to [1997’s] ‘Dig Me Out,’ we’ve made a point of trying different things from album to album,” said the co-leader of one of indie-rock’s most influential bands.
“We’ve been through this before.”
The album in question — which brings them to town Tuesday for a quickly sold-out Palace Theatre concert — is an especially sharp turn for Sleater-Kinney, though.
Titled “The Center Won’t Hold,” it adds slick, even poppy melodies and buoyant synthesizers and piano to a band heretofore known for its frontwomen’s angsty vocals and gnarly dueling guitars. Fellow rock innovator St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) produced the record, which maybe guaranteed a certain level of polished strangeness.
Maybe just as prominent as the sonic changeups, “The Center Won’t Hold” also takes a more subdued approach to Sleater-Kinney’s often overt feminist and socialist-leaning lyricism, which made them one of the prototype riot-grrrl bands.
The record is still topical and of the moment; it just isn’t very riotous. Some songs are hopeful and even happy. And its most seething track, “Broken” — a nod to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser Christine Blasey Ford — is unlike a traditional Sleater-Kinney tune, since it’s a piano ballad that also turns into a more personal plea to “keep it together.”
“She stood up for us when she testified / Me too, my body cried out when she spoke those lines,” Tucker sings.
Calling from her home in Portland, Ore., before their tour started last weekend, Tucker talked excitedly about the new record but was rather nonchalant about its much-ballyhooed musical departures or the added pressure of carrying on without Weiss.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to have a long career,” she said, “but the flip side of that is we feel like we always need to keep challenging ourselves as artists and figuring out how we grow as musicians and composers.
“We were at that point again, wanting to try something we hadn’t done before.”
The group’s previous album, 2015’s “No Cities to Love,” was a more straight-ahead, classic-sounding Sleater-Kinney LP that found the trio bouncing back from a nearly decadelong hiatus.
During the long break, Tucker parented a son and daughter and issued solo material while fellow singer/guitarist Carrie Brownstein became the star and co-creator of the hit IFC TV series “Portlandia” with “Saturday Night Live” alum Fred Armisen.
One of the defining factors of the new album, Tucker said, is that many of the songs were worked up in separate cities, since Brownstein now lives in Los Angeles.
“We wrote more with piano and synthesizer because we were working more alone, which became an interesting challenge,” she explained, laughing at another unlikely instrument they used: “A lot of times we’d just sing something into our phones and send it to each other, which was actually a lot of fun and kind of creative.
“Sending files back and forth and notes about what we were thinking became kind of exciting. Back when we were starting out, all we had to use were old Walkmans for this sort of stuff.”
Tucker laughed again. “Now we thought, ‘Well, why shouldn’t we use technology to our advantage and try this a different way?’ ”
As for the lyrics, she described “The Center Won’t Hold” as more of “a character-filled album” that takes a step back, “examining the emotions and heaviness of these times.”
“We wanted to write more from the side of reflection and acknowledgment, instead of trying to come up with sloganistic kind of protest songs,” she said. “That just didn’t feel very truthful to us at this point.”
Working with Clark as producer was “so creatively satisfying, and really a blast,” Tucker added. So it was all the more surprising when Weiss announced her departure from the band in July just as the rollout of the new album began.
“The band is heading in a new direction, and it is time for me to move on,” the widely revered drummer said at the time.
Just before the album’s release in mid-August, Weiss got into a bad car accident that broke her right leg and collarbone. “We’ve been in touch,” Tucker said, “and we’re hopeful and expect her to have a full recovery.”
Sleater-Kinney itself is on the mend. Brownstein and Tucker found a replacement for Weiss in Angie Boylan, a Brooklyn drummer who played in several bands — including a Sleater-Kinney tribute band. (“Totally a lucky coincidence,” Tucker noted.) Boylan is serving behind the kit on this tour alongside two multi-instrumentalists, Toko Yasuda and Katie Harkin, the latter of whom also played on the “No Cities to Love” tour.
“It was really difficult and unexpected,” Tucker recounted of losing Weiss. “There were moments when we were like, ‘Can we even do this?’
“But at the same time, we also always thought this record is really important to us. We’re proud of it, and we really poured a few years of our lives into these songs. So it just came down to finding another great drummer and maintaining the special connection that Carrie and I still very much feel like we have.”
Not so weird after all.
Corin Tucker on ...
How Annie Clark the producer compares with St. Vincent the rock star: “She came in full of energy and ideas. She was super-enthusiastic and a great coach. She has a really different skill set than Carrie and I. She’s such an accomplished musician with classical training, so that was really helpful when we were trying different things. It helped that she’s a great singer, too, so she could sing the notes for me to try.”
Lizzo, who opened much of Sleater-Kinney’s 2015 tour while living in Minneapolis: “I’m so happy and excited for her. It’s totally what she deserves. We knew! The first night we played with her, we just all had this same reaction of, ‘Omigod, she’s gonna be huge!’ It’s been so fun seeing that come true.”
Minneapolis and First Avenue being a favorite stop: “We’ve had so many great shows there, even going back to playing the small room [7th St. Entry] and being super-psyched to be there, like, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s Prince’s club. We’ve made it!’ And we were all such big fans of the Replacements, Babes in Toyland and so many other bands out of Minneapolis that were a big influence. So there’s always been that kind of connection and excitement playing there.”