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Why Can’t I Be You: Carrie Brownstein

In which we learn how to be a rock star, writer, comedian, and all-around gift to humanity.

ANAHEED: How much did you have to practice to get as good as you are?

CARRIE: I didn’t practice as much as I should have. I think I spent more time writing songs than I did, like, learning scales. I sort of taught myself enough to play the songs that I wanted to write. I guess I played a couple hours a day, now that I think about it, which is probably enough.

ANAHEED: Did it feel weird to be in your room alone practicing while other people were out doing stuff together?

CARRIE: I hung out with a lot of other people who were playing music, and we all had moments where we were going away and practicing. So it didn’t feel weird to be practicing by myself. It felt good to take that space. It was a nice way of being in my house, to just feel creative in a way that wasn’t daunting.

ANAHEED: A lot of our readers who are interested in being in bands ask us how to find band mates. Do you have any advice for them?

CARRIE: I think the best way is to play music with your friends. If you have a friend that you love and you love spending time with and you think that they’re smart or cool or funny, or there’s just something about them that you want to be around, just ask. Ask them to learn how to play, if they don’t already know. Because there’s so much of [being in] a band that’s about being in a kind of relationship—people see the worst side of you and the best side of you. And it’s nice to go through that with someone that you care about.

But if your friends don’t want to play music and refuse to learn—which is, you know, fine—then it’s so easy to make recordings of your stuff, or go to shows in your town and figure out who lives around you whose music you like. That’s what happened with Corin [Tucker] and Sleater-Kinney. I loved her band [Heavens to Betsy], and when that band was ending I just said to her, “I love your music.” I think it’s nice to be a fan of the people you play music with. Figure out who you love music-wise, then go pursue them.

ANAHEED: How do you figure out a tour—how do you manage it, how do you find venues—if you don’t have a label or a manager doing that for you?

CARRIE: The main thing is to not put yourself in the hole financially with a tour—which is hard for a band of any size. It’s good to start small and start regional. Kind of practice contacting people; find out what it’s like contacting the club booking person. Do that in your hometown, then do it in nearby towns. So that before you leave your state, you kind of understand how it works.

I remember my first time getting onstage and realizing that there’s a monitor mix that’s different from the main mix—so that what you’re hearing onstage is different from what the audience is hearing. No one had told me about that. All I could hear on my first show was my own amp, whereas in a practice space you hear the whole band—you hear the drums, you hear the other people’s vocals. You can have as many monitor mixes as you want, depending on the size of the amp and the room. Some singers only want to hear themselves and their guitar; they’re not listening to anything else. The drummer needs to hear the bass, or everything. So it’s good to practice what it feels like to be onstage, and what it feels like to tour, before you set out.

Start regionally. Do short tours. Make a budget; make a plan. Think about it as a business, because it can be scary to go out and lose money, and there are ways to avoid that. If there’s a slightly bigger band that you’re friends with, ask for them to take you on tour, or to play a couple shows with them, because you’ll get a solid guarantee [of money]—even if it’s 150 or 250 dollars, that’s something viable and consistent. Don’t overreach or be too ambitious your first time out. I wouldn’t schedule a month-long tour as your first tour. I might schedule like three shows, and figure out, OK, this is how much money we would need to do this tour and not lose money. Only have the amount of crew that you really need. On your first tour you don’t need, like, a lighting director and a sound guy. If you can, load your own equipment, and just use the house sound guy—or bring one friend that can help you. If you get too big in terms of crew when it’s unnecessary, that’s how you lose money, too.

ANAHEED: Because basically on your first tours you don’t make money; you break even?

CARRIE: Ideally, you break even. Oh: bring merchandise! Again, you don’t want to overreach—go to thrift stores, buy a bunch of cheap T-shirts, and screen shirts. People will just listen to your music online, so bring something they can take away. That helps. If you sell five shirts, that’s gas money. Just figure out ways of getting to the next city. Figure out ways of staying in people’s houses—not in a dangerous way.

I will say, touring is the hardest thing. Even for bigger bands, breaking even on tour is very, very hard.

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40 Comments

  • rosiesayrelax July 26th, 2012 3:07 PM

    I love these interviews! You Rookie folk always chat to the coolest of peeps :)

    Rosie Say Relax

  • farawayfaerie July 26th, 2012 3:34 PM

    I always find it strange when people think they’re ‘selling their soul’ if they are successful in the selling of their music. Woody Allen said that making money is an art, and so is good business. It makes so much sense to me. Lovely interview :)

  • caro nation July 26th, 2012 3:37 PM

    OHMYGOD

    • caro nation July 26th, 2012 3:55 PM

      Please interview Eleanor Friedberger because she is my other Stevie Nicks, besides Exene Cervenka. Those two and Bradford Cox.

      Wait, INTERVIEW BRADFORD COX! Not for this segment, but just….. for stuff. I’m sure you guys will articulate a more valid reason.

      Please.

  • Claire July 26th, 2012 3:38 PM

    I’m a little ashamed to admit that Portlandia served as my introduction to her, but since then, I’ve become a Sleater-Kinney fan and come to generally dig Carrie. Nice interview, as per usual.

  • LeatherStuddedFae July 26th, 2012 3:39 PM

    Bacon. <3 Haha. Oh, Tavi.

    Carrie is so amazing. I love the interview. <3

    http://stylestuddedfairy.blogspot.com

    • Maddy July 26th, 2012 5:23 PM

      Well cuz she was probably Kosher and didn’t eat pork, not because of some weird self-imposed isolation from normalcy.

