Game Time for Parquet Courts
The last day job Parquet Courts frontman Andrew Savage had was delivering weed. It was a pretty good gig – flexible hours, interesting co-workers, lots of time riding around New York on your bike. It also gave him a unique perspective on the popularity of his band’s breakout album, Light Up Gold. Savage might stop at someone’s apartment, hang out for a bit, see his record laying around and get a compliment on a recent show. Or something like this might happen: “I remember delivering to this fella who works at a renowned record label,” he says. “He didn’t recognize me, and he was really rude. The whole time he was playing Light Up Gold on his turntable.”
Light Up Gold has done time on many of America’s more refined turntables since it was released in 2012. Recorded in three days by a band of Brooklyn transplants from Texas, it was an indie-rock classic out of the gate, fusing post-Velvet Underground New York punk and Nineties guitar noise into almost troublingly catchy tunes. It spawned a micro-hit in “Stoned and Starving,” about a hazy bodega crawl Savage took through Ridgewood, Queens, while cat-sitting for a girl he was dating. The song ruled critics polls and helped sell nearly 50,000 copies of Light Up Gold – impressive for a band that thought the first pressing of 500 would satisfy demand.
Parquet Courts got booked on a high-profile tour of Australia, where they hung out with Lorde. The popularity of “Stoned and Starving” had its upsides (people throwing pot onstage at their shows) and its downsides – bro-ish fans oozing into their crowds. “I don’t care to play it anymore,” says Savage, 28. “I don’t like Joe College in the audience yelling for it.”
On a Friday afternoon in early May, Parquet Courts are at their practice space in Bushwick, Brooklyn, a primarily workingclass Latino and African-American neighborhood that has recently experienced an influx of hipsters. An elevated subway rattles overhead as Savage opens an iron gate that leads through a graffiti-spritzed side alley and down a flight of stairs into a small concrete bunker lit only by a sprig of white Christmas lights. His dark curly hair juts out omnidirectionally, and he’s wearing an orange T-shirt and black jeans, the same thing he had on a couple of days ago when I visited the band members backstage before they played the new single “Black and White” on Late Night With Seth Meyers.
“We share this room with three other bands,” says Savage, maneuvering through a tight maze of music equipment. “Sorry if it smells like dudes.”
Today, they’re running through songs from their new album, Sunbathing Animal, which taps the same vintage influences as its predecessor as well as some less-expected ones, like the bracing blues-punk stomp “Ducking & Dodging.” Savage stands in a circle with the rest of the band: his younger brother, Max, 23, who plays drums and is a senior at New York University, majoring in math; guitarist and singer Austin Brown, 28, a tall, mop-haired dead ringer for Sonic Youth‘s Thurston Moore; and genial, mustachioed bassist Sean Yeaton, also 28.
For Sunbathing Animal, Andrew Savage focused on an experience from his teens. “A lot of the lyrics deal with imprisonment,” he says. “I had a close person in my life go to jail. Prison went from being abstract to being this real place I visited twice a week.”
Andrew was born in Denton, Texas, where his parents worked at the local paper (Dad was a sportswriter, Mom an art director). He was bright and into art as a teenager. He was also in trouble a lot, including arrests for drug possession and public lewdness when he got caught having sex with his girlfriend in the backseat of his Volvo. “I hated school,” he says. “I made C’s and F’s. All I cared about was drawing, making music.”
Brown was raised in the Southeast Texas refinery town of Beaumont. He was a terrible student who used to cut school often but got a 1,500 on his SAT. He had so many absences that the principal, who was friends with his mom, had to go in and “Ferris Bueller” his attendance record so he could graduate.
Savage and Brown started hanging out in the mid-’00s while attending the University of North Texas, in Denton, where they were members of a record-listening club called the Knights of the Round Turntable. “It was nerdy dudes talking about records, and sometimes maybe a nerdy gal would show up,” says Savage.
Unlike his brother, Max played on the high school baseball team and got straight A’s and a full ride to NYU. “He goes to bed early. He’s very orderly and has a really good work ethic,” Andrew says of Max.
The band came together after Max moved to New York in 2010. (They named themselves Parquet Courts just because it sounded cool – “‘Radiohead‘ was already taken,” Brown has said.) Andrew jokes that he’s “the bad influence” on his brother. Now, as Max closes in on getting his math degree, he does admit his grades have slipped a little. “I had a Chinese quiz the day after we played Seth Meyers,” he says. “We had a viewing party afterward. I got really drunk and got home at 3 a.m. I was so hungover the next day when I got to my Chinese quiz, I just turned it in blank.”
Parquet Courts have not enjoyed being pegged as Nineties-obsessed nostalgia merchants. On their website, they mockingly list all the times a derivation of the word “slacker” has appeared in their reviews (total: 52), and they sent out a mixtape cassette to supporters and critics full of new underground peer bands like Yuppies and Protomartyr, several of which record for Andrew’s record label, Dull Tools. The goal was to show they’re part of something contemporary, not an echo of someone else’s golden age. “Nostalgia,” says Andrew. “Not interested.”
As for the myth of Parquet Courts as stoned, starving indie urchins? Again, not so much. “It’s a romantic narrative: The devilmay-care-vagabond touring guy, the can’t-get-his-shit-together scamp. But that’s not us,” says Andrew. “Eddie Murphy gets high. Metallica gets high. Grand Funk fucking Railroad get high. We’re not special.”
But while Parquet Courts bristle at the retro tag, Brown did hang out with ex-Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus at SXSW this year, a brush with God that turned collegial. “We had a mutual appreciation that was surreal,” Brown says. “It made me feel like we were doing something right.”
Malkmus even seemed to suggest he could learn a thing or two from the kids. “He said, ‘I love that song “North Dakota,”‘” says Brown. “‘I wish I had written that.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah? I think you kinda did.'”
This story is from the July 3rd-17th, 2014 issue of Rolling Stone.