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Carrie Brownstein, From Sleater-Kinney to NPR to Movie Star

Carrie Brownstein, From Sleater-Kinney to NPR to Movie Star (photo)

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Carrie Brownstein ought to write a movie about rock and roll. She’s played guitar for the eminent rock band Sleater-Kinney. She has a music blog on called Monitor Mix, and has also written for Slate and the Believer. And she’s acting in her first feature-length film, “Some Days Are Better Than Others,” which premiered Sunday here at SXSW. In the film, directed by Matt McCormick, she stars alongside fellow Portland musician James Mercer, formerly of the Shins and currently of Broken Bells, this year’s featured band at SXSW. Her double duties at this year’s fest — as an actor and as a curator for NPR’s showcase — have her feeling invigorated. Over the phone from a hotel room in Austin, Carrie recounted Sunday’s cringing movie-viewing experience, broke down her transition from musician to writer, and hinted at a Sleater-Kinney reunion as but one of her near future musical endeavors.

“Some Days Are Better Than Others” premiered Sunday. How was the reception?

I think it was good. It’s really hard for me to be objective about the film. I spent a lot of time with my head in my hands and my fingers in my ears, trying not to hear my voice. So I’ve only seen certain parts of the movie. I felt like at the end of the screening it was just like I was taking my first breath.

I’ve seen the trailer. Everybody in it looks pretty sad and adrift. What’s the storyline?

It is a story of sad and adrift people. But it’s also a lot about — whether it’s people or objects or cities — things that are no longer needed or wanted. There was a lot of sadness and embarrassment the very beautiful summer of 2008, having to cry for many months as my character.

03172010_somedays2.jpgTell me about your character.

I play Katrina. She’s probably in her late 20s. She lives in Portland. She recently was broken up with by her boyfriend, who she caught cheating, so she feels discarded in that way. What she wants more than anything, in this highly voyeuristic society, is a witness to her pain. She feels like the way that her sadness can be validated is if she can somehow get on some sort of reality TV show — like any kind of reality TV validates all sorts of ridiculous emotions, and heightens them — so even though she’s sort of the smarter, creative, kind of quirky person and sees through reality TV, all of a sudden, she becomes obsessed with that as a stage for her sadness.

How does James intertwine with your character?

He plays my roommate, and another lost soul, who’s living the prolonged adolescence typical to cities like Austin and definitely Portland, where you can carve out an existence that has nothing to do with adulthood. But then, of course, that becomes its own form of alienation after awhile.

Are you ready to act again if the opportunity comes up?

I think so. I do these comedy shorts with Fred Armisen from “Saturday Night Live,” and I think I might prefer the more kind of nimble and spontaneous nature of 1) doing shorts and 2) doing improvisation. It mirrors my approach to music a lot more.

You had not one but four stories in the “Best Music Writing” anthology that Greil Marcus put together. How’d you transition so smoothly from playing music to writing about it?

I think a common thread in my life before I was in a band and when I was young was that writing always was something that was important to me. I’m a huge reader. And during my time in Sleater-Kinney, I was always the one asked to provide the added commentary or analysis. Occasionally, publications would ask me to write something, like a tour diary, and that led to essays. When the band ended, I felt like I wanted to pursue that more wholeheartedly. It might from the outside seem like the band ended and then I picked up a pen and started writing for NPR, but it’s something that I’ve worked on for a lot of years.

03172010_carriebrownstein.jpgAre you missing playing music?

I am. And I just started a new band after taking many much-needed years off from playing. I can’t really talk about it that much, but we have seven songs, and there are four of us, and we’re based in Portland — but not all of our members live there.

Can you give me any clues?

I can tell you that Janet Weiss from Sleater-Kinney is also in it.

I’ve been listening to Janet’s new Quasi album nonstop.

Oh my God, that Quasi album is unbelievable. It just comes through like a chainsaw. Every other album is just being totally chopped down right now.

When am I going to get to hear a new Sleater-Kinney album?

Well, Janet, Corin and I are still great friends. And we will probably do something. It’s so intense, that band.

People love that band.

We spent 11 years committed to that band, heart and soul. To get back into it we have to be in that place where we can immerse ourselves fully. I think it will happen. We have to loop around, and we’re at the far end of the circle, away from the band, but I think we will come back and revisit it. And hopefully that record will be sometime in the next five years.

[Additional photo: Brownstein and Janet Weiss during a show on the One Beat tour]

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….


IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.


IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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