  • ladiesfirst July 26th, 2012 4:44 PM

    Two emotion:
    – Extreme jealous that someone got to interview Carrie Brownstein
    – Glee&joy at the fact that I get to read a Carrie Brownstein interview.

    http://politicizenow.wordpress.com/

  • falkor4eva July 26th, 2012 4:47 PM

    Thank you for this interview, it comes at a perfect time. A friend and I were talking about appreciating new music, and about a certain band I said I liked them especially because they were girls. She is also in a band and feels like fans will like it just because she’s a girl, and she feels like that can be unintentional sexism. While I think of it as a girl who has been prevented from doing things creatively, it is really encouraging and helpful to see other girls pursuing those creative endeavors. That’s what I really meant, but I can see more of what what she means because of what Carrie said here about “Every time I want things to be transcendent and not have to do with gender dynamic or sexism, those things just rear their ugly head.” It’s still confusing to me, but conversation really does open things up…. thanks again!

  • Lillypod July 26th, 2012 4:49 PM

    sometimes i wonder if Rookie is in mind head, listening to my thoughts…

  • whatnaomiloves July 26th, 2012 4:57 PM

    Portlandia is one of my favorite new shows. Love the picture of Carrie, Petra!

  • tellyawhat July 26th, 2012 5:02 PM

    YAYAYAYAYAY

    I am in love with this conversation! Carrie is RAD. Just saw Deep Time play in Oakland last week (for the 4th time). Formerly known as Yellow Fever. They are my favorite modern band.

    Jennifer, of Deep Time, just wrote an awesome article about sexism in music http://www.imposemagazine.com/features/jennifer-moore-of-deep-time.

  • July 26th, 2012 5:26 PM

    I LOVE Carrie Brownstein and Portlandia!! This interview us the best :)
    On a mildly related note I never liked bacon…sorry bacon lovers
    http://thelunalovingbookworm.tumblr.com/

  • July 26th, 2012 5:26 PM

    *was

  • suburban grrrl July 26th, 2012 6:28 PM

    I’m just gonna throw this out there.

    Cacao.

    http://sub-urbangrrrl.blogspot.com/

    • Whatsername July 26th, 2012 11:46 PM

      Cacao to leaving! CACAO TO CACAO.

  • lylsoy July 26th, 2012 7:09 PM

    I never heard of Carrie Brownstein, and I absolutely fell in love with her in this interview. Itis just so good, nd so inspiring and I don’t even know how to put this in words, I will bookmark this and get all the paragraphs out, that inspired me to follow my creative dreams. I am so excited!!
    Thank you so much Carrie, I am going to check out everything about you rite now :**
    http://gossipgonzesse.blogspot.com.au/

    • Anaheed July 26th, 2012 7:17 PM

      You are in for a really great night.

  • isobele July 26th, 2012 7:31 PM

    I wish I was friends with everyone on rookie, you all seem so awesome.

    http://seesusiebean.blogspot.co.uk/

  • flowerchild49 July 26th, 2012 8:34 PM

    first the ice-cube-milk… now all this bacon business. tavi, your food world is morbidly backward.

  • youdonotdo July 26th, 2012 8:45 PM

    The only reason I will consider having children is that hopefully Rookie will be around for them to read when they’re old enough. I love this website.

  • Ben July 26th, 2012 10:55 PM

    I love Portlandia! This interview is wonderful for many reasons!

  • lindzi July 26th, 2012 11:01 PM

    I love her on Portlandia!

  • Whatsername July 26th, 2012 11:44 PM

    Loving the band advice and the discussion of sexism in music and the entire interview in a general sense.
    She’s so cool omg

  • ivoire July 27th, 2012 2:49 AM

    Tavi did you like bacon?! Cos I love bacon. And Carrie seems like an incredible person.

  • unefillecommetoi July 27th, 2012 11:14 AM

    god i’d never seen portlandia before!! best show ever :O

  • Spotty July 27th, 2012 11:51 AM

    sleater kinney is my baaaaand, y’all don’t even know!

  • Laia July 27th, 2012 11:57 AM

    YES CARRIE BROWNSTEIN FOREVER AND EVER AND EVER <3<3<3

  • Aubrey July 27th, 2012 10:30 PM

    I was nervously awaiting this interview! This concept of being A Girl Who Makes Stuff is so absolutely true. Unless men pursue a traditionally “feminine” vocation, they’re never asked “How does it feel to be a male [blank].” That just doesn’t happen. And I love that you guys discussed it.

    ALSO TAVI NO BACON EVER BEFORE? HOW. HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE.

    http://www.lifeofmagicalthinking.blogspot.com

  • Aubrey July 27th, 2012 10:31 PM

    Oops. That was supposed to say anxiously. Nervous has negative connotations. Which I didn’t intend at all.

  • Tavi July 28th, 2012 4:17 AM

    yo i really love bacon now

    • caro nation July 28th, 2012 1:35 PM

      Tavs you’ll never transition into food bloggin with your track record gurl

    • firky November 4th, 2012 8:42 PM

      I won’t tell your Rabbi.

  • florans July 29th, 2012 7:21 PM

    Às rookies brasileiras : O que acham de organizarmos um encontro das leitoras da Rookie no Brasil?

    • Rafaella Cardoso April 22nd, 2013 9:02 PM

      acho uma ótima ideia!

  • starpower July 30th, 2012 1:21 PM

    great interview, I love Carrie so much.
    Thank you!

  • Faith August 11th, 2012 2:06 PM

    You read my mind, Rookie! I was hoping you would interview Carrie.

    Would love to see an interview of a visual merchandiser (makes displays for stores) and an artist like Emily Winfield Martin!