Filthy Friends Are More Than a Side Project for R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker

John Clark
Filthy Friends

Say what you will about Filthy Friends, the band fronted by Sleater-Kinney singer/guitarist Corin Tucker and former R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, but don't call it a side project.

With Emerald Valley, the band's second album out Friday (May 3), Buck and Tucker have upped their commitment to the outfit, which also includes bassist Scott McCaughey, guitarist Kurt Bloch and drummer Linda Pitmon, who replaced Bill Rieflin following the release of Invitation, the band's 2017 debut. The band kicks off a month-long tour on May 9 in Seattle.

"Our plan is for it to be an ongoing real band just like every other band and when we work together, it's not a side project," Buck insists, adding that sort of dedication to a group is nothing short of life saving. "It's what saved my life when I was a kid, saved my life when I was in my forties and saves my life right now."

Since R.E.M. amicably disbanded in 2011, Buck has been involved in several musical endeavors, including Arthur Buck, an ongoing collaboration with singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur that shares several band members with Filthy Friends, McCaughey's The Minus Five and other projects.

For Tucker, who remains a member of the ground-breaking trio Sleater-Kinney -- which reunited in 2014 following a six-year hiatus -- Filthy Friends offers a unique experience. "It's a really different band for me than Sleater-Kinney and I think that's good," she says. "I don't think it would make me grow if I were in two bands that were really similar.

"There's a different task for me in Filthy Friends," she adds. "It's really being the main storyteller. There's a lot for me to do in that role that's really enjoyable and really different."

In that capacity, Tucker takes a decidedly more political and socially conscious turn on Emerald Valley, tackling such issues as climate change in the title track, Donald Trump in "November Man," fossil fuels in "Pipeline," gentrification in "One Flew East" and poverty in "Last Chance County."

"I don't feel it's as much as a responsibility as it is something that I have a deep desire to do," Tucker says. "Our country, our society and our environment – I feel like we’re really in trouble and really need to do more to address it. I think climate change is a thread that runs through the whole record, because I can't not think about it. Every time I'm called upon to say something that is meaningful, I think that's a thread that comes through the stories of the songs."

For Tucker, it's personal. The album's title, Emerald Valley, is a nickname for Eugene, Oregon where she grew up. Tucker says she's witnessing changes in the area firsthand.

Filthy Friends take aim at Trump in "November Man," but that wasn't Buck's original intent when he started writing the song. "Funnily enough, I didn't know who it was about at first," he says. "I keep guitars all over the house in whatever room I'm in. And I happened to go into a room of the house that had a guitar that was strung with all E strings. I was thinking of a Nick Drake song like 'River Man.' I was strumming these beautiful chords. [And the lyrics were like] 'November man, he's got the answer, November man, he's got the key.' And then it started getting faster and louder and I kept turning the amp up and I was kind of shouting it. Then I realized, 'Now, I know who this song is about.' I showed it to Corin and she completely changed the words, which was great. Hers are far better than mine were, but the idea is we got the November surprise, some of us, and we're living in that world."

For now, Buck is taking a philosophical approach to living in the Trump era. "The thing is, cultural-wise, the way the world is, he's a small part of it and we can do our thing, just as we always have, do the good stuff we can do and this will pass," he says. "I believe that."

Musically, the album includes a mix of jangly rock, high-energy punk and a mournful balladry. "November Man" features a menacing buzz-saw guitar that matches the ominous nature of Tucker's lyrics. "That's Kurt Bloch playing slide guitar through about four different pedals," Buck says. "My guitar is the one that sounds kind of drone-y. I don't use pedals, because Corin and Kurt use pedals, so I just get a sound from the amp. I like that amp sound and they can go to outer space with whatever they've got, but there's one guy kind of holding down the guitar section."

"November Man" goes straight into "Only Lovers Are Broken," which opens with a classic Buck riff that would have been at home on R.E.M.'s 1984 album Reckoning.

While there may be some nods to Buck's former band and Tucker's other group, there are distinct differences with Filthy Friends, both musically and logistically.

"With R.E.M., it used to be six-month tours," Buck says. "I would say I have more time to kind of stretch intellectually, musically and spend less time actually doing it. We make the records in a week and then someone else mixes them and we get out and play 30 shows instead of 130. That in a way makes it more intense. Because every single second you focus. When you're three months into a record, you just kind of forget what you're doing. I do anyway. But with seven days, cutting 14 songs, I know what I'm doing. It's very focused, very intense and very hard work. I prefer that."

Filthy Friends Tour Dates

May 9 - Seattle, WA – Neumos

May 10 - Vancouver, BC - Rickshaw Theatre

May 11 - Portland, OR - Mississippi Studios

May 13  - San Francisco, CA - Swedish American Hall

May 14 - Los Angeles, CA - The Echo

May 17 - Athens, GA - 40 Watt Club

May 18 - Atlanta, GA - The Earl

May 19 - Carrboro, NC - Cat’s Cradle

May 20 - Washington, DC - U Street Music Hall

May 21 - Philadelphia, PA - Johnny Brenda’s

May 23 - Cambridge, MA - The Sinclair

May 24 - Brooklyn, NY - Music Hall of Williamsburg