Following the April release of Brooklyn rock outfit Parquet Courts’ latest record, Human Performance, Music Feeds had the chance to speak with singer, guitarist, album producer and mixer, Austin Brown.
Chatting ahead of the band’s Australian summer tour, Brown explains his approach for their latest album – a fresh chapter for the band – the elements he personally brought to the record, as well as his take on the merits and drawbacks of the Australian music scene for our local artists.
Music Feeds: Your album ‘Human Performance’ seems to be more circumspect, and maybe less urgent in pace, to your previous albums. Did this evolve naturally or was it something you set out to do?
Austin Brown: Yeah, well I think we got to that point in the process of making the record. We were pretty deliberate about giving ourselves time and spacing out the recording sessions to be more conducive to self-reflection. Our previous records were made really quickly, like in a weekend or in a week, you know, all at once, banging it out and just sorting out the material after that, and not having a lot of time for experimentation or really reflecting on the material.
But with Human Performance we did it over four or five sessions throughout a year, each one like a month or two apart, so that we were able to really take stock of what we were doing and had a bit more perspective on making that record, and also letting our other records get a bit older and kind of understanding where we came from and where we want to go to next. Human Performance was kind of about starting a new chapter in the group for us, and I think you kind of have to gain some perspective and space apart from where you’ve been to step into a new direction.
MF: And do you think that was a kind of collaborative process or did you have a lot of personal introspection as well?
AB: I think by having more time we were able to understand the material we were bringing a bit more, rather than just hearing it for the first time, and running with it and recording the session. We were able to live with the material for a bit longer, and were able to give more input to each other, and also some of the songs that we made were really collaborative and also some of them were more personal to the songwriter, me or Andrew [Savage]. There were some songs that were just brought in totally orchestrated, just because that’s the nature of it I guess.
MF: Were there any songs specifically that were quite personal to you, that you felt you brought to ‘Human Performance’?
AB: Yeah I guess they can be personal in a different way. I mean, Steady on My Mind, for instance, is a love song, and I think love songs are extremely difficult to write. It’s hard to express the most common subject in rock music, I think, without sounding derivative or clichéd or cheesy, and I think I got away with it. And that was a really huge accomplishment and also yeah, it’s a true story.
But as far as like, creatively, I felt like Captive of the Sun was a major achievement for me because that was a song that started off as a completely different kind of song. It was actually twice the speed of what the song was on the record, and it was noisy and aggressive and loud, kind of like a Parquet Courts song that you would have heard on any of our other records. And during the recording process I dismantled it and brought it down. We changed the drum beat to half speed and was creating really interesting chords and sounds with such a variety of different instruments that we had at the recording studio. It took about two weeks to really record it because no one knew what I was up to when I was making it, and I really didn’t understand it fully until the end. It required a lot of patience from everyone.
But then at the end of it came out a really great song that really stands out from anything we’ve made before. It just sounds different and new and that, for me, represents progress and kind of how difficult that can be to do when you’re used to doing things the same way with the same people for so long. Yeah, Human Performance was really about beginning to crack the mould a bit and step out of our comfort zone and get out of the box that we’d been living in for the previous three or four records.
MF: In terms of the lyrics you personally write, you seem to reference philosophy a lot. Does that form a big part of your inspiration?
AB: Yeah it weirdly creeps in there. Yeah, all the time. I went to college for philosophy, and even though I didn’t graduate, it still – it definitely influenced me a lot. And maybe because I dropped out and didn’t graduate, I have this vendetta with the academic system which comes out in my songwriting.
MF: Is it difficult to stay creative and inspired with your busy touring schedule?
AB: Yeah I mean that’s always a balance. But it’s just the world that we live in now as musicians in 2016.
MF: Do you create and write a lot when you’re on tour?
AB: Uh, I try to. I’m sure the other guys do it more often and with more productivity than I do. I tend to get really exhausted on tour and can have a hard time coping with the physical and emotional toll of that. When I get home I have a studio in my apartment where I just shut the door and be in there for hours just working on stuff. That’s kind of how I prefer to work.
MF: In terms of touring, you guys have been to Australia a few times in the past few years. Have you gotten a particular impression of our music scene while you’ve been down here?
AB: Yeah some of my favourite bands are from Australia and I think it’s a really interesting place for bands, and a really difficult place. I mean, I’m sure everyone knows this already but, each city is so isolated and I think for Australian bands it’s really difficult to get out of Australia because it’s so expensive, and I wish more bands could because I think there’s so many quality new bands coming out of Melbourne especially, and Sydney as well, and really all over.
There’s a lot of bands that need to be touring more often and it’s kind of unfortunate they don’t really get their due in the larger, global scene. But you know, maybe if these bands, these people, lived in the States or in the UK or something then they wouldn’t feel as free to kind of make whatever music they wanted to make. Nick Cave called it like a – I forgot the exact term he used – but it was just like a privilege of isolation, to be creative, because your expectations of success can be lower and so you have more freedom to be yourself, in a way, and non-conformist. I don’t know how true that is because I’ve never lived there but it certainly seems that way.
MF: Yeah I definitely think so. And are there any bands that specifically come to mind when you think of that?
AB: I mean there’s so many. Total Control I think have made one of the best records of the past two years, and all those guys are in so many bands. I’m really into The Stevens, they’re one of my favourite bands, Dick Diver is great, yeah I really love Dick Diver. Anything that Al [Montfort] is in is always really great. He’s been around for a long time so you guys all know them.
Eddy Current [Suppression Ring] was a huge influence on Parquet Courts when we first started, and Boomgates as well, the singer [Brendan Huntley’s] other project, I really like that record. I mean we’re playing with Terry, a new great band from Melbourne. Yeah, that whole scene is really inspiring to us just because, all of those folks, they’re able to put up such great records and it feels like they’re starting new bands like every day, and by the time we hear about them over here they’re over and onto another thing – it’s really crazy.
MF: A lot of those Melbourne bands are kind of stalwarts of the Golden Plains and Meredith Music Festivals. I saw you play there a few years ago, that was a great set. Do you remember that festival at all?
AB: Is Golden Plains the kind of more legendary one which only has one stage? Yeah, we played at night. That was great. We played right before The Village People. Oh yeah, I spent some time walking around, just hanging out with, uh – I forgot where I wandered off to. We had gotten some good drugs so it was a good day. I think someone told me they had margaritas or something and I followed them to a tent somewhere.
Parquet Courts will be playing the Falls Music and Arts Festival and their own side shows. Catch details below.
Parquet Courts Australian Tour Dates
Wednesday, 4th January
The Factory Theatre, Sydney
Thursday, 5th January
‘Shimmerlands’, The University Of Melbourne
W/ Tyrannamen, Ausmuteants, Nicky Crane, DJ Etta, DJ Tilly
Tickets: Shadow Electric
Falls Music and Arts Festival
Lorne, Marion Bay, Byron Bay and Fremantle
Tickets: Falls Festival