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For a guy who has consistently flown somewhat under the radar, actor-director-writer-producer-comedian and musician Fred Armisen boasts the kind of multi-hyphenate status that would make most Hollywood A-listers green with envy. And last February, the busy Portlandia star added yet another impressive credit to his already crammed CV and took perhaps one of his biggest steps towards the mainstream when he signed on as guitarist, leader and “curator” of the in-house 8G Band for Late Night With Seth Myers.
“I feel really lucky that I get to do music along with everything else,” Armisen says. “Some actors and comedians try to play music later in their careers, almost as a bit of a hobby. But I’ve always been a musician; it’s an integral part of my life and what I do.”
Armisen’s first notable musical gig was as the drummer for the ‘90s Chicago-based post-hardcore outfit Trenchmouth. After short stints as a background drummer for the Blue Man Group and as a leader of his own salsa band, he joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 2002 – and a host of memorable, fictitious musical characters (Ian Rubbish, Fericito, Giuseppe) and fake bands (A Taste Of New York, The Blue Jean Committee, The Bjelland Brothers) followed.
One of his most popular alter egos, the intensely serious drummer Jens Hannemann, whose “complicated drumming technique” (time signatures of 29/3, learning all 17 of your tom-toms, mastering the art of dominating a jam session) was broken down in a 2007 instructional DVD, was so earnestly spot-on that some folks didn’t pick up on the joke.
"I love seeing comedy and music, particularly comedy and drumming, go together," Armisen says. "And it's not the first time, either: Keith Moon had elements of humor in his whole being. And don't forget, Peter Sellers was a drummer. There’s a link and a history to be found in all of this.”
A pair of recently released Hometown Heroes singles of his most famous comedy bands (The Blue Jean Committee/The Fingerlings, The Bjelland Brothers/A Taste Of New York; an earlier single featuring the sketch group Crisis Of Conformity was issued in 2011) would suggest that, even with his high-profile day-job bandleader gig, Armisen isn't quite ready to play it entirely straight. Yet when asked by MusicRadar to discuss the "10 records that changed his life," he leapt at the opportunity to unabashedly wear his musical heart on his sleeve.
“Music still moves me just as much as when I was a kid," Armisen explains. "There’s so many great bands to discover all the time. But what’s also cool is that, with some things that you might have missed the first time around, you get to discover them on your own. All of a sudden I’ll hear Al Stewart, so I’ll buy one of his records and go, ‘Who is this guy?’ To me, that's one of the great things about being alive."