For Carrie Brownstein, Music Fandom Started At The Record Store

Apr 23, 2017
Originally published on April 22, 2017 4:27 pm

Carrie Brownstein has made a name for herself as creator and star of Portlandia and as one-third of the beloved riot grrl band Sleater-Kinney, whose seminal album Dig Me Out recently turned 20. But before all that, Brownstein was just another music fan — and as she tells NPR, her local record store, Rubato Records, was the site of an awakening.

As record shop owners and fans celebrate Record Store Day, Brownstein shares some of the defining moments of her early life as a music lover, including how she first felt the pull of vinyl records. Read highlights below and hear more at the audio link.

Interview Highlights

On discovering vinyl

In the center of the store are two rows of vinyl, and that became this light in the middle of the room that I gravitated towards. I just remember that feeling when you first put your fingertips on the top of the vinyl ... it feels almost like typing, because you have all 10 fingers moving across this stack of records. I just spent about two hours literally looking at every single record they had in that store. I felt like I had discovered a treasure chest, and I dove in.

On the advent of CDs

[They're] so ugly, but at the time they sort of signaled the future. And people just sort of picked them like berries — people were just pulling them off the racks. Everyone was sort of forgetting about their vinyl and they wanted to get everything digital, so you had people just getting like, "Ah, I'm gonna get all my favorite Grateful Dead records on CD now." So people were just walking around the store with these precarious towers of CDs in their arms.

On being both fan and performer

I don't think I realized right away that I was switching from being a fan into being a performer. I've always tried to maintain that duality, because I think fandom is a way of being porous and curious, but it did feel like a step forward. It's almost like you're kind of going from someone that sees yourself in black and white to someone that's starting to see themselves in color. You start to build up to having a body and a voice that you believe in, and I think that was what it was more so than, "OK, well now I've switched over," 'cause I don't think I ever quite want to switch over. I just want to be able to dance between the two.

Web intern Jake Witz and web editor Rachel Horn contributed to this story.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RAY SUAREZ, HOST:

Carrie Brownstein made her name as one-third of the punk rock band Sleater-Kinney. You may know her as one of the creators and stars of the comedy show "Portlandia." But before all that, Brownstein was a die-hard music fan, and for her, the record store was a place of musical awakening that stoked her love and knowledge of music just as she started to make her own. As a kid growing up in the Seattle suburbs, Brownstein's idea of what music could be came mostly from Top 40 radio.

CARRIE BROWNSTEIN: They would do these top 40 countdowns, and if you were lucky, you could record basically this whole radio show. And you'd have these tapes that you could listen back to. You know, it was Wham!

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAKE ME UP BEFORE YOU GO-GO")

WHAM: (Singing) Wake me up before you go go.

BROWNSTEIN: Madonna.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIKE A VIRGIN")

MADONNA: (Singing) Didn't know how lost I was until I found you.

BROWNSTEIN: Michael Jackson.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BILLIE JEAN")

MICHAEL JACKSON: (Singing) Billie Jean is not my lover.

BROWNSTEIN: These sort of kings and queens of pop.

SUAREZ: But at the age of 16, Carrie Brownstein knew there must be more than pop music out there, so when she got her first car, she went immediately in search of the nearest record store.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, I pull up to this mundane concrete building, you know, there's little Rubato Records. I walk in, and there's all these people. The walls are packed with this new technology, CDs, which are so ugly, but at the time, they sort of signaled like the future. And people just picked them like berries.

People were just pulling them off the racks, and, you know, everyone was sort of forgetting about their vinyl. And they wanted to get everything digital. So you had people just getting, like, I'm going to get all my favorite Grateful Dead records on CD now. So people were just walking around the store with these, like, precarious towers of CDs in their arms.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FRIEND OF THE DEVIL")

GRATEFUL DEAD: (Singing) Just might get some sleep tonight.

BROWNSTEIN: Then in the center of the store are two rows of vinyl, and that became like this light in the middle of the room that I gravitated towards.

I just remember that feeling when you first put your fingertips on the top of the vinyl, and it's usually, like, encased in a plastic. And it feels almost like typing because you have all 10 fingers kind of moving across the stack of records. And I just spent about two hours literally looking at every single record they had in that store. You know, I felt like I discovered a treasure chest, and I dove in.

SUAREZ: As it wasn't long before Carrie Brownstein dove into making her own music, but she kept returning to that record store as a source of inspiration.

BROWNSTEIN: At the time, I was also just discovering soul music and going back and buying like Sam Cooke records.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD")

SAM COOKE: (Singing) Don't know much about history.

BROWNSTEIN: I would just go through each section. It really started my love for record collecting and tilted me back towards the past to kind of fill in this whole lineage of music. It felt like I was getting sort of a sonic encyclopedia.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD")

COOKE: (Singing) What a wonderful world this would be.

BROWNSTEIN: I don't think I realized right away that I was switching from being a fan into being a performer. I've always tried to maintain that duality because I think fandom is a way of being porous and curious. I just want to be able to dance between the two.

SUAREZ: Carrie Brownstein is a record collector and one-third of the punk rock band Sleater-Kinney. Their new album "Sleater-Kinny: Live In Paris" is out now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.