Music

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: Um, where were we…you’re working on a book?

CARRIE: Yeah. It’s mostly like kind of a music memoir. [Writing] is a much more isolating experience, I will say. But I think it’s good.

ANAHEED: I don’t know if this is an insulting question to ask, but I feel like it might be OK because I’m older than you. Do you think about getting older in rock music with dignity? It seems so hard to do.

CARRIE: This is like a landmine question for me, because when Wild Flag started, I was in my early 30s. That still feels pretty young. I’m the same age, roughly, as Jack White, Britt Daniel from Spoon, James Mercer from the Shins. Sufjan Stevens is a year younger than me. There are a lot of people who are right at my age. It’s a nice age. But when Wild Flag started, the adjectives being applied to me were like veteran, and it felt very diminishing. I was really angry, because it feels like it happens in music especially. There are a lot of females on television, like Kristen Wiig, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey—they’re right there at 40, and they’re fine.

ANAHEED: But they get a lot of shit, too.

CARRIE: Yeah, they do. I think it’s just very difficult to butt up against sexism and ageism, especially where they intersect. The optimist in me wants to think that they don’t exist; and then I’m like, Oh my god—no one ever talks about Jack White like he is over the hill, or a “veteran.” In the New York Times review of a Wild Flag show they said something like I was “still wiry,” or “still agile,” and I’m like, what am I, 80 years old?! Like, hobbling out onstage? It was awful. I was very angry about it.

I’ve been thinking about Frank Ocean, and how he came out. A lot of the way it was written about was that it was a very welcome expansion of what maleness is. Which is great. But I was thinking about how when women add identifiers to their personhood, whether it’s a job thing or a sexual thing, or anything, the conversation becomes about whether they are less female now. Maleness, or the masculine perception, is like a synonym for humankind, you know what I mean? Why is it that any time there are these steps forward, or me getting older and playing music, why can’t this be furthering what it means to be female?

ANAHEED: No one ever asks, “Can men really have it all?” In interviews men are never asked, “How do you balance your career and fatherhood?”

CARRIE: If a man is able to have a job and take care of a kid, that’s expanding the notion of what a man can be; and when a woman wants to have a job and have a kid, it’s lessening how much of a woman she’s seen as.

TAVI: She’s “special.”

CARRIE: It’s just so strange. 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 hard to divorce yourself from that conversation.

ANAHEED: Does it feel more welcoming to be working in comedy? Do you not get talked about in that way?

CARRIE: Yeah. I was surprised that that was happening with music, because it wasn’t happening with Portlandia at all. Fred and I went on a live tour, and no one ever commented about age. It’s interesting how much freer you feel as a person and a creator when other people aren’t tossing undermining adjectives at you! I guess that’s a privilege that some people have all the time, but most female artists don’t have the privilege to not be constantly undermined.

TAVI: If you are a girl and you make things, you are evaluated as a Girl Who Makes Things and not a person who makes things. And then you have to think about it that way, and think about what you’re saying as a Girl Making Things. Like, I obviously love being a girl, and I love girly things; but I also wish that I could think about things as just a person more often.

CARRIE: Sometimes you feel like you’re not allowed these multitudes. People would ask me, years ago, “What does it feel like to be a woman playing music?” And I said, “Being asked this question is what it feels like. It’s become part of the experience.” The fact that we’re having this conversation, that extra explanation, has become part of the experience of being an artist. It’s so exhausting!

TAVI: That’s such a weird question, because it makes me imagine, like, playing guitar while sipping tea. I don’t know what it’s supposed to “feel like” to be a woman playing music.

CARRIE: I did an interview at the end of 2011, and they asked, “What was the best female record of 2011?” and I said Bon Iver. [Laughs] But you should be able to answer like that, because it should be about…

TAVI: Identity.

CARRIE: Yeah. And [Justin Vernon] wouldn’t care. He’d just be like, “Yeah, I put out the best female record of last year.” And he did! He’s so sensitive and wonderful in that way.

ANAHEED: When you were writing about music, was it hard to be critical of fellow musicians?

CARRIE: No, I didn’t find it that hard to be critical. I think criticism and constructive criticism definitely have a place. And mostly I think conversation has a place.

ANAHEED: Do you still do that kind of writing?

CARRIE: No. I kind of miss it, just because it forced me to listen to a lot of current music. Also, when you’re a performer, there’s an automatic hierarchy onstage—you’re onstage, and there’s your audience, and there’s this whole mythologizing that happens. But when you’re writing on a blog, that doesn’t exist. I mean, it does to some extent—you’re the editor, or you’re the writer, you’re the author. But I think people like blogs and online things because it does feel like a conversation, and things feel very fluid. And fluidity in criticism is really important, because people’s ideas change and evolve. I liked, when I was writing, to put out ideas, but be willing to then say, “Well I guess I’m wrong,” or “I see your point.” I wish politicians could be more like that. I hate how people are like, “He flip-flopped!” Don’t we want somebody to actually be able to say, “I was wrong”? Oh, you flip-flopped about slavery? That’s good!

ANAHEED: He’s such a flip-flopper, that Abraham Lincoln! Last time we talked to you, you introduced our readers to Eleanor Friedberger and the Unibroz. Are there any young new bands that you’re listening to now?

CARRIE: There’s this band called Deep Time. Their album just came out on Hardly Art, which is a subsidiary of Sub Pop. It’s a guy and a girl from Austin, Texas. It’s really cool angular melodies and catchy sounds. I recommend it.


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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!