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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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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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