This interview with Parquet Courts' Andrew Savage appears in AdHoc Issue 16.
Parquet Courts organized and play at Knock! Knock! Down! Down! at Knockdown Center on December 10 with Lee Ranaldo, Guerilla Toss, X___X, Vanity, and Flasher.
New York rock stalwarts Parquet Courts have a knack for playing in unconventional places, like their 2014 AdHoc-co-hosted event at the Sugarhill Supper Club. This year, the band has set its sights on the Knockdown Center, a revamped factory space in Maspeth, Queens that regularly plays host to forward-looking dance, music, art, and theater happenings. On December 10, AdHoc and Parquet Courts will present Knock! Knock! Down! Down!, an evening of musical performances and art installations by the band, its contemporaries,and its inspirations. While soaking in sounds from Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo, legendary Ohio proto-punk band X___X , New York punk torchbearers Vanity, and DC post-punk trio Flasher [Ed.: Guerilla Toss has since been added to the bill], visitors wandering through the space will encounter films by Joey Pizza Slice, an audio-video installation by Eaters, and paintings by Parquet Courts vocalist, guitarist, and design mastermind Andrew Savage. We met up with Savage at his apartment in Brooklyn to talk about the genesis of Knock! Knock! Down! Down!, and using art and music to engage with your moment in history.
AdHoc: How did Knock! Knock! Down! Down! come about?
Andrew Savage: Parquet Courts has a tradition of playing a show in December, at the end of the year. Our first band practice was in December2010, so it’s like an anniversary. I think it’s really interesting to take advantage of all these weird and cool spaces for art that we have. Even before I lived here, I noticed that all the DIY venues in New York were a bit different. They each have their own kind of site-specific quality. I’m grateful for the chance to have played places like Palisades and Market Hotel and to be able to make something unique. It’s sad that places like Monster Island Basement and Death By Audio have gone under, but their legacy is also inspiring, because they had this really amazing life. It’s at Death By Audio where we essentially learned how to be a band and play on stage. I never wanna not have an engagement with that world. Knock! Knock! Down! Down! will be a bunch of bands that don’t sound similar but go together in an interesting way. Eaters are an electronic band on my label Dull Tools. We have important contemporaries to us, like Flasher, which is Taylor [Mulitz] from Priests’ new band. And then people who are obviously influential on Parquet Courts, like X___X, a legendary band from my favorite time in American rock music: the ’70s underground proto-punk, post-Velvets thing. Craig [Bell] from X___X was also in Mirrors, Rocket from the Tombs, and Dead Boys. He’s become a good friend and ally. Lee Ranaldo [is] obviously someone who’s been influential on Parquet Courts, and has becomea friend. Vanity [are] a great representation of how awesome the New York punk and hardcore scene is at the moment. I think it’s important for bands to have something that makes them them—some benchmark of success other than the ones that have all been tropes for a long time. In my opinion, it’s asserting who you are and where you come from, and doing it alongside people that you respect, and making a fun night for people.
Do you feel that there’s a theme that ties Knock! Knock! Down! Down! together?
I think the point is to address all these cool, different scenes and ideas that are happening in music and put them together so that people can realize that this world isn’t so fragmented. People can draw paths between things that they wouldn’t have previously connected.
The event will also feature art installations. How did that come together?
The space is so big, which was very intimidating on the one hand, and very inspiring on the other, because we realized that there were a lot of things that could be done with it. A lot of the artists that are playing have elements [of] their art that aren’t entirely contained within a concert setting. Eaters are doing a light and sound installation rather than a traditional performance. Our friend Joey Pizza Slice—aka, Son of Salami, from Vermont, who we’ve toured with and done a split record with—is gonna be doing a film installation. A huge part of Parquet Courts is the visual element, so I think my art is a good representation of that. I think Lee Ranaldo is gonna be doing a kind of alternative performance—suspending a guitar from the ceiling and playing it like that. There’s so much that we realized we could do, and then it became a conversation of what do we do, how do we do it, and what’s gonna make it all feel fluid.
