Portlandia's Carrie Brownstein talks to John Dugan | Interview
Hopefully renegade crafters who put birds on things have a good sense of humor.
Friday night at 9:30pm, a new 6-part improvised short comedy series debuts on IFC featuring former Trenchmouth drummer/SNL cast member Fred Armisen and former Sleater-Kinney/now Wild Flag guitarist Carrie Brownstein. I screened the first pair of episodes (you can watch the first episode at the end of this post) and loved what I saw—it was if someone had pulled archetypes from my subconscious and tour journals from the mid-’90s and made them real, hilarious and infused with insight into the sometimes absurd world of progressive big city living. I jumped at the chance to get Carrie Brownstein, an old touring acquaintance from the '90s, on the phone to talk about the process and inspiration for the show. Brownstein, who has lived in Portland in 2001, graciously hung with my somewhat disconnected thoughts and questions. I've culled some of the best chunks of the lengthy phone chat for you below:
JD: I gotta say I really like the show. I find it really insightful, it stays with me, but it also made me laugh out loud. I can't think of too many comedies these days that do that. When your band broke up did you think Oh, I'll be on TV in five years?
CB: No, not at all... Not just because you are a music guy, but Fred and I use the music analogy, with the transition from our Thunder Ant videos. Fred and I were making these comedy videos, we wouldn’t even say they were comedy videos back in 2005-2006, They were just an excuse for us to hang out, they weren’t trying to be funny, we were trying to explore this awkward moments and have them be silly. It was as organic without a bigger goal. It was like, Who am I going to be in a band with? Ill be in a band with my friends. Fred and I were working on this thing, without realizing that we were, building up, at least for me, some improvisational chops... building this dynamic, this chemistry. By the time 2009, 2010 rolls around, we realized we had 14 of these videos, that we were ready to formalize the process. We felt really lucky to transition it from a passion project to a TV project, but in terms of the amount of time it took, which was really five years, it did still have that kind of wonderful organic feel that you hope anything you do has. Certainly, that wasn't my intention when the band broke up. I was running around. I was writing for NPR, I was working at the humane society. I was excited to be doing other things besides music, but I wouldn’t have predicted this for my 2011.
Your performance background wouldn't have led you to this; you were doing music for ten years or so.
Yeah, ten years. There were a couple breaks in Sleater-Kinney and right when the band broke up, I acted in a couple small indie projects with my friends, but that was more dramatic work, I never felt as comfortable with that as I do with the improvisation. I think it’s because improvisation does mirror music a bit more. In terms of a couple of disparate parts coming together, capitalizing on a moment, needing to be unafraid of the unknown, knowing that when the moment happens, that might change everything. A lot of improv is about being able to maintain an energy, read an energy. I think I was able to learn from ten years of playing live. The five years that Fred and I made a bunch of videos, that was also its own kind of under-the-radar lesson in improvisational exploration.
More after the break.