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Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein vs. Stephen Malkmus

One More Mountain

May 02, 2014 Issue #49 - February/March 2014 - Portlandia Photography by Maarten de Boer (Portlandia photo) Bookmark and Share

Portland is the place where young people go to retirethat’s arguably the most widely quoted line from season one of Portlandia. But if that’s true, Carrie Brownstein and Stephen Malkmus must be the old-soul exceptions, as both relocated there when they were in their prime early retirement years and have continued working at more or less the same prolific pace. Now 47, Malkmus has returned to Portland from a two-year sojourn in Berlin with a new album, Wig Out at Jagbags, a smartly literate collection of effortless rockers that are looser and more carefreenot to mention more funthan just about anything in his post-Pavement oeuvre. But even if he’s embracing middle age, don’t mistake the album’s reflective tone for complacency. His shrugging “golden boy of indie rock” image may be fading, but the older, wiser Malkmus is no closer to collecting his Portland pension. Joined by Portlandia‘s Brownstein and Fred Armisen, the trio discusses touring, mountaineering disasters, and why it’s probably best to avoid your own press.

Stephen Malkmus: Hello. Where are you guys? Are you in Portland?

Carrie Brownstein: No. We’re both in L.A.

Stephen: So you’re just hanging out there? Do you live there, Carrie?

Carrie: No! I live like a quarter of a mile from you [in Portland]!

Stephen: Yeah, I know. But it doesn’t seem like you really live there. You are getting too famous. Tell the truth! [Laughs]

Carrie: I’m not! I flew down for some meetings, like Portlandia stuff.

Stephen: Well, you know, after my [last] album [2011’s Mirror Traffic], I was getting so famous I just had to go to Berlin. I couldn’t take it anymore, the small town.

Carrie: It’s nice that you absconded to Berlin. I like the expatriate narrative. I think that’s a good artistic narrative to have, to have the word “expatriate” on your resume.

Stephen: It definitely works unless the music doesn’t sound any different from what you did before. Then you’re kind of forced to say that it has just influenced your mindset or is some sort of really loose thing. Our music doesn’t sound much different even though I went to Berlin. It’s almost kind of sad sometimes. It’s like you go there, and it’s just the same. I’m like, “I’m an American, man. We don’t change. We bring the America there. We don’t get you into us. We infect you.”

Carrie: Yeah, cultural imperialism.

Fred Armisen: Where are you now?

Stephen: Matador office with Nils [Bernstein, Matador publicist].

Carrie: Oh. You’re in New York?

Stephen: Yeah, we’re all here. We stayed here after that [Late Night with Jimmy Fallon] show, and we’re doing an in-store, for instance, at Other Music. And we saw Fred’s genius drummer video that’s coming out, where he looks like a drum teacher with a foreign accent of an indeterminate origin. It’s really funny.

Fred: Thank you! Jens Hannemann…

Stephen: It probably just comes out of you. You don’t even have to try.

Fred: I saw this DVD once of a drummer from Germany named Marco Minnemann, who did the same thing. He was just talking about how he drums and there were close-ups of his feet and hands, so it’s based on that.

Stephen: Well, it’s a role you were meant to play, since you were already a drummer. I don’t know if that’s praise.

Fred: I’ll take it either way.

Stephen: It definitely is. It’s super funny. When it that coming out officially? It’s on Drag City, right?

Fred: Yeah, it’s out already, a little while ago. [Fred Armisen Presents Complicated Drumming Technique: Jens Hannemann was released in 2007Ed.]

Stephen: Oh, it is? I didn’t know that. Sorry.

Carrie: I was confused. I thought maybe you had another one coming out.

Fred: Yeah, I shot some more for a second one, but that’s not done yet.

Stephen: Maybe this was some of that. Or maybe this was the classic. I never saw it before, but it was super funny. Are you guys filming more Portlandia for this season in Portland?

Fred: We just wrapped a couple months ago, so now it’s coming out at the end of February and now we’re just starting to do some of the promotional stuff for it.

Stephen: Are you going to go on tour again?

