If the only thing Carrie Brownstein had done with her life was found and play in the indie-rock band Sleater-Kinney, that would have been, well, enough. The feminist trio was instrumental in the riot grrrl movement, and during their initial 12-year run, critics called them one of the greatest rock bands of their time.
Sleater-Kinney announced an indefinite hiatus in 2006 and, luckily, it turned out to be just that: a hiatus. The group released its eighth studio album, "No Cities To Love," in January, 2015.
In the meantime, Brownstein had moved onto a number of creative projects, most significantly the IFC series, "Portlandia." It started out as a series of homemade videos she made with her friend, Fred Armisen (of "Saturday Night Live" fame), who also had a background in music as the former drummer for the band Trenchmouth.
Under the monicker "ThunderAnt," the videos were mostly meant to entertain friends, but they soon evolved into the scripted and polished "Portlandia," which pokes fun at today's holier-than-thou hipster culture.
Brownstein is also a writer; she ran a blog on NPR Music called "Monitor Mix"; in October, Riverhead Books released her memoir, "Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl."
When Carrie Brownstein came to The Frame's studio to talk about her wide-ranging career, John Horn began by asking what her best collaborative relationships were.
I had earlier collaborators, but in terms of almost learning a vernacular with someone else and creating a shared musical language — you know, [Sleater-Kinney bandmate Corin Tucker and I] kind of learned how to play guitar with each other. We developed a style based on the continuations of phrases and kind of half-chords that we Frankensteined together to make the sound of Sleater-Kinney. That makes her, I think, sort of the most significant collaborator I’ve had, in that it was innovation. That to me is a very crucial form of collaboration. Because the idea is, with someone else, you can innovate in a way you wouldn’t be able to do by yourself.
How important is it to be with people performing something live as opposed to being on a TV set where there’s no real feedback outside of the people you’re collaborating with?
I definitely love performing live because there are moments of spontaneity. And as much as you’re performing on stage, I feel like the audience is performing, too.
In "Portlandia" or any show where you have a crew — especially in comedy — getting tricked into thinking that people laughing on set translates into something that works in the edit is dangerous. Sometimes a thing that seems really funny on set does not serve the story.
In the sketch about a chicken (watch below), there’s a lot of truth in this sequence. Was that something from the very beginning you wanted to make sure "Portlandia" reflected?
Absolutely. So much of it is about the ways that we start to curate our lives. The same way that we curate our online selves and cut out the things we don’t want to know about. I feel like people have made their neighborhoods and their cities like this too, for better or worse. Is it really for the best? It’s a little bit of calling into question of how we’re benefiting culture as a whole by making everything so precious.
We like to poke fun at mostly ourselves, but I think a lot of people have been able to relate to it.