Interview: Parquet Courts
Written by Brodie Popple
Parquet Courts are embarking on the release of their sixth studio album Wide Awake, an album that steps away from the melody and existentialism of 2016's Human Performance. Wide Awake is a more rhythmic record with lead man Andrew Savage describing it as a focus on anger and joy with bass and drums at the forefront. With famed producer Brian Burton (Danger Mouse) behind the guys, Wide Awake is certainly already my favourite album of the year, a statement I'm sure many will follow once it's released May 18. I was lucky enough to have a chat with Andrew in between his music, his painting and an incredible performance on Ellen (please do watch for yourself), check it out below.
Hey Andrew thanks for you time and for chatting with me
Hey Brodie, answer me this, do Aussies pronounce the word that I call Zine (z-ee-n), as Zine (zy-ne)?
Oh nah, we say Zine (z-ee-n) as well
Okay, because the operator just said GRAIN Zine and I was having dinner earlier with an Aussie friend and I showed her my list of press, she works in the music industry and she was like oh you'll like GRAIN zine. And yeah I was just curious, so it is Zine then?
Yeah yeah, I definitely say zine like magazine, I don’t think I've ever heard an Australia say maga-zy-ne before. I mean Australia is a pretty absurd place with an obscured rendition of English.
Yeah they say we're separated by a common language haha
Well Andrew I've spent the last few days with your new record on repeat and I'm excited to ask you some questions so lets jump in?
Thank you Brodie, sure lets go
Wide Awake is such a great follow up from Human Performance and you've noted that it steps away from the ballads and focuses on individuality as well as collectivism. What was the biggest transition for you between creating these two records?
Well, I would say that I knew I didn’t want to make another very heavily melodic record, which I think, Wide Awake is a very rhythmic record and Human Performance was very melodic. I didn’t wanna make that kind of record twice in row.
I think getting that kind melody out of my system on the solo record I did last year, (Thawning Dawn - if you're yet too listen do it), helped. I was writing that record and Wide Awake at the same time and it was just good to know what I wasn't doing. It was good to realise that I was going to make a rhythmic record, a record with drum and bass at the forefront and the vocal delivery doesn’t conform to a melody it conforms to rhythm.
There's always this idea that it has to be different from the last record, right? I think a lot of bands think like that and certainly Parquet Courts do. It was easy to figure out what record the song that I was working on would go on, there was never any confusion in that regard. Once I realised what direction I was heading in for Wide Awake it was easy to just hit the ground running.
You had Brian Burton of Danger Mouse produce this new record and upon doing so, said he brought out the best versions of yourselves. Can you elaborate on this a bit?
Yeah you know, him being able to point things out about the band, as a fan or as someone who isn't in the band that we couldn't see ourselves was great. The song structure, the way we write songs and because the goal is to make something different, that helped. We often see ourselves doing things a certain way and structurally similar and having him on board meant we did things differently and that ended up with us making quite a different record I think.
You're originally from Denton in Texas and aside from your sessions in Electric Lady Studios in NYC, much of this record was made at Sonic Ranch in Texas. What was it like heading back to your home state to record?
Well, that's the thing about Texas, it's so huge. I mean we were hundreds of miles away from where any of us are from and it's a part of the country where I don’t have any associations really. It's close to Martha, where I spent some time. But it's really on the border of Mexico and the drive from Denton to Sonic Ranch is like eleven hours. We were really out there man. It had less to do with being in Texas but more to do with it being completely isolated. That's something that we did for Human Performance and Sunbathing Animal. You go and find these places that are free of distraction, you can totally commit yourself and you can work for 24 hours and wait for inspiration to strike. It was like lets find a really great studio in the middle of nowhere.
So do you find it harder to write and produce in New York? Do you need the quiet and alone time?
