Interview: Talking about the other D.I.Y. with Austin Brown of Parquet Courts (playing Morgan’s Pier tonight)
Blistering and intense, last year’s Light Up Gold is a product of the environment Parquet Courts was reared in.
The hard-gigging Brooklyn four-piece hit the stage aggressively from its 2010 formation, tackling scuzzy rock bars and scuzzier DIY basements, developing a rep for raw, boisterous shows that involved their crowds in a big way.
The LP encapsulated that vibe. Its skronky riffs and snappy beats spiked out of minimal arrangements (a lot of people drew the Wire comparison because of this, but they sound more like Mission of Burma to me), and above the fray, super catchy singalongable hooks shone through. Light Up Gold was self-released in August – or released on the band’s Dull Tools label, if you prefer – and in the winter it was reissued on NYC’s What’s Your Rupture? micro-label.
And then, something happened. Thousands of people were listening.
When I caught up with guitarist Austin Brown last Thursday, he was in Chicago on a day-off-but-not-really. Parquet Courts were on tour at Pitchfork Festival, getting ready to hit the stage the following day. They just came off a few weeks on a run of European fests, where Brown admits there was a disconcerting similarity; from the stage, he admits, everything looked the same.
“You’re in a tent, with a giant PA, a big barricade, and thousands of people,” Brown says. “It got difficult to figure out what country I was in.”
It’s not entirely a drag. Festival promoters, he says, take good care of the artists – moreso than typical rock bar owners. But for somebody who not only came from, but downright embraced the grittiness of the 200-capacity room setting, it’s undeniably weird.
Weird how? Brown ponders, then replies, “It changes the way you play, I think. It’s more of a show when you’re on a festival stage, it’s like people watching you perform.”
In a club, he says, it’s not a purely one-way thing – the audience is part of the show. “You can vibe off the crowd a little more, people get more involved. They like being up close – it’s louder, it’s dark. It’s more fun.”
Getting to this level of renown wasn’t something Parquet Courts expected or planned on; he laughs at the idea of a “ten year plan” and says the public profile they’ve attained in the past year is just a by-product of doing something they love – making music.
“It’s not like when we self-released the record we were bummed out about it or anything,” Brown explains. “We were all really psyched to have the record, and our friends were enjoying it, and people on the internet were talking of it really fondly. That was great for us, and then everything that came after that was kind of a bonus.”
It’s DIY, but just not in the sense of “doing it by yourself.” Doing it for yourselves, rather than doing it for buzz or acclaim, is a path Brown wishes he saw more of his peers following. At these festivals, “anything that’s kind of a big hodgepodge of indie musicians,” he says he’s encounters artists who see attention as an aspiration, an essential part of the job.
“They are getting lost in this idea that you need those things to be credible or just to operate as a band, you need to be getting a certain amount of press, or you need to be watched by a certain amount of people, or a certain kind of people,” Brown says. “We never really set out for that.”
Or, to put it more bluntly: “We’ve always just been a band. If Pitchfork decides it doesn’t like us anymore, we’re still going to be a band, making music that we’re proud of.”
Parquet Courts plays a free show tonight at Morgan’s Pier with Woods. Information can be found at the R5 Productions website.