Interview: Andrew Savage of Parquet Courts

andrew savage

BROOKLYN, New York-based indie-rock quartet Parquet Courts will return to Australia to play Splendour in the Grass, having been here as recently as January for St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival. With a new album – entitled Sunbathing Animal – about to be released, their show promises to be heavy on new material, with the band’s trademark energy and witty lyricisms being certain to feature. I talked to singer-guitarist Andrew Savage to find out the band’s plans and why the ‘slacker’ label needs to be taken out of circulation.

Congratulations on the new album. How do you feel knowing it’s about to be released?

Man, it feels great. It didn’t feel real until I held it in my hands. I just got my own copy last week. It’s the coolest looking album I’ve ever been on, that’s for sure; I love the way it looks. It’s my first gatefold, and it’s been my lifelong dream to have a gatefold record, as they were always the coolest ones when you were a kid. So yeah man, I’m feeling good about it. Throughout the whole time of making it, we were aware that we had a new audience, you know? We were very cognisant that we had a fanbase, whereas with Light Up Gold, nobody really knew us and we didn’t have to worry about it. I would hesitate to call what we feel worry, but it’s more of an awareness that kind of resulted in more of a realised album.

Did the realisation you have a fanbase change your approach to songwriting?

Not explicitly, because it was one of those things we knew in the back of our heads and slowly started to realise, but I think it did make me aware of not wanting to give people the same thing they got on the album before, you know what I mean?

Do you think about how the songs will sound live when you write them?

The songs in Parquet Courts are really fully written live, or half-and-half at least. A lot of times we’ll come up with stuff in the studio, and that’s really fun, but a lot of the songs on Sunbathing Animal are a year and a half old, so we’ve been playing them for a long time.

How have they been going down live?

We’ve had songs like ‘She’s Rolling’ that have been in the set since before Light Up Gold was re-released on What’s Your Rupture? Those have become kind of set standards by now. We’ve gotten mostly positive feedback from all the new stuff live.

Sunbathing Animal has come quite quickly after Light Up Gold – do you feel like you’re under pressure to release new material quickly, or do you prefer to do it that way?

It’s not that quickly, because Light Up Gold came out in August 2012, so in August it’s two years old. Even still, when it came out, we had already recorded it about six months before that, so that’s pretty well-worn territory. Honestly, we have been dying for this to come out as we want to give people something new. I don’t feel a pressure though, as there’s nobody who will even give it to me. We don’t go into the studio unless we have at least enough stuff to start; we only record when we’re inspired to.

How was your experience at the Australian legs of Laneway Festival earlier in the year?

It was great – I loved Australia. I had already accrued a few friends down there, so we got to see some people we hadn’t seen in a while. I liked the festival, although we played some club shows too in Sydney and Melbourne, and I think that was probably the highlight for me.

What can fans expect from your show at Splendour?

I hope they give us at least an hour (laughs). It’ll definitely be mostly stuff off Sunbathing. That’s what we’ve been waiting to do for a long time. We’ve held back on doing all new stuff because we realise not everybody knows all that stuff yet, and it might be a bummer for somebody to have a band come and play a bunch of songs nobody knows. We’ll be in Japan the day before Splendour in the Grass, and then two days after we have to be in Chicago, so we’ll only be in the country for about 48 hours.

You so often have the ‘slacker’ label pinned on you. How do you feel about that?

I think that calling someone a slacker is kind of slacker, because it’s lazy. If anyone takes just a little bit of time to investigate who we are as a band, you’ll realise that it’s not applicable. At the same time, I understand half of rock and roll is lore, so if someone says these guys are slackers, then people believe it because that’s kind of an archetype that exists in rock and roll; the slacker guy, or the guy who’s a deadbeat and doesn’t have to work hard for it. It’s a fantasy, you know? People like that are pretty rare. People who get called slackers or slacker artists would surprise people with how non-fitting that term is to them. You can’t keep making art if you’re a slacker; part of being an artist is staying hungry and continuing to do what you do. It’s one of those things that once someone says it, people don’t question it, and it becomes part of the language. Once upon a time someone called us that, and most people just say ‘that’s good enough for me’.

Do you read or care about reviews of your albums or shows?

To me, a bad review is when someone doesn’t really think about what they’re doing. Even if a review is heavily critical and against what we’re doing, if it was done intelligently I would still consider it a good review. To me, the bad reviews are the ones where obviously the person hasn’t listened to the whole record or maybe even made a blind endorsement. To me, that’s a bad review. When you work so hard on something, you want to hear what people think about it. I could pretend to be one of those aloof guys that doesn’t read reviews and don’t care what people think. I’m interested in reading or hearing about how someone analyses what I’ve done; that’s mostly what it is.

Another thing you’re often called is a ‘buzz’ band. Does that have any meaning to you whatsoever?

