"No one can make an instant classic," is the hedge that begins the press release for Parquet Courts' forthcoming Tally All The Things That You Broke EP. This might seem like an obnoxious attempt at fishing for compliments, if the five songs therein didn't instantly bring to mind hyperbolic statements in the same ilk as "instant classic." Yup, this quintet of songs -- with their aesthetic and spiritual echoes of Sonic Youth, Television, the Modern Lovers and Gang Of Four -- do just that. So, really, the press release is being humble -- telling overly excitable music journos to slow their rolls. Thanks, press release! Good lookin' out -- but I think we're going to go ahead and drool all over this band and their latest release anyway.
Formed in New York by a group of Texas transplants in 2011, Parquet Courts has kept up a rigorous recording and touring schedule for most of their short existence. Their first proper LP Light Up Gold attracted heaps of attention for all the obvious reasons; here was a young band breathing life into an increasingly calcified tradition with guitar music for, and of, the present day. But while some strains of punk have historically resisted interpretation, primary PQ songwriters Austin Brown and Andrew Savage are thoughtful and precise with language, bringing to mind a time when poetry and punk rock mingled freely in the downtown…aw nuts, there goes that hyperbole again.
Meant as a bridge between Light Up Gold and their upcoming full-length, Tally All The Things That You Broke continues the band's frenetic progression toward whatever they're becoming as they flex and stretch their creative muscles.
On the eve of an especially insane bout of touring, Brown spoke with MTV Hive about mixtapes, Tavi Gevinson, and the unmatched pleasure of quitting your job.
Sorry this took so long to set up, I've had a crazy week.
Oh yeah? How crazy?
It was crazy partly because I quit my day job.
I've quit a lot of jobs, I've always kind of enjoyed quitting jobs…it's great.
Oh yeah? What are some jobs you've quit?
I was a porter at a bar in Williamsburg…a porter is a lesser-known position at a bar that's not often held by college-educated English-speaking men. It's the guy who comes to the bar at 5 a.m. and mops the floors and cleans the toilets. I'd be staying up all night and show up and just put on my music and get to work… mopping floors is very zen, and I really enjoyed that. The toilet part was kind of a bummer. One day I just said, "Nah, I don't think I'm gonna show up ever again." And just never came back. They never even called me to see if I was okay or anything.
Maybe that's how all porters quit. So how did you and Andrew first meet?
In college we both lived in the same dorm our freshman year. We met at this record listening club that Andrew started called Knights of the Round Turntable where one person in the club would bring an LP to the meeting every week, and we'd sit around and listen to it and talk about it.
Was it love at first sight for you guys?
I wouldn't say that. We became friends and started hanging out and went to a couple shows together. But we never played in a band together until Parquet Courts formed in New York. I might be the only guy Andrew wasn't in a band with in Denton.
I guess it was worth the wait?
It was worth the wait, I will say that.
Let's back up to before you got to Denton. Did you play in bands growing up in Beaumont, Texas?
Yeah, I played in bands in high school. Parquet Courts wasn't really anything different than any other band that I was playing in…it's not like we started this one out to do things differently, it just happened to be that way.
What was your first band like?
My first band I started when I was 15, 16 or so. I guess you could say it was kinda like pop punk, maybe. It was just teenagers' music. We would play a lot of covers. Our first show was at our high school bonfire.
A bonfire? That's awesome.
Sorta…people threw things at us, we weren't really well-received. No one really got it -- they thought it was bullshit. But I was really proud, I thought we played really awesome. I think my close friends were really psyched on it, but I went to a big high school and I wasn't exactly like a cool kid, so… At one point someone unplugged my guitar amp. There were a lot of rap music fans at my high school, so to see some high school kid playing rock music, they hated it.
What's it like in Beaumont, Texas, anyway?
Pretty shitty, small, smelly, it's a refinery town…there's not a lot going on. I have a few friends who still live there but most everyone I know has left. It sucks there.
Did that inform your music?
I don't know if it informs my music. I guess it informed my world view that I needed to get out of there. Teenagers are prone to hating whatever's around them, I guess I was lucky that mine was worth hating. I was pretty lucky to get as far away as I could. I got pretty far by getting to Denton. I moved to Denton because I knew there was a music scene there.
What was your most embarrassing music from then, or maybe you stand by all of it? Any Blink-182 covers?