No its not the quiet it's the rhythm of the whole thing. If we were recording in New York, people go home to their apartments and their wives or a bar or just go home. It just takes you out of it. We're in this environment all the time and at the Ranch there wasn't even cell phone service you know. All there was to do was make music and the best records are made that way I think. I'm pretty good with diving in and I do all my visual work here in New York, but yeah I wonder sometimes if I could afford to rent a house in the middle of nowhere and paint.
Wide Awake features another striking piece of your art as the artwork and your style as a whole is quite unique. I've read that you grew up making art with your mother. Did the visuals manifest around the music or was this design something you had in the pipeline for a while?
Well both, music is very visual for me and my parents were very encouraging of me drawing and wanting to be an artist. The way I see it, I don't know who else would have the job of making art for my record when it's so intimate and familiar and also so visual to me.
You've also stated to have listened to quite a lot of 80s American Punk whilst building this album and you yourselves are often referenced as a punk or post-punk band. Do you hold on to this label of punk rockers? And what does punk music mean to you in 2018?
Hmm, well I don't know if I hold onto any labels very tightly and I think when you hold onto labels it can be confusing. Although, the influence punk has had on my life can't really be overstated, it's influenced me musically and philosophically. And I think the biggest thing that it means to me is thinking for oneself and if there's one major tenant of punk that would be it.
On that note of thinking for oneself, In Total Football you touch on going against the tired archetype of the lone wolf alpha male, do you feel the adherence to that type of personality is instrumental in the modern rise of conservative thought?
Well certainly and I feel it is very much emphasised in American ideology and capitalism too. I think conservative ideology world wide is more individualistic and not really in the sense of expression, but more in the sense of who you're really concerned about and for most conservatives that answer is, yourself. Collectivism seems to clash a lot with right wing events that are happening all over the world and because of that I'd say that young people and America/A lot of the world are seeking collectivism. Looking for a more nuanced approach to individuality.
Yeah I feel that in Australia as well, maybe not to the same level as say Trump, but we have a very right wing government at the moment and apathy is on the rise with a lot of people feeling hopeless. Do you feel that turning to nihilism and apathy is a catalyst for ignorance?
Yeah definitely. It's important to engage yourself. On one end, nihilism is the thing that lead us to the place we are at the moment. But there is a reaction to it and that's very evident in the way people seem to be engaged in America right now. Especially with the anti-violence happening right now and that's what I mean by this collectivism. Right now there's a lot of demonstrations happening in America, the march for our lives demonstrations going on, the teachers striking, it's something that hasn't been evoked for a while. It's been decades since there's been these mass demonstrations in America have taken place and I can see a real up shot happening.
Has this up shot changed the way you're writing?
Well when I was writing this record it was before all this stuff had happened. But what appeals to me about hardcore and punk is this kind of sense of joy you can get from essentially angry music. And joy as well as anger is something that is highly explored in this record.
Speaking of your records, I picked up a copy of Human Performance for Record Store Day and in the acknowledgements is Brisbane's Blank Realm. I'm curious as to how they landed a spot on that slip?
Oh they're friends and we played with them a few times in Australia. I think the list on that record was mostly for people and bands that we spent time around. Bands we were with when we were writing and touring. Great band!
Well that goes into my next question, maybe if you’re back in Australia soon you could play together. Can you hint at an Australia visit for this year?
I can hint at it because it's been hinted at me, but that's really all its been. It usually does, this last Winter was the first time we had gone to Australia in five years. So I can't say when, but I can say with near certainty that it's going to happen and I would love to play with Blank Realm.
I have one last question for you, you said that this album was created with the intention of making people dance and use their energy or anger or angst constructively and on your last record you collaborated with Bun B for a rendition of Captive of the Sun. Do you have any similar collaborations in the works that you could expand on?
Uhh yeah, there's talks of a certain talented Australian doing a remix of some songs, but I can't say who I can only hint.
If you had a cryptic hint what would it be?
You know what, I've gotten confirmation from him that he wants to do it, but I guess until I have the remix I can't really say. All I can say is he is a known dude haha.
Thanks so much for your time mate and hopefully we'll see you later this year.
All good! Thanks so much for your time too.