I first met Carrie Brownstein 20 years ago. Sleater-Kinney were playing their first New York show, and she and Corin Tucker came up to me, asking if I could write about them for Spin. They weren’t happy with the writer who had been assigned to the story, but even though I loved the band, I couldn’t help them out. (I wrote about them plenty over the following years, of course.) I hadn’t seen Carrie for maybe a decade when the Los Angeles Review of Books asked me to interview her in April, while she was in town for the Los Angeles Festival of Books. Here’s what she had to say, about Sleater-Kinney, Portlandia, Transparent, and her book, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl.
Tag Archives: Carrie Brownstein
Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil have made history and song together for more than a half century. In the mid-’60s, they fomented the Tropicalia revolution in their native Brazil. They were imprisoned and exiled for their troubles, an experience documented in Tropical Truth: A Story of Music and Revolution in Brazil, Veloso’s memoir, one of the best and most important music autobiographies you’ll ever read.
The two elder statesmen have reunited for a tour, which brought them to the cavernous Microsoft Theater in LA last night. It was just the two of them and their acoustic guitars on the mammoth stage — two graying septuagenarians — with sometimes the audience joining along. Veloso’s voice in particular gets more hauntingly beautiful every time I see him; he may now be my favorite artist of all time (sorry Bruce). Having been a “soft Brazilian singer” (to borrow a phrase from one of his songs) — albeit one fond of static disruptions and eruptions — his whole life, he hasn’t blown out his cords one bit. If anything, they’ve become more supple, precisely tuned instruments. Gil, the former culture minister, sounds a bit raspier, but when he took the high notes and Caetano the low, the paired melodies took my breath away.
It made me think of a comment Carrie Brownstein had made earlier that day, in her on-stage conversation with LA Times critic Lorraine Ali, at the Los Angeles Festival of Books, about how she and Corin Tucker offer two narratives instead of the usual one as the front people of Sleater-Kinney. Veloso’s and Gil’s narratives have long entwined in a dialogue about race, colonialism, pop culture, and politics. Thinking of a way to explain to others the importance of the show, I thought it’s like seeing Dylan and Marley on stage together — if Dylan could carry a tune. These men are giants, who sing mostly in Portuguese, but also in Spanish and English. And then, sure enough, they closed with Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” Maybe I was reading into it, but was the refrain — “Every little thing’s going to be all right” — a message to the many Brazilians in the audience, as their country goes through perhaps the most intense political and economic tumult since the 1960s? The leftist regime that Gil was once a part of is under investigation and attack, in a country whose cultural icons still remember how it felt to be locked up by a military dictatorship.
But that was a subtext in an evening that was all about two of the most beautiful voices you might never hear together again, singing a half-century’s worth of songs of freedom.
I’m trying to find a tape of my circa 1990 interview with Ellen Willis. Haven’t found it yet, but here’s some of what I unearthed: interviews with the entire original cast of Rent, Paul Beatty, Patti Smith, Kathleen Hanna, Mary J. Blige, Stephen Trask, Carrie Brownstein, Bjork — the list goes on and on. One cassette is labeled “Missy/Moby.” Is this my legacy?
Great news to start a week that otherwise seemed likely to be full of zeitgeist doom and gloom: Sleater-Kinney have announced that they will be releasing their first album of new material in a decade, AND will go on tour. No Cities To Love will be released January 19/20 by Sub Pop Records; if it’s as good as the first single, “Bury Our Friends,” released today, it’s a doozy. Together Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, and Janet Weiss released some of the best albums of the late ’90s, early ’00s, taking the bristling energy of the Riot Grrrl movement to dizzying heights; if you don’t believe me, buy the Sleater-Kinney box set, Start Together, being released tomorrow.
Since 1995’s The Woods, Tucker became a mom and fronted her own band; Weiss drummed with Quasi and Stephen Malkmus and the Hot Jicks, and Brownstein reinvented herself as a comic actor on a little show called Portlandia. They got back together early this year, recording in secrecy. John Goodmanson, who recorded and produced most of those records, is back for No Cities To Love. The video for the new song features filmmaker and writer Miranda July, another early ’90s graduate of Olympia-area Grrrrl Studies. Check it out: