Having accomplished more than they expected with their breakthrough sophomore album, Light Up Gold, the members of Parquet Courts figured something was at stake when they began working on the upcoming follow-up, Sunbathing Animal.
“We knew that this would be a different record,” says singer-guitarist Andrew Savage, on the line from his New York apartment. “This one took longer to record—we did three different recording sessions. And it was the first record that we did where we really had an audience. This is our third record. On our first record, nobody knew who we were. On our second record, very few people did. This one is the first one we’ve put out after having accrued an audience, and we were cognizant of that. When you’re going in to make a record in those circumstances, things need to be more deliberate. You have to make yourself clear once you know that people are paying attention. That’s why this is a denser record.”
Savage describes Light Up Gold as having a “casual quality”, this perhaps explaining why Parquet Courts tended to get more comparisons to Pavement than the entire mid-’90s roster of Merge Records. Sunbathing Animal is a more propulsive outing, whether it’s the countrified chugger “Black and White” or the slacker-friendly “She’s Rollin’ ”.
As Savage agrees, songs often take an almost Velvet Underground approach where there’s no such thing as too much repetition.
“A big theme of the record is confinement and captivity versus freedom,” he suggests. “The way that the music was composed—and I’m talking most songs, with ‘Duckin and Dodgin’ and ‘Sunbathing Animal’ being pretty good examples—was that the rhythm was regimented and steady and repetitive to the point of kind of wondering if it will ever end.”
But as straightforward as the music might be, the lyrics are anything but, with Savage packing enough intricate wordplay into “Duckin and Dodgin” to make one think he might make a great rapper. When it’s pointed out that the drums, rhythm guitar, and bass are buried strangely deep in the mix on the song, he notes that was intentional.
“By scaling everything back, the lead guitar and the vocals are allowed to do a lot more,” Savage says. “That was something that I discovered was one of our strengths on Light Up Gold—being really simple with some things, which enables other things to be more lyrical and more daring. With the vocals, you can use a lot more words.”
If all this attention to detail makes anything clear, it’s that Parquet Courts has somewhere perfected the art of seeming like slackers who can’t be bothered with little things, when in fact the opposite is true. Take, for example, “Always Back in Town”, which might seem to be about nothing more than being in a touring rock band (“I’m always packing my bags/I’m always back in town—according to you”). It’s in fact about much more, part of the reason for thinking that if the group’s stock has officially risen, that’s not by accident.
“ ‘Always Back in Town’ is a simple song, which has that guitar part that’s really just a cycle,” Savage explains. “And the song is also about a cycle, the cycles of life that we all find ourselves caught up in. It’s not even something as grand as finding yourself in a rock band. It’s more like everyday instances, and the mundane minutiae of life. I think that’s something that everyone can relate to.”
Parquet Courts plays the Biltmore on Saturday (May 24).