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Parquet Courts

Parquet Courts

Interviewed by
Michael McClelland
Tuesday 3rd March, 2015 2:05PM

Even when Parquet Courts emerged as the latest marketable pack of handsome New York guitar boys, there appeared to the most casual listener an underlying disquiet. Maybe not within the 'Stoned And Starving' hooky catalogue of the mundane, but next to the sarcastic dread of 'Careers In Combat' it was obvious that no message came without urgency. Their very first title track 'American Specialties' made the pitch: "Music matters more than ever / Free your brain and conform never." Through simple statements, they encourage a radical mindset through familiar sounds, and not the other, easier, way round. Basically what you'd call a punk band. But instead they got slapped the term 'slackers' (58 times, at their count) for no reason other than that people were getting paid to make them easier to sell.

That was from around the time of Light Up Gold, an album whose success led them to festivals like NZ's Laneway last January. Having forced themselves to travel blind corners since then - as many as three releases, distinct in sound and even spelling - has helped remove any and all instant simplifications, not least those of easy-road music 'writers' looking for an adjective. Clearly we're talking about music with an ideology, and this we all know to be a thing that can't be pulled off without first knowing one's shit. Since nobody can tolerate a phoney, UnderTheRadar quizzed Parquet Court's Andrew Savage on the beliefs behind their attitude, right down to Russian classical music, diehard blowhards, and punk...

UTR: You seen Birdman yet?

AS: Yeah I rather enjoyed it. I'd like to see it again, because I feel like there are some Easter Eggs in there. Found it relatable as a musician, actually. There are some interesting statements on ego.

I thought I noticed some overlap with songs like 'Content Nausea'. The old guy in Birdman's also pretty hesitant towards technology, but with him it seems to come from a fear of change. What difference is there between him and your lyrics in that song?

I view Content Nausea less as a critique of technology and more of a vigil for humanity as we know it. I don't consider myself a luddite by any means, I am as guilty as the next person in regards to conspicuous data consumption. Like the main character in Birdman I don't use any sort of social media, for my own personal reasons, and I am more or less naive about its basic function, but I did once, and the negative repercussions that I saw in myself before I quit using it I still see in others around me, even more so due to being outside of it. But like anybody, a large portion of my life involves living in the digital realm. Content Nausea is at once a critique of this and a eulogy of humanity's great potential. There is a certain vulnerability to engaging in modern communication, it says a lot about us as a race.

Perhaps a more interesting way of putting it is, how does one avoid ending up like Greg Ginn [from Black Flag]?

Yeah the last thing you want to be seen as is an old blowhard, but I would argue that ostracising someone whose views are considered old-fashioned and outdated is a defence mechanism for modern dread.

'American Specialties' is another song that rolls its eyes at this stuff. Do you consider Parquet Courts a political band?

Again, more of a plea than a critique. That used to be a staple of every Parquet Courts set, we ought to bring it back. There really isn't a political statement in that song, although I do have political beliefs, not many have infiltrated the band.

Could it still be said that 'American Specialties' was an early mission statement, of sorts?

Of sorts, yeah. Usually, the titular song of any Parquet Courts record is the sort of ideological centerpiece for that album. American Specialties, Light Up Gold, Sunbathing Animal and Content Nausea all sort of set the tone for everything in their orbits.

What about art movements? Which ones contributed to your ideas in Parquet Courts?

On Sunbathing Animal there are allusions to Duchamp, Schoenberg and the atonalists, Stalin-era Russian composers and even the title is a reference to Karel Appel. Content Nausea contains a critique of postmodern architecture in New York.

And what about books?

I don't know if there is a single book that every member of Parquet Courts has read, haha. Sean and I were both big fans of The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross. Max and I both like Dostoyevsky. Everybody in Parquet Courts reads, but at different paces, and at different times, so unfortunately there isn't a lot of book swapping. I've tried though. Actually we've all bonded over Evolution of a Cro-Magnon by John Joseph. Essential reading/listening for any modern rock group.

Are you much of a US history dude? I'm reading A People's History by Howard Zinn right now.

Yeah, great book. Read it when I was younger, and it was eye-opening to say the least. Good that you are reading that! I think it should be required reading for American youth.

I wanna know where you see things going for punk in New York since moving there - is it really "reducing itself to a parody", as Erick Bradshaw says in his review of you guys?

I dunno, I think punk has been reducing itself to parody for a long time, but that isn't necessarily a damaging comment. The New York punk scene is one of the strongest going right now. Hank Wood, Crazy Spirit, Murderer and Warthog are some of my favorite bands going, in any scene. I do bemoan how fashion oriented the punk scene is here, but I guess it's New York so it makes sense. Nobody in that scene would dare admit that though. But at the last year's New York's Alright [punk festival], it would be hard to argue against the "parody" jab that Erick made.

I think Erick gets us in a way most people don't, and I've always admired the hell out of him, but he refers to us as an indie band, which is forever an eye roller. Anyway, he was an early embracer of Light Up Gold, and he understood it for what it is and was. While most people tried to liken us to the 1990's, tethering us to The Strokes and Pavement, Erick was one of the few people who I felt truly understood where we were coming from.

Just saw that SPIN thing on you guys where it says you weren't into licensing your stuff to TV. That attitude is a pretty rare exception these days, are you still with that idea?

Yeah I am. But in that same article it reveals that we did end up licensing a song to a different TV show. Personally, I don't see the point in Parquet Courts being on a TV show, but it's a continued band discussion.

Does that come from you growing up on hardcore? Political theory? Or just a simple answer?

No, I think it just has to do with what things I want my art associated with. Excuse the loftiness. Most TV right now I am not interested in. If Broad City asked for a P-Courts song in the show I'd be really into that idea. If we still lived in the era were album sales could sustain a band, we could afford to be a higher soapbox to stand on.

Did you have any personal hesitations with releasing your videos through Noisey, via Vice, via Rupert Murdoch: the 'death knell' of Death By Audio and New York DIY culture?

Yeah absolutely. Noisey and Vice have always been friendly with Parquet Courts, because Sean used to work at Vice, and we have lots of friends who have been in and out of that organisation over the years (I think most people that live in Brooklyn can say that). And of course, the DBA event was simultaneously deplorable and inevitable. But I would say calling Vice the "death knell of New York DIY culture" is a bit hyperbolic. The bigger boogeyman in that situation being reckless capitalism, in which Vice is both a victimiser and is symptomatic of.

The thing that bothers me most about Vice is the blasé, too-cool-to-actually-try-and-give-a-shit attitude. There are talented people working there for sure, people that do cool and interesting things, and most of them eventually outgrow the organisation and move on. I will say that some of their foreign correspondence has impressed me, especially in comparison to "conventional" news organisations, but not enough to redeem its generally childish nature.

As for Rupert Murdoch, yeah it's sad, but Vice as a counterculture, anti-establishment media organisation is a façade that I think anybody could see through. There has to be a certain suspension of disbelief when consuming a product like Vice. In a world were blood money is omnipresent, finger pointing can be dangerous. We've all been bought somewhere down the line.

Parquet Courts kick off a four-date New Zealand tour next Monday 9th March at Kings Arms in Auckland, head over here for full dates, details and tickets to all shows (get in quick!!).


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