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Parquet Courts Share Album 'Wide Awake!' + Interview

Parquet Courts Share Album 'Wide Awake!' + Interview

Fluffy / Friday 18th May, 2018 11:55AM

New York post-punk darlings Parquet Courts have shared their sixth studio album Wide Awake! with production helmed by musical wizard Danger Mouse. The collection's thirteen tracks are refined, energetic excellence infused with a healthy dose of funk. You can stream Wide Awake! below and keep scrolling to read our interview with guitarist Austin Brown talking to highly-caffeinated reporter Fluffy about the creation of the album, working with Danger Mouse and living large at Mardi Gras...

Parquet Courts’ latest album is called Wide Awake! and I read that it’s said to be about collectivism and communitarianism as well as about individuality and independence. Could you elaborate on that a little?

I think that’s referring to the song ‘Total Football’, the first song on the record. It was kinda written like a manifesto and I think the idea behind that song is kind of a purveying theme throughout the record, an underlying theme. People these days I think are really yearning for community and collectivism and something to be a part of. The idea of following a strong leader and everyone sorting themselves out in a pyramid under one alpha personality at the top is something that people are growing tired of and that has failed us in a way. I think the ideas were promoting, and that people are really thirsty for, is a collective community where people can rally behind an idea rather then one particular personally.

Nihilism is something that is pervasive and destructive in our culture these days. People and certainly ourselves are rejecting this idea and think its important and necessary to stand for something and to stand together for something. Nihilism is a tempting mistress but I think what people can really relate to and really rally behind is sincerity and the idea of being genuine.

Wide Awake! was produced by Danger Mouse, who has a pretty impressive resume as a producer, working on the likes of Gorillaz’ Demon Days and Adele’s 25. How did you guys come to work with him?

Yeah, it‘s really interesting, we’ve been working on this record for about a year just in our own little studio just recording basically everything, just toying around with lots of different sounds and ideas and narrowed everything down to a list of around thirty songs or so. Danger Mouse, Brian Burton, had just caught wind that we were working on a new record and he’s a fan of the group and got in touch with us because he’d be interested in working together. It was a bit serious for us because we weren’t super familiar with his catalog, for instance I didn’t even know that he had worked with Adele, but I did know the Grey Album and the Gorillaz record.

To me what kind of made sense creatively was that he was someone who could navigate fluidly between different genres, he was not ever restricted to being a rock producer or a rap producer or a pop producer. He’s able to go in between all of those genres and work with a lot of different kinds of artists and bring in different influences from all sorts of different places, no matter who he’s working with. That’s something that we like to do in our group, play around with different influences and draw from a lot of different genres and eras of music. So for me, that’s kind of how I rationalised it, “maybe this is someone who is much more well known then we are and has all sorts of profession accolades, but I think creatively he kinda gets us.” But we ended up trying it out and hanging out and talking about music and listening to records and I dunno, it just kind of made sense. He was there to help us achieve our vision of the record and I think that's the most important thing.

So some producers, and I understand that’s a really broad role, some of them such as Steve Albini is probably on the technical side of things whereas I think some producers help out with arrangements and songwriting. How did it pan out with you fellas and working with Mr Mouse?

Yeah, you’re right, producer is a really broad term and Brian is the only one we’ve worked with on a Parquet Courts record. It’s hard to know what a producer does exactly. It sounds like a slight but I guess it’s just kind of that everyone has a different process and with Brian it was more, he’s a very rhythm focused person, a creative producer I guess and this is a very rhythmic record for us. We knew that going into it and his role was to kind of keep in mind the bigger picture of the record as we were making it. As we were diving into certain details on songs and working out the arrangements and diving in deep on certain things, he was there keeping in mind, “where does this fit in the bigger picture?”

He’s also really focused on making sure the drums and the bass really connect on the way we were wanting them to. Every song has a groove and a forward motion and whether its changing the bpm up or down by two or moving a kick drum to a different note or something, he was there to kind of provide these details to help us really execute our vision and he’s also very focused on getting good vocal performances. I was working with him a lot on vocals and I ended up singing a lot more on this record then I have done on any of our records, where the delivery can be more dead pan or shouty or off the cuff. This one was more focused and that was something I was always really wanting to achieve but never really had the guidance. We’ve always just done our own thing in the studio, so to have someone there aware of what we’re trying to achieve and how to bring us to that point was really helpful.

I think that focus and guidance really comes through. Things are really, dare I say it, polished on this record, in the best possible way.

Yeah, polished is kind of a trigger word for musicians of our flavour. So I don’t know if I’d say polished but I would say the concepts that were working with are more refined and, I think better executed overall. We always go into the studio with an idea of what were trying to achieve with a certain song and we get as close as we can. I think this time we just had an outside perspective and someone with a wealth of knowledge of music who was able to hear what we were attempting and help explain that to us, if that makes sense? We would be recording different parts of a song for instance he’d say “oh, you’re really close to playing a dub rhythm so let’s just adjust this note here and this drum hit there and see what that feels like” and we would do it and be like “oh yeah, thats what I was trying to do!” but I wasn’t able to hear it because I was focused on a million other things. It’s about the little things, the nuance of the ideas, that’s the most difficult part I think.

