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Parquet Courts

Parquet Courts

Interviewed by
Michael McClelland
Wednesday 27th April, 2016 1:31PM

Earlier this month Parquet Courts lifted the lid off their fifth studio album, the intriguingly titled Human Performance. Following on from their 2014 full-length offerings Sunbathing Animal and Content Nausea (which brought them to New Zealand for a four-date tour) the new record has been hailed as the product of a time of personal instability - picking apart and analysing the anxieties of modern life.

With the album on the loose we thought it would be a good time to catch up with lead singer Andrew Savage and learn more about the thematic threads holding Human Performance together. Here he is in conversation with Michael McClelland (who also interviewed Andrew for UTR little over a year ago) talking about the album, the American prison system, anxiety and more...

UTR: Who are the good new NYC bands to check out at the moment?

AS: I'd say check out a bit of everything that's going on. I'll focus on bands that have released records recently and recommend Pill, Dawn of Humans, B-Boys, Heaven's Gate, Vanity, Wall, Kaleidoscope... I don't make it out to shows as often as I used to though. I'd say if you are in town, a great place to start looking would be Material World, a record store in Brooklyn.

Joey Pizza Slice rules. Big fan of his how-to videos on recording without an erase head on a tape machine. How did that split 7" idea happen?

Me and Austin have known Joey for a few years now. We first saw him play a house show in Burlington, VT where he basically gave a live tutorial of the videos you mentioned. That 7" was in the talks for years before it finally came out, you know how that sort of thing goes, the idea gets tossed about drunkenly at a show or while hanging out and one party agrees "that'd be cool". Well, thanks to Wharf Cat for making it a reality.

Somehow you're more clued up on Australian bands than most NZers, so maybe it's worth asking once and for all which Aussie bands you think every NZer should know...

Yeah that's weird isn't it? You'd think proximity would account for something but I often got blank stares when asking Kiwis about Aussie bands. Well, theres a new project by James Vinciguerra of Total Control fame called Nicky Crane. Then there's Dick Diver which who never disappoint, and often creep into my head. And rumour has it that Eddy Current is officially an active band again, some reliable sources tell me at least. Let's see theres East Link and Russell Street bombings, who are almost the same band, but actually quite different. I'm no authority though obviously, I just listen to stuff recommended to me by my friends from there.

Your last NZ tour. How'd you like it - the Oamaru cheese rolls, the seals, big smooth rocks?

Ah yeah, the cheese rolls. Man I hope that's not a national symbol of culinary achievement. That's almost exactly what they give you in jail. Didn't end up trying those. Well the seals were great of course. Overall an amazing tour and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Sharing the van with the friendly and talented Salad Boys was a blast. Seeing Opposite Sex live in Dunedin was inspiring. I tried to summon a ghost at Chick's Hotel that night but was unsuccessful. I don't believe in ghosts but I want to if you know what I mean.

An enthusiast has actually tasked me to ask if and when PC will re-emerge this side of the equator.

Yeah man, I hope so, as I am an enthusiast for your kind island-nation.

What's up with Kanye's new album art!?? It looks just like your stuff!!

Yeah he also had the same guy who does Destruction Unit's shirts to design his. Guess he's got his ear to the ground. As somebody who has been mistakingly accused of being derivative to something else, I'm slow to accuse the same in others.

You got a lotta songs/art about prison. Why that?

Probably because my mom was incarcerated when I was a kid, so that accounts for the fascination of the literal topic. I've always been terrified of going. I've had brushes with the law but never anything as serious as doing hard time. And then I have long been fascinated by confinement by any definition, literal or metaphorical. I guess I'm just interested in what it does to the mind, and how confinement serves creativity. I think that Monastic Living, the concept of being still and solitary and relatively segregated to one space, is influenced by that sort of thing as well. Prison life is a much more brutal version of monastic life when you think about it - heavy on routine and repetition. One a nightmare the other a dream. That sort of thing.

Do you mind if I ask about your mum going away? No worries if you'd rather not go into it...

I probably shouldn't get into specifics, but it was drug related issues. She is a huge source of inspiration for me and Max, with all that she's gone through. I tip my hat to anybody who has been disproportionately sentenced and can make it out of incarceration and still hold their chin up. It’s always weird asking people from anywhere outside of America if they've done time, and usually I don't meet anybody who has. But it’s not uncommon at all here for someone to have been locked up for something minuscule and ridiculous. Really amazing how people can get set free for killing somebody and others are locked up for drugs.

Man you gotta check out 60 Days In... super trashy new American reality TV series where (conservative) civilians are disguised as inmates in county jail. They all go in thinking they're gonna liberate and revolutionise the system, which, since so many of them are involved in law enforcement and the military, means some serious moral haze. Hilarious but tragic watching.

I've not heard about that one yet, but it does sound like the sort of candy-coated brutality that my country would produce! Talk about playing with fire...

I just dug up some old interview where you mentioned the clumsiness of our generation when it comes to sincerity. Which is something David Foster Wallace is known for talking about, who I know you're a fan of. (Not that I've read any of his.) What I'm saying is, was there a conscious social motive behind producing an emotionally-driven, sincere album? A 'plea', as such?

