Photo by Heather Strange
There’s something ruggedly American about Parquet Courts, and no, it doesn’t have to do with their Texas upbringing, or the rodeo imagery that’s slapped across their latest album, Light Up Gold, or that they work with pure NYC punk rock. Okay, so maybe it’s a little bit of all that, but it’s also tied to their beatnik lyricism. Songs like “N Dakota”, “Disney P.T.”, and “Donuts Only” spit and punch about with the authority of a weathered traveler, one whose seen too much of this country to know it’s really not all there. They speak about “lost-era grain elevators,” how their “girl is a Golden Corral,” and “a red state’s Baptist fervor.” Yet never does it all seem preachy, scripted, or what’s more, unwarranted.
Led by two Texas transplants — Austin Brown, 27, and Andrew Savage, 26 — Parquet Courts’ is rounded out by bassist Sean Yeaton and Savage’s younger brother, Max. Their brief recording history traces back to late 2011 with their debut cassette, American Specialties. Though, already they’ve grown a few inches as an outfit, having issued its proper full-length followup with last August’s Light Up Gold, which is being re-released this week via What’s Your Rupture?.
Recently, Consequence of Sound spoke to both Brown and Savage as they were heading to Philadelphia, PA for a performance at the oddball Kung Fu Necktie amidst their month-long national tour. The two sounded exhausted, but optimistic at the possibilities that lay ahead for them. Odds are this won’t be their last tour of 2013 and that’s something that’s both satisfying and terrifying all at once.
What sparked the band’s move from Texas to New York originally?
Austin Brown (AB): Andrew [Savage] and I met in Texas about eight years ago. We were all born in Texas, but we didn’t move to New York to start this band. We definitely cut our teeth in the music scene in Texas. We all played in a couple bands. We really learned how to be in a band there.
Coming to New York, what were some of the first challenges and struggles that you had from the get-go?
AB: Getting shows, buying a practice space, and making enough money at shows for rent and the practice space, which didn’t really happen for us for a while. Also, staying motivated with band stuff, especially when you live in a city where it’s easy to get distracted.
Did the move make an impact on your songwriting at all?
AB: I don’t know. It’s hard to see how much New York has shaped our personalities and feelings. The songs reflect how we feel as individuals. New York is difficult to live in, but it’s just different. It has its own quirks about it. It’s kind of hard to answer objectively.
Do you guys feel you’re part of the scene there?
AB: When we went to a ton of shows around New York, we found a lot of musicians and bands that we had a kinship with. PC Wordship, The Trees, The Beasts, Warm Waters… These are people that we have become friends with from playing shows, and it’s not superficial.
Are you currently working outside of the band?
AB: We all hold jobs in New York. It’s kind of difficult not to.
Would you say Light Up Gold is a situational record?
Andrew Savage (AS): It definitely represents a lot of who I was when I wrote the record.
Both you and Andrew are in your late twenties, and it seems that the majority of the songs are from a first-person perspective. They definitely remind me of quote-unquote slacker anthems written by a late teen or early twentysomething.
AB: I feel that our songs are pertinent to how everyone lives their lives right now. The songs are told from a first-person perspective about experiences we’ve had, what someone feels like when fighting a square job from 9-5, and finding beauty and meaning in the world. It’s really important to all of us, and a lot of people can relate to that.
Andrew Savage (AS): I really don’t like the whole slacker label, especially because we’re a pretty hard-working band. I think the lyrics definitely reflect who I am now being in my late twenties. I think there are some themes on the record that couldn’t be understood by a teenager. There are some themes on the record that can be easily understood, like loneliness, but things like the flaws of stumbling through adulthood probably couldn’t be understood by a teenager. They wouldn’t get it.
With this question, I was referring more to “Borrowed Time”.
AS: “Borrowed Time” is about writer’s block and not being able write anything. It’s funny because it was a song inspired by writer’s block, so I wrote it about writer’s block.
Was that a problem?
AS: Yeah. I wish I could go back to the days where I could write anything and be cool about it, which is not always the case now. I’m much more discriminating of my own stuff, which is definitely a part of aging if you’re an artist.
Austin, your track “N. Dakota” feels well-traveled, as if it works off this beatnik aesthetic. Did you travel a lot growing up or anytime recently?
