When Austin Brown, guitarist/singer and songwriter for Parquet Courts, calls CityBeat from his cell phone in Brooklyn on a Saturday afternoon, he sounds chipper—he's just wrapped up what he refers to as a "hangover brunch."
But it's only a couple minutes before the conversation with the 27-year-old takes a heavy turn.
"I've had my share of existential crises," he says.
Listening to Light Up Gold, Parquet Courts' widely buzzed about debut album, it's easy to take Brown at his word. A 16- track set of jittery, up-tempo post-punk rockers, the album is musically upbeat—even fun!—but frequently tends toward pessimism. "There are no more lifeguard jobs / There are no more art museums to guard," vocalist / guitarist Andrew Savage sings in "Careers in Combat." "But there are still careers in combat, my son."
With their streamlined sound, the band—Brown, Savage, bassist Sean Yeaton and drummer Max Savage (Andrew's brother)—offer snapshots of existential angst and incisive wordplay. There's a minimalist quality to Light Up Gold, which was released in January via What's Your Rupture? Half of the songs on the album fall under the two-minute mark.
Throughout the album, Parquet Courts looks back to classic indie-rock and post-punk bands. There are shades of The Feelies in the slightly abrasive jangle of "Master of My Craft," while the supercatchy "Borrowed Time" could be the work of The Strokes' slacker younger brothers. On the other hand, the oddball groove that runs through all 81 seconds of "Donuts Only" nods to The Fall, with Savage delivering a frantic sing-speak that echoes the cadence of Fall frontman Mark E. Smith.
Brown concedes that they kept the record simple partly out of necessity, as they had only three days to record all 16 tracks.
"We didn't have time to make a grand composition out of the record," he says. "It was more about how we have three days with a sound engineer, so let's do as much as we can in three days. We wanted to put out a full-length record. It's more about accomplishing the task than trying to make some kind of wall of sound."
The band's minimal punk arrangements only serve to better highlight the lyrical downers. Take the album's leadoff track, "Master My Craft," which closes with the declaration, " Socrates died in the fucking gutter." And "Donuts Only" ends with an almost comically bleak epitaph: " In result, his life was rubbish / Celebrated? Yes / But rubbish."
Such glum statements are a common thread on Light Up Gold, but Brown and Savage don't want to bum out their audience so much as deliver brutally honest wit. Blunt but delivered with a smile, their lyrics walk a fine line between comedy and tragedy.
"You can hear the sense of humor, but I don't think the songs are necessarily funny," Brown says.
More importantly, he says, the character of their songs reflects his and his bandmates' personalities.
"It's important as a lyricist or songwriter—you want to show a part of yourself in the music," Brown says. "And I think a lot of our songs tend to be emotionally honest and direct. You don't hear songs on it that are just so generic that [the lyrics] could apply to anything. When you listen to the lyrics, they're all much from our brains and things that we wanted to express."
Andrew Savage initially released Light Up Gold through his own label, Dull Tools. But in just a few short months, Parquet Courts began to pick up a lot of buzz nationally, which necessitated a move to a label with more resources. Yet, while the band was courted by other labels, Brown says, they gave careful consideration before ultimately going with What's Your Rupture?
"It's hard to think about us being associated with other bands on rosters of other indie labels," he says.
The band decided to work with a smaller label out of a desire to maintain control of their image and, ultimately, their legacy. That's also why they avoid playing corporate-sponsored shows whenever possible.
"Those shows do offer a lot of money, but they're pretty bogus, for the most part," Brown says.
But for Parquet Courts, their reputation isn't just about marketing—it's about getting a better handle on that existential angst.
"We take how people perceive us pretty seriously," Brown says. "We're in the early stages of people finding out about us, and we still have some room to grow. So I think that how people hear about you and how people perceive you, or where people see you perform, is still pretty important in the early stages.
"The way the music biz is right now, we could all be over next week, as soon as our flavor runs out," he adds. "And that's fine. I just want to be able to look back on all the decisions we made and be proud."
Parquet Courts play with Shiva Trash and Nostalgic People at The Ché Café on Tuesday, June 4.