How the recording process helped Parquet Courts find each other
Idle hands may well be the devil’s work, but Austin Brown wouldn’t know.
The guitarist and co-frontman of Parquet Courts hardly ever stops working, and his phone call with Beat begins with some audible musical tinkering going on in the background. “I’ve been doing some recording and hanging ‘round the house,” Brown says. “You caught me in the middle of doing some maracas. Exciting stuff going on here.” He laughs, drily. “But it’s just me at home working on whatever. Keeping busy.”
For Brown, making music on his lonesome often fuels his overall creative practice, and even if his home-recorded demos don’t ever see the light of day, they help the work that does. “It’s a lot less pressure working at home. I don’t have anyone watching me try to play the maracas in time with the metronome, then tweaking the reverb endlessly.
“Often tinkering around at home is how I made a lot of the songs on the last record, Human Performance,” he says. “Just tinkering and that way when we got to the studio I had a good idea of what I wanted to do already. That way I could be a bit more direct, rather than begging for patience while I fiddle with knobs.”
The band are famous for their double-headed approach to songwriting: the group’s output is split almost down the line between tunes that are written by Brown and songs that are written by his friend and compatriot Andrew Savage. But rather than it being a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth, such a co-headline approach often leads to the band’s unpredictability, and their strange, left-of-field turns.
“Sometimes songs are brought to the band by band members all done,” Brown says. “Then people can add their own flavour to it, and then re-direct it if something isn’t working. And then sometimes we can come up with things completely collaboratively, just by jamming and throwing stuff together. It depends on what we’re feeling like. If we can maintain our own attention while doing it, then that’s the goal really.”
Such a free-form approach is most evident on the stark disparity between Human Performance and Monastic Living, the EP that immediately preceded it. While the former is full of songs that follow familiar structures and verse-chorus-verse progressions, the latter is a strange, difficult beast, a record that inspired both shoulder-shrugging and admiration from critics and Parquet Courts fans alike.
“When we made Monastic Living that was just totally free, jamming stuff. Whatever we’re up to next is always a bit different from what we’ve been doing,” Brown says. “Hopefully it’s always something new. That’s the challenge, to keep doing something new.”
Indeed, the luxury of time was the unique element that accompanied Human Performance’s writing period, and the band spent a full year working on the record. “In the past, we never really had the time to spend on a record. It was always a rush and about running up against a deadline, and it was always about doing it very cheaply.
“This time around, throughout each session we were able to hear what everyone else was doing,” Brown says. “We heard the record take shape over time, as opposed to whenever we made our previous records where we’d be in the studio for a weekend.”
Ultimately, for the band, writing songs isn’t just a way of paying the bills: it’s a way of keeping in touch with both the outside world and each other, and a record like Human Performance arose from a full year of finding each other through sound.
“We have a history of being pretty poor communicators,” Brown says. “We try to communicate with each other through the music. When there are so many songwriters in the band, it’s a bit difficult to manage those relationships and create a positive creative atmosphere. It’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction when you don’t like something someone made, but if you are a little bit patient by the end you can understand where they’re coming from.”
By Joseph Earp