Carrie: No. I don’t think so. We’ve talked about it, but we’d have to come up with a real show. I think the first tour we did, it was okay that it was clumsy and charming and just an extension of Fred and I, like an in-person hangout with the fans and creating some kind of moment.

Stephen: Yeah, the amount of energy you’d have to come up with for a better concept, maybe you don’t want to spend it on an ephemeral tour. I can see that. Did you guys play in Florida last time?

Carrie: We didn’t. Are you playing in Florida on your tour?

Stephen: No. [Laughs] I have, as you have. I played everywhere but Miami for some reason, which is the place everyone likes these days. Miami is having a renaissance, it seems.

Fred: Have either of you ever played in Alaska?

Carrie: No.

Stephen: No. There was a little trend for going there. The Hawaii and the Alaska shows, I would hear about them in hushed tones backstage but we never did them. I’d like to go to Alaska. I’m into misery places, like hiking tragedies and snow disasters. Into the Wild and that kind of stuff. I’m really into that, so I’d really like it there, I think.

Carrie: Did you read that book, the Cheryl Strayed book, Wild? Is that what it’s called? Where she just hikes the Pacific Trail by herself…

Stephen: No, but I will read it. And I’ll like it.

Carrie: What is that movie? It’s a true story. It’s about two guys that go climbing, and they fall and the guy is like, “Just let me go”? Did you ever see that movie? That’s another really good adventure film.

Fred: Into Thin Air?

Stephen: That’s the one about Everest, I believe. It’s Krakauer, and Krakauer is an underrated genius. I read a lot of these mountaineering disaster stories, and his is like Dostoyevsky compared to the other ones that I read. So I really have to give him his props. He doesn’t need them from me. He’s probably quite well off as far as writers go and critically lauded.

Carrie: Maybe some of the readers of Under the Radar will not have read Jon Krakauer.

Stephen: That’s true. He’s great.

Fred: Every little bit counts.

Stephen: Yeah. If we can make some kind of triangular connection between him and us it can be good for us, too, right? The Krakauer readers get into Portlandia and The Jicks, not to mention your drummer video…

Carrie: And anything else we want to promote.

Fred: “I started listening to The Jicks and watching Portlandia up on a mountain, way high above everything…”

Stephen: [Laughs] Yeah, that can happen now. People often die with their satellite phones on up there. That’s one of the new things, like, “Honey, I made it. It’s so beautiful. I can see so far.” And then they freeze to death.

Carrie: They die?

Fred: Yeah. They freeze to death by falling asleep. They just take a rest and they fall asleep.

Stephen: Yeah. Your brain gets a little confused up there, and you decide, “I can push it.” And nighttime comes and there’s no chance, and this is regardless of accidents, which can happen. You have to bivouac, it’s called. And then bivouacking is digging a little hole in the snow that becomes your grave, unfortunately.

Fred: Oh, my God.

Stephen: Yeah, it’s quite a folly, but people have these weird impulses to do it. Often fame or wanting attention leads people up there.

Fred: Or wanting a story to tell your family when you get down.

Stephen: Yeah. And a lot of people with families go, too. It never ceases to amaze me. I probably wouldn’t even go skydiving because I have kids. But those people do that. I will go on tour. That’s my one risk. You’ve got to put food on the table.

Carrie: How high are the risks of touring in the risk category of life?

Fred: Well, there’s driving. Being in an automobile or van is probably the most dangerous part.

Stephen: Exactly. That’s risky. The countries that you visitwe went to Brazil. You could say that’s risky. There are a lot of small commuter flights, and the electricity is not guaranteed to be grounded there. And there could be, conceivably, rabid fans there, because there hasn’t been as much rock and roll, so virtual rabies could infect you. So that’s risky. That’s a high-risk tour, as far as I’m concerned. But as you’re traveling around America and Europe, it’s not too dangerous, right?

Carrie: No. I think we’re good. It’s probably no more dangerous than someone working, driving around the same city over and over again.

Stephen: Yeah. Flower delivery. It’s more dangerous if you think it is. If you’re afraid of flying, it truly is more dangerous.