Yeah I'm a fan of him, and I think I know the essay you are talking about. I think it gets used by some people to assert that irony is the enemy of sincerity, which is not the point of the piece at all. Wallace is actually truly ironic and sincere, because he is honest and nuanced with his irony, and it serves a larger purpose than being irony for its own sake. We've been accused of occupying the polar sides of that spectrum, which is interesting. Sincerity is something that is greatly misunderstood. Parquet Courts has a sense of humour that I think is pretty impossible not to see, yet we've been accused of being "stern" or "distant". Also it’s been alleged by some that we are total goofballs that have songs about getting high. Both are true, but neither entirely. I pride us on being an honest band, and as lyricists we address our subject matter really directly, which is a sincere action that speaks just as loudly as the words.

Am I right in thinking cynicism and detachment are constantly in focus, lyrically? The songs 'American Specialties' and 'Content Nausea' come to mind, and even as far as oblique moments go, every album of PC's seems to carry a different way of tackling the recurring message that is "don't switch off." There's even something in the words 'human performance'!

It’s true. Those songs are both cautionary tales. I remember hearing 'Give it Up' by Tyvek for the first time and thinking it was an amazing song that filtered punk anger positively, but not in a cheesy youth-crew kind of way. I was frankly worried that 'Content Nausea' might come off as preachy, but I think it's clear that it doesn't come from that angle, but rather aims to be something more tender. 'The More It Works' fits that description too I reckon. We never want to come off as overbearing.

I feel this stuff is especially pertinent in an emotionally dislocated country like New Zealand. I don't know if you picked up on that cultural trait in your short time here. We're all freaks.

Interesting, how do you figure you all are emotionally dislocated? I actually noticed a characteristic of New Zealanders that was really warm and open-hearted. But perhaps that's a foreigner's romanticisation (or being romanticised as a foreigner).

Well I was exaggerating a little, but all that history of isolation, tyranny of distance, small population, farming culture, colonialism... the end result, so the theory goes, is the traditional stoic outsider who fears sensitivity and resents affectation. It's an oversimplification, but some people think there's something in the water here that makes social... well, performance, painful.

I see.

We in NZ tend to think of America as a culture of (perhaps over-)confidence... but does any of this stuff about buried emotions relate to the conservative Texan mentality? Are people guarded there? Or is Denton more relaxed?

Not sure because my Texan mentality isn't so conservative, I was raised in a pretty working class democrat household. Though I do think that people who are hardline conservatives often are hiding some party of themselves, from themselves, Texas or elsewhere. Denton is a very leftist city but in one of the most conservative counties in Texas.

All this cultural talk has got me thinking that 'Human Performance' sounds kinda sociological. And the more I think, all the PC albums have a sociological undercurrent. Was that ever an interest of yours? Cultural studies, Marxism and all that?

I've always had a bit of a collectivist mentality. That's part from the way I was raised. My dad is sort of the last of a dying breed, and that is the southern working class socialist. He was raised in Arkansas and his folks were born before 1915, and they grew up in a time when identifying as a communist was not taboo at all. So I was raised to respect workers, to do chores and to be suspicious of ostentatious wealth. In my teens I got into a lot of anarcho-punk music; bands like Crass, Subhumans, The Mob, Flux of Pink Indians, Rudimentary Peni, etc, and those all sort of shaped my worldview and introduced me to certain international politics and anarchism. The sort of political sentiment that orbits that scene is ideal for an angry young boy who seeks out extreme and polarising points of view. Though that scene effected the way I view politics, class and even morality, I look back on that as a bit grandiose and lacking in nuance. Today I'd say I'm approximate to Marxism, but to be honest labels and ideologies appeal less to me now. I'm against capitalism in theory, though rock and roll is a product of it, and Parquet Courts are allowed to be artists because of capitalism. But I see it as a structure that is beyond me, something that I have to work inside of and subvert, if possible. I am against the bullshit neoliberalist, hyper-individualist mentality that so many western countries are assuming. I think collectivism is generally a positive mindset for one's self and for society.

Anxiety seems a recurrent point in your music. This is one of my most favourite recent reads on that subject, and it feels pertinent to your lyrics: the idea that anxiety is a social/political symptom, rather than an enigma spinning around chaotically in a vacuum. I'm curious to know what your take on it is...

Well the title of that piece says it all. I don't think Parquet Courts are any more or less anxious than any other rock, or pop or punk outfit out there today. We are pretty transparent with it, and it's a subject that we address directly. Rock music, especially the kind I grew up listening to, punk and hardcore, is tension music. It's music that is cathartic and meant to purge the ugliness of living amongst people who repress their less desirable emotions, and feeling like a freak for being angry. Even before that, rock and roll is tension music.

Finally, cos I'm curious: which song on the album is Max's?

'Two Dead Cops', it was a brotherly collaboration actually. He wrote the song and I wrote the lyrics. It was amazing actually, he had everything ready to go and arranged from the start. 'Donuts Only' was like that as well.

Human Performance is out now via Rough Trade Records


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