By Maya-Roisin Slater
VANCOUVER — For the most part self-awareness is regarded as a positive quality; the kind one should strive for in their quest to be a better person. But if you’ve been on the path of exposing your pitfalls for a good long time, it can get old. How many times can you really talk about the shitty things you did to your ex, how you manipulate your parents, or the fact that we’re all just rapidly decaying meat computers and everything we’ve accomplished will eventually be rendered meaningless when our ozone layer rips apart and the planet as we know it is incinerated? Eventually social commentary gets boring and exhausting. Sitting at my kitchen table eating a modest breakfast of digestive biscuits and molasses, in my Adidas sweatpants, on the phone with Andrew Savage, lead singer of Brooklyn post-punk band Parquet Courts, these were some of the things on my mind.
Parquet Courts have made quite the name for themselves, brandishing a four-album discography of lyric driven art-rock. Reminiscent of other such New York bands as Modern Lovers, the Velvet Underground, or the Talking Heads, they’ve adapted a sound so ingrained with the city it’s almost hard to believe they’re Texas implants. The beginning of their latest EP, Monastic Living, released this past November, starts off on the same path as most Parquet Courts albums do. Savage ends the EP’s first track “No, No, No!” shouting over a steady drumbeat. “I’m just a man // I don’t want to be an influence // I don’t want you to understand // I don’t want to curate, publish no memoir // ‘No, no, no!’ // We’re just a band” From that point forward, it’s all silence.
“You know I anticipated that with this record people would say, ‘Oh they’re too lazy to even write words.’ But really, that’s not what it is. We were doing a vow of silence for a while, and we weren’t doing any interviews, you’re actually the first I’ve done after this vow of silence. So people have this impression that we’re slacking. But really we decided we’re going to take this monastic vow and we’re not going to talk. Much like someone who is a monk or a nun, or whatever faith the monastic positions apply to, my heart and mind is devoted to Parquet Courts in a way a monk’s heart and mind might be devoted to a higher power,” Savage says, for the first time in a long time. The silence Parquet Courts blanketed us with hasn’t been completely void of sound, just words. The first track on Monastic Living is the only one with lyrics, from there it falls down the rabbit hole of experimentalism. Each song is noisier and less organized than the last. The entire record is improvised. When asked what contributed to this complete shift in direction Savage says plain and simply, “We became very religious and wanted to make religious music.”
Savage claims Parquet Courts have become so tired of secular music that they are releasing themselves from its grasps, they now officially identify as a faith-based band. Eventually social commentary gets boring and exhausting, and when that happens more common pursuits like theology start looking pretty good. At least that’s the logic I’m using at 11 a.m. on a Monday, sitting at the kitchen table on the phone with Savage, trying to process some pretty unexpected answers. “We thought secular music is such a big group, maybe if we start making religious music people will notice us more because it’s a smaller pool. So far the Billboard Gospel and religious charts have ignored us, and most faith-based bands want nothing to do with us. But we’re still trying to get the good word out there, or I guess not even the good word because it’s an instrumental record. We’re just trying to spread our new sense of spirituality and if Billboard Gospel never notices us, that’s fine, because that’s not what it’s about ultimately,” Savage explains.
So what happened between November 2014 and November 2015? Somewhere in the midst of the release of their last record, Content Nausea, and their most recent transformative EP, Monastic Living, something clicked, or cracked. I have tried to find clues. Last we heard from Parquet Courts, over at their Facebook page was a link to a video of their live performance from the 2015 Pitchfork Music Festival. In the video the band plays their song “Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth.” Guitarist Austin Brown is wearing a necklace that looks a little like a string of prayer beads, Savage wears a stiff short-sleeved shirt tucked into Wrangler jeans like a teenage Southern church boy, drummer Max Savage wears sunglasses that reflect the world back in technicolor, which could be interpreted as a spiritual statement on the benefits of monastic reflection.
Savage sings in the title track on Content Nausea, “Harder and harder to remember // Meeting a friend, writing a letter // Being lost, antique ritual // All lost to the ceremony of progress.” If you’re unsatisfied with something, the best way to deal with it is by affecting your own future. With Monastic Living Parquet Courts set fire to the ceremony of progress. They revert to a time before we had melodies and language, putting a soundtrack to the mind numbing chaos they waxed on about in last year’s album. “We were all really interested in monastic life and making a record that had very few words. I mean the only words on the record, as you know, are the ones in the first song. So the first song was a very bold and un-monastic statement, it was all fervor but no spirit. Then the rest of it is succumbing to the spirit, you know, giving in,” Savage explains. He goes on to say Monastic Living is the essence of Parquet Courts, they play as if their hearts, minds and bodies are all one in the church of rock and roll. “Really it’s the holy spirit of rock and roll diluted into 30 minutes. That’s what it sounds like when you take the essence of Little Richard, The Beatles, AC/DC, and compact the entire history, Monastic Living is what comes out of it, you don’t even need words anymore,” says Savage.
Before taking their vow of silence, the band told us the meaning behind the EP could be deciphered in its liner notes. These liner notes are an extended version of the lyrics to “No, No, No!” Eventually social commentary gets boring and exhausting, in these notes that sentiment is quite ironically embodied. “A profession of ignorance // isn’t it quite like a profession of faith? This is self-righteous, preachy morality shouted by a pure fool,” it begins. These are the words of a group that has been hailed by many a media organization as the voice of a generation, the words of a group that has been labelled as slackers, as heroes, as the successors of their idols. Self-awareness when carried to its full extent often leads to existentialism. The realization that being is nothingness, that words are meaningless, as some Buddhist groups believe, the essence of Zen is finding meaning beyond logic and language. This is what I think happened to Parquet Courts.
For the foreseeable future it seems they will be taking their newfound spirituality to the people. They have broken their vow of silence, chatting over the phone on a Monday with a modest monthly music magazine from Western Canada. They’re embarking on a tour where they will be participating in clean living and hard playing. “When we go to Canada there’ll be no Molson for us. It’ll be longer sets. We might be doing a Bruce Springsteen kind of thing. You know, hardest working man in rock and roll, playing for about six, seven, eight hours sometimes. That’s my prediction. I would say even less words, maybe chanting. I would encourage all faith-based people of Alberta and British Columbia to come check it out. I know there’s a large Sikh community in Western Canada, I encourage them to come.” Savage also welcomes Christians, Buddhists, the non-converted, and people who have already surrendered to the almighty power of music.
If you’re still confused after reading this and are searching desperately for a way to get on to Parquet Courts’ level, Savage says to look inside yourself and not to external sources. That’s how they found a higher power. However if you look inside and don’t find anything particularly mind blowing, I wouldn’t sweat it too much. After all these are words of self-righteous, preachy morality shouted by a pure fool. Try not to lose sight of reality here, friends: Parquet Courts are just a band.
Parquet Courts play in Calgary at The Commonwealth Bar & Stage on February 19th and in Vancouver at The Rickshaw on February 20th.AB, Alberta, Andrew Savage, BC, British Columbia, Commonwealth, Parquet Courts, Rickshaw Theatre