AB: I’m personally a fan of a beatnik quality in writers. “N Dakota” is about going out west and being in a strange land. Being in a touring van, you travel a lot and see the entire country. You have to have a hunger for that to maintain this lifestyle.
Have you always been fond of the road?
AB: I have always have been really into road trips. Andrew has been on tour with other bands in the past as well. Shaun [Yeaton, bass player] has been around the world in one of his older bands. Traveling is motivating, and it’s interesting to see how other people live.
Have some scenes influenced you over others?
AB: I feel that it depends from person to person, rather than from place to place. Some songs definitely blast off more than others in specific places.
Where do you stay when you’re on the road?
AS: I’ve traveled a couple of times around the US, so I have a network of places where we can stay. I have friends in almost every city we’ve played in that we are able to stay with. On tour, you meet people that want to hang out with you.
No creepy fans yet?
AS: You take what you can get if you are in Fargo, North Dakota. Thankfully, not on this tour, though.
How much are drugs involved in your life?
AS: We’re not a drug or psychedelic band. There are certain drugs that I do enjoy doing, and there are some that I don’t. Just as much as anyone, really.
Andrew, you’ve dabbled in psychedelic music in the past. How has it played a role in your music writing now?
AS: I never really identified any band that I’ve been in as a psychedelic band. I think that any music can be psychedelic, depending on how you look at it. I think a lot music that most people don’t consider to be the stereotypical psychedelic, guitar-based rock music is psychedelic. Classical music, like Bach, can be/is psychedelic. Bach is pretty heavily psychedelic, if you ask me. I wouldn’t identify Parquet Courts like that. I do enjoy having those types of experiences for sure, but it doesn’t play a role in our music at all.
What did you want most out of this band? I was looking at the By Who Power? mixtape, and you had everything on there from ODB to Brian Eno to krautrock. Where do all of your influences come in your music? What sound were you initially trying to go for?
AS: That mixtape is more of a statement saying that every song is there for a reason. I’m more influenced by their song or attitude rather. Every song on that mixtape reflects my vision for the early stages of Parquet Courts.
Where would you place Brian Eno into the equation?
AS: That song, “Taking Tiger Mountain”, serves a similar function as “N Dakota” does on our record. It’s kind of like the bittersweet song on the record, both happy and sad, which is exactly what I wanted “N Dakota” to be.
Where did you see GG Allin? By his live performance?
AS: GG Allin is a freak and was a true American original. I also like country music, especially of dark subject matter. I’m really into beauty and ugliness; that’s what really draws me into art. That’s one thing that is a common theme with most of the stuff that I do. I think that there is a thin line that society considers being conventionally beauty. Some people, like myself, may think that those things are marginally repulsive.
Any writers out there you think follow that ideology?
AS: The Velvets have really pretty songs with some really sour and dark subject matter. Even Sonic Youth mixes with a dose of deliberate ugliness, which I think is a pretty daring thing. Just about everyone that I like uses that in some way or another.
What current acts do you listen to today?
AS: On the road, we’ve been listening to Total Control’s LP a lot. I also made a ton of mixtapes before we hit the road, so we’ve been listening to those. We’ve been listening to ABBA quite a bit, which is good pump-up music for the band. Also, Can, Butthole Surfers, a lot of krautrock, and Alternative TV. It’s four guys with similar music tastes, but everyone has their different taste. We’ve been sharing a lot of music amongst each other, which is one the more fun parts of being on tour.
How long will you be on the road?
AS: We’ve all decided that touring is going to be our deal this year, so we’re seeing if we can make it work. Shaun and I took extended hiatuses from our jobs, but Max [the drummer] is still in school, so we can’t be too active this year. He may take next semester off so we can continue touring.
What are your feelings from all of the exposure that you have been receiving lately?
AS: I actually run through all of that stuff vicariously because I’m not connected on Facebook and don’t have a smartphone, so it all chimes in from outside the band for the most part. It hasn’t really sunk in yet. In the long run, that stuff really doesn’t matter. We’re a band; this thing will pass, and we’ll still be a band and yesterday’s news. There is no reason to doubt that it’s just how attention spans work. We had no aspirations as a band to achieve any recognition or praise, so I feel that stuff like that comes and goes.
Additional photography by Dale Eisinger.