Carrie Brownstein had a pretty awesome 2012. Her band Wild Flag mounted a successful tour, her IFC comedy series Portlandia won a Peabody and got renewed for a third season, and her voice just appeared in an episode of The Simpsons. As the year winds down, we caught up with the Seattle-born multi-hyphenate to chat about her banner year, her work on Portlandia, and her current cultural obsessions. (The third season of Portlandia premieres January 4 at 10 p.m. on IFC.)
SW: I'm going to go out on a limb and say 2012 was a pretty good year for you.
Brownstein: I feel very fortunate for this past year. There were a lot of very surreal events that transpired for which I'm very proud. I feel like this is fleeting, so I'm just trying to enjoy it and not take it for granted and just be happy about it. It's been very fulfilling, but it makes me just want to keep working and keep working harder.
I don't know how busy you were when you were doing Sleater-Kinney full-time, but I have to imagine that with a new band and a TV show in production, your schedule is pretty busy. Was that a major adjustment to your life?
With Fred [Armisen] still doing Saturday Night Live, there's sort of a natural time limit for Portlandia in terms of the production schedule, so that leaves a natural break in which I can work on other things. I think one thing that contributes to my happiness and a decrease in anxiety was realizing that I function better with a certain amount of business and productivity. It has definitely changed my schedule and my relationship to whatever constitutes home, but aside from that it's only been wonderful.
Did you have any sense of where your career would take you after Sleater-Kinney?
I was 31 when Sleater-Kinney broke up, so I felt like, "I really hope my best years are not behind me." I felt like I had more to do. I started writing for NPR, writing a blog for them, which I found very fulfilling and a great way to keep engaged with music and in an ongoing dialogue about fandom and collecting. I got a book deal, and my plan was just to focus on writing.
In the meantime, Fred and I were working on these little videos under the moniker ThunderAnt without a lot of ambition or intention behind them. They weren't even supposed to be funny. They just seemed kind of weird and a way for us to hang out. But it did start to seem that potentially they had this sensibility, and that he and I had started to develop this on-camera chemistry. It kind of happened in the same way that Sleater-Kinney did. Corin [Tucker] and I knew that we liked writing music together and we knew that it was good, but I was still in college when that band started. I am ambitious and I am intentional, but strangely the two most successful things I've done have been nurtured in this organic way, separate from the industry. They've come to light on the fringes and been discovered or pushed out into the public without that having been the initial intention.
Part of the fun of Portlandia is all the pop-culture stuff you guys touch on. The season premiere has a story line involving MTV, and there's the sketch from last season where the couple becomes obsessed with Battlestar Galactica. What are your current pop-culture obsessions?
Similar to everyone else obsessed with Homeland, I definitely watched in the same way that Doug and Claire watched Battlestar Galactica last year. I was on tour and I started watching Homeland, and I would be tired from playing shows, but I would stay up for two to three hours past when I should be asleep, watching that show and then reading about it and Tweeting about it.
I just started watching Walking Dead, which I'm now totally obsessed with. I love Girls, and Louis C.K.'s Louie was a show I became obsessed with and could watch those episodes over and over.
Do you have the same obsessive relationship to movies and music?
Not so much movies, because I really love to see movies in the theater. There are so few experiences as an audience member where you feel cut off in a good, refreshing way from your phone or the outside world, and a movie theater still provides that all-encompassing experience. I saw Bruce Springsteen the other night in Portland, and I did not get on my phone. I didn't Tweet about it or take pictures. I felt very immersed, and I love situations that can be immersive like that.
I do go record shopping, like twice a month. Dirty Projectors had an album this year called Swing Lo Magellan, and the song "Dance for You" I probably listened to literally a thousand times. Same with Ariel Pink. He has a song called "Mature Themes" that I cued up over and over again in my car, and it started to feel like an OCD thing. It's like you're fixating on some meditative phrase in your head, except that it's a show or a song. I'm not good with meditation or yoga or relaxation, so those moments that cycle back over and over again become hypnotic and a way for me to center myself. I think those kinds of healthy obsessions are OK.