Foto-© Rough Trade Records
Los ging‘s im Sommer mit Plant Life. Funk-Bass, Afrobeat-Groove, irgendwie entrückt, tropisch tangiert, auch tanzbar. So kennt das der frühe Fan nicht unbedingt. Auf Light Up Gold gab‘s 2012 noch nörgelige Gitarren, Draufgängertum, viel von The Fall in Sound und Stimme, auch Garage-Punk. Ein Fall für Indie-Rock-Puristen damals, fraglos.
Nun gibt es in der Geschichte ja Musiker, die sich auf einen Punkt konzentriert haben und ihm ein Leben lang treu geblieben sind. Parquet Courts wollen sich da nicht einreihen. Schon auf dem von Danger Mouse produzierten Vorgänger Wide Awake! erweiterten die New Yorker ihr Repertoire – man denke etwa an den Cowbell-Disco-Tumult im Titelsong. Jetzt forscht die Band weiter. Sie schaut auf britische Kollegen zurück, die vom Rock kamen, Clubs ihrer Zeit auskundschafteten und davon begeistert mit Beats arbeiteten (Happy Mondays, Primal Scream et al). Parquet Courts haben sich darüber hinaus an vielen anderen Stellen umgehört. Dort, wo es in unterschiedlicher Stärke und Ausprägung um enge Verzahnung von Rock und Rhythmus ging – bei Talking Heads und Tom Tom Club, Can, Fela Kuti und Lee „Scratch“ Perry.
Aus all diesen Einflüssen haben Andrew Savage, Austin Brown, Sean Yeaton und Max Savage ein abwechslungsreiches Ding namens Sympathy For Life gezimmert. Rodaidh McDonald und John Parish unterstützten die Band als Produzenten bei ihrem Befreiungskampf weg von begrenztem Genre-Denken, hin zu mehr Improvisation. Das war nicht immer einfach, weil sich bei Parquet Courts alle vier Mitglieder an der Komposition beteiligen. Austin Brown sieht genau das als Stärke an. Der Gitarrist & Co-Frontmann beschreibt im Gespräch zudem, wie sehr er sich über sein besseres Know-how am Mischpult freut und was für eine Rolle das im Band-Prozess spielt. Er erzählt auch davon, wie er sich George Floyd verbunden gefühlt und was er über Ausgehstätten in New York weiß.
Hey, Austin! Good to see you at home, accompanied by your guitar at the back. In what kind of situation are you with the band at the moment?
We just did a week of shows. We played a show in Marfa and Colorado and are we‘re in Florida for a show. I was back home to have a rest at the weekend. Now I‘m going to write new songs and do stuff like this, talk to European journalists about the record.
What kind of feeling is it now to play with the band after a break that lasted 18 months?
I was really nervous for the first one we played in Jersey City just outside of New York, but as soon as we‘ve finished it was familiar old feelings. It was really great to feel like we could energize a community like that. People are really desperate for it. They need this gathering and this expression of feelings and energy. It is great to provide that and to experience it for ourselves as well.
It must have been difficult for the band to stop things abruptly, after the success of the album Wide Awake!. How did the change of life affect your psyche?
It was really depressing (laughs sarcastically). We had the record done and were talking about the things we‘re going to do. We were discussing the narrative around how we are going to tell this story, not just though the music but also in interviews. How we would visualize the music videos and how we‘re about to present this record to the world. I feel it‘s a departure slightly, an evolution more so. The world just changed in an intense way we weren‘t really prepared for. I thought it was over for the band and music and we had to deal with that.
Really, you thought you had to pack it all in?
Yeah, but then I was told I wasn‘t allowed to think like that (laughs). Honestly, because of the themes we wrote about on the album lyrically and thematically, the record rings even more true now, which is odd and unexpected. I think this pandemic and crisis just exacerbated our human needs and really brought all of our emotions and sensitivities to the surface. These are types of things we tap into as songwriters. I‘ve been really anxious to get it out there, because a lot of people think we wrote it in response to the pandemic. But a few things have been there the whole time.
To make it clear: The songs have been prepared before the pandemic began with producers John Parish and Rodaidh McDonald?
That‘s right, all except for one which was Marathon Of Anger, a response to the research into the Black Lives Matter movement during the height of the Covid lockdown. Here I‘m kind of thankful to the pandemic slowing things down, so that I had time to finish that song. The other sessions were completed before the pandemic. The last recording session we had with John Parish was on March 12, 2020. Then we finished a lot of music at home in my studio, then I went out to L.A. with Rodaidh to do the mix. That would have been in June.
Aggression towards black people in the US – how did you approach this serious subject as musicians in the studio?
That song in particular was constructed from a 40-minute improvisation that was almost entirely electronic except for the bass, which was that kind of Can-style bass guitar. What I hear in that song is electronic music, what Chicago house producers were taking from their influence from Kraftwerk and how they made that really simple electronic sound out of it. I hear dub in there with all the echoes we had in place, and I hear Afrobeat drum parts riding a really forward propelling polyrhythmic movement. For me those three things, much like all of our American music, is black music. It was part of my introspective journey thinking about how I as a white musician or the four of us in a group are taking influence from black music.
At the same time there was incessant protest in the streets every single day.
