What were you like as a kid?
I was really into comedy and music, not unlike the way I am now. I was not good at sports. I sat at the very front of the classroom because of my last name, so I got to face everyone, and I tried to make them laugh. I liked attention, which is the same reason I picked the drums as an instrument. The drummer gets the most attention. It’s a fact. Think of where your eyes go when you’re watching a show; they always go to the drum set. It’s like this altar of things, and it’s so noisy with so much going on. It’s the best instrument in the band.
You came up as a drummer in a punk band. What punk music do you listen to nowadays?
I will always love the Damned, Hüsker Dü and the Misfits. Punk speaks to me like nothing else does. As far as newer bands, there’s one called Bully. They make me excited for punk rock again. And Japandroids. The scope of it—it’s not just the fast bands that we think of. There are so many different types of bands, mellow bands, that are part of the punk scene. I think of Joanna Newsom as punk.
You used to impersonate Prince. Were you a fan of his work, and did his death hit you hard?
I was and am obsessed with Prince. I thought I knew what was cool, but his look and his music turned my world upside down. I met him at Saturday Night Live. His presence was very sure, very male. The whole room could feel it, like a magnet. I’m still bummed out about how he died. I think addiction is a powerful thing, and you don’t know until you’re in it. I didn’t know him personally, so I can’t speak to whether he was an addict, but I’m just sad that it could have been avoided. I’m sad he was alone in an elevator, when he was so loved. All I can really do is appreciate his life. We’re all lucky to have lived in the same time as he did.
You work with fellow SNL alums Bill Hader and Seth Meyers on Documentary Now! How do your comedic sensibilities mesh?
We’re very different from each other, but we make each other laugh. Bill is like a walking encyclopedia of moving images, and a little like an enthusiastic teenager. Seth is a different kind of genius. He has complete concepts. He doesn’t force a point of view or an agenda. He is a very sane, fair, perceptive and wise person. It’s hard to talk about myself. If you ask them, I usually put the music part on it.
My favorite episode is “Juan Likes Rice & Chicken” from season two. What was it like filming in Colombia?
I was happy to stay in Bogotá, but they wanted to really go out into the wild. I’m so scared of nature that it was very hard for me, but I loved it anyway. Someone got stung by a scorpion. I blame the scorpion. They are assholes. The fact that they go in people’s shoes is so out of line. It’s obviously a human-made object, and they know better. It’s so aggressive to go into a shoe. And they know humans aren’t going to look before they put it on. They can all go to hell. Fuck them.
Do you miss being on SNL?
I loved being on SNL. I loved it with all my heart. It was the best thing in my whole life, but I don’t miss it. It’s like going back to college. I still get to be there pretty often. I did just the right amount of time and left with harmony and happiness. It would make you insane to keep proving yourself every week. After 11 years, I think I said what I had to say.
What was your most embarrassing moment on the show?
Once I did this sketch with Maya Rudolph and Alec Baldwin. Maya and I were playing a Brazilian band doing a soft bossa nova song. On the set they had a parrot, and when we practiced it was fine, but on air, it did this high-pitched scream. It was so loud that it took me outside of myself. It wasn’t cute and funny; it was just this kind of alarm. I think we tried to ignore it, but it was unavoidable. I haven’t watched the episode, but I’m sure you can see what happened all over my face.
How do you think Portlandia has evolved?
We don’t feel we need to prove ourselves or get more attention; we just enjoy making sketches. Before, it used to be an expedition—“What is this going to be?” Now we know what it’s going to look like, and we add to it. That’s the evolution. Carrie Brownstein directed a couple of episodes of the seventh season, which is really nice.
Can you give us any details about the seventh season?
We explore things like instant garbage. Like when you buy something at a convenience store to recharge your phone and it doesn’t work. You throw it away, and that’s instant garbage. We explore the idea of private conversations, when someone comes up to you and says, “Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?” You know that stress when you think, What’s this about? We also do an episode where Carrie dates a hunk. It used to be that the hunks were the villains and the nerds were the good guys, because they were more interesting and sensitive. Now, hunks have a good sense of humor, and the nerds have become the rigid, closed-minded ones. It used to be like revenge of the nerds, and now it’s revenge of the hunks.
My heroes were female, you know? Artists, visual and musical alike. Carrie is a hero of mine.
Has working with Carrie Brownstein on ThunderAnt and then Portlandia changed your perspective on women in the arts?
