You could say that Parquet Courts are a band void of bullshit. Having recorded their latest album Sunbathing Animal in just three sessions; the distortion, drive, and above all directness of the New York four-piece emerges throughout the release – with the album comprising a stomping, fast-paced blaze from start to finish. But despite the album’s intensity, and despite its casual and nonchalant aura, little of the meaning and sentiment within the 13 tracks was compromised throughout its hasty recording. Ahead of their appearance at Splendour In The Grass next month, guitarist and co-frontman Austin Brown detailed to us the album’s positive reception, and the means by which Parquet Courts were able to quickly create a third album as invigorating as it is highly personal.
How has Sunbathing Animal been received so far?
I’d say it’s pretty good. You know, it has been so far. It’s been a more commercially received record. I think critically, maybe even better received. I’m really happy with it.
Has it been similarly well received live?
Yeah, you know, we’ve been playing these songs for over a year now – more than a year for some of them. I’m really happy that people have been able to hear it on record now, so that we’re not playing half an hour of unreleased material which I think is really helpful to the audience. These days our set is mostly Sunbathing Animal and there are just a few Light Up Gold songs in there – bearing a few heckles, but there haven’t been a lot of complaints.
With that said, did much of the writing of the album take place on tour?
Yeah, but a lot of the record was recorded in the studio in the times when we weren’t on tour and we had a few weeks off here and there. We recorded it throughout three recording sessions in 2013 – it kind of came together throughout the year.
Did recording the entire album in only three sessions compromise any part of it?
Maybe it came out a month after we wanted it to, but I think if anything the sessions helped us really conceptualize a full length record. We could have put one out after the first session; we had enough songs, but I think that the three different sessions just helped us really get a better, full, well-rounded concept, rather than just putting something out as soon as possible.
So you got exactly what you wanted to achieve?
Yeah! Well after the second session we were calling it done. At a certain point we just kind of realized stuff that we really wanted to include, and some ideas that we didn’t get to touch on. We went back for the third session and I think that was really what made the record come together… We got some really great stuff out of that third session that really bound the songs by the concept, and they had a certain quality that we were happy with.
Does this mean that Sunbathing Animal is a departure from Parquet Courts’ first two albums, American Specialties and Light Up Gold?
I don’t think that it’s a departure, I think it’s a continuation of the same concept. Sunbathing Animal definitely exists in the same era as American Specialties and Light Up Gold – it almost bridges the gap between them even though it’s the third record in that order. We took a lot of concepts from [the first two albums] and added them together – it’s more minimal, and those are things that really came forward on Sunbathing Animal… There’s more of a full band sound, it’s more of a raw, live sound on Sunbathing Animal – that was one of the threads in Light Up Gold. It exists in the same era as the previous record. Who knows that will come after it, but I think that we really were able to fully conceptualize on Sunbathing Animal. We had a little bit of perspective throughout the whole year of what we’d achieved and what we’re capable of creatively as a band. I think we really stepped into our shoes, and we were able to really understand our artistic concept. I think [Sunbathing Animal]’s where we ended up.
You’ve also said before that Sunbathing Animal, moreso than your other albums, places emphasis on lyrics. Is this intentional?
All the songs began with the lyrics, and that was the same thing for Light Up Gold as well. Those songs are also lyrically forward. On Sunbathing Animal we made a concerted effort on the guitars and in a musical element to be more minimal: play less notes, leave more space, allow the lyrics to really take the forefront. That’s something that we were really conscious of.
That’s a very unique way of writing songs given that most other bands write the lyrics after they write the music. Is this how you’ve always written?
Yeah, I think all the songs start with the lyrics. Andrew [Savage] or I will write the lyrics to a song, a melody or concept for what the song should sound like, then bring it to the rest of the band and it’s fleshed out from there. Always in keeping with the lyrics and the vocals, we kind of build the music around that.
Interesting. Given this, are yours and Andrew Savage’s lyrics influenced by direct experiences?
All the songs are really personal, and they come from personal stories and personal feelings. They’re all meant to show a feeling – a sympathetic kind of feeling – and yeah, all of my songs were written from personal experiences and are about specific feelings. We’ve never been asked to explain the literal meanings of songs to each other. I think I like to just let the audience discover the meaning, and for me to discover it for myself. But yeah, I know [the songs] that Andrew writes, just from references within his lyrics, they’re all from personal experience, told through a story. But it’s all real. It’s not just a rhyming scheme.
Do you feel that living in New York amongst thousands of bands has seeped into Parquet Courts’ music?
It’s hard to say how it influences my writing – it’s hard to really draw the line between my personal interpretations of where New York City starts and begins. I honestly don’t think about it too much. I think in one way, New York is a really fast-paced city. A lot of people here are really hard working and I think there’s a big volume of creative people, and a high number of successful people here, and there’s a lot of inspiration to be taken from that. There’s not a lot of people who just float by here – you can’t really do that. You have to be on your game and work hard, and you can’t just get by as a person or any sort of artist without making great work. So that’s really inspiring, and that would be an influence to the band and to me personally. I always make sure I’m doing the best that I can do, and I’m really trying to put something into the world because there’s no room for just half-work in New York, or anywhere in the world.
Is this vibrance what drew you to New York in the first place?
Yeah, part of it. Really, I was just trying to move to the most opposite place from where I grew up in Texas, and New York is definitely it. I think it’s the greatest city in the world. There’s so many inspiring aspects to it – it’s hard to say what specifically about it affects the music, but I know it’s in there. I would be much more lazy if I still lived in Texas. It’s so easy to be lazy there.
Okay – and despite living in New York you’re signed to London label Rough Trade Records. How did this relationship come about?
Geoff [Travis] and Jeanette [Lee] from Rough Trade approached us at some point last year said that they were really interested in working with us. However, our home label is called ‘What’s Your Rupture?’ – it’s our friend Kevin Pedersen who rereleased Light Up Gold, and Sunbathing Animal came out on ‘What’s Your Rupture?’, and that’s really our record label. Rough Trade works through ‘What’s Your Rupture?’; they distribute and work with our label around the rest of the world. So technically we didn’t sign with [Rough Trade], that was ‘What’s Your Rupture?’ who made that business relationship. Not to say that I’m not very proud to be a part of the Rough Trade family – they’re great people and they have a great lineage and a great history and it’s good to be part of that, but I guess it came about because ‘What’s Your Rupture?’ is a one-man operation and Kevin, who is ‘What’s Your Rupture?’, enlisted the help of Rough Trade.
How do you know Kevin Pedersen?
Andrew and I met him in Seattle a few years ago when we were on tour, we had both just moved to New York and so he was just someone that we made friends with. He came to a lot of the early Parquet Courts shows and he saw how successful Light Up Gold was becoming and how dedicated we were to playing live and touring. When Light Up Gold was self-released he basically just offered to help us with the record. And then it grew and grew throughout his hard work and many other people to become what it is now. He really set us up.
Does the small membership base of ‘What’s Your Rupture?’ allow you to have a lot of freedom in regards to writing and releasing music?
Yeah, you know, I’ve never really had experience otherwise. He’s been really supportive, as has Rough Trade. We’ve never done anything that we didn’t want to do, and I’ve never felt that we had to do anything. I think maybe that’s because we work with smaller independent labels, because they’re strong willed. I don’t know.
Parquet Courts will perform this July at Splendour in the Grass; their second trip to Australia this year following February’s St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival.