Rocker/actress/writer Carrie Brownstein spoke with The Record’s Ross Reynolds about the music scene in Olympia in the 1990s and why she thinks of Portland as a shrug.
Brownstein, of Sleater-Kinney and “Portlandia” fame, has a new memoir, "Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl." She did a reading Friday night at the Neptune Theatre in Seattle.
On what brought her to Olympia:
When I was in high school in the suburbs of Seattle, a friend of mine told me about a scene in Olympia. There were a handful of record labels at the time, namely K and Kill Rock Stars, and there had been a festival, the International Pop Underground Convention.
All these bands had played: Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy, Unwound, Karp, and Some Velvet Sidewalk. Some of those bands were singing from the female perspective, these very unapologetic narratives that I had never heard before and that in my young inarticulate self, I had not been able to explain my own set of circumstances.
On what she found there:
There were so many bands, there were so many venues, there were recording studios. The infrastructure was in place and so you could form a band on a Monday, practice on Tuesday, maybe write a song by Thursday, you could play a show and then you could record a seven-inch over the weekend.
On punk rock politics:
There was certainly an ideology that was anti-corporate, anti-commercial, you know, sort of eschewing materialism. And to embrace the commodification of your band or music was at the expense of your ethics. There was a pretty hard line. There was sort of a Rubicon that you could not cross without experiencing a little bit of a backlash or worse -- outright rejection from fans.
Sleater-Kinney was a band that wanted to be heard. We had a set of ambitions and sometimes they felt anathema to those politics from which we came.
On hard-core punk feminism:
As there was a bidding war for the wake of bands that followed Nirvana, I think Olympia dug its heels in and there was a media blackout for a lot of the bands, particularly bands associated with riot grrrl. And that was because it was a movement very mischaracterized, very much watered down in the mainstream press.
I think Olympia set itself up in slight opposition to what it perceived as the ambitions of some of the Seattle bands at the time.
On why Portland “is the embodiment of a shrug”:
I think Portland is a little bit of an "aw-shucks" city. You know, just kind of a diffidence but that also has a little bit of a hint at confidence, I suppose.
It's not a city that's broadcasting itself through a megaphone in the way that other cities are. It never feels as determined. There's a pride taken in the ease at which it appears that we're all living. Which is not necessarily true, I think people do work hard there.
But yeah, there's a little bit of a shrug to the Pacific Northwestern mindset that has to do with an exaltation of the casual, an exaltation of a quality of life that isn't about working until you collapse, that leisure is part of what we consider important.
On going from a serious political band to the goofiness of the Internet show “Portlandia”:
The common line has been writing, and through writing it’s storytelling and observation and an interest in communication and discourse in the ways people present selfhood, the ways people perform at couplehood, people’s relationship to where they live, how they live, why they live. Sleater-Kinney was very much about that. And “Portlandia” is also about that, but the vernacular is different.
Editor’s note: This interview has been trimmed and edited. Produced for the Web by Gil Aegerter.