At 37, Carrie Brownstein is experiencing a career Renaissance like no other. The guitarist/vocalist’s life didn’t end when Sleater-Kinney – her renowned alt-punk outfit with Corin Tucker – indefinitely closed up shop back in 2006. That’s exactly when it began. Currently, she has: A book in the works called “The Sound Of Where You Are,” an analytical overview of today’s music business; A wickedly-hilarious IFC comedy show with “Saturday Night Live” star Fred Armisen, “Portlandia,” now entering its second season (with Season One arriving on DVD this month); and a jagged-jarring eponymous debut disc from her new all-girl supergroup, Wild Flag, featuring Sleater-Kinney’s Janet Weiss, The Minders’ Rebecca Cole, and Helium’s Mary Timony, with whom she once worked as The Spells. We spoke to busy, busy Brownstein this week, before the band’s two shows on Friday and Saturday at The City’s Great American Music Hall (www.gamhtickets.com).
Have you finished your book yet? No, I did not finish. I’ve been horribly sidetracked by other adventures. But I do hope to get back on the book-writing train, although that will be an arduous process. But I don’t really wanna talk about my book, because talking about my book is worse than not writing it. For some reason, I feel like the two are intertwined, so talking about it just means that I’m not gonna finish it.
Some folks think Steve Jobs destroyed the music business, others think he singlehandedly recreated it. But you’ve definitely developed some theories about where it’s all headed right? Well, I think it’s dangerous to approach contemporary culture from a Luddite – or neo-Luddite – perspective, because we can’t separate ourselves from the influences we have over – or from – the time we live in. So saying that we live in a time that’s ruinous while exalting the past? That gets very nostalgia-based and dangerous. So I can’t say, for instance, that Steve Jobs did anything other than find a new way of getting music to people, because so did many inventors before him. So I’ve become hesitant to negate or be derisive about what’s going on now, even though it’s fair to be critical of it. To come at it from a completely negative standpoint is to never find contentment.
And in the bigger picture, none of the technology will matter, because it’s doomed us to extinction. You might be right. But I bet everybody felt that way in the past – everybody felt like they were on the precipice of destruction, or extinction, and a lot of great art has come from that. That sense of fatalism. So it’s certainly not an uncommon feeling to think ‘Here we are, near the end.’ And that’s the greatest motivating factor sometimes.
Is that a factor in Wild Flag? You do have a song called “Boom”! Ha! Good segue! We haven’t talked about it as a band, but I think personally, in all my creative endeavors, that I’m dealing with a sense of impermanence, and just the fleeting nature of one’s own existence. I personally am dealing wth that a lot, but I don’t know about us as a band – if we’re setting forth with any kind of overall tenets. I think our main goal is just to put out music that feels urgent and important. With Wild Flag, obviously we’re individuals, all of us are very stubborn and very much opinionated. And what we agree on is that we don’t wanna do something that feels unnecessary. So we had to find a way for this band to feel necessary to us, first and foremost. And I think when people listen to our music, they do sense that urgency, because that’s been the bottom line for us.
How did you meet Fred Armisen? Fred and I kind of roamed in the same circles for years. He was in a punk rock band when I was in Sleater-Kinney, and no matter what technological advances and innovations crop up around music, the nature of touring is very consistent. So back then, we’d play the same venues, we’d sleep on the same floors, and so Fred and I knew each other from that world. But we never interacted until years later, when we became intentional about wanting to work on something. So we met up, mostly in Portland, and we started making these videos (as ThunderAnt) just for ourselves and our friends. It was very analogous to the way that he and I had approached music in the past, which was just to find somebody you liked, somebody you had respect for, and work with them. Eventually, we had these practice tapes that we felt were worthy of turning into an album, which was when we thought about turning it into “Portlandia” and pitching it as a TV show. So the fact that it’s a show whose foundation is literally built upon a friendship? That’s very rare, and why it has its own weird, unique sensibility.
The episode with Aimee Mann and Sarah McLachlan as humble housemaids was off the chart. And that was based on something that happened to me, actually. Of course, not with Aimee Mann in particular, But there was a time in my life where I had somebody who came and cleaned the house every couple of weeks. And one day, they brought a new assistant, like Oh, hey, this is my new assistant, and she’s gonna be helping me out with the cleaning.’ And it was a woman from a band that I had loved. So it was depressing, surreal, comical. But that was just the nugget of the idea – we worked it through the writing process and turned it into something much darker and weirder. Into that contrast of being an uber-fan of somebody, but also wanting them to do a really good job cleaning your toilet.
What guest stars have signed on for next season? It will begin airing on January 6, and I think there are a handful of guest stars I can talk about. We have Tim Robbins, Amber Tamblyn, Kristen Wiig, Andy Samberg, Johnny Marr. And we have a lot of musical guests this year, none of whom play musicians. And on top of how fortunate we are to get those people, we really get a lot of great local actors in Portland. So part of the joy of doing the show is finding these undiscovered, unsung talents that exist in every town. Just delving into that has been really fun.