Parquet Courts Look Back On 10 Years Of The Band
They’re far from the only ones, but: This wasn’t how Parquet Courts planned to spend their 2020. For the tenth anniversary of their first show at since-shuttered Brooklyn venue Monster Island Basement (December 17, 2010, specifically), the punkish NYC rockers originally had some lofty aspirations, at one point envisioning a multi-night party. “Obviously, that kind of thing can’t happen right now,” guitarist and co-vocalist A. Savage flatly states over a Zoom call with him and co-vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Austin Brown.
So they’re making the best of the situation with a different kind of celebration: “On Time,” a livestreamed concert promising a deep-cut set list from Brooklyn’s Pioneer Works venue on December 10. The show will be peppered with retrospective archival footage commemorating the band’s early days — a mini-documentary nestled inside a different kind of onstage party than the band’s used to throwing in person. “We were talking about different ways to commemorate our 10 year anniversary, so that was always in mind,” Brown said while ruminating on what led to this event’s creation. “But we certainly were never planning on doing something online.”
Considering the career Parquet Courts have had so far, though, there’s cause for celebration however you can stage it. Since their 2011 debut American Specialties, Parquet Courts have steadily grown to become one of indie rock’s most vital and engaging bands, delivering a hook-y and loose variant of post-punk seriousness while increasingly addressing societal ills with equal parts straightforwardness and verbosity. Along with Michigan peers Protomartyr, they feel especially influential on a variety of newer rock bands like Fontaines D.C., Flat Worms, and Silverbacks. They’re veterans of a NYC that doesn’t really exist right now and hasn’t before the pandemic, but they also feel like they’re just getting started.
We talked about the trickiness of livestreaming, the band’s history, the realities of music as a full-time job, and the changing nature of scenes in independent music.
You guys haven’t done any other livestream stuff since the pandemic began, right?
A. SAVAGE: Nope. I don’t even like having livestreamed conversations. [Laughs] It’s always a challenge doing these sort of things, because you have to make it something people think is cool and fun — and “cool” and “fun” are definitely kind of hindered by the obstacle of not being in the same room as musicians.
Have you watched any livestreams?
SAVAGE: To be honest, no. I haven’t seen any of them.
AUSTIN BROWN: I’ve seen clips of a few, just to get an idea of what people are trying when it comes to bridging the gap between performer and audience. It’s super challenging over a streaming format. In April, I attended some Zoom parties where DJs would be playing records and dancing in their living rooms. It felt important at the time in terms of a way to process trauma, but over time as we fell into this new routine, those sort of things felt less instrumental as we learn new ways to socialize — or not.
Tell me what life was like before the first Parquet Courts show.
SAVAGE: The band started pretty shortly after I moved to New York. I was in other bands before, and I’d been wanting to do something with Austin and [bassist Sean Yeaton]. It felt like a clean slate to do something new, and I had songs that hadn’t been claimed by other projects yet. It hits pretty close with my anniversary of living in New York. This band, in a way, is a bit like my time in this city. It was all very fresh and exciting, because you’re moving to a place and meeting new friends.
Before we even started playing with the band in any regularity, Austin and I were going to places like Monster Island Basement, Market Hotel, and Death By Audio — all the DIY venues around there. It was this exciting time to meet new people and see all these bands that were cool. We were like, “Wouldn’t it be cool to have a cool band?” I had these three disparate friends — Austin, Sean, and my brother [drummer Max Savage] that I pulled together, and we started making a band out of pretty much nothing.
BROWN: I was living in New York a little before Andrew came up and was doing a lot of music by myself, working different service jobs, and playing with other people randomly. It’s really hard for me to think about [life] before Parquet Courts. I feel like so much of my identity is wrapped up in being in the group.
SAVAGE: I think about that time really fondly, because there’s no shows right now. Obviously, DIY venues were shutting down before COVID, but now there’s nothing. I think about me and Austin going out to all of these places. I didn’t have many friends when I first moved here — Austin, Sean, and Max were the people I knew. We’d go to these places just to maybe see a cool band — or maybe I had a 10 minute conversation with somebody at a party last week, and I’d like to see them there and have another conversation. We were just nobodies trying to have some fun, meet people, watch bands, and get into a scene.
What’s your perception of what the NYC scene resembled around that time?
BROWN: It was really exciting. There was so many people making music and so many different venues — seeing shows in peoples’ lofts, or other venues that don’t exist anymore. There were bands like the Beets that would play a show at least once a week, and I’d go to those as a way to party every week. Every time PC Worship played, I’d be there.
SAVAGE: I remember an early time we saw PC Worship at Monster Island Basement, they blew our minds. We’re good friends with them now.
Talk to me about playing your first show at Monster Island Basement.
SAVAGE: It was mostly improvised. There were a few songs, but mostly general noisemaking. That defined the first year of the band — just getting up on stage and seeing what happens. I don’t remember much about that first show, but the venues where we really cut our teeth at were Shea Stadium and Death By Audio.
All these venues are gone now. How does that make you feel?
SAVAGE: A little bit bummed.
