For no apparent reason, Andrew Savage of New York’s Parquet Courts keeps apologising. “I’m running empty over here,” he says, interrupting his own interview. “I had a late night last night, so I might not be the most eloquent man in the world.”
It turns out Savage, the band’s 30-year-old singer and primary songwriter, had been up late performing Warren Zevon’s Carmelita, Emmylou Harris’ Together Again, Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow’s Picture, and numerous others at a karaoke bar in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. He’s friendly and open over the phone, but he truly becomes enthusiastic only when discussing karaoke – “one of my favorite things in the world.
“One of the things I like about karaoke so much is just how supportive it is,” Savage says, from his Brooklyn home. “There’s never any kind of meanness there. When you find a place that has regulars, where people are really into performing, it’s got this kind of come-as-you-are allure. It’s the ultimate human performance. When I’m performing as a karaoke singer, it’s exposing a side of myself that’s as raw (and) really personal as songs I write that have directly to do with me. You’re just a stranger with a song to sing.”
The anonymity of karaoke night is attractive to Savage, who has viewed with suspicion the rise of Parquet Courts from unknown Brooklyn club band to indie-rock hero big enough to play Lollapalooza and Coachella. On superb albums such as 2012’s Light Up Gold, the band took a fast and rambling approach to punk rock, recalling Camper Van Beethoven’s Take The Skinheads Bowling and Black Flag’s Wasted: “I was debating Swedish fish, roasted peanuts or licorice,” Savage sings on Stoned And Starving.
“I don’t know if suspicion’s the right word,” Savage says. “But sometimes I am maybe a bit bewildered by certain people’s responses. It’s weird when something gets a little more notoriety than you expect it would. And when you’re able to cast a wide net like that, you bring in some strange fish.”
Savage took the extreme step of eliminating from the band’s concerts Stoned And Starving, one of the band’s best-known songs, to weed out the fans who didn’t quite get it. But Parquet Courts recently started performing it again. “I guess I found that there’s nothing I could do,” says Savage, who has rejected the use of certain songs by Girls and New Girl because he didn’t like the associations with trendy TV shows. “Maybe I need to be less of a control freak and less judgmental. It doesn’t come from a place of judgment – it comes from a place of protection. I feel like I’m a mother protecting her young.”
Savage formed the nucleus of Parquet Courts at the University of North Texas, where he met guitarist Austin Brown in a record-listening club they called Knights Of The Round Turntable. They didn’t click together as musicians, though, until they both happened to have moved to New York. They rekindled their friendship and formed Parquet Courts in 2010 with Savage’s brother Max, who’d majored in math at New York University, on drums, and Boston transplant Sean Yeaton on bass.
Parquet Courts slowly built a formula, centered on loud, staccato guitars and feedback, a rock-solid rhythm section and Savage’s songs about velvet cages, creeping blues, pretty machines and “rusted bench seats … stuck in ruts full of bodies.” The band’s new album, Human Performance, is a bit of a departure, in that Savage wrote only some of the songs, leaving room for the other three to contribute the rest.
“We were all very encouraging of one another taking creative tangents and exploring an idea to the fullest,” Savage says of the album, recorded at three top studios, predominantly Dreamland, and in a renovated New York church. “It became a good moment where people had a lot of ideas. The band has always been what everyone brings to it, and this time around, people had a lot to bring to it.”
The album has a streamlined and structured quality by Parquet Courts’ standards. The most powerful song, Two Dead Cops, is an angry anthem inspired by an incident involving police officers shot and killed in Brooklyn. “I was over there when it happened,” he says. “Within 20 minutes there were more police than I’ve ever seen in my entire life, in like a half-mile radius. But the song is less about that actual event than it is about the events that happen on a daily basis in American life that concern gun violence.”
But while Savage was often depressed while making the album, for reasons he won’t divulge, and that song was a “purging of emotions that can’t stay in you anymore,” he sees Human Performance as happy and upbeat. Berlin Got Blurry, in particular, deals with a vague lonely feeling, but the music is all joyful rock ‘n’ roll, from the organ solo to the clipped way Savage shouts, “Yeah!” before the guitar solo; One Man, No City is a six-minute Velvet Underground vamp. “For all I’ve gone through for this record, it would be a shame if it was just known as a sad, cathartic record,” he says. “It’s not.” – Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service