Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Musician, writer, and co-creator of Portlandia Carrie Brownstein talks about what makes her city special
Five years after the break-up of Sleater-Kinney, Carrie Brownstein has found a new creative outlet in her role on IFC's Portlandia (as well as joining a new band, Wild Flag). Deeply inspired and formed by her time in the City of Roses, she, along with co-star Fred Armisen, attempt to capture the unique spirit of what Portland is through delightfully bizarre sketch comedy.
You’ve lived in both Seattle and Portland. How have both cities influenced your creative sensibility?
It’s really about what the Pacific Northwest is. There’s a relationship between the internal and external landscape that inform the creativity. There’s this sense of isolation and ruggedness and pioneering. It’s hard to ignore the aesthetics. You can never shut the door on the outdoors there. It starts to form your work in a way that’s a bit bleak. [laughs]
In a Portlandia skit, the mayor makes it clear to you and Fred that the Portland song you guys are about to put together cannot sound anything like Seattle. Is there any sort of inferiority complex in Portland about Seattle?
I don’t think so. We really just put that in there to add something to the mayor's personality. One trait people in Portland have is that we feel very special. I think both cities have a strong sense of entitlement and uniqueness. Portland has perhaps more sensitivity. I guess Seattle has a kind of confidence that Portland doesn’t have. The dot com boom did more for them than Portland and in the '90s, musically, Seattle had Nirvana but Portland never had their band.
As Portland grows and changes, is there a sense of resentment from locals as new people come in and create their own vision of what they want from the city?
It’s not so much that. Really, any new resident has that sense where you go to a place and you want to shut the door behind you. People discover Portland in a certain way and resent what it becomes later. Everyone has this insecurity about Portland like, ‘when does it arrive?’ and that comes with growing pains ... Portland is a very curated city. Because of growth slowly, deliberately taking shape, people here have been able to make it what they want it to be. It’s almost like a “Greatest Hits” city. It’s a little weird, but I love it.
When creating content for Portlandia, do you and Fred need to be in Portland the whole time or does it benefit to step outside that and develop ideas in another city?
Fred and I do spend a couple weeks in Los Angeles putting the show together. It helps to leave Portland at times but it’s more beneficial when we’re all here and entrenched in our environment. We want to transcend what Portland is because there’s a version of it in every city. You want to give it a realness. Ironically, the more specific we are about Portland, the more it translates to a broader audience.
You have a variety of creative endeavors. Does it help to do these things in Portland specifically? Could you do the same work just as well elsewhere?
It becomes part of my methodology and I have my way of being. There are a lot of people who are here to do less work. [laughs] You can stall out quickly in Portland if you’re using a coffee shop as an office. If you’re trying to get something done, you have to be careful not to hold a meeting at a bar or making a point of seeing three movies a day. The city really enjoys its downtime. Sometimes you have to shake things up a bit and leave. I love it intensely but it’s also nice to go to New York sometimes and to be around that type of energy to get work done.
Season 2 of Portlandia premieres on Friday, January 6 at 10:00pm.