I probably played a Blink-182 cover in my first band. Definitely Green Day. I learned how to play guitar by learning Green Day and Weezer songs. I grew up in a small town where the only glimpse of counterculture was at the mall. If Hot Topic had it, that was like my insight into counterculture. Pop punk, emo was big when I was in high school…watching skateboard videos I would get insight into punk music and different kinds of music. It's kind of a bummer that I didn't have such refined taste, but I wouldn't say I'm embarrassed. I'm a product of my environment, really.
I respect that. I don't trust people who pretend like they were born cool. When people try to pretend their first record was The Modern Lovers, I'm like, "Fuck you, you're lying."
(Laughing) You shouldn't trust people in general! The first record I bought was probably Dookie. I wouldn't say I'm a huge Green Day fan anymore, but for a teenager living in the middle of nowhere, it's not so bad. I remember Korn being one of the first bands where I was like, "So, I don't like that." Tool was another thing where I was like, "Yeah, I don't like that."
That was your taste developing organically. So you live in New York now. Did you always want to move here?
I think if I couldn've figured out how to do that I would've done it when I was 18, but I got sidetracked by the American education system. It's a place I always wanted to end up. I visited here and kind of fell in love, was determined to get here. I moved up here not really knowing anyone or having any kind of support group. I had a rough go at it, as many people do. I'd just had all I could take of living in Texas and just decided it was time to move on, and this was a place that I wanted to be, and I figured I'd come here and figure it out.
So on the topic of "punk rock": I feel like there's a belief among people nowadays that only little kids care about "authenticity." [I'm even hedging right now by putting it in scare quotes.] How important is it to you to be doing things for the right reasons? Have you turned down stuff that would've paid a lot because you thought it was dumb?
Yeah, we have. But we've also taken shows that weren't that cool for a good amount of money cause we needed it. I think stuff like that is how you justify it to yourself -- how you justify your art and your work to yourself rather than what other people might think about you. We just don't have any rules, really. I think we're all pretty level-headed about how we wanna be perceived and the kind of way that we exist as a band and as artists in the public eye. I don't think we've made very many bold statements as far as things we're against publicly. I think I judge myself and my band a lot more harshly than most people would.
Who would win in a fight: Parquet Courts or Mumford and Sons?
Um, Parquet Courts. No question. I don't think I've really listened to them or know what they look like. I've only read stories about how Mark E. Smith throws beer bottles at them at festivals.
He hates them!
You gotta admire his tenacity in his decrepit old age. I'm just like a "whatever" kinda guy. But I got his back in a fight. He doesn't look too strong anymore. I bet he's scrappy, though.
Oh, Mark E. Smith. Speaking of whom…have you met any of your musical heroes yet?
Yeah. Well, we played a show in Belgium right after Henry Rollins. I wouldn't say he's one of my personal heroes but I think Andrew said he was for him. We played a show in San Francisco where Spiral Stairs from Pavement came onstage and played a few songs with us. I wouldn't say he is a hero, but he's definitely someone I've admired for a long time and never thought I would be a contemporary of.
It was cool to break the wall of like, someone who I admired, in a band that's on another level than anything I imagined for myself. And for someone like that to consider his band contemporaries of mine. I felt like in a way it was kind of like he was inviting us into his club. That felt really cool. We're gonna open up for the Pixies on Friday -- that's really great.
We played a couple of shows with the Breeders and I feel like we're friendly with them at this point. I can sit down with Kim Deal and have a conversation, which is bizarre but also really awesome. It's the same situation with someone I've looked up to for a long time and then like, at Pitchfork, sit down and have lunch and talk about our day. I guess it's nice you can kind of break down that wall with some people -- the wall I've put in place myself, of admiration, and have mutual appreciation with an artist you've appreciated for a long time. It's a good feeling.
I mean, most indie musicians are basically normal people, no? They're not giant celebrities, they don't have that weird aura about them.
Some of them want to be, but few of them are.
Is there anyone you would totally lose your shit over meeting? Like Lou Reed or someone?
You know, I've thought about this. I think the one celebrity I've aways really wanted to meet is Dave Chappelle.
I don't know, I just think he's really interesting, I've always wanted to meet him. That doesn't really answer your question but that's the one person I've always wanted to have a conversation with.
I came really close to meeting Tavi Gevinson at Pitchfork festival. I've been a fan of hers for a while. I really would love it if she liked my band. She was at Pitchfork, so maybe she saw us. I was backstage talking with Kim Deal and Tavi came up. Kim knows who she is and was really excited to meet her. I took a picture of them together and was really hoping to introduce myself.
