After seven years living in New York City, traces of small town Texas courteousness remain in Austin Brown’s speech patterns and accent. Chatting about music and sports, the Parquet Courts guitarist and vocalist is polite as he answers in a gentle drawl.
When describing the sketchy Brooklyn neighborhood he moved into when arriving in New York, he refers to the local prostitutes and Bam Bam, a guy who dealt crack on Brown’s stoop, as ‘folks’, with no measure of irony or condescension.
Originally from Beaumont, Texas it was in New York that Brown formed Parquet Courts six years ago with fellow Texans Andrew and Max Savage and bassist Sean Yeaton. Since then, over four full-length albums and two brilliantly odd EPs, the four-piece have created an astute body of work that mines the anxieties that can come with romance and big city living.
It’s music that can be both catchy and challenging. Many of the kids who shouted along to, ”I was walking through Ridgewood Queens” on “Stoned and Starving” the stand out track from their 2012 breakthrough album Light Up Gold, were left scratching their heads at improvisational instrumentals found on 2015’s Monastic Living EP.
But Brown says that the band got their start writing weird improv jams and recording the same kind of album in a way that's like “kicking the can down the street” has no appeal to them.
Human Performance their latest album, and first on London's legendary Rough Trade Records, is arguably the best record Parquet Courts have made, largely because of it's ability to blend so many unexpected elements into a coherent whole.
It’s an album that has strictly no “can kicking”.
When I speak to Brown he is back in Texas at Austin’s South By Southwest festival where he is helping his fiancée’s band Wall both with shows and mixing their new album.
Noisey: Hey Austin, what’s it like to be back in Texas?
Austin Brown: It’s good but it feels a little weird to be back at South By Southwest and not playing any shows. I’ve been helping Wall out with shows, loading in and loading out and making sure that they got to places in time but I wasn’t playing. It was nice. I didn’t get any attention there was no spotlight on me. It was really quite a drag (laughs)
I know you are a sports fan. Who have you picked for the Final Four in college basketball?
Oh fuck man, I’ve been so busy working on the Wall record that I’m out of the loop with college basketball. I didn’t even do a bracket. I still love sports though. The one team I’ve been following is Manchester United in the English Premiere League.
What were the early days in New York like?
It was pretty insane. I lived in a scary neighborhood that was really cheap. I found a cheap apartment and thought, “Oh cool this is a good deal, and it’s right by a park. How cool”. But I lived by a flophouse and there were sketchy people in the neighborhood. I wasn’t as scared as I should have been. I was pretty naive and all of New York seemd kind of scary (laughs). Coming from a really small town in Texas I just figured that this was what big cities were like. Looking back now it’s not a place I should have been walking around at night. (laughs)
New York has changed for you then?
Well, It doesn’t get any easier to live here just more expensive. (laughs)
Early reviews of Human Performance have mentioned the change in tone and direction.
Yeah, we wanted to take some time to get some perspective. We’ve been constantly touring, recording and releasing for the first four years. We kind of wanted to go in a different direction and evolve the group but we needed some time to do that. You need time to change. You need to get a perspective of what you are doing and what you have been doing in order to make that change.
It seems that there are questions and anxiety on a song like “I Was Just Here”.
Sean wrote that song and does the lead vocals.
Is it about the album and touring cycle?
I’m pretty sure it’s about touring and living in urban places that are developing so quickly that they become hard to identity with. Trying to retain your identify of self when everything around you is changing is a big part of the album.
What of your own songs? You’ve always shared writing duties but with Human Performance there seems to be more of your input. Are there any tracks in particular that you are proud of?
“Captive of The Sun” is a song that sums up the experience of making the new record. It started off as a fast punk song that sounded angry and pretty aggressive. But I’m not a particularly angry person and the recording process on that took three weeks of overdubs where things with some heavy orchestration. We ended up changing to half time and giving it a more hip hop beat. It doesn’t sound like a song that would recognize as a Parquet Courts song at first. It was about gravitating towards the songs that were more risky and the songs we were less comfortable with. For me they were the important songs.
When we sat down to write Human Performance we all knew how to write and record Parquet Courts song. We’d done four albums of it, so to do something different meant knowing what we’d already done. It was a bit riskier, not just kicking the can down the road and not putting together another album or a collection of songs. It was important to be unique. And taking some time out, which was about a year, was important to that.
‘Human Performance’ is available now through Rough Trade.