Parquet Courts Vs. Trump and Tom Brady - Rolling Stone
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Parquet Courts Are Wide Awake and Screaming

How the New York indie-rock band is taking on Trumpism (and Tom Brady) with a little help from Danger Mouse

Parquet Courts Are Wide Awake and Screaming

Ebru Yildiz

“The first time I said, ‘Fuck Tom Brady’ was in Atlanta,” jokes Parquet Courts lead singer Andrew Savage. He was with his bandmates watching Super Bowl LI at a place called Southern Comfort, “the best bar in America.” Bizarrely, given that the hometown Falcons were playing, the watering hole was filled with Patriots fans, and Savage felt their “allegiance was entirely political.” These were, he suspected, Trump voters.

“This one woman especially, when it became clear that the Patriots were going to win, she’d come up to us and be like, ‘losers!'” he continues. “Then karaoke night happened after the game. I think I did ‘Little Respect’ by Erasure. And I said ‘Fuck Tom Brady’ at the end. It felt really good.”

Savage also shouts “fuck Tom Brady” at the close of the first song on Parquet Courts’ new album, Wide Awake! The Patriots star, he explains, serves as a stand-in for the “the hyper-individualized masculine lone-wolf quarterback male” – one of several ideas that Wide Awake! sets itself against, along with Trumpism. “He’s the old guard,” Savage adds of Brady. “Kids are marching through the streets. Get out of the way, Tom.”

Three of Parquet Courts’ four members are sitting in the East Village dim sum spot Tim Ho Wan at a table obscured by food, tea and a pair of Tsingtaos. The singer is by turns enthusiastic – about 1970s films, the rock outfit Tyvek, the WNYC host Brian Lehrer, the food he’s wolfing down right now ­– and acerbic: He’s done a lot of interviews recently, including roughly 70 in a five-day European swing, and he’s in no mood for foolish questions. Austin Brown, who splits singing and guitar duties, is more phlegmatic, which seems fitting, given his sandals-and-socks, purple-Mardi-Gras-beads-as-glasses-lanyard attire. Max Savage, the band’s drummer and Andrew’s younger brother, is sparing and direct, chiming in when it comes to drums and dim sum.

Parquet Courts made an instant impact in the small world of indie rock when they emerged six years ago as a band out of Brooklyn playing a scrabbling, propulsive strain of guitar music that traced directly back to the Velvet Underground and Pavement. Jeanette Lee, co-owner of the indie label Rough Trade Records, which now releases Parquet Courts’ albums, first caught the band live during a South by Southwest show at Lance Armstrong’s bicycle shop. “That rabble-rousing, full-on sound they have was thrilling,” she recalls. “And it was very obvious that they had a great skill for lyric writing. The combination of that, in the bike shop, in the sun, in the middle of the afternoon was intoxicating.”

In the years since, Parquet Courts have worked fast by rock standards, releasing at least one album or EP every year since 2011, with a series of small course adjustments along the way. On 2015’s Monastic Living, that meant deprioritizing vocals and abandoning verse-chorus song structures. On last year’s Milano, a collaboration with the Italian arranger Daniele Luppi, the band studded their knotty rock with occasional touches from shiny instruments like the celesta. “All our records we try to make something a little different, change something about the process,” Brown says.

The plot twist on Wide Awake! comes in the form of Brian Burton, better known as Danger Mouse – the first outside producer to work on a Parquet Courts record. Burton had been eying the group since 2013, tipped off by his Broken Bells bandmate James Mercer. “[2012’s Light Up Gold] reminded me of music that I really liked but that wasn’t being done by now,” he says. When he proposed collaborating after meeting them through Luppi, Brown says the band saw the partnership – small-bore rock group meets multi-platinum producer – as somewhat incongruous, which is exactly why they decided to do it. “It was a curious experiment,” Brown says.

Parquet Courts’ other adventure came from the band’s more direct engagement with funk. Savage calls Van Peebles’ music for the seminal film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song his favorite soundtrack. “Vamping on this thing and then rambling over it; it’s kind of like Parquet Courts,” the singer says. Groove is a concept that hasn’t always been present in Parquet Courts’ records, but there is more openness in some of the rhythm sections on Wide Awake! – see the title track or “Back to Earth.” There’s a sense that the band could settle in, even if they usually choose not to.

Wide Awake! was recorded mostly on a pecan farm in Texas where band members “were looking at just as much of Mexico as we were of the U.S.,” according to Savage. “I think that’s fitting,” he adds, “given that the record was a response to Trumpism and the Trump era, that we recorded it on the border.” 

Savage isn’t sure Wide Awake! represents a radical change for the group’s lyrical concerns. “It wouldn’t have been the first time that Parquet Courts had touched on something social and political,” he says. But as he was writing songs for the album, he was ­”having political conversations on a daily basis, where I’ve never done that [before] in my daily life…It’s on the tips of a lot of people’s tongues right now,” Savage says. “It would’ve been a bit weird if that didn’t [show up] on this record.”

The album opens with salvos against the fat cats in power and expressions of support for those under their thumb. “It is dishonest, nay, a sin to stand for any anthem that attempts to drown out the roar of oppression,” Savage proclaims on “Total Football.” “Riot … is a word to delegitimize your unrest/And to make your resistance into an overreaction,” he barks one song later. And on “Before the Water Gets Too High,” he warns, “know time can’t be bought/By the profits that you make.”

And of course, there’s that unforgettable “fuck Tom Brady,” the final shot from “Total Football.”

“The first show of our next tour is going to be in Boston,” Savage says. “It’s going to be a full-scale riot.” 

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