Kim introduced us but she wasn't really interested in talking to me. She was very excited and starstruck to meet Kim Deal and they were chatting for a while. Kim walked off and I really wanted to talk with Tavi, but she just kind of screamed and ran in the other direction because she was so excited to meet Kim Deal. I'd like to meet her, I think she's really interesting.
What do you like about her?
She's such an impressive personality. I think her being a young woman in America and having a feminist-leaning magazine for young girls is incredibly insightful and really impressive. I really hope she's around for a long time. I imagine she will be. I saw her at Pitchfork and I was like, "Oh my god it's Tavi," so I guess I was kind of starstruck. She rules!
I feel like punk rock internalized feminism a while ago, but lately there's been this anti-feminist backlash, or anti-PC or whatever.
Yeah, I can see that. I think what Tavi does is so genuine it's just right on, it's amazing. I'd love to hang out with her.
I've emailed back and forth with her a few times, I'll be sure to put in a good word for you if I talk to her again.
Yeah! Remind her of that picture of her and Kim, that's how we know each other.
Is feminism important to you, as a punk and as a human? Is it something you think about?
Sure, of course, yeah. I think feminism is really important. I think punk music and rock music can be really masculine and old fashioned. I don't really relate with many of those bands. I guess there's always the kind of dumb fun garage bands that are around -- we're not really one of those. I'd say that we love the ladies and more power to them. I think it's always kind of a bummer if you're playing a show and there's only dudes -- if there's only dudes there, you're probably doing something wrong. I think we do okay.
So, to change the subject: What snacks do you like to buy at the bodega when you're "stoned and starving"?
I don't have much of a sweet tooth, I usually go for roasted nuts. If I'm in a sweet mood, I'll do honey roasted peanuts. My favorite snack, I will say, is apples and peanut butter. That's nice. Not really a bodega snack, though.
That's so healthy!
So you have a song about how Socrates died in the fucking gutter. That's so sad.
I actually got to go to the gutter where he died in Athens this summer. It was awesome, it's a wonderful place. It was very inspiring…it was kinda overwhelmingly emotional, it was weird. I could feel all the history that was there.
Do you get to do a lot of stuff like that on tour? I know touring can be grueling. A lot of people say it sucks because they don't get to do anything between shows.
We got four days off in Greece. I love touring, we've got a good group, there's not a lot of fighting, I've heard some horror stories. We travel well, we get to go to awesome places. We've got nothing to complain about regarding touring.
I'm impressed with how fast after your last tour you put an EP out. Do you write songs while on tour?
Yeah, we write some stuff on tour. A lot of stuff comes together in the studio. We're pretty quick. We don't spend a lot of time hoarding material or obsessing over details. It's pretty immediate, our creative process. For this EP, we were in the studio for five days. As of now, we've got this EP plus half of the full-length.
So you recorded these last two releases with Jonny Shankey -- what's he bring to the table?
He has a great ear and he knows us so well -- he knows how we work, he knows what we want to sound like. He has an amazing ear for sound and mixing. And mostly, he's a taskmaster. We do a lot in a short amount of time. He's amazing at understanding what we need to do, the order we need to do it in, etc. Vocal overdubs I'll do infinitely unless someone tells me to stop. And he's great at getting me to the place where I can accept that it's done. We trust him, and it's great to have someone we can trust to take control of the situation. We owe a lot of our productivity to him.
How is this EP different from the stuff you've done before?
I don't know if it's different, I think it's still Parquet Courts…it shows our growth as a band, we're expanding our sound a little bit. I think we're being a bit more bold with lyrics. I think we're trying new things, there's a rap song on it. I think we feel more free, we spent more time in the studio so we had time to try out new ideas. I think the EP will serve as a bridge between Light Up Gold and our record that'll be out next year. I think it'll put the new record in a bit more context. I think it's a nice little transitional record.
How often do you guys bathe on tour?
Ideally every day.
Is it a myth that bands don't or can't bathe on tour? Are people just making excuses?
I don't think it's a myth, I think guys can just be gross and not shower. But we all shower pretty regularly. If not every day, at least every other day. We're hygienic, we don't smell bad. I don't think it's a myth that guys smell bad on tour, but I think it's a choice for the most part. We're pretty lucky to have friends in most cities when we tour the U.S., too. We stay pretty clean. I like to shower when we get back to wherever we're going so I can sleep in.
I am totally going to headline this "Parquet Courts: The Best Smelling Band In New York."
Parquet Courts shower more often than you think.
I'm sure girls appreciate that, if you ever get intimate with them. Speaking of which, for all the interested ladies out there: Who is the most dateable among you?
