Indie Rock Kings Parquet Courts are Back and Better Than Ever
Indie rock quartet Parquet Courts have been blazing a trail through the musical landscape for eight years, bringing their ever-evolving sound to an increasing number of adoring fans. May 18th is a date to put in the dairy as it heralds the release of their brilliant sixth album Wide Awake! We recently spoke to singer and guitarist from the band, Austin Brown, about working with producer Danger Mouse on the record, their funky new sound and just what a discerning group such as themselves have to have on their rider.
The MALESTROM: Do you like coming to the UK? Is it a good place for Parquet Courts?
Austin Brown: Yeah it’s great. A lot of friends here, it’s a good place.
TM: We’re loving the new album Wide Awake! You’ve produced other records by bands like RIPS and you’ve mixed most of Parquet Courts records. What was it like working with Danger Mouse being a producer yourself?
AB: Yeah it was good. I learned a few things. It was a little challenging giving up that control that I would normally have. That was always one of the major roles that I played in the group, being more production minded, this was handing the reigns over to someone else. We’ve never worked with a producer before anyway, so there’s inherently a little bit of that giving up of control, so that was emotionally challenging. With Brian (Danger Mouse) I was able to learn to trust him pretty quickly, he’s very much of an engineer, I guess a producer in a different kind of way that I think I am, or maybe a lot of people, I don’t know, I don’t know that many producers.
It was a different kind of process, he was focussed on things I normally wouldn’t be, so I think we worked well together in that way, I was able to make more technical suggestions and he was making more performance-based suggestions or bigger picture things. Honestly, it was always a conversation, it was never ‘this is how we have to do things.’ Everything was a back and forth and working out the best way to execute the vision.
TM: Was it a learning experience on both sides then? Do you think you both took something away from it?
AB: I think so. Although he’s produced a lot of groups he’s never worked with us before, I think the way we work is probably different from the way a lot of people work that he’s produced before. I was able to offer a little insight into the way to get the best performance out of our group, what we’ve done before, what we’ve been most successful with. So he was receptive to that and it kind of fast-tracked some learning things that way.
I was really intrigued by the way he navigates the rhythm, he’s very rhythm focussed and spent a lot of time making sure the songs had the right feel and groove to them in ways I really hadn’t thought of before, that was really insightful. It was really cool to let someone else kind of take the reigns of the session and guide us step-by-step through different material and see the way you’d approach something, which sometimes would be how I’d do it and other times totally different, so yea it was really cool.
TM: The new single Wide Awake is quite different from the Parquet Courts sound, but you still managed to make a funk track better than most funk bands could make. How did that one come about? Was there an influence from Danger Mouse?
AB: That song and many other on the record we’d written and recorded demos of before Brian got in touch with us. I kind of figured that people would hear that song and think that was a Danger Mouse song, but it was actually quite the opposite. It was totally written, recorded and something that came out of the group, the idea of having lots of different songs on there that might be on one extreme end of the spectrum.
One thing we wanted to achieve with the record as a whole was to be something you could move around and dance to. Something you could put on at a party but it wouldn’t be totally shallow in its meaning. Wide Awake I consider to be a disco song, but it still has kind of a punk, free thought feel to it. Where I think disco is stereotypically shallow or just dance music that happens in a club, which is fun but it’s not what we do. I guess the idea behind that song is kind of combining a powerful, meaningful message that you can groove to at a party.
TM: Parquet Courts are all about creating an ever-evolving sound, is this part of that process, to help keep things fresh?
AB: Yeah definitely. It helps us stay interested in what we’re doing, whether we’re trying to break new ground, not getting caught in comfortable areas or trying to recreate something that maybe we had done successfully on a different record. I think it helps us to stay interested in discovering different influences to diversify the sound of the group. As long as we stay interested… that’s a feeling we need to be passing onto the audience if you get bored people will get bored with your music and If you try and do something you’ve done before, well you know.
I think it goes for any of our records actually, not just this one, it’s always a feeling of moving forward and trying to make a record that sounds like the moment and capturing the sound of what we’re thinking and feeling in the present time. Trying music from all different influences and eras and making something cohesive and relevant for the moment.
