BROOKLYN BAND REALIZES THEIR POTENTIAL ON SUNBATHING ANIMALS
“This record is the best thing we’ve done so far.”
Lead vocalist and guitarist Andrew Savage’s praise for Parquet Court’s upcoming album, Sunbathing Animal is refreshing in its immediacy. He is not the kind of person to beat around the bush or feign modesty for disposition’s sake. For four years now, the Brooklyn-based punk rock outfit made up of Savage, along with fellow rioters Austin Brown on guitar, Max Savage on drums and Sean Yeaton on bass have been embedding themselves within the NY music ethos, most successfully thanks to their previous release, Light Up Gold, in 2012. But two years later, the newest LP issued again by independent labels What’s Your Rupture?/Mom+Pop is a further ripened manifest of their capabilities as musicians and cohesiveness as a group.
Though they are consistently described as “slacker,” when speaking with Savage, one gets the sense that Parquet Courts are much too resolute and diligent in their endeavours to be qualified as idlers in their music. There indeed exists a notable degree of semblance to the half-spoken, half-sung anecdotal tendencies of ‘90s era slacker bevies, the experiential narratives perpetuated by Parquet Courts more often than not come at a pace that is boisterous and hectic in circumstance (think frenetic Stephen Malkmus). And therein lies the success of this band: with their distinctive garage-infused inclinations they have proved themselves to be a mainstay within the New York scene.
[BEST RECORD EVER]
Savage begins by suggesting that Sunbathing Animal is the band’s most conversant grasp of their talents to date. It was an album recorded in three sessions, with conceptions being cultivated and left to ruminate in the years since Light Up Gold. Taking cues from their first record, American Specialties, this latest release is a kind of return to punk form, but the catchier, pop-leaning components remain and therefore so does its accessibility.
“We just played better on this one. Keep in mind, the previous album was recorded in less than ideal circumstances: we did it in three days in a tiny room where we were walking all over each other,” he says.
“This time around, we had a year of playing live together and writing songs and learning how to be a band under our belt. Light Up Gold was the moment we realized what we sounded like and who we are. This time around we were more focused on the songs, we had a clearer image of what we wanted the record to be.“
Their fully realized identity is palpable on Sunbathing Animal. It is a tightly produced, highly self-aware album whose daunting pace is conveyed with a vivid sense of precision that only a sutured group would be able to accomplish. So much so, that Savage insists on building a record out of first takes, not only in order to hasten fleeting nuances, but because they are just that sharp.
“My approach to recording music has always been to just get it done and move forward, because I think that belabouring things kind of can stifle the energy you need in the moment to record,” says Savage. “That being said, we actually did record a few songs multiple songs this time around, which is why it took three sessions.”
He goes on to say that some of the tracks did indeed improve upon multiple recordings, but that many times he still felt the initial one captured the best results. Savage does note that the third recording session provided some newfound challenges for the band.
“We’ve always recorded in New York, but the third time was the most special and the most difficult one. It was during that polar vortex in January and we were up in the Catskills Mountains, completely snowed in, like we couldn’t have left if we had wanted to,” he muses.
“So, that presented itself as a unique opportunity. Whereas, in Brooklyn, people had the comfort of going home and going about their normal lives, this time, because we were confined to this very small area, we pretty much just had to work all the time and keep things moving. It was quite intense. We ended up getting a lot of work done that way. It made me realize that it might be important to step out of your comfort zone if you’re going to make a record.”
For a band with such a striking musical presence, it is natural that the members have taken the time to nourish their aesthetic. That does not take the form of any kind of garish live show, but rather Savage, also a keen visual artist, takes great care in forging the band’s accompanying imagery. Much of their music influences his art and his designs as encompassed by the album artwork therefore provide a flourished interpretation of themes woven into Sunbathing Animal.
“There is a synaesthetic quality to the way I see music,” he notes. “I’ve always thought that a band’s records should look the way they sound. My goal is to make something interesting to supplement the record and spark initial curiosity.”
Savage’s visual art has embodied an important role in terms of the aesthetic associated with Parquet Courts. He has produced the cover art for each of their records, incorporating heavy symbolism into many of the images. They are curious and inviting, begging to be deciphered in the context of their music. He goes on to say that the art for Sunbathing Animal is particularly divulging.
“The visual art, I suppose I put in a lot more consideration this time around. I think there’s a lot more symbolism that reflects the lyrics and the record,” says Savage.
“There are a lot of illustrations that were drawn specifically for certain songs on the record. When I say this is my favourite Parquet Courts record so far, it’s also because it has my favourite artwork. My philosophy is always that a record should look the way it sounds and so, I think the artwork here is the truest reflection of our album this time.”
I ask what kinds of themes Sunbathing Animal deals with.
“Confinement, captivity, freedom are all used pretty broadly on the album,” he confides. “I’ve had close family members in jail — I’ve been in jail — so there are a few references to conventional prisons. But, also, I wanted to talk about everyday prisons that people don’t always associate with a type of confinement, but more of an ambiguous kind of oppressive presence.”
Savage continues: “The band has changed quite a lot since its inception. I know that, with this record, there’s a bit more of a conceptual aggression that kind of permeates all facets of the record.”
He pauses for a moment, recalling that “Light Up Gold definitely had a concept behind it, but I don’t think it was as all encompassing as this one is. The conceptualizations behind that album were pretty much relegated through just the lyrics. In Sunbathing Animal, I feel the ideas reveal themselves further.”
Parquet Courts has managed to embody these themes wholly within the record. The very issues of captivity are embraced by the music itself not only lyrically, but also in terms of song structure. Form mimics function and, therefore, Sunbathing Animal presents itself in all its subtle complexity.
He explains, “For example, [title-track] Sunbathing Animal’ has a very regimented and structured guitar arrangement that kind of speaks those themes of confinement and captivity.”
Savage goes on further. “The guitar line is quite repetitive, similar to some kind of endless cycle,” he says. “Doing things that way allows for the vocal performance and the guitar performance to be a bit more dynamic, which counters the regimented guitar chords and maybe has to do with flaying captivity.”
Parquet Courts is undoubtedly well-versed and relishing in their heightened capacity. Sunbathing Animal is altogether a significant materialization for the band, a display of their sedulous ethic as proven in a record that is as skillful as it is vivacious in demeanour. It will be intriguing to witness what comes of future releases from this band, considering the maturation of their instrumentals and poetics. At this point, these men know quite well who they are and what they do and it has resulted into a stimulating, fully realized sound. It is not reckless punk but a rather informed and compelling take on the genre. And Savage maintains this sentiment throughout the entirety of our conversation. He is aware that there is perpetually room for artists to foster and amplify but this record stands as a beacon.
He crisply concludes, “We’re real proud of it.”
Catch Parquet Courts at Commonwealth on May 22.
By Nivedita Iyer