Last year, when Parquet Courts released “Plant Life,” a song with swirling synths and woozy vocals, it represented the first new original material from the band since 2018’s Wide Awake! Drummer Max Savage admits that making the follow-up to Wide Awake! wasn’t the easiest thing to do.
“There’s always a challenge when you’re making a new record,” he says via phone from his Washington, D.C. home. Parquet Courts perform at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 16, at the Agora. “You want to stay true to yourself and your sound. At the same time, your sound has to evolve. We deal with that on every record. This one was no different, but it was really fun. We went about it in a totally different way because we spent so much of the time in the studio improvising. It was a really cool experience.”
The indie rock act recorded part of the album in Brooklyn and part in upstate New York. It also went to Real World Studios in the UK.
“I think we were looking at all of our options,” says Savage when asked about how the group wound up at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios. “We wanted to go somewhere far away, so we could be really focused and isolated. The studio is. It’s kind of a compound near the town of Bath, but you feel like you’re separated from society out there.”
Producer Rodaidh McDonald prompted the band on the jam that became “Plant Life.”
“That was one of the first songs we worked on with Roddy, who was our producer for the Brooklyn and New York sessions,” says Savage. “It was a totally different stage than where it is now. It was one of the songs where we went into the room and played for 30 to 45 minutes. We picked the very best moments from that jam to structure the song. We spent the next several weeks adding onto it and adding onto it. Eventually, [singer] Austin [Brown] laid down a really cool vocal part that tied everything together, and we laid a bunch of drums on top of what we already had. That one maybe took the longest, but it was very much worth it.”
That approach bled into the songs that would wind up on the resulting LP, Sympathy for Life, an album that features synths and drum machines as it embraces a dancier vibe.
“We touched the surface with Wide Awake!, which had quite a few dance-y tracks,” says Savage. “We wanted to explore that direction a little more intimately and in more depth. A lot of our improvisation sessions were recorded with synthesizers and electronic equipment and drum machines. As the drummer in the band, I was the operator of the drum machines. There are so many different kinds of drum machines. Some you actively play what you are trying to make it do. There are others that involve more programming, but they’re all fun.
With its constipated vocals and complex rhythms, “Marathon of Anger” sounds like Talking Heads but also like Parquet Courts as the band artfully works one of its biggest influences into the mix.
“We love the Talking Heads,” says Savage. “With every record, there’s a particular song that everyone says sounds like Talking Heads. Everyone in the band is a fan. They’re big influences on us. ‘Marathon of Anger’ was one of the songs that we did a lot of work on during quarantine. We were apart from each other for a lot of it. The core came from one of the longest jams we did. We were in there for like an hour. We played with synthesizers and drum machines. There was one part of that hour-long jam that we really liked and that became the foundation of the song.”
Savage says he’s looking forward to playing what he calls “catch up” as the group finally embarks on a lengthy tour in support of Sympathy for Life. The group played a handful of shows last year in support of the album but never fully toured like it normally would.
“At first, it was surreal to get back to it after almost two years of hiatus,” says Savage about last year’s shows. “It was hard to believe it was happening again, but it was like getting back on a bicycle. It felt really good and natural. It was so fun to play music with the group again.”