Changed? Well, it’s always been the same. My heroes were female, you know? Artists, visual and musical alike. Carrie is a hero of mine. She’s such a creator in the best and most punk-rock way. It only solidified the heroes I had before: Cindy Sherman, Tina Weymouth, Kate Bush, Debbie Harry, Susanna Hoffs…. It’s an endless list.
Do you find it liberating to dress up in women’s clothing on TV? Do you ever feel insecure?
No. I grew up on The Kids in the Hall, Monty Python and SNL, so it’s fun. What’s weird is that I never think of it as dressing up as a woman. It’s just a character who is a woman and I dress like her. But I don’t understand how zippers on the back are so hard. You always need someone to help you. It’s such a strange invention.
You have residences in Portland, Los Angeles and Manhattan. Which is your favorite city?
Los Angeles. I love driving; it gives me lots of time to think. I feel like Los Angeles is very embracing of monsters and vampires and stuff. I love agencies and studios. I can’t believe I get to be in show business. It’s awesome. I especially love studios. I still love when they say “Action.” I love the music scene in L.A. I love it even though I hate the sun; I’m in the shade a lot. Even going to someone’s house and seeing people from other TV shows there—I wanted my life to be like that.
You’ve described yourself as an atheist. Do you ever think about what your reaction would be if you died and came face-to-face with a supreme being?
I would say, “Okay, what I meant by ‘atheist’ was not like this. This I believed in the whole time, I swear. What I meant was like the movie depiction of God. That’s all I meant, please.”
Do you have any strange hobbies?
I really like graveyards and tombstones. I want to make a graveyard in my backyard—not with real corpses. I also love any kind of bat motif or 666. I don’t know why. And I collect drums. I’ve been on a kick recently buying Simmons drums, which are hexagonal electronic drums from the 1980s. And Iceland. I’m obsessed and want to have a place there someday.
What was your rock bottom in life?
That’s a tough one. Let’s say, for example, my life is perfect right now: I get to do the TV show of my dreams. And let’s say that I love Carrie Brownstein, I love my life, and I love my friends. I have a girlfriend. My relationship is good. I’m healthy. I enjoy my time with friends. So nothing in my life I see as a rock bottom, because it all helped me get to this place, mistakes and everything.
There was a point when I was playing with my band Trenchmouth in Las Vegas. We opened for another band, and all these Nazi skinheads showed up. We had an African American singer, and they started Sieg-heil-ing us. We stopped early and went into the parking lot alone. We were scared. I realized that I wanted to do something else, that this wasn’t the route I wanted to go.
You mentioned to Marc Maron on his podcast that when you were touring as a drummer, you were really there to get laid. Do you see yourself as a womanizer?
That’s when I was in my 20s. Oh my God, when I was on tour, I was very promiscuous, in a way that I couldn’t even focus on the music. I’d think, I know someone in Madison, Wisconsin. We only had one van, and then the band would have to pick me up from someone’s house. I was never into drugs and drinking, but oh boy, I was very promiscuous, and I put a lot of energy into it. But I wouldn’t give myself a label like womanizer. I don’t want to be mean to myself. I can’t think of it as a negative thing; it was just how I was in my life. Let’s just say, for me, I was not in control of how to have a truly happy life.
One of your former bandmates in Trenchmouth was arrested in 2015 for child pornography. Have you talked to him at all?
No. I haven’t seen him in a very long time. It’s very sad. What else can you say about it? Poor guy, and all those poor victims. It’s like the ultimate type of tragedy in society in general. But I’m not saying anything anyone doesn’t know. It’s dangerous out there. It’s such a sad subject matter, but a reality.
Moving on: You’ve gone through two divorces. What’s your advice for someone who is considering marriage?
I advise everyone to do what his or her heart desires. I believe in love and I have friends who are married and happy. My advice is to enjoy being alive and absolutely fall in love. If it happens for me again, it happens. I think everyone is always growing. My parents got divorced, and they kept growing as people. They both got remarried. They found themselves again and grew, and their dimensions got deeper.
Do you consider polyamory a valid option in your life?
I don’t think it would be good for me. Some people might be able to handle it, but I wouldn’t. It seems like a lot to take on.
Would you say you’re a romantic guy?
That’s a tough one. Even if I thought so, someone else may not. I think everyone is romantic in a way, even the coldest people. I think everyone has a version of what romance is. I think it’s part of the human existence. [dog barks in distance] I heard that noise. Are you barking at me?