TM: Do you enjoy making the videos? The one for Wide Awake looked like fun to make…
AB: It was really fun, it was also exhausting at the same time, I guess there was a little bit of method acting in there. I think we’d all kind of conceived the idea of going down to Mardi Gras to make a video for it because we wanted an excuse to go to Mardi Gras. It was very late nights and very early mornings over a period of three days. I think the cool thing about the video is it shows a different side to the group, the fun humorous side, which is a big part of our personalities that we haven’t really put out in the world before. We’d always sort of taken everything we’ve done really seriously, and used the opportunity to make a video as another way to express ourselves and be artistic and I think what got lost over the years was a little bit of our own personalities. I think it’s one of the only videos that have all the members of the band in it, and the only one with lip-synching in it. I think it’s cool that maybe more people get an insight into who we are, there’s a lot of value in that which I hadn’t considered before.
TM: It is a very cool video. You’ve said that death and love were two of the biggest influences on the album. Would you say this record is more of a personal one?
AB: Yeah, I mean those are two of the biggest influences on the record. It’s pretty diverse, the songs that I contributed to definitely have themes of death and love. With a lot of the songs Andrew contributed, there’s more about what it’s like to be an American at the moment. I think this record as a whole, attempts to be more outward looking than say our record that came before this Human Performance, which was more inward looking, more introspective.
Obviously, there are moments, with Wide Awake! it’s a personal record in the way that it’s our personal observations, whether they’re observations of the world or observations of how we feel as people in the world which would be more introspective I think, yeah I guess that’s how I would fit the personal side of things in the context of the record.
TM: The band has always had a political core. How has the new President and what’s happening in America affected the writing and the music Parquet Courts are making?
AB: I guess it’s all a bit bleak. It definitely affects us in a way that it affects everyone in the country. As far as writing for the record I think a lot of artists these days kind of have an obligation to make a comment on it and at least say where they stand. People are going to look back at this time, especially in American history, and be thinking what were we feeling as these things were happening, and how there was a large sea change in culture. I think it’s important that people can look back at a record like Wide Awake! and know where we stood and how we were feeling at the time.
TM: The first track on Wide Awake! is called Total Football. Are any members of Parquet Courts fans of our national sport?
AB: Yea. I’m a big fan of football. More recent than people who’ve grown up in England, but I’m a recent obsessive for about four years or so.
TM: Have you got a team?
AB: Manchester United.
TM: Are you still offering free entry to your shows for fans that have got Parquet Courts tattoos?
AB: Yeah. You got one?
TM: It might be worth it to get in…
AB: It might be easier to buy a ticket. If you want to get a tattoo I don’t know if I can encourage that, but it’s your life man (laughs).
TM: Do you see a lot of that?
AB: Yeah. I’m always surprised anyone would want to do that, we’ve seen a few, some bad ones, and a few good ones too. Look I can’t tell anyone how to live their life.
TM: You’ve got a tour coming up. How is touring for you guys, pretty harmonious or not?
AB: It’s as harmonious as it can be with as many people as we have crammed into a van for weeks on end. I think we do pretty well, from what I’ve been told we do better than a lot of groups, and I think there’s a lot of getting along. It has had challenging moments, but at the end of the day, we get to travel around and play music, so things we can complain about are pretty low.
TM: Is there a Parquet Courts rider?
AB: Yeah there is. We try and keep it fresh, a few of our riders have been published online, they’re always evolving, Andrew gets pretty creative with the artwork for it. I feel like we’ve got a pretty good one going at the moment. The thing most of us are excited about at the moment is a pizza delivery after the show.
AB: So we get hot, fresh pies after the gig. The first couple of nights I was really into it, now Max is pretty much the one responsible for finishing it. He takes great pride in his ability to eat pizza.
TM: You’ve got to have a talent.
AB: Ha. Yea that’s true.
TM: Do you listen to a lot of music when you’re on tour.
AB: We’ve got a few different playlists on the go, we try and vary things, not play one thing too much. I guess we’re all pretty big fans of music, we have an appreciation of a lot of different things, especially in the van when you’re listening all day, you try and keep it fresh.
TM: Is there a piece of wisdom you’ve gleaned from your time in the industry that you can share with our readers?
AB: As long as you keep expectations low and your ambitions artistic then you can have fun with the whole thing.
Order Parquet Courts brilliant new album Wide Awake! HERE