After NBC revealed that Portlandia star/Saturday Night Live alum Fred Armisen is joining Late Night With Seth Meyers as the show's guitar-slinging bandleader, some derided the decision as a questionable choice. After all, Late Night With Jimmy Fallon recruited the Roots, while Late Night With Conan O'Brien tapped Bruce Springsteen's drummer Max Weinberg. A TV comedian is a far cry from rock or hip hop royalty.
But Armisen's musical abilities go far beyond the pitch-perfect rock parodies he demonstrated on SNL. From drumming in a Chicago hardcore outfit in the '90s to appearing in Wilco's 2002 documentary to playing with Blue Man Group (seriously), here are 5 Things You Didn't Know About Fred Armisen's Musical Past.
For the first half of the '90s, Fred Armisen was the drummer for the Fugazi-esque Chicago hardcore band Trenchmouth. By his own recollection, Armisen spent most of his twenties promoting the band through independent means, but after years of grueling tours (including an opening slot for Fugazi), they called it quits. Watch 'em in action below.
In the mid '90s, Armisen was a paid drummer for the Chicago chapter of the Blue Man Group. Sadly, we haven't tracked down any photos of Armisen after he blue himself, but watch Armisen explaining his time with the Blue Man Group to Jim Breuer below. "After [Trenchmouth] started to break up, and it was as simple as an audition," Armisen said of the Blue Man Group. "That's what I did for two years and [at the time] I thought I had made it. I thought, 'This is it for me.'"
Armisen has opened for Wilco and solo Jeff Tweedy numerous times, and he even made an appearance as a confused, vaguely foreign character in the band's 2002 documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart (As humorless as their music is, Wilco were in on the joke). Incidentally, Tweedy will be on the upcoming season of Portlandia.
Armisen's first real foray into comedy—the 1998 short Guide to Music and South by Southwest—was steeped in the minutiae of underground music. Playing a host of all-too-real characters in the indie music intelligentsia, Armisen skewered SXSW by expertly epitomizing it. Portlandia might be a loving satire, but this is a damning takedown. Watch below.
Armisen has done work for indie tastemaker Pitchfork over the last decade (like this Cat Power convo), but his most important bit of music journalism was as a cheerleader for apocalyptic rap-punk group Death Grips on the Rachael Ray Show. Let's hope Rachael and her "hubby" eventually checked them out live.
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