Parquet Courts on Getting Drugs, Taking Drugs, and Writing Deceptive Songs
New York City-based quartet Parquet Courts released their debut album American Specialties in 2011. Their follow-up, Light up Gold originally appeared on co-vocalist Andrew Savage's own label in late 2012, but a reissue by trend-setting NYC imprint What's Your Rupture? early this year brought the band's music to a much larger audience. Led by co-vocalists Savage and Austin Brown, Parquet Courts deals in propulsive drums and frantic riffing, but the tones are deliberately muted and thin, which effectively focuses attention on the vocals. Whether it be rapid-fire, monotonous delivery on "Careers in Combat," a sneering reminder that "Socrates died in the fucking gutter" on "Master of My Craft," or the title track's evocative imagery, Parquet Courts make the music serve their words, even if the lyrics seem to jive and taunt the listener. We recently spoke with co-founder Austin Brown about San Francisco drugs, lazy journalists, and Parquet Courts' sole instrumental track. The band performs Friday, June 7, with Cocktails and Pang at Rickshaw Stop.
Parquet Courts like tacos, too.
Your band does a bunch of drugs in that Noisey documentary. Was that sensationalized, or is the band really intent on taking drugs on the road?
It's a little bit of both. That documentary was edited oddly. It sensationalized the more frivolous aspects of our experience. The drug scenes were sensationalized. It was an odd choice in editing, but at the same time it all happened. We all definitely take drugs and we are all looking for those on the road -- if you know of anyone that could help us out -- but I wouldn't say it informs our lifestyle.
You emphatically stated in an interview that Parquet Courts is not a psychedelic band.
A lot of bands take drugs. All of the bands I know take drugs and smoke weed, we just happen to have a few references in our songs and then there's being in the documentary, but we weren't the only ones. I wouldn't say that's our brand.
Despite the drugs, I think it's misleading to peg the band with this '90s slacker cliché.
It's a little lazy.
Why do you think Parquet Courts is constantly stuck with those '90s indie rock references?
I don't know why they were called slackers in the first place. I guess that's kind of a bigger question. I can see how historically we resemble some bands in a slacker category, but that's sort of a faux genre anyways, like grunge. It doesn't actually mean anything. The only way I can explain it is lazy journalism. I don't mind being associated with those bands generally, but to call us slackers is borderline insulting.
Well you're obviously touring constantly and you started out self-releasing your records, so I can see how it would bum you out to be called that.
That's kind of how I feel. They're the slackers. They're the ones copying and pasting their reviews. That's lazy.
Parquet Courts' ascension from self-releasing the album to touring overseas and receiving a lot of praise was very swift. How has your perception of the music industry changed now that you're "on the other side," so to speak?
My perception is more detailed because I got to experience it firsthand. Bands get a little bit of critical attention, which becomes an echo chamber, and then next year everyone's forgotten about them already and that's fine. We were a band for a while before Light Up Gold came out, then it was several months before it got any major attention outside of our friends' groups and a few early adopters. It was then really swift, which is just kind of how it works. Everyone wants to jump on the new buzz-band. It happened to us and a few other bands at the time. It will all be over soon enough and then we'll still be around, being a band. That's just the way it works these days.
In general, sure, but there are bands that maintain critical and public interest over successive albums.
That's pretty rare. It's a blessing for those bands that can stay relevant. The huge goal of any band that gets to that level is to stay relevant, stay creative, and still have fun doing it. Very few bands can do that. Very few bands that come out on the other side still like doing what they do.
You and Andrew seem to value ambiguity in songwriting. You've sort of evaded saying exactly what the album title Light Up Gold really means, for instance. Do you think that sort of allusiveness is more important in rock music than other art forms?
The songs are open for interpretation, but they all have very specific meanings and intentions. It's not our job to lay it out there for the listener in an interview or in a lyric. I don't know if we're being allusive so much as being creative, finding a new way to tell a story. The way to tell a story creatively is the challenge, the fun part and what makes a good song. To go and explain it further would ruin the appeal.
Do you dislike songs that have rigid concrete narrative or messages in general?
No, I like some songs that are really direct and literal. I think it depends on your style. Our style tends to be more descriptive. We set a theme, and try to creatively describe feelings. But, there's also "Stoned and Starving," which is very direct and literal. There's another metaphorical meaning that can be read into it, but as far as the lyrics go, it's as direct as you can get.
You've stated that the music's role is to serve the lyrics. So I want to ask you about Light Up Gold's only instrumental track, which is an 18-second piece of atmospheric guitar called "Light Up Gold 1." Is that what Parquet Courts would sound like if you were an instrumental band?
Maybe! You're the first person to ask me about that. That's a song that I did. Sonically, it was something I was doing in the studio and served as a great way to take a pause, or an intermission from the flow of the record. It's a little suspenseful. When you hear it on the record, you wonder what direction we're going in and then it goes into one of our more straight-forward rock songs, "Light up Gold II." We kept the same title so I think it's a great juxtaposition of diverse elements of our band. I'm glad you were curious about that. I've been waiting to hear some feedback or for someone to ask why it was titled that way. It's just a guitar. I was using a beer can as a slide. I was manipulating a chorus or a vibratto and using a delay peddle to emulate a slide sound as I was sliding. There's a much longer version too that we didn't use.
Anything else you'd like the people of San Francisco or elsewhere to know?
It's New York's sister city. We're going to be hitting up the redwoods after San Francisco, so if anyone has some sweet psychedelics I'd love to sample some of your local flavor.