I think that’s kind of silly. I don’t even know what that means. I guess it’s just a band that’s popular at the moment, which we kind of are. That’s not something I care about. We’re not trying to maintain ‘buzz’ status; it’s kind of a dispensable term. There’s always a new buzz band, but I’d kind of like to be one of the bands that moves past that and becomes just a regular band.

Parquet Courts hasn’t embraced social media as much as most bands tend to do. Is there a particular reason for that?

I don’t have any social media personally, and I’m the only one in the band likely to maintain it if we did. I don’t have Facebook, Twitter or any of that stuff. I’ve got Gmail; I talk to people on that, but it’s really that nobody in the band wants to maintain it. It’s not so much of a statement, and I have certain convictions in that world, but with Parquet Courts it’s a if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it kind of thing. None of us have ever done [social media] with a band, and I was playing music long before the advent of social media and I remember it being just fine for me. In other words, it hasn’t presented itself as a necessity to me. In some ways, it makes creativity harder and is kind of a big distraction. It’s kind of like white noise to me, and I’ve got enough white noise in my life to worry about; I don’t need more.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

We’ll be touring all summer. I’m not sure what’s going to go on in the fall, as my brother – the drummer – is finishing up school and has to take five different math classes. Sean and his wife are expecting a child in September, so naturally he’s going to take time off to be a dad. I can’t exactly say what the future holds after the summer, but definitely this summer we’ll be hitting it hard and going everywhere we can go.


Record review: Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal (2014, LP)

parquet courts sunbathing animal

It’s tempting to pin the ‘slacker’ label on New York indie-rock quartet Parquet Courts, given that their most well-known song to date, 2012’s ‘Stoned and Starving’, tells the simple tale of singer Andrew Savage wandering the streets fiending for “Swedish fish, roasted peanuts or liquorice”. To do so, however, would be a disservice, as there is much more to the band. Featured on their second album Light Up Gold, that song introduced the everyday laugh-out-loud ramblings of a young city musician describing his surroundings, and was enough to bag the band slots at both Laneway Festival and Splendour In The Grass this year. One of the great – and simultaneously infuriating – things about Parquet Courts is that it’s not always clear when they’re being serious and when they’re taking the piss. Undoubtedly a fine and witty wordsmith, frontman and lyricist Andrew Savage comes across as part Ivy League stiff, part frantic punk-rock poet; but his energy and commitment make him a believable street storyteller on Sunbathing Animal. Unlike the instantly explosive Light Up Gold, the album begins in more measured fashion with ‘Bodies Made Of’, before setting off at pace with ‘Black & White’ and breaking the momentum down to a slow crawl on ‘Dear Ramona’. Among the remaining full-tilt rockers are ‘Instant Disassembly’, which could easily be the soundtrack to a comedy Western, and ‘Raw Milk’, which adds a hint of blues to finish up. While they’re now opting for a more cautious approach to urban punk than the head-on take of previous work, it’s this progression which keeps Parquet Courts’ particular brand of indie-rock more exciting than most.

Album review: Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold (2013, LP)

parquet courts

Hype can often be fatal to new bands, but New York slacker-rock four-piece Parquet Courts are probably too stoned to care. Being labelled by some sections of the music press as the hottest unsigned property knocking around this year’s SXSW festival lead to the band being snapped up by Create/Control and their album being released in Australia. But is the hype justified, or all a bit of the usual industry shenanigans?

In the case of Parquet Courts, the attention and praise lavishly heaped on the band is more than understandable. Light Up Gold is fifteen tracks of a new brand of lyrical slacker-rock; funny, sharp, at times smart, and at times bonehead dumb. In short: it’s fantastic.

The shoddily lo-fi recording quality of Light Up Gold is somehow totally appropriate for this collection of songs – these four guys would probably spit in the face of the idea of a polished record. Opener ‘Master of My Craft’ is a great way to kick off, with singer Austin Brown proudly exclaiming “Socrates died in the fucking gutter!” over a barrage of frantic strumming and simple percussion.

There’s more than a hint of early Clash throughout – before they learned how to play, especially in the brilliant ‘Careers In Combat’, which sees Brown sharing life advice like “there are no spots left for park rangers, because there are no bears left to save you from, but there are still careers in combat my son,” and with a majority of songs under two minutes on length, this is a band that doesn’t give a damn about virtuosity or showmanship. Why would you, when you’ve got so much disaffection and contradiction barely restraining itself in your starving, college drop-out guts? And why not write a song about donuts with an intro that sounds like a Michael Jackson track circa 1985, as on ‘Donuts Only’? Fuck it.

It will be interesting to see where Parquet Courts go from here, and if they have the stomach or desire to toe the industry line, but this album is a damn exciting piece of work.