Alt-rock hep cats make ‘Portlandia’ sing

Music for Screens: Fall 2011

While music plays a prominent role in most comedy sketch series, it rarely influences the entire tone and aesthetic as much as it does in IFC’s “Portlandia.” The show, directed by Jonathan Krisel and executive produced by Lorne Michaels, will kick off its second season in January and continue its hilarious spoofing of Portland’s alt-rock, tree-hugging bohemian culture.

This music-centricity seems almost inevitable given that the show’s two main writers and principal players, Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen, started their careers as musicians. Brownstein is best known as the former guitarist/singer for renowned feminist punk-rock band Sleater-Kinney and currently fronts the band Wild Flag, while Armisen was the drummer for punk outfit Trenchmouth long before trying his hand at acting.

“Music is part of every aspect of the show,” explains Armisen, who is also a regular cast member of “Saturday Night Live.” “Even the way it’s edited has a musical element to it. Sometimes we think of the individual pieces as songs, in the way that they would be placed on an album.”

Brownstein adds, “Fred, Jonathan Krisel and I are all such music fans. We all grew up worshipping punk and indie rock and marrying ourselves to the passion and ethos of music. I think that really infuses a lot of the show.”

What’s more, Season 1 featured an impressive array of musician guests including Aimee Mann, Sarah McLachlan and The Decemberists’ frontman Colin Meloy, and Season 2 will crank it up a notch. Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, The Smiths’ former guitarist Johnny Marr, Modest Mouse singer Isaac Brock and indie rock goddesses Joanna Newsom and St. Vincent are all on tap for “Portlandia’s” second season. “Many of them are deviating from how the audience might know them, which is something that we love,” says Brownstein.

“Portlandia” also boasts original tunes written by the duo, such as the “The Dream of the 90s,” which ostensibly sets up the premise for the entire series that idealists, hipsters and musicians can live the slacker dream of the ’90s in the utopian Northwestern city. Although they don’t intend to release a full-length album of tunes from the show just yet, Brownstein says it’s probably just a matter of time. “We’re all very picky about the records we buy and we wouldn’t want to put out an album that had filler on it,” she explains. “So once we’re able to cobble together an album’s worth of solid material, that’s something we’d be interested in doing.”

Music for Screens: Fall 2011

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