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Before his career as a comedian, Fred Armisen was a musician. He selects some of the bands that have changed his life for his Guest DJ set, from his appreciation of punk to his love for Prince’s game-changing pop. Fred has been a part of the Saturday Night Live cast for 10 seasons and is the co-creator and star of IFC's sketch series Portlandia.
For more: http://www.ifc.com/shows/portlandia
Dan Wilcox: This is Dan Wilcox from KCRW and I am here with Saturday Night Live star Fred Armisen, who is also the co-creator of IFC's excellent sketch series Portlandia. Today, we'll be playing excerpts of songs he selected that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Welcome, Fred.
Fred Armisen: Hi, how are you?
DW: I'm good, how are you doing?
FA: I'm doing well. First of all, thank you for asking me to do this. I really appreciate that you would ever be interested in what I ever listen to, but the other thing I was going to say is that it was incredibly hard to limit it to five songs. Very, very difficult.
I'm starting with a Paul McCartney song called "Ram On" from this album called Ram.
FA: This album still moves me. It has all the sensibility of an experimental art indie album. I heard this when I was a kid. We lived in Rio De Janairo. We'd go to the music store and I didn’t know what was what. Like I knew the Beatles, but my mom was like ‘do you want this one? This is the guy from the Beatles’. ‘Yes, I would love this one’. This was the first Paul McCartney album that I had. I think Paul McCartney as a solo artist is just my favorite.
DW: I'm sitting here with Fred Armisen and Fred what is next for us here?
FA: This is Devo doing a song called "Girl You Want". I grew up on Long Island. When I was in junior high school, everyone was into The Doors and Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Zeppelin, The Doors.
I think the point of being a teenager is to confuse everybody. Not just to rebel, but to just be confusing and all these guys who thought they were so tough, I saw them as just following whatever their older brothers listened to.
FA: I was sick one night, sick from school, and I stayed in bed and had this little tv set, like a little sort of kitchen tv set in my bedroom and Devo appeared on this show called "Fridays" and it was "Girl You Want". They did this song called "Girl You Want" and they had those flower pot hats and they were in uniform and they looked identical to each other and they were all side by side as opposed to the regular set up of a band. Immediately, I was like ‘this is something that will confuse everybody’. It was like rebelling against the rebels in school. You know what I mean? I was converted immediately - visually, how robotic they were and how cold. You know, coming back into school with Devo buttons and no one knew what it was.
DW: Alright, we just heard "Girl You Want" from Devo. This was a song that was picked by Fred Armisen and let's check out the next song that you've got for us.
FA: 77' punk meant a lot to me. You know like The Damned and The Stranglers and The Sex Pistols and The Clash. So I had a really hard time trying to narrow down what would represent that whole movement to me. There's a song by The Damned called "Love Song" which, for me, is just everything that I love about punk. It's positive. It has a really pretty melody. It's fast. It's very British. And I think they had such an original version of what punk is with Captain Sensible who is just this incredible musician and Dave Vanian who had this kind of Dracula look to him. It was like there was just enough horror movie stuff and just enough British stuff for me to just love this band. It's like everything mixed together that I love about punk.
DW: Now most people may not know this, but you have a past as a musician.
FA: In high school I was in a hardcore band called The KGB.
DW: Did it stand for anything particular? What was The KGB?
FA: Nah, no when you are in high school. You're just like ‘what's a cool name? I don't know, The Vicious Circles, no no The KGB, yeah, let's do that.’
I don't look at punk as nostalgia. I just think it's a type of thinking that will always, always stay with me. I think people have this image of punk as like this angry movement and, to me, I never saw it that way. It's actually a very positive, happy celebratory type of music.
DW: We just heard from The Damned. That was the song "Love Song". Where are we going to go next, Fred?
FA: Let's accept that we all loved The Clash. Everyone did and The Clash was like really the greatest band ever. You look at a photo now and it's aged well, when you look at Th Clash.
I'm also a big fan of things ending. I like when things finish and there's a new beginning because it should be that way. Big Audio Dynamite was a sort of new beginning coming from this huge, huge band and it's such a good challenge. I remember when I heard this I was just like "this is why I like Mick Jones". I saw it as a new beginning for him and I love the instrumentation and the weird synthesizer sounds and sequencers and that drum sound oh, I love it!
DW: Okay we just heard something from Big Audio Dynamite, the song is called “E=MC2”. This was chosen by Fred Armisen. So what's the last song you have for us, Fred?
FA: I could not not mention Prince. Everything that I thought was cool about music, he turned it all upside down.
I was so into punk and The Beatles. It was like punk and The Beatles and that's it. This is what's cool -- camouflage, leather jackets -- and then all of a sudden this video came on on MTV, of the song “1999”, and it was the opposite. Purple, pink, fluorescent lights, hearts, make up, thongs -- you know really it was very much the opposite of what I understood or would preach to people as what was cool and it turned it upside down and said ‘Fred, you're wrong. This is even more punk than that’.
FA: He was a control freak and he played all the instruments on those first albums. The way he wrote songs it was like an alien came down and wrote music. He was like the Steve Jobs of making music. You know he was like "I know you think you know what funk is and I know you think that you know what a good album and a good song is, but this is what you need". And "1999", I love that album, love that song and "Purple Rain" -what? How can anyone make music like this? And then the song "Pop Life". I thought that, for me, is everything that I love about Prince.
DW: "Pop Life" from Prince, this is chosen by our guest Fred Armisen. What is your particular connection between music and comedy? Do you see them as kind of intertwined, or are they two separate things for you, in your life?
FA: I think there's such a thing as something that's in between. I don' think it's one or the other. I'm hoping…I'm trying to think of a new thing that's neither. You know what I mean? That isn't… Portlandia, some of the pieces I'm like ‘I don't know if it's about comedy or what it is’. And the same goes for music. I just think it's kind of humor and it's kind of something else…it's just making stuff that I like.
DW: Alright, thank you so much for joining us here on KCRW.COM
FA: Thank you so much.
DW: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online go to kCRW.COM/GUEST DJ PROJECT and subscribe to the podcast through i-tunes.