It’s cool that you’re using the space to broaden what a concert can be. I think we can be a little more intellectually generous with what we consider to be “art” than with what we consider to be music.
Sure, but rock & roll doesn’t have to be highbrow—and it shouldn’t be, really, or it shouldn’t always be. Sometimes you just wanna go out and see bands. But this is something different: it’s wanting to do something that people will remember and talk about. [AdHoc co-founder] Ric [Leichtung] has always been open to things like that. AdHoc did our show [in 2014] at Sugar Hill Supper Club, a banquet hall in Bed-Stuy. And I guess, maybe unintentionally, that has just become part of Parquet Courts’ way of operating.
Do you see a thematic link between your visual practice and the work you do in the band?
I think so, yeah. One thing that I only recently started thinking about is that I experience sound and visuals kind of synesthetically. All the Parquet Courts artwork, to me, feels like it’s the vision of the music. It’s the music visualized as I see it. All the colors of Parquet Courts’ records tend to reflect the color that I see when I hear our music. I think that records should look the way they sound, because that’s your first impression when you see a record in a shop or online. That’s how I became acquainted with so many records that are important to me. I used to do that a lot—blindly buy records based on the cover.
With the advent of streaming, there’s the potential for music to be decontextualized from its visual aspect.
That’s true. Were hard-copy music ever to become obsolete—which I don’t think will happen—you would be losing a very important aspect. Just the fact that it’s tangible—something you can hold—is a big virtue of music. Whereas data, to me, is less tangible, and therefore harder to engage with as someone who grew up buying records and CDs and tapes, building this library or collection. But the internet can be a really interesting place, visually. I’ve been exposed to a lot of cool art and music-related art via blogs and Spotify. And although I disagree with Spotify’s economic model as far as the artists go, it helps get people out to shows and creates awareness. Because I’m on the older end of the millennial group, I still feel a bit distant from people 10 years younger than me—the “digital natives.” They’ve always been engaging with music via services like YouTube and Spotify. So I wonder to what extent the convictions I have are simply rooted in the way I first started engaging with music.
I think the internet challenges people to rethink the way visuals and music interact.
A website isn’t really an artifact; one could argue it puts less of an emphasis on property and ownership, which is cool. We’re living in such a transitional period right now, and all these things are changing. I haven’t seen the Oasis documentary [Oasis: Supersonic] in full yet, but I’ve seen bits of it— and they’re talking about this moment when rock & roll was at the center of culture, and how that will never happen again. And yeah, it might not happen again in that way, but these benchmarks—our ideas of what it means to be a successful band or artist—are changing. There are new rules being made, so it’s an exciting time in that regard.
You’ve spoken in previous interviews about your interest in music that “speaks to the now.”
It should. Although artists like X___X and Lee Ranaldo are very established, they’re still making new, relevant music. And certainly all the younger bands at Knock! Knock! Down! Down! are, to me, representative of things that are happening now. That is important, because if you try to be nostalgic or try to recreate this bygone era, you’re always gonna fail. Tradition’s an important part of rock music, but I think it’s best when it looks both past and forward.
How do you think of the “now”? Like the “now,” we could say, is the election results.
Well, I think there’s a parallel to be made there, when people put so much weight on returning to this bygone era. “Make America Great Again”—it’s always gonna be a failure. You can’t try to Frankenstein together old versions of “now,” because what makes those things so interesting in retrospect is that they reflect their moment. Contemporary art that emphasizes its current moment is interesting, because the current moment is mysterious. Its elements haven’t been canonized yet, so there are fewer associations to attach them to. People, especially when talking about music, always want to make references, like, “Oh, this sounds like, this.” That’s cool, and I get the point of it, but too often artists aren’t given credit for the part of their work that directly confronts the current. Too often, people compare them to things of the past—trying to draw the line backwards, instead of making a dot in this exact moment and drawing forward.
Grab a PDF of the zine here, and look out for physical copies both at our shows and at record stores, bookstores, coffee shops, and community centers throughout the city. (Those of you outside New York City can order a copy here as well.)