Monday, April 28, 2008

Thunderant



Fred Armisen used to have band called Trenchmouth. Carrie Brownstein used to have bands called Sleater-Kinney and Excuse 17. Now they make hilarious videos under the semi-meaningless name Thunderant about feminist bookstores, answering machine-based songwriting, and emotive dating. They have a new one too. They make Portland’s gloomy inclusiveness funnier than it has any right to be. I got them on the horn, and we all got horny.
When I was talking to Fred, I was basically treating him like he was my psychiatrist. I was venting, and he told me “Don’t ever worry, everything’s going to work out. It always does.” It was encouraging.
Carrie Brownstein: He’s really positive. He’s way more of an optimist than I am. He’s just a nice guy who always looks on the bright side of things. He’s just one of those generous, earnest people that are good to have around.
Fred Armisen: I’m definitely an optimist. I’ve always been an optimist, because I’ve had some decent luck in my life.
CB: Fred’s really easy to work with. We already had a loose, comfortable dynamic and we made each other laugh all the time. The videos were just a way of formalizing things we were doing for fun anyway. That’s the essence of Thunderant: giving parameters to the way we interact.
FA: We want it to feel very Portland. It’s a microcosm.
Have you noticed these feral clowns in Portland? They have face tattoos and they ride tall bikes. They’re sort of these punk clown people.
FA:You’re making it up.
They apparently used to have a house where they did puppet shows.
FA: I want to be one! Shit!
They stand around outside of cafes and harangue people.
FA: I’m going to research this.
Carrie, do you know about the clowns?
CB: They’re on Alberta Street, although I think they got kicked out of their house. The thing is that for Fred and I Portland has such a great pool for us to cull from. There are so many great characters here. There’s people whose beliefs and endeavors I respect, but I cannot believe sometimes that the city nurtures these peoples who build bicycles the shape of an asterisk, or a square, and they’re like twenty feet tall. How is that less annoying than driving a hummer? If I’m following you and you’re on a bike that is a giraffe, that’s more annoying to me than following some gas-guzzling S350 truck. People take good intentions so far that it backfires. You can’t take everything seriously. I also was in the kind of band who I think everybody assumed the band members were these really strident people, but we weren’t and we’re not, so in some ways I think a lot of my friends that have responded to Thunderant are happy to see me doing something that is more reflective of the way I am in real life, which is a lot looser and a lot sillier.
How did you meet?

FA: I remember I was a huge fan of Sleater Kinney, and in my band days I may have met with Carrie, but it was really brief. We did have a gig with Heavens To Betsy once, but they opted out of the show because the venue wasn’t all ages. Totally ‘90s. After awhile Carrie and I emailed each other-she wanted to get into a show, and we just became friends. We spoke the same language. Originally I would go to Portland to visit Carrie and Corin [Tucker] just to hang out. It was purely social. When the band broke up that’s when we started doing the video pieces. Before it was a lot more loose. The first one, Boink, we did at a benefit for the Democratic Party in New York. I had and have this obsession with the later version of the late Saddam Hussein. To me, he just looked like an aging rock star. He was a villain, and he was angry, and he dressed well.
Saddam looks like he could play flamenco guitar.
FA: Yeah, I could see that.
But the British accent your Saddam has might contradict that.
FA: British people know Flamenco. They’re right by Spain. They go there on holiday.
As a musician who switched careers, do you enjoy encouraging musicians to “learn to play the funnybone”?
FA: Yeah. It helps everybody and it makes me look good. I feel most musicians have a good sense of humour. On tour everybody in bands talks about comedy shows they like.
Who are some of the funniest musicians you know?

FA: Jeff Tweedy is hilarious. He could do a standup show. Cat Power has charm. Carrie Brownstein, obviously. Steve Albini, he’s fucking hilarious. He’s fucking so funny, he could write books, or go on the Daily Show. He’s brilliant and he doesn’t take himself seriously. Goddamn, that guy is funny.

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