Brownstein grew up in Seattle, Washington. After attending Western Washington University for a short time, she transferred to Evergreen State College and graduated with a degree in Sociolinguistics. After graduation, she stayed in Olympia for seven years before moving to Portland, Oregon. She later moved to Berkeley, California to attend graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley, but dropped out and returned to Portland after six months. She is currently still living in Portland.
Before Sleater-Kinney, she was in the band Excuse 17. It was while in this band that she met Corin Tucker, who was in the band Heavens to Betsy. the two bands played together and both contributed to the Free to Fight compilation; as Sleater-Kinney they released the Free to Fight split single with Cypher in the Snow. As a side project, she created The Spells with Mary Timony. She also had a role in the short film "Fan Mail" as well as "Group" and the Miranda July film "Getting Stronger Everyday".
- She currently plays a 1972 Gibson SG and a 1978 Guild S-100 with a Bigsby vibrato. Earlier, she played a Rickenbacker 330.
- She currently plays through a 1964 Fender Super Reverb and an Orange amplifiers, and used a Vox AC-30 on earlier recordings and tours.
- She uses four distortion pedals -- a Maestro fuzz, a Boss BD-2 Blues Driver, a Roland AD-50 DoubleBeat, and a Z-Vex Super Hard On.
- She can be seen in various Priceline commercials with William Shatner.
- Her Epiphone guitar can be seen on display at the Experience Music Project museum in Seattle.
- Her guitar heroes include Tom Verlaine, Lightnin' Hopkins, John Fahey, Mary Timony, Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend, Radio Tragedy, and Kaia Wilson.
- She has the number 27 tattooed on her arm.
- She began playing guitar at age 16.
- She was outed as gay to her family and the world by SPIN magazine. She said "It’s fine now, and my family is very supportive . . . it’s just not the way I wanted to go about doing it."
- Tiny Suns Infused With Sour A Sleater-Kinney news blog
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