Carrie Rachel Grace Brownstein (born September 27, 1974) is an American musician, writer, and actress, who first widely became known as a guitarist and vocalist of Sleater-Kinney. Since 2010, Brownstein has sung and played guitar for the band Wild Flag; they released their self-titled debut album in September 2011. Brownstein stars with co-developer Fred Armisen in Portlandia, a sketch comedy show that premiered on IFC on January 21, 2011.
Brownstein was born in Seattle, Washington, the daughter of Jewish parents. She was raised in Redmond, Washington. Her mother was a homemaker and a teacher and her father was a corporate lawyer; her parents divorced when she was 14, and she was raised by her father. Brownstein has a younger sister.
She attended Lake Washington High School before transferring to The Overlake School for her senior year.
Brownstein began playing guitar at 15, and received lessons from Jeremy Enigk. She later said: "He lived in the neighborhood next to mine, so I would just walk my guitar over to his house. He showed me a couple of open chords and I just took it from there. I'd gone through so many phases as a kid with my interests that my parents put their foot down with guitar. So the instrument ended up being the first thing that I had to save up my own money for - and maybe that was the whole reason that I actually stuck with it."
After high school, Brownstein attended Western Washington University before transferring to The Evergreen State College, where she met fellow students Corin Tucker, Kathleen Hanna, Tobi Vail, and Becca Albee. With Albee and CJ Phillips, she formed the band Excuse 17 that often toured with Tucker's band Heavens to Betsy. The two bands contributed to the Free to Fight compilation. With Tucker, she formed the band Sleater-Kinney as a side project, and later released the Free to Fight split single with Cypher in the Snow.
In 1997, Brownstein graduated from The Evergreen State College with an emphasis on sociolinguistics, and stayed in Olympia, Washington for three years before moving to Portland, Oregon.
While a student at The Evergreen State College Brownstein formed the Excuse 17 band with CJ Phillips and Becca Albee, one of the pioneering bands of the riot grrrl movement in the Olympia music scene that played an important role in Third-wave feminism.
After both Excuse 17 and Heavens to Betsy split up, Sleater-Kinney became Brownstein and Tucker's main focus. They recorded their first self-titled album during a trip to Australia in early 1994, where the couple were celebrating Tucker's graduation from Evergreen (Brownstein still had three years of college left). It was released the following spring. They recorded and toured with different drummers, until Janet Weiss joined the band in 1996. Following their eponymous debut, they released six more studio albums before going on indefinite hiatus in 2006. In a 2012 interview with DIY magazine, Brownstein said that Sleater-Kinney still plans to play in the future. On October 20, 2014, Brownstein announced on Twitter that Sleater-Kinney will be releasing a new album, No Cities To Love, on January 20, 2015, and will tour in early 2015. At the same time the announcement was made, they released the video for the first single from the album. The single, "Bury Our Friends", was also made available as a free mp3 download.
Brownstein and former Helium guitarist/singer Mary Timony, recording as The Spells, released The Age of Backwards E.P. in 1999.
In summer 2009, Brownstein and Weiss worked together on songs (produced by Tucker Martine) for the soundtrack of the documentary film !Women Art Revolution by Lynn Hershman Leeson.
In September 2010, Brownstein revealed her latest project was the band Wild Flag, with Janet Weiss, Mary Timony, and Rebecca Cole, formerly of The Minders; according to Brownstein, about a year earlier "I started to need music again, and so I called on my friends and we joined as a band. Chemistry cannot be manufactured or forced, so Wild Flag was not a sure thing, it was a 'maybe, a 'possibility.' But after a handful of practice sessions, spread out over a period of months, I think we all realized that we could be greater than the sum of our parts."
"Music has always been my constant, my salvation. It's cliché to write that, but it's true. From dancing around to Michael Jackson and Madonna as a kid to having my mind blown by the first sounds of punk and indie rock, to getting to play my own songs and have people listen, music is what got me through. Over the years, music put a weapon in my hand and words in my mouth it backed me up and shielded me, it shook me and scared me and showed me the way; music opened me up to living and being and feeling."
--Brownstein in October 2010
In 2011, they toured for a second time, and played at CMJ Music Marathon.
In 2006, Brownstein was the only woman to earn a spot in the Rolling Stone readers' list of the 25 "Most Underrated Guitarists of All-Time."
Brownstein began a career as a writer before Sleater-Kinney broke up. She interviewed Eddie Vedder, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Karen O, and Cheryl Hines for The Believer magazine. Brownstein has also written a couple of music-related video game reviews for Slate.
From November 2007 to May 2010, Brownstein wrote a blog for NPR Music called "Monitor Mix"; she returned for a final blog post in October, thanking her blog readers and declaring the blog "officially concluded."
In March 2009, Brownstein contracted to write a book to "describe the dramatically changing dynamic between music fan and performer, from the birth of the iPod and the death of the record store to the emergence of the "you be the star" culture of American Idol and the ensuing dilution of rock mystique"; The book, called The Sound of Where You Are, is to be published by Ecco/HarperCollins.
See also: Portlandia (TV series)
In 2007 Brownstein briefly worked at Portland ad agency Wieden+Kennedy, helping review applicants for their WK12 program of one-year internships.
Brownstein has been an actress (in what she calls a "mere hobby"), with a role in the short film Fan Mail, as well as the experimental feature Group, and the Miranda July film Getting Stronger Everyday. Brownstein and Fred Armisen have published several video skits as part of a comedy duo called "ThunderAnt". She also starred opposite James Mercer of The Shins in the 2009 independent film Some Days Are Better Than Others.
After their ThunderAnt videos, Brownstein and Armisen developed Portlandia, a sketch comedy show shot on location in Portland, for the Independent Film Channel. The two star in the series and write for it with Allison Silverman from The Colbert Report and Jonathan Krisel, a writer for Saturday Night Live. The show, which features appearances of some of the characters from ThunderAnt, aired its premiere in January 2011. It has been renewed for a third, fourth, and fifth season.
Brownstein was outed as bisexual to her family and the world by Spin when she was 21 years old. The article discussed the fact that she had dated bandmate Corin Tucker in the beginning of Sleater-Kinney (the song "One More Hour" is about their breakup). After the article was out, she said: "I hadn't seen the article, and I got a phone call. My dad called me and was like, 'The Spin article's out. Um, do you want to let me know what's going on?' The ground was pulled out from underneath me... my dad did not know that Corin and I had ever dated, or that I even dated girls."
In 2006, The New York Times described Brownstein as "openly gay". In a November 2010 interview for Willamette Week, she laid to rest questions about her sexual identity, saying: "It's weird, because no one's actually ever asked me. People just always assume, like, you're this or that. It's like, 'OK. I'm bisexual'." In 2012, Brownstein told interviewer Marc Maron that no one in Sleater-Kinney was gay, and that she and Tucker had only dated for "a second".
Since working together on ThunderAnt, Brownstein and Fred Armisen developed what Brownstein has called "one of the most intimate, functional, romantic, but nonsexual relationships they have ever had". According to Armisen, their relationship is "all of the things that I've ever wanted, you know, aside from like the physical stuff, but the intimacy that I have with her is like no other". Brownstein currently lives in Portland, Oregon.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license