Fred Armisen's favorite cult records: The 'Portlandia' star talks Lungfish, the Damned, Wendy and Lisa and more

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Image Credit: Larry Busacca/Getty Images

He may be British rocker Ian Rubbish or The Man With the Really Amazing Home Studio to you, but Fred Armisen was famously an actual musician (with the Chicago post-hardcore band Trenchmouth) years before he became a star on Saturday Night Live and Portlandia.

Recently, the actor/drummer/satirist-about-town, who’s also the new bandleader on Late Night with Seth Meyers, shared some of his favorite cult music picks with EW:

Klark Kent

“Klark Kent is an artist who is actually Stewart Copeland from the Police. And he put out these records, these singles and this one EP and it was all on green vinyl.  And Steward Copeland…this record is one of my favorite albums ever. He plays all the instruments and you can hear his influence on The Police. You can kind of see that he really was a third of that band. It’s so…the musicianship is great but at the same time it’s also still a very good punk new wave album. It has energy, it has a bit of a sense of humor to it, all the things about punk that I really love, all the positivity of punk.”

Metallic Falcons, “Desert Doughnuts”

“I think a lot of bands try to go for spooky, but this is something that – and it’s a compliment – it’s really very haunting and spooky. It’s something that I listen to a lot because I think this might be their only album and it’s one of the members of CocoRosie and this other singer named Matteah Baim and I like to put this one when I’m flying on airplanes. I just love it, it’s beautiful. It’s like the right kind of blackness mixed with the desert.”

The Damned 

“Easily one of my favorite bands ever, I think they’re in my top 3. The idea of punk, I think, is to create your own world, I think to really make your own definition of what a punk band instead of the uniform that a lot of bands took on. And The Damned are…aside from the way they look, aside from what all their packaging was and everything, they are a great band, great songwriters, Captain Sensible, one of my favorite guitar players and musicians of all time. Captain Sensible is…he’s at the top of my list, he’s amazing, he plays a beautiful guitar and this album to me is my favorite of all my albums.There’s a song called “Life Goes On” which is one of the most beautiful songs ever written on planet Earth. That’s not my opinion that’s fact. That’s the fact. It’s one of the most beautiful songs ever written. The lyrics have gotten me through bad times, they’ve gotten me through happy times…the lyrics of “Life Goes On” are what life is about. I see the lyrics to life as a philosophy of being alive.

Holy Sons

“I was exposed to them first through their video of “A Chapter Must Be Closed.” Coincidentally, I think it was shot in Portland. I think it’s from an independent film about Portland. But this song and the album defy categorization. It’s melancholy but without being too bittersweet. It’s hard to describe why I like it, but “A Chapter Must Be Closed” is just an incredible, great, great song. This album – I just love it. I expected that everyone would know about it. You know when something comes out and you just assume everyone knows? And I guess I don’t know the success of it. Maybe it did great. I remember personally listening to this song as my time at SNL was coming to an end. It was a very direct lyrical inspiration. I thought about chapters closing. By the way, it’s not a sad thing. It’s a happy thing. It means there’s always another chapter. You have to go on to another thing.”

Rickie Lee Jones

“There was this song called ‘Lucky Guy’ that I heard when I was in college at the School of Visual Arts and I saw the movie Subway and they threw that song in there. So that’s how I got turned onto Rickie. She has a very New York sound to the way she does the lyrics. Not worrying so much about rhyming. It sort of sounds like she is talking a little bit. This album really reminds me of New York City, even though I think she’s LA. There’s something New York-y about her. I love her voice. I love the way she thinks. She’s another person who defies categorization. She’s not part of any scene.”

Frankie Rose, “Herein Wild”

“[She] is something that I’m currently listening to that I can’t stop listening to. I’ve been spending time in Los Angles and when I drive it’s like this really nice — reminds me of driving around at night in LA with the lights in the hills. It is my favorite album of last year. It’s really warm. There’s a mix of synth sounds and electric bass and I think it’s like a secret ingredient when bands do that, use synth sounds but with heavy bass playing. It’s easy in the studio to just add everything digitally and have synth bass. But this just sounds like someone with a real bass and the singing is great.”

The Style Council, “Our Favorite Shop”

“My favorite time of any band is when someone quits and starts something new. When someone reinvents themselves those first moments are great. I like that. It’s always a surprise to the fans and they have a new creativity. Style Council is like that. Paul Weller is coming from The Jam. Really, really beautiful songs. He’s in there deep. All of Style Council is great but this is their second album. It’s almost like they settled into what the Style Council were. It reminds me of England. I love England. Such a cool country that has had such a big influence on all the music I listen to. This album is like a really good indulgence. It sounds like they didn’t really care what everybody thought. They were fans of what they were playing. . Even the title is like, this is the stuff that we like. I equate it sometimes to Portlandia. This album is called “Our Favorite Shop and with Carrie and John and I, we’re like this is our favorite city. I think of Style Council sometimes when we’re doing Portlandia.”

Super Furry Animals/Paul McCartney, “Sound Collage”

“This album is true art. I mean Paul McCartney is huge. He didn’t have to do this. He’s not on the cover. There’ s like a depiction of him, kind of. Jerry Lewis is on the cover. It uses samples of the Beatles and he’s a Beatle. It’s the best, most creative use of Beatles material post-Beatles. Really cool, very heavy, very experimental. I had to look up what the name of the album was. Some people label it under Paul McCartney; some people list it under Sound Collage. You can hear sounds of Paul McCartney walking around. He’s such a true artist. He really does challenge himself all the time. He makes these new albums where he really works on working with his band and writing new songs. He’s an idol of mine.”

Wendy and Lisa, “Wendy and Lisa”

At the time they were part of Prince’s backing band, Revolution. And I liked that they left the band but stuck together to keep making music.  The song “Waterfall” is really cool. “Song About” is really great. I love Wendy’s voice and I love their playing on it. I’m simply going to leave it at: this is a great album. It’s positive and fun and very of the time, which I think is 1986. I like the sound of it. I like the look of it.”

 Azita

“Azita is a Chicago artist, but her family is originally from Iran. Azita as an artist is really great. This has got kind of a Steely Dan feel to it, which I don’t hear a lot of people trying to emulate. It’s probably intimidating. Steely Dan were such accomplished musicians, and I feel like in independent music people think we really can’t approach this, so they go the other direction. It should be noted that she’s on the same label that I’m on, Drag City. So even though it’s somebody I know, I promise that I wouldn’t put this on my list if it was just a buddy. I’m a fan of Azita, but I’m also a friend.”

Lungfish

“We played with them a few times and when I’d see them I was really hypnotized by them. Because they do a lot of the same parts of the song over and over again. Really pretty melodies. And the way they looked was ahead of their time. The singer had this big beard and he was very charismatic and majestic when he was onstage. They didn’t move around very much, but it was really taken with Lungfish. There’s no challenge to listen to them. It’s very pleasant and hypnotizing. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I have actually used their music sensibility when I’m doing comedy. If there’s a little repetition in a sketch I’m doing, I think it worked for them. They had this through line going through, there’s a way to make it still sound poppy and still work.”

 — Reporting by Ray Rahmann

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