Parquet Courts - punk stock rising
A blistering show at Electric Picnic last month brought to an end four months of solid touring for Brooklyn punk rockers Parquet Courts – and they’re already back on the tour bus and heading back to Ireland
Some stories never get old. You can tell them over and over again and they stay fresh forever. That romantic old story of a young rock band hitting the road, driving back and forth across a continental expanse in a cramped, beat-up van, playing dive bars to nobody and having the time of their lives, that’s a dream that wave after wave of kids grow up wanting to inhabit, wanting to make their own.
When you’re consumed by that passion for music, for movement, the open road is the most attractive place imaginable.
“I think touring in America is a rite of passage that every American band should go through,” says singer and guitarist Andrew Savage, shortly after returning home to New York from four months of solid touring.
“It’s tough and it’s easy to romanticise things that are tough because ultimately they’re pretty rewarding. I don’t mean to make it seem like On The Road or anything, it’s hard, it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s definitely a huge contributor to the person I am today and the way I see music and the way I see being a band. I can always tell when I talk to bands in the US who haven’t really done that because it changes you, I think.”
Parquet Courts were born for the road. Savage grew up in Dallas, Texas, along with his brother Max who plays drums in the band. Savage met fellow guitarist Austin Brown in college. All three eventually ended up moving to Brooklyn and there they hooked up with Sean Yeaton, a Boston native who Savage met when Yeaton’s old band played his house back in Dallas. The band started at the end of 2010, releasing their first album, American Specialities, on cassette in 2011. Their second, Light Up Gold, ended up on the big-deal indie website What’s Your Rupture? and landed them at number five on Time magazine’s list of “The Top 10 Everything of 2012”.
While all that was going on, the band were playing just about every gig they could. They played 10 shows at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas, ranging from the massive Converse- sponsored Faderfort to an illegal show on a pedestrian bridge.
They hit everywhere from tiny basements to huge European festivals such as Primavera. For Savage, the difference between touring on either side of the Atlantic is “vast”.
“I think there’s a better appreciation in Europe because people won’t get to see you very often and because you’re an American band, might not get to see you again,” he says. “You’re met with a certain amount of enthusiasm which is really heart-warming.”
Still, the appeal of the homeland is strong.
“I guess there’s a masochistic part of me that likes touring the old-fashioned American way in a van going across the continent in the summer time.”
“It’s not about making money, it’s just about going out there, playing your music, roughing it, sleeping on peoples’ floors, getting a bowl of spaghetti at the end of the night if you’re lucky. It’s a culture that has been going on in America, and for that reason I feel like there’s always been, especially in the DIY punk circuit, a kind of frontier-like attitude about it.”
There’s a directness to Parquet Courts which marks them as somewhat different from the hordes of young groups with guitars playing familiar-feeling garage rock. For one, the vocals are mixed high and clear on their records. You can hear every word Savage and Brown are singing, a pleasant change from the usual indistinct haze. This clarity is a conscious choice.
“Maybe when you’re younger, you don’t have as much to say or you’re more selfconscious about saying what you think or what you mean because it exposes you,” says Savage. “You don’t want to have the nakedness of speaking from your heart, and I was like that too. Lyrics aren’t the main focus for every band and they shouldn’t be for every band. It doesn’t have to be like that, but it is with us. We have something that we want to say so we want to make sure people know what we’re saying.”
As well as releasing their debut album on cassette, the band have also put together two mix tapes which they’ve posted out to fans in very small numbers. The most recent one had the words “Please Share This With The Rest Of Humanity” written on it and featured a mix of the DIY underground’s best bands, including names such as Mazes, Woods and Milk Music alongside lesser-known acts like Priests and the UV Race.
There was also an unreleased track credited to “Parkay Quarts” and a phone number where you could leave a voicemail for the band. This kind of openness reflects the reputation the band have for getting up close and personal with fans at their gigs, making the experience all the more intense for all involved. For the uninitiated, the cassette would undoubtedly prove a useful entry-point to the scene Parquet Courts are coming from. This, claims Savage, was exactly the aim.
“There’s been a lot of coverage about Parquet Courts that kind of projects who people think our influences are or what kind of scene they want us in,” he says, “and it’s never really wrong, but sometimes it’s kind of a surprise to us. It’s like, that’s your opinion but it might not be exactly where we feel like we’re coming from. So it’s a way of building a portal for people who are unacquainted with the scene that we consider ourselves a part of.
“Mostly because I feel like when we get compared to a band that maybe we don’t necessarily relate to, I don’t think it’s a wrong opinion, it’s just maybe someone’s point of reference might be slightly limited. It’s kind of like us, as a band, having the right to define ourselves.”
With a band as lucid as Parquet Courts, you get a sense that self-definition will never be a problem.
yyy Parquet Courts play Whelan’s, Dublin, next Monday, October 14th