Carrie: Tour used to stress me out a lot, because I was afraid of flying, and I would think that I was likely going to die on tour. I would look at an Australian tour and think, “Okay. There are 11 flights between me leaving and coming home. For sure, one of those will not make it.” But that’s totally irrational.

Stephen: But you were getting tired of touring in Sleater-Kinney. Or something was happening, according to Janet [Weiss, former drummer for The Jicks and Sleater-Kinney]. You were just burned out on it, I guess. Right?

Carrie: Yeah, I think that tour became the container that I put all my stress into and all my anxiety. So it seemed to embody it. Also, my body was rejecting it. I would go on tour and just get sick. I think a lot of people burn out on tour. It seems like you don’t, really.

Stephen: Well…yeah. I do, but I like it conceptually, because I don’t do much else in my regular life. I mean, I do stuff, but nothing outwardly productive or outwardly connecting. So it’s my connection to the world. I make the best of it, I guess. I don’t know how it got to that, but I never found another way.

Fred: How do you do it? Do you treat yourself well? Like by driving a nice vehicle?

Stephen: Yeah. I go to nice restaurants. I look at the Internet in a really self-loving way. [Laughs] I didn’t mean that in a sexual way, like masturbation or something, but I just sit there and look at sports. That’s what you do, reallylook at the Internet. Watch movies. It’s almost like I can’t remember what I did [on the last tour], and it’s only been two years. Maybe I can reinvent myself this tour. As you have to reinvent yourself on your show, so they say.

Fred: Do you have a lot of people with you?

Stephen: No. We just have a tour manager and a sound man. Maybe T-shirts. Not counting groupies, which come and go. And assorted other hangers-on. The drug guySpanish Tony.

Fred: Thugs.

Stephen: Yeah, thugs. [Laughs] And our posseI don’t really consider them part of it, either, because they have to make their own way.

Fred: It’s protection. Just think of them as protection.

Stephen: Maybe we should wrap this up, because I have to go to Other Music for an in-store, and you guys have other stuff to do, too.

Carrie: Yeah. I’m going to meet Miranda July, who you both know.

Stephen: Well, cool.

Carrie: Good luck at your in-store. I really love your album, by the way.

Stephen: Well, that’s nice of you to say. I think it’s good. It’s fun. It’s too wordy, probably, but other than that, I like it. But that’s also when you read reviews, and that’s all they talk about is words.

Carrie: But you’re an artist where people focus a lot on your words. That’s the thing. They think, “Oh, a Malkmus record. What is he singing about?” Other people, they focus on something else. Like what the person’s new outfit is.

Stephen: It’s interesting, because when you’re in a band, you don’t really talk about the words. Whatever words that Corin [Tucker, former Sleater-Kinney vocalist and guitarist] was singing or you were singingI don’t know if that’s what it was like for you-but you just did it, and it was like, “Okay. Those are the words.” You talk more about the groove or the overall sound. And you make the mistake of reading the reviews, and that’s all that they’re really talking about. It’s kind of funny. I know why, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t fuck you up.

Carrie: Yeah, I try not to read anything about what I’m doing. What about you, Fred?

Fred: I’ve been diligent about that, not reading anything about what I’m doing.

Stephen: Wow. You guys are good. I have to do it. Not obsessively, but I like to see it come in. I bend until it hurts and then I stop. [Laughs]

Carrie: That’s a good metaphor for life.

[Note: This article first appeared in the print and digital versions of the February/March issue (Issue 49).]


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November 27th 2014

Good conversation !

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August 28th 2015

Quite disappointed about Stephen ... Speaking lot of shit about Brazil ! Brazil is no more dangerous than some places in the United States ... Brazilian fans have much respect for him. but it seems that this is one place that he must go to help pay his decadent rockstar bills!!! FCKY

August 28th 2015

I guess who is trying to tell exciting stories for the family is himself ! It was only in big cities Belo Horizonte , São Paulo, Porto Alegre and Rio de Janeiro ... a true Asshole