Until the band’s 2006, Carrie Brownstein was best known as the high-kicking co-singer/guitarist of Washington riot grrl trio Sleater-Kinney. These days she’s best known not for music at all, but for comedy: she and co-creator Fred Armisen’s online comedy sketches led to the creation of the brilliant Portlandia – one of last year’s surprise television hits in the US, poking affectionate fun at hipster-central Portland, Oregon (“it’s where young people go to retire!”). The show fast grew a worldwide cult, and is coming to the ABC later this year while the duo work on series number two in the wake of an extensive US tour.
So it’s not exactly the best time for Brownstein to be doing that other thing she does: playing rock’n’roll in Wild Flag. The band (which also includes S-K’s drummer Janet Weiss and former Helium singer/songwriter Mary Timony, plus keyboardist Rebecca Cole) put out their self-titled album last year, before Portlandia had become a hit.
“It has been very busy,” she says, with impressive understatement, “but I feel lucky – I’m busy with things that I love doing and I’m enjoying it all, but yes, truth be told, it’s very hectic. I won’t always be this busy, though – I have to live in the moment with it, there’ll certainly come a time where I’m not doing either.”
The band came together when Brownstein decided she’d been away from music too long. “Mary is someone I’ve known for many years – I was a fan of hers with Helium and also her solo albums and when I was thinking about starting a new band I was thinking of somebody whose style of guitar playing I really liked, and someone who could be a little bit of a counter to my style. She was on the East Coast and the rest of us are on the West Coast, though, so we have some logistics that we have to deal with in terms of practising.”
Wild Flag clearly love playing though – few bands would bother to write a song all about how much they like being a band, as the 'Flag did with the self-explanatory ‘Electric Band’.
“I think that, we each approached Wild Flag with a sense of urgency and determination and joy and I think a lot of the songs on the record speak to the kind of freeing, you know, ebullient nature of playing in a band,” she explains. “I think it acknowledges music as a real medium, not just for us, but for listeners – sometimes you can forget the pre-eminent role that music plays in your life and I think we were kind of remembering that.”
She pauses at the suggestion that it was on her mind since she’d been away from music for so. “Yeah, I think so. Music was a very early informative love of mine. When I discovered punk and indie rock in high school it was like a lifeline: that exhilarating experience of hearing someone’s words and have them explain your life to you in a way that you can’t really understand yet as a teenager. It continued to be kind of my first love, so I do think that taking a break from it reminded me of the reason why music is so important.”
While we’re on the subject of music, is the door closed for Sleater-Kinney?
“I certainly don’t think it’s closed. The three of us are still very good friends – Corin [Tucker, singer/guitarist]’s still one of my closest friends, and obviously Janet and I continue to play music together. That band was very important to me and I would love to continue that story,” she declares. “I don’t know when but I think on the one day I have off in 2012, we’ll try do a show.”