(Goes through why the other men in the band are not available.) Andrew's single as far as I know.
And what kind of ladies does Andrew like?
This sounds awfully specific. Is there someone that needs to know this stuff? Are we still on the record? Andrew has pretty good taste. I think anyone with a goofy sense of humor and good taste in literature will have a pretty easy way to his heart.
That's nice. So you guys are pretty into mixes. (They included one with the pre-orders of Light Of Gold and the current EP as well). How'd you pick the music?
It was a lot of bands we played shows with, current bands we identify with -- people we dig and I guess maybe people that don't get covered by the same press outlets we do, but bands we like to play with who we identify with. A good mix of current bands we're fucking with right now.
Are there any mixes you've made for people that were memorable, in either a good or bad way?
Yeah, I made one of the most perfect mixes I've ever made when I was in high school, I made it for a girl I had a crush on, and it was the perfect track listing. I can't really remember it now, but what I did for the artwork, it was a CD, on the front I wrote, "Dear so and so, this mix is for you," and then instead of writing the tracks from the bands, I took a lyric from each song in the order that they're on in the CD and wrote a letter using lyrics from the songs, basically telling this person that I had a crush on her. I never gave it to her, though. I wussed out.
It's fine. It was never meant to be.
I was reading in your press release materials that you guys don't do Facebook or Twitter. What's the reasoning behind that?
I think it's about avoiding over-sharing. There's a lot of pressure and a misguided notion that bands need to have a Twitter and FB or whatever to be seen, to stay engaged with their fans. I think that's bullshit and we're in the process of proving it's unnecessary and frivolous and adds to the pollution the Internet can give. We're a band, we don't have any business updating you on our daily life on Twitter.
People that are our fans will find out what we're doing and they'll know, and they'll find us the way people found music before Twitter and Facebook, getting recommendations from their friends or wherever they get recommendations from. And it's not hard to find info about us on the Internet. There's no reason for us to have our own Web presence that we're bombarding people with.
At some point we got some pressure to make these things and we kind of drew a line, we said we decided early on we wouldn't do it, and we're not going to. And we haven't. I think it's great. I don't have to worry about getting drunk and saying something stupid on Twitter and having to answer for it in an interview.
Does it ever freak you out to think about how quickly you're gaining attention, press, etc.?
No, and I wouldn't consider us famous by any means. I think some bands have a misguided notion that they're a celebrity just because they get written about on the Internet. And even if you get written about on Pitchfork, that's not a tangible level of fame. Unless you get written about on the Huffington Post, you're not really a celebrity. Even Gawker is kinda borderline.
Bands at our level or above start to consider themselves celebrities, and I think that's delusional. I've seen it happen to an outspoken few bands who can get a delusional sense of fame or authority that doesn't really exist. But even if it did exist, that's not a good look. I think there are better ways to handle being a professional musician than to think of yourself as important.
Did you read that thing JD Samson wrote about how much it sucks that even fairly successful artists in America have to live such a precarious existence without unemployment, health insurance, etc?
I'd love health insurance -- just to be able to go to the doctor would be awesome. That's one of my goals to works toward -- make enough money to where I can go see a doctor. It's an adult goal.
Do you think it's unfair that people who work "normal" jobs get to have health insurance and artists don't?
Well, some musicians have health insurance.
How many people in your band do?
None of us. None of us have health insurance.
Let's wrap up on a happier note. What was it like playing Festival NRML in Mexico?
The crowd was great, it was a blast -- just getting to hang out in Mexico, we were there for three days, it was a blast. I wanna go back. The crowd was great, people really know how to party. Inhibitions are much lower. No one's trying too hard to be cool. People just wanna groove out to your music and they're thrilled that American rock bands are coming down there.
Did you go on Todd P's peyote vision quest in the desert?
Yeah we did. There was actually a film made about it. We had a great time.
What was the coolest part?
I think being so far out in the desert, so far away from everything, was a little scary but it was an amazing experience, I recommend it.
Did you have any revelations?
Just that I wanna live the chillest life ever and make music with my bros.
Words to live by! Final Q: what are you going to be for Halloween?
We're gonna be in Glasgow for Halloween and apparently Scotland is where Halloween started. I always think of good Halloween costumes in like, March, and by the time Halloween comes around I forget what they were.
Well, if you could costume the other members of the band, do you know what they would be?
Yeah, I'd probably dress them all up like cheerleaders and then I would be a football player or something. I'm gonna write that one down.
The Tally All the Things That You Broke EP is due out October 8 via What's Your Rupture?