As you say, often when writing a song there’s so many different things running though your mind, so many different details like “do I attack this note” or “do I place the emphasis there more specifically?” It’s a lot of things to manage.

Yeah, it’s easy to get lost in focusing on certain details that might not be important, that a listener isn’t going to notice. Brian was able to play the part of the listener and understand what idea were trying to communicate and how to record the song that allows that concept to be accessible to the listener. One thing that this record achieves is being able to communicate ideas more accurately by being less challenging and more accessible. I think that on previous records some of the music is a bit dense or challenging where you had to listen intently to understand what’s going on, I think there’s less of that on this record and for the better where you’re not having to dissect the song to figure out what its about. You’re able to share it and there’s more immediacy record to it then on our previous records, which I think is really important especially for a record that’s so rhythmic and has a lot of dense lyric content. You don’t want to the music to overshadow that or to get in the way.

So ‘Freebird II’ [from Wide Awake] is a pretty bold name for a track. Are you confident it won’t result in a pitchfork and torch-wielding angry mob at future shows?

I don’t know if we’ve had any pitchfork-wielding angry mobs as of yet, so I’m always up to try new things.

Last year you guys collaborated with Italian composer Daniele Lupi, tell us a little about that experience?

That was a really interesting collaboration that came out of, oh I dunno. It was a while ago when we started working on that record. Daniele was a fan of the group and this kind of concept album he had had in mind for a few years before hearing us. When he heard Sunbathing Animals, our second record, he was inspired to contact us and work on this… it was kinda of whirlwind working with him. He had this idea for this record and had the bones of these songs written out in a way where its like “this song is called this, there's no lyrics for it yet” and “here's the tempo and here’s the root notes and the changes and you guys just go in the studio and play it”.

We basically were just in the studio for a week or ten days maybe. We were writing like four songs a day and we just played these song ideas over and over again until he told us they were done and then we’d go onto the next one. It’s really weird listening back to it , when I hear it, it’s like there’s so many mistakes. As soon as I felt like I got the hang of the song, we were done and I was like “but if we just do it one more time, I can play it perfectly” and he’s like “nah, I don’t want you to do that, this is good.” It was such a bizarre, interesting process but one thing that I really took away from it was that whenever the pressure is on, we're able to collaborate as a group and just write a song straight away and having that experience. Going into making this record was really helpful because there was never a moment when we were sitting around being bummed out because we didn't have any ideas. Because we just felt like not matter what we did, there was an idea and it could be made into a song if we just had the patience to do it or felt inspired by any given part of any given moment. So yeah, it was a pretty unique experience.

I understand Mr Lupi also worked with Danger Mouse for his 2011 opus Rome. Do you think there’s a bit of two degrees of separation type situation going on there with the musical world that be?

Yeah, must be. It’s like we’re in the illuminati maybe.

I feel like that’s a pull out quote if ever I’ve heard one.

Oh man, I always get in trouble for those, hahaha!

Finally, I wanted to ask you about Brother Willis who directed the video for the title track from Wide Awake. He’s quickly carving out a name for himself as a skilled manifester of musical vibes. Tell us a little about your experience working with him.

Yeah, it was great. Well, there’s two videos, there’s the ‘Wide Awake’ video and there’s the second part, the continuation. It was super intense because we were in New Orleans for three days, shooting two videos and we were out until like 2am and then up at 6am to get that magic hour morning light or whatever. So it was super intense and you can totally see it in the ‘Wide Awake’ video. There’s a little bit of method acting going on as far as making a video about partying in New Orleans for a weekend. We really had to. I think when we first conceptualised the video it seemed like a piece of cake, like “great, we’re just gonna go to Mardi Gras, hang out, party, they’ll film it and then we’ll have a video at the end, it’ll be great, like a vacation!” but it was hard work.

Brother Willis was really on top of it, he had this great shot list that we kinda collaborated on, talked about different inspirations for different scenes. I was amazed by how calm he was throughout the process because by the end of the third day I could not believe how much work we had done and how many shots we had done. I think that he was probably stressed about it the whole time and his crew was probably pretty stressed about it but they never let us know and we were able to focus on dancing around like goofballs or whatever we had to do at that moment. It was a great time, I highly recommend it.

Awesome yeah, I’ll definitely hit it up whenever I get a chance.

Yeah, do it. He’s a great dude. And he’s from Texas too which I found out later on. Us fellow Texans always have a way of finding each other somehow.

'Wide Awake!' is out now via Rough Trade


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