Carrie Brownstein’s Sleater-Kinney releases acclaimed album, "Call the Doctor"
On March 25, 1996, the feminist indie-punk band Sleater-Kinney, featuring Jewish musician, actor, and writer Carrie Brownstein, released its second album, Call the Doctor. The album, which Rolling Stone later listed as number 49 in the top 100 albums of the 1990s, solidified Sleater-Kinney as an essential voice in punk rock’s riot grrrl movement.
Brownstein was born in Seattle, WA, on September 27, 1974, to Jewish parents. She grew up in Redmond, WA, before attending Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. At Evergreen, Brownstein met Corin Tucker, with whom she formed Sleater-Kinney in 1994. Drummer Janet Weiss, who is also Jewish, soon joined the band, which released its self-titled debut album in 1994. Sleater-Kinney was a key member of the Pacific Northwest’s riot grrrl movement, a subculture within punk rock that challenged male dominance of the scene by making punk music for and by women, often with feminist and left-leaning lyrics.
Alongside themes of female empowerment, some of Sleater-Kinney’s music addresses queer love. At age 21, when she had just formed Sleater-Kinney, Brownstein was outed in Spin magazine as gay and in a relationship with Tucker. For years afterwards, she rarely discussed her sexuality. In 2010, however, Brownstein came out as bisexual, noting that with an uptick in bullying and suicides among gay teenagers, and politicians hostile to same-sex marriage, she found it “hard not to at least identify in a way that lets people know, ‘it is OK whoever you are.’”
Brownstein focused on Sleater-Kinney until 2006, when the band took a hiatus that would last until 2015. In the interim, she wrote an NPR music criticism blog called Monitor Mix; published her memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl; and began working with her close friend and Saturday Night Live alum Fred Armisen on the television show Portlandia, the project for which she may be best known.
Though Brownstein had no formal background in comedy, Armisen identified her natural talent for improv and suggested that they start making videos satirizing the people of Portland, where Brownstein had lived since 2001. This idea turned into the short-lived web series ThunderAnt, which began in 2005 and saw the pair develop caricatures of Portland types that would live on in ThunderAnt’s network successor, Portlandia.
Portlandia ran for eight seasons between 2011 and 2018 in sketch comedy format. Brownstein and Armisen took on numerous recurring characters that represented and poked fun at all sides of Portland’s unique culture; bohemian owners of a Women and Women First bookstore, an aggressively outdoorsy couple, entrepreneurs who stretched the limits of what foods could be pickled, and others populated Brownstein’s and Armisen’s Portland. Brownstein received eight Emmy nominations, one Peabody Award, and four Writers Guild of America awards for Portlandia.
“100 Best Albums of the ’90s.” Rolling Stone, October 4, 2019. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-lists/100-best-albums-of-the-90s-152425/sleater-kinney-call-the-doctor-3-160324/.
Braxton, Greg. “Carrie Brownstein Bounces between ‘Portlandia’ and Punk Rock.” Los Angeles Times, January 14, 2015. https://www.latimes.com/entertainment/tv/la-et-st-carrie-brownstein-portlandia-20150114-story.html.
Frere-Jones, Sasha. “Sister Saviors.” The New Yorker, January 12, 2015. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/01/19/sister-saviors.
Mesh, Aaron. “‘Mock Star.” Willamette Week, | November 3rd, 2010.
Zeichner, Naomi. “Interview: Carrie Brownstein on Portlandia.” The FADER, January 19, 2011. https://www.thefader.com/2011/01/19/interview-carrie-brownstein-on-portlandia/.
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Jewish Women's Archive. "Carrie Brownstein’s Sleater-Kinney releases acclaimed album, "Call the Doctor"." (Viewed on December 4, 2023) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/mar/25/1996/carrie-brownsteins-sleater-kinney-releases-acclaimed-album-call-doctor>.