Carrie Brownstein: ‘You Don’t Know How People Are Going To React…’

Carrie Brownstein tells Simone Scott Warren about her forthcoming memoir, and the likely return of Sleater-Kinney.



Eighteen is a pretty impressionable age when you’re discovering new music. Those bands that you fall in love with, believe me, they stay with you long after their tapes have worn themselves blank due to excessive playback. Back when I was that slip of a girl, the airwaves were dominated by Nirvana, and in the wake of their success, pretty much any other band of boys from Seattle, who could rock a plaid shirt. Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Pearl Jam (who to this day, can still incite a high level of disdain from these quarters, purely based on Eddie Vedder’s hair extensions), all blazed a trail for the noisy boys that for a time seemed unstoppable.

But what happened after that; well that was the part of the story that any self respecting teenage girl started to feel some semblance of excitement over. When the Riot Grrrl movement started up, it both empowered and annoyed me (why, oh why, would you spell ‘girl’ like that?). For the first time in what seemed like forever, women in music were no longer merely pop-strumpets. Instead, we had bands of women who didn’t seem interested so much in lipgloss as axe wielding guitars, and in their musicianship. L7, Babes In Toyland, Bikini Kill, they were kicking it for the girls, at a time when it felt like no one else was.

But this, dear reader, is 2012, and if we’re to claim any progress at all, then surely by now, the sex of a band should have no bearing on their description. We don’t find it necessary to point out that the Arctic Monkeys are all men, for example, and women have carved a rightful place in the rock family tree to an extent where gender ought to be irrelevant. So, when Wild Flag made their way into our record collections last year, the least interesting thing to read in their reviews was about how they were a group of women.

Perceivably, it’s even more tiresome if you’re Carrie Brownstein. Having spent over a decade honing her crafts (acting, writing, musician), still being defined by her gender must get wearing. “I think that for me, it’s not an interesting or descriptive way of describing our band,” Carrie agrees, when we put it to her one evening, over a transatlantic call, “It doesn’t say anything about the music, and it can be a little bit tedious, and a little lazy, when there are plenty of other adjectives that are more pertinent to the sound of the band. It makes me roll my eyes, more than anything.”

In the years that followed 2006’s ‘The Woods’, when Sleater-Kinney for all intent and purposes appeared to call it a day, and prior to forming Wild Flag, Brownstein had kept herself ridiculously busy, with writing about music for NPR, acting and writing in the cult American series Portlandia, and, perhaps more surprisingly, in a nine to five day job, working in an advertising agency. The latter role was a short lived attempt at normality; “There was just something attractive about being in the same place for a while,” Carrie tells us, “and working more traditional hours. But then I didn’t end up being that good… and I’m usually self employed, so it was harder to have a ‘Boss’.”

However, with the NPR job lined up, Brownstein began honing her skills as a writer, writing “essays about the notion of fandom, and what it means to be a listener, a collector, a fan, how all those things change and transform as they get to be more and more mediated by technology. Not in a bad way, just that they change.”

Having built a solid reputation as a music journalist, the recent announcement that Carrie was about to undertake the task of writing her autobiography, well, it wasn’t a huge surprise. After all, whilst it must be harder for Brownstein to figure out what to put as her occupation on her passport application that it is for most of us, the common thread of her work appears to be writing, whether that be music, prose or for the small screen. So what inspired her now, to pick up the pen, and write about her own life? “I basically had another book I was working on, and then realised that I was writing about my own life a little more than some of the more academic, music journalism topics that I was meant to be writing about.”

“Really I’m just getting started, figuring out the timeline, so I really won’t start on it until Fall. The actual task, and the act of writing is not that strange to me. I guess, parcelling out the specific memories and stories that I want to write about takes a little more deliberation and thought. But to be honest, I’ve just finished six months of touring with my band, and then I go right into writing and shooting Portlandia, so the bulk of the book will be started this Fall.”

Having brought Wild Flag over to the UK during that six month tour for a series of dates, Brownstein and the band found themselves with a level of success that perhaps eluded Sleater-Kinney on these shores back in their day. Wild Flag’s eponymous album was placed high on most of the obligatory 2011 end of year lists, and they quickly earned themselves a reputation for being one of the more exhilarating live acts on the circuit. But with such a rock pedigree behind them, it might have seemed to us like the expected reaction, but Brownstein admits the band themselves were caught a little off guard. “You don’t know how people are going to react to your music or anything you do. People seemed to get it right away with Wild Flag, which was exciting.”

But with two thirds of Sleater-Kinney in the band, the thought of just reforming that band must have crossed their minds? After all, reformations are big business these days. “I think with Sleater-Kinney, we just kind of went on hiatus, so we probably will do something and it won’t be a reunion, we will just start playing music again.” Carrie tells us, seemingly picking her words carefully, “I think, I always just like to look forward, rather than dwelling on something in the past, so at the time, it was like I took a couple of years off from playing music, and then it just felt more interesting to try to do something new as a challenge. I don’t think it would be easier to just go back to being Sleater-Kinney, but I do think there’s an innate chemistry and a shared ‘thing’ that the three of us have that I’m sure we’ll explore again.”

With so many facets to her career, it’s difficult to know what’s next, whether that be for Sleater-Kinney or Wild Flag. “I feel like I’m planned ahead for the next two years, actually.” Carrie laughs, “I mean I have to plan ahead, otherwise I lose track of what I’m doing or can’t fit anything in. We’re [Wild Flag] going to have some shows this summer, just a handful because I’ll be busy, and then I don’t know what’s next for us, we’ll figure that out soon I guess. Definitely, I’ll be doing music again in the Fall, though.” What that music is, for this writer at least, we await with baited breath.

Wild Flag’s debut album ‘Wild Flag’ is out now via Wichita.

Taken from the June 2012 issue of DIY, available now. For more details click here.
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