It was impossible not to be aware of it, impossible not to think about it, it was impossible to think about what my place in all of this was, what my role was, what I have done to benefit from black culture and what I haven‘t done to speak to it or to represent it or to give weight to it and make space for it. That‘s where the lyrics came from, and the lyrics are about the spirit of frustration and anger I was feeling. People were extremely angry at everything and everybody for every good reason. Racism in the US is something we haven‘t dealt with or truly acknowledged in a genuine way, that‘s endlessly frustrating. The song acknowledges that anger, but it‘s also about what happens next. You have this marathon of anger now, it seems endless, but it will subside. Then the question is: What do we do now, how can we be productive? Just expressing anger once every three or five years is cathartic, but not very productive. What can the listeners of Parquet Courts do and what can the members of Parquet Courts do to make space for black culture and to acknowledge our failures?
What did you feel precisely when you heard about George Floyd‘s death?
I thought about my personal connection to George Floyd, that he‘s from Port Arthur, Texas, which is also the hometown of rap duo UGK, Bun B and Pimp C. Bun B and I had the pleasure collaborating with on our Human Performance record – Captive Of The Sun, a single we performed together on TV. George Floyd is on DJ Screw‘s mixtapes, they called him Big Floyd. It was really close to home in that way, but it also felt very foreign to me as a white guy in the US. That‘s something that I don‘t think would never happen to me, it seems hard to believe but at the same time it‘s undeniable and very complicated emotionally that way. It‘s not really up to me to sort out the emotions, it‘s about what can we do to make sure this is eradicated in our society. Coming from the part of Texas I‘m from I‘m no stranger to seeing it, these concepts of racism are really forward out there. KKK is quite present in the area in which I grew up. Not too far from where I lived is where James Byrd Jr. was murdered by members of a local racist organization, dragged behind a pickup truck. It was a famous case in 1998. I mean (pauses)…it‘s never-ending. It‘s brutal.
Another person who‘s gone is Lee „Scratch“ Perry. How did you work with his dub style on the new record?
One of the original inspirations for this record is Africa‘s Blood by Lee „Scratch“ Perry. For many of the improvisations we recorded I had a Lee-„Scratch“-Perry-inspired dub mixer. I had everybody‘s instruments coming into my mixer, before they were sent to the boards I had. I was playing keys and also be adjusting those echoes on the mixer that I call my dub station. That‘s how we got the original tracks for Marathon Of Anger, Black Widow Spider, Trullo, Plant Life. It was like I was playing my own and everyone else‘s instrument just like Lee Perry would have done. It was like playing in this space, trying to get something new in the moment and committing to it, trying to get a cosmic sound which we‘ve then achieved on this record.
How do you work with the other band members in your role as a mixmaster?
I said before we started recording, that the best instrument we have in our group is our band collectively. We‘re in the band for a decade now, we can play together so much further than any of us as individual songwriters, so we had a major focus on this collective songwriting technique pushing it as far as we could. It started out pretty normal, and then we started incorporating more instruments and effects and more different ideas, switching the instruments and matching the electronic drums and people would be all on electronic instruments and seeing where we could get. Rodaidh gave us the space to be able to experiment like that. It was a freedom that we haven‘t had in a while, probably since we were making our first record or since we made Monastic Living, which kind of happened by accident. We really refined that writing style with this record in a way that was really powerful.
Walking At A Downtown Pace is a very danceable track. Did you go to the disco a lot throughout the years, like proper New Yorkers often do?
Before Wide Awake! and leading up to it we were all heavily involved in that club music scene and what was happening there. I was getting involved in dance parties and finding this new community that was less centred or not centred at all around rock music or indie culture. I became a member of The Loft, historical New York City parties initiated by David Mancuso over 50 years ago. There are many great members like Arthur Russell, David Byrne and also Francois K, a producer and DJ responsible for a few disco hits. The amazing thing about The Loft is that‘s it‘s not restricted to any kind of music, it‘s disco, rock, house, old, new and it‘s songs. It‘s not like going to a club where things are mixed together and you can‘t tell what the song is or what‘s happening. This was song-based DJing where songs are played from start to finish and in between songs people clap. I was able to draw this connection between what I do in rock music and how that might fit in historically in this other culture.
Was your view focused on what happened in US club culture or are there other avenues of interest, geographically speaking?
I was thinking about Primal Scream and Screamadelica and their work with Andrew Weatherall, because they were going through the same transition in England, being in a rock band, going to a club and thinking…actually this is what I want to do. We‘re rock bands, how do we live in between those two worlds, how do we combine what we‘re doing with this thing we‘re passionate about? I‘ve talked with Rodaidh a lot about this, how he could make it be Parquet Courts and bring in these influences and put them at the forefront. I‘ve always considered us to be a psychedelic NYC band that is part of this lineage, but I now wanted us to expand like The Velvet Underground, Talking Heads or Sonic Youth. I wanted to cross over. I wanted to explore all these other cultures that existed and have been influential on underground subversive music and are pretty mainstream now.
Finally Italy. You‘ve recorded the Milano album with Karen O and Daniele Luppi a few years back. You seem to have a connection to the country, the new record finishes with the tracks Trullo and Pulcinella. Has this got anything to do with New York too?
Andrew said he was writing some songs on a vacation in Italy. Pulcinella was this clown figure he kept seeing around, it was haunting him in a way and he was inspired by that situation and wrote about the feeling of being haunted. And while he stayed in Italy he lived in a trullo. In this case it was music first and lyrics after, he was trying to fit that in there. I‘m not sure how much intention we had on this Italian connection, but it‘s certainly there. For Andrew it‘s one of his getaway spots, he was happy to write music about it. And we accepted it as understanding group members (laughs).