Parquet Courts’ A. Savage is Going Out on a Solo Limb With ‘Thawing Dawn’
words by me; image courtesy of Vince McLelland
A thoughtful first listen to A. Savage’s forthcoming Thawing Dawn record, out this Friday the 13th, reveals one simple, and yet exceedingly important (as it informs just about every lyric) fact: the musician has fallen in love. And though there’s plenty of variation in melody and style (one is taken from a Damon Albarn-esque Brit pop moment in “Eyeballs” to a twang reminiscent of country music’s glory days with “Phantom Limb”), the theme remains. Savage is, of course, known as the frontman for Brooklyn-based punk band Parquet Courts, and his audience is in for a surprise with Thawing Dawn—much softer and more thoughtful than his prior stuff, this is one album that can’t be shouted through a microphone to a crowd mid-mosh. Instead, it has to be felt, digested, processed, etcetera—in the same way that Savage himself is digesting his own thoughts and feelings throughout the record. It’s almost so personal that one feels intrusive—you’re so close to Savage’s inner thoughts it feels wrong in a funny reading-your-friend’s-diary-in-secret kind of way. Love, of course, is one of the most universal experiences to be had, but Savage has, miraculously, found a brand-new way to express the feelings we all aspire to tackle. We’re here for it.
I know your album’s out in a couple weeks, how are you feeling?
Well, I’m here now recording, and I guess when I get back I’m gonna have to start packing up a lot of LP mailers to send out. I’m putting it out on my record label Dull Tools, and I’ve got a painting show coming up in the end of October so when I get back I’ll be finishing canvases in time for the show. In terms of specific events around the record coming out, it’s kind of a non-event. It’s just coming out—I’ll tour a few weeks in November and it’ll make its way into the world and hopefully people’s ears. I’m excited about it. It’s something that’s been inside of me for a long time and I’m happy for it to be released and set free.
So obviously I read the press release and know it’s about self-reflection. Can you expand on that a little bit?
The copy didn’t lie [Laughs]. It is a self-reflective record. A lot of what I write about, my band, and my visual art tends to be a commentary about the world at large and the way that I interpret it. Thawing Dawn is more to do with the self, the inner mind, the heart. It’s an iteration of me that isn’t really emphasized through me as a member of a collective, of a band, it better emphasizes me as the individual, the solitary person. I guess it’s a part of me that hasn’t really been explored in my songwriting before, but since it is essentially who I am, it’s something I want out there as an artist.
What was it like tapping into parts of yourself you’re not used to expressing?
It doesn’t feel unnatural. A lot of these songs have been written for a while and I’ve become very comfortable with them and the words in them. I guess there is a bit of trepidation and surprise being vulnerable, feeling like I’m putting something out there. I don’t typically share this side of me so what does it mean if I’m revealing all of this deeply personal information and this voice of mine that isn’t necessarily associated with me by people who know my work. There is that little bit of fear, but it’s silly to harp over that. This is me, this is who I am, and I should be pleased to introduce that to people.
Is there a nervousness on how it will be received?
No, the record’s been done for so long that I’m just excited for it to be out there. I’m past the stage of being nervous, that came more in the songwriting.
Can you talk about what headspace you were in when you were writing?
There’s definitely a lot of songs on there that are very much about me being in love with somebody. It’s one of those things like on “Wild Wild Wild Horses”, where it’s one of the most raw, almost sappy love songs I’ve ever written. It almost doesn’t sound like me because that’s one of the most private parts of myself that I don’t normally indulge people in unless it’s a one-on-one kind of moment. It was all that I could think about when I was writing the record so it was pretty site-specific as far as my emotional life goes, rooted in this time where I was finding myself very infatuated and in love with someone so I really couldn’t have written about anything else. It was consuming me. That’s one of the functions of art that I’m attracted to—the idea and the process of purging emotions, exercising emotions, in the form of writing. I consider myself first and foremost a lyricist before a songwriter or a musician. I think it was therapeutic, finding these words to very directly address these emotions I was feeling, and in the process of that digest them and make sense of them.
Do you feel like the catharsis is writing it or once it’s released into world?
Yeah, definitely the perception of the audience is part of the whole process. From inception to someone hearing it, that’s the final stage, or I guess the final stage would be them processing and internalizing it, and applying it to their art. The relationship with the audience is one of the most integral parts of making any kind of art.
Did it ever cross your mind what a Parquet Courts audience would come into this album expecting or what they would think of it?
Naturally. That’s really happened with every record I’ve made since there was any audience to be had. I don’t really think that constricts me or hinders me from doing anything I do. It makes me feel nervous to some degree, but I don’t think I would ever not do something because it would baffle the expectations of an audience. I had considered that there would be some degree of that happening on this record. That’s what made me want to explore this iteration of my songwriting further in that I think some people may be surprised because the way I’m using my voice and the way I’m playing might not typically be associated with me, but I appreciate that in artists I admire—when they give you another side of them. It’s like getting to know someone better. That’s how I feel about it as a fan of music. We feel like we have a personal relationship with the artists that we’re deeply, emotionally, cerebrally invested in. I understand that there are some people that feel they have that relationship with me. When I think about my audience and fans of my work, I think about my relationship with artists I greatly admire.
As a musician going between this album and stuff with the band, is that hard to balance?
Nothing about writing songs is easy. I do think that there’s a certain momentum you get when you’re constantly working. I think creativity seems to foster creativity. Once you’re on a roll, it’s much easier to stay in a state of curious enthusiasm and continue to work on writing. The songwriting came right before and at the same time as this Parquet Courts record and it was a good launching point because I absolutely knew what each of them was going to sound like and so there was never any confusion about which one I was going to be writing for. It was very evident from the beginning of a song which one it was going to be going towards. I think Thawing Dawn is intentionally less aggressive, more melodic, and it really was kindof like an exercise for the record I’m working on right now. By doing something very different, it helped me single in on a new direction for Parquet Courts by saying I’m not gonna write these types of songs for Parquet Courts, I’m gonna try more tender songs for this record, and then I’m gonna do something totally new with the next Parquet Courts record. The freshness of Thawing Dawn helped my mind gain a sort of momentum where the ball was already rolling by the time I started working on the new Parquet Courts record. As long as one stays busy and occupied with whatever it is they love to do, whatever type of self expression they choose, you get muscle memory. It becomes more natural and relaxed and free.
Cool. Once the album comes out, are you going on tour? What’s next?
Yeah, touring happens in November. Everybody on the tour will have recorded on the record at some capacity—myself, Jack Cooper, Jarvis Taveniere, and Aaron Neveu, it’s some good friends. It’ll be a couple weeks, I’ll do a couple in the US, a couple weeks in Europe. This record’s a casual thing, I’m putting it out on my own label. There’s no label pressure to tour. I’m the label, so I’m not putting pressure on myself, especially since I’m so busy with Parquet Courts and the visual art. It’s something nice to fill in my time. It’s gonna be winter, I’m sure I’ll need to find something to keep myself occupied with. Touring with friends, that’s not a bad way to do it.