Over the last decade, Parquet Courts have created a buzzworthy, mildly menacing blend of art-rock akin to the founding fathers of the 70s New York punk scene. Curator-creator and singer-guitarist Andrew Savage opens up about creative exploration, using his writing, music, and artwork as an apparatus of self-expression portrayed through the lens of the band. This approach not only fuels the backbone of Parquet Courts, but has driven the evolution of their sound and diligence to remain recognizably authentic.“Keeping it fresh is a choice that you have to be conscious of if you’re any type of artist,” Savage says over a video call from his kitchen in Brooklyn, NY. “It’s like a commitment, and you have to develop new creative boundaries. That’s how artists evolve. It stops being fresh when artists start going ‘all in,’ for lack of a better term. I’m happy to say that’s not what Parquet Courts have ever done.”
Abiding by a postmodern pathos, Parquet Courts convey an aura of authenticity in every move they make. Relying on relentless touring schedules and word of mouth promotion over an online presence, the concept of originality lies in the core of their art. “We didn’t go ‘all in’ on social media the way some bands do,” Savage says. “They will have every account that’s available to them before they have a record out, which I think is not the best look.”
This attitude in part, is something they are unabashedly honest about. “We are real artists and we are still using this band as a vehicle for self-expression,” Savage says. “I’m happy that we said no to a lot of things, especially in the early days. We went a long time without having a manager. We didn’t really do much carelessly. Everything that we engaged with, whether it be interviews, photos, or artwork, everything was done our way.”
Their way or the highway, Parquet Courts eventually got our attention. After word spread about 2012’s Light Up Gold throughout independent music circles near and far, they signed to Rough Trade and have been going strong ever since. They’ve since collaborated with Italian producer Daniele Luppi in 2017 and Grammy Award winning producer Danger Mouse in 2018, to name a few.
With momentum gathering for the release of their latest album Sympathy For Life, naturally, Parquet Courts are excited. Although they finished recording in March 2020, the album was strategically bumped to an October 2021 release date, allowing them to fully develop their project as a whole to match the energy of the music and the ethos of the band. Subliminally, they say, they took influence from Can and Talking Heads, warping in sounds resembling Primal Scream’s Screamadelica into their own brand of danceable, poetically wordy lyricism.
“It’s a natural progression,” Savage says about the tension he feels as an artist to continuously do better. “I always feel a certain amount of pressure to do something new. And we always do. Every record we put out is new in its own right. We always have some sort of creative challenge to make the process different because if the process doesn’t change, then it’s less likely that we’ll have as good of a time. You’ll get lacklustre results if you’re not enjoying yourself while you’re doing it.”
While recording the album with Rodaidh McDonald (who’s producing credits include David Byrne, The xx and Adele), Savage says they invented a new process which involved filling up a tape reel with 40 minutes of material and collaging the songs together. This sonic curation with McDonald ended up being instrumental in shaping the record. “When we got in the studio just to kind of get our feet wet, we started jamming like we often do. Improvisation is in the roots of the band.”
Although he always keeps a book to write in nearby, Savage confirms he’s not a poet. Ultimately, the result of Sympathy For Life just sort of happened. “We’re the sum of our influences. And there’s never really any conceptual talks like this in the band. We never really talked about it like that, you know, the evolution. I think it’s tempting for reporters to kind of go with that narrative, but really, the evolution of the band just kind of happens naturally and without any discussion. And that, I guess, is hinged upon our evolution as people, the evolution of our tastes, and the way that our lives move and grow.”
Along with a tour, and 11 special events happening worldwide, Parquet Courts will be releasing a music video for each song on the album to further elaborate on their curatorial bend. “I’ve been making art for about as long as I can remember, before I made music,” he says. “Even after we finished recording, I was still working on this record in some artistic way, I’ve worked on it pretty much every day. That was a very important thing to cling on to during the pandemic.”
As Parquet Courts continue to make music alongside a parallel stream of overnight TikTok influencers and Soundcloud bedroom stars, their approach reaches back to a simpler time. Their process is not overtly nostalgic or jape, but one that simply shows us the subtle nature of artists venturing into the terra incognita of their own minds. “For me, the biggest achievement is just the fact that we’re still doing this 11 years later, after the band had its first practice. Half of marriages end in divorce. Sure, it’s remarkable if even two people can get along, but if four people can get along and continue to make interesting art together, I think that that’s remarkable.”
Sympathy For Life is out now on Rough Trade.