As a drummer, comedian and ace musical satirist, Fred Armisen is a natural fit for directing music videos. But the new clip he helmed for Swedish indie-pop artist El Perro del Mar, which accompanies her dreamy cover of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik favorite “Breaking the Girl,” is more sweet than silly. The video, premiering below, starts out as a straightforward document of the mundane lives of L.A. parking attendants, then takes a turn for the bizarre when Armisen himself shows up in a valet’s uniform. Attempting to return a customer’s key, he journeys all the way to Iceland.
Armisen is currently having a moment as a video director: He also recently directed a clip for Neil Michael Hagerty and the Howling Hex’s “Mountain.” The comedian is a longtime fan of El Perro del Mar, the musical alias of Sarah Assbring, and she tapped him to oversee her latest video.
While “Breaking the Girl” hasn’t yet appeared on an El Perro del Mar album, it’s a song that’s very special to Assbring. “There’s something in my heart that hurts every time I hear it, and it reminds me of my first true love,” she says of the RHCP classic. “The song was kind of the way into my last album Pale Fire, which in the end kind of had the theme of teenage love and angst.” The video appears in advance of a new El Perro del Mar album, KoKoro, out in the fall.
Rolling Stone reached Armisen in L.A. to talk about his connection to El Perro del Mar’s music, how it prepared him for his time on SNL and his lengthy history with the Chili Peppers.
How did you become a fan of El Perro del Mar?
There used to be a show in New York City that was a music-video show called New York Music, and they played this animated video for “God Knows (You Gotta Give to Get)” – almost her first single. I fell in love with that song right away, and that video. Over the years, El Perro del Mar became this artist that every record that came out, I just loved it. El Perro del Mar sort of accompanied my time at SNL. To concentrate and focus, I would play the bass to one of her songs from her third album. It was a meditative thing. When Pale Fire came out, that album was a big friend of mine. I’ve just always purely been a fan of El Perro del Mar.
How did El Perro del Mar’s music help you when you were on SNL?
There’s something very opposite-of-self-conscious about her music. When I listen to it, I don’t feel like I have to be really cool to listen to it. It hits me in a sweet spot. It’s kind of like someone telling you to be calm. … It’s romantic and dreamy music. It fully works on me.
Have you guys become friends over the years?
A little bit. I met her in New York. She came to town with her manager. I was also psyched because I love Sweden so much. Later they sent an e-mail asking if I wanted to make a video. I actually don’t have much experience making videos. I’ve only done one or two.
You just made another video, right?
I made one for the Howling Hex. It’s something I just like to do that I want to do more and more.
Which artist would you love to direct for in the future?
I’d want to direct a video for Yoko Ono. As long as I got to work with Yoko Ono someday, I’d be really happy. I just think she’s such a great artist – it would just be so nice.
Tell me about the concept for the El Perro del Mar video.
I just like valet uniforms. In some cities that doesn’t exist everywhere, the way they went around looking for the cars. … There’s something very animated about it. There’s something so active that I’m just drawn to it. I just thought it would be cool to do something with valets. That’s what we did: We just went to a restaurant [in L.A.] that had a valet service and got it all going. I took three things I really loved – the imagery of parking cars, a song I really loved and an artist I really loved – and put it all together.
Did you have a personal connection with “Breaking the Girl”?
It is absolutely my favorite Red Hot Chili Peppers song. I’ve liked the Red Hot Chili Peppers for a really long time. My first year in college their first album came out. I remember in school this girl from Los Angeles was like, “Hey, here’s a local band called the Red Hot Chili Peppers.” I’ve seen them a million times in different versions – even when Hillel Slovak was in the band. I think Jack Irons was one of the drummers when I saw them, but then I saw the newer versions, too. I’ve always liked the way they played their instruments. That song was always my favorite. Something about them was just right, so it was really funny when Sarah from El Perro del Mar said that “Breaking the Girl” was what she was doing. Because I like her music so much and because it was my favorite song, I just knew it was meant to be.
Did you ever use El Perro del Mar’s music on Portlandia? Have you thought about bringing Sarah on the show?
Portlandia is a low-budget show and it’s really expensive to use anything that’s published. We have two songs total we’ve used for episodes that are well-known – like that song “I’ve Got the Power.” We have to use library music or we have to come up with stuff. It’s not as easy as we’d wish.
Do you think you might eventually move out of comedy into directing music videos full-time?
I think the job I’ve been given is comedy, and I don’t want to take it for granted – like it’s a lower form of entertainment. All of this extra stuff I get to do is all icing – it’s extra hobbies. Because the world has been so kind and comedy has been so fun for me, I would never walk away from it. I love watching comedy and knowing comedians. I hope I never stop doing it. It’s the best.