BROWN: But, also, the nature of DIY venues isn’t permanent. In New York, there’s a long history of turnover for places like that, as well as places that go in and out of fashion. It seems like when one closes, another one opens. It’s hard to judge at this moment, but if it was 10 years ago, I wouldn’t feel like there was a shortage of outlets with what we have now. It’s easy to feel nostalgic about those places, and I certainly am — there’s a lot of great memories. But I’d hate to be that old guy who thought that my generation was better than younger kids now. I hated when people acted like that when we were coming up or whatever. [Edan Wilber]’s attitude at Death By Audio when it was closing was a shirt he was wearing was “Start Your Own Fucking Show Space.” I thought that was really insightful. As long as people have that mentality, DIY venues in New York will continue to be very fruitful.
The last time I saw you guys live was at Hammerstein Ballroom, which is a much bigger venue than where you started out playing. When did you perceive that being in this band was becoming a career rather than just a fun thing to do?
SAVAGE: I still don’t know if that’s fully sunk in. I can imagine at any moment needing to go back into an office or something. It happened very quickly, but it also wasn’t completely overnight either. A big part of it maybe had to do with going over to the UK for the first time. That was the first time we’d ever played a bigger club, at the Garage in London. We’ve been asked this question over the years and I still have a hard time pinpointing a moment.
The last DIY space show that we played in New York wasn’t even all that long ago. In 2017 we did Market Hotel, and not long before that we played at Palisades. But you’re right, Hammerstein is way different than Death By Audio. By my recollection, it probably happened around 2013, when things seemed like they were really different.
BROWN: I understand from an outside perspective why it seems like there would be a definitive shift, because it appears that way, but it really oscillates between the two constantly. Even when we were playing DIY venues, we’d be thinking about how to get the $20 for this gig so we can get the car service on the way home. Although it’s a small thing, that mentality’s been extrapolated throughout the years where we put on these different hats.
But whenever we’re writing and recording, it feels like an extension of the early days. We’re not thinking, “We have to write an album that would be good for our career.” There are certainly groups that think that way, but we’ve never really done that. There’s times like these where I do think, “What does my career look like now that there’s gonna be a long time until live shows?” It’s really weird to think about it like that, and recently it’s the most I’ve ever thought about it. For the most part, it hasn’t really felt like we’ve thought about it in the traditional sense — not even in financial terms.
SAVAGE: The first time we were on TV in January 2014 on [The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon] kind of blew my mind.
BROWN: I thought it’d be the only time we’d ever do it. [Laughs] “Oh, they’re letting us do this. That’s so weird.”
Austin, you mentioned financials. What’s your financial experience been as a band over the years?
SAVAGE: I’m really glad you brought that up. There’s a big misconception. I would never complain about this amazing way that I make a living. Any time a professional artist is able to do that, I’m like, “Damn, how’d you swing that shit?” I’m so thankful for it all the time. But we do live in New York City, the most expensive city in the country — and in running for the world, I’d reckon. It’s still work. I share a three-bedroom with roommates. I think there’s the perception that if you’re out there touring, that you’ve got it easy and hit the big time or whatever.
I’m not complaining about my life — I feel fine financially — but I’m still living with roommates in New York in the same apartment I was in when I was mailing out copies of Light Up Gold. It’s not like I was bumped up to another tax bracket when the band started. I had a pretty good office job before the band, and I’m not making a ton more money now. But the hours and perks are better, so here I am.
Do you think a new band this year, pre-pandemic, could’ve achieved the same buzz that helped Parquet Courts gain more attention?
SAVAGE: When we were putting together the songs that would be Light Up Gold, we were practicing all the time. We were always writing, and we didn’t turn any show down that was offered to us. It was a rule. We got really good, I think, at being familiar with each other as musicians. That’s what it was. Because, and this is my recollection, there was already a crowd that would come see us before Light Up Gold came out. We cut our teeth at being a very good live band.
Sometimes, people write to the band or the label I do, “Do you have any advice for a young band that’s coming up right now?” What I’d probably just say is that what we did is find a scene of people you like, and practice a lot. Make sure you’re kinda good. [Laughs]
How do you think new scenes will emerge in an age where social interaction is going to be limited for a while?
SAVAGE: The story of this band is the story of the last decade, and so many things happened in this last decade. I couldn’t imagine doing a livestream show in 2010. But now, it’s rapidly become very commonplace. But also, the way scenes happen is different. In the previous decade, it seemed like it was the decade of the blog, and before that was zines. This decade, people are pretty engaged with social media, and that’s how scenes happen.
I honestly count my blessings that we came out of an organic scene in New York. We still haven’t joined social media, so I count my blessings that we’re still waiting to see proof as to whether that’ll be a viable thing in the future or not. I wouldn’t know what advice to give to someone who’s coming into a scene now, because scenes are so different and will continue to rapidly evolve after this. There are teenagers and college students right now that are getting into indie rock or experimental music that don’t have these resources to go to [shows], but they will find ways to find a scene.
Buy tickets to Parquet Courts’ anniversary livestream here.