Being in a ‘band’ can take many forms. The foremost type, the type I mostly tackle anyway, is the one who writes the riffs, the time signatures, weaves their collection of pedals into somthing that makes the audience coo in awe of such technical grooming. But you know, there is another kind of band that often gets misunderstood because the efficacy of its work is not something everyone can perceive–its allure is not quite as tangible as a difficult guitar solo.
Parenthetical Girls is one of the latter. While their pop sensibility is undeniable–even if its anxiety level speaks experimental to you–its pop all the same, and beneath the frantic keys and swelling production its not really all that weird.
So what sets them apart, or what makes the project more of a live wire, is the theatricality of aesthetics working together; the madman production, decadent visuals, and some of the highest quality lyrics to come out of indie pop (seriously). But like I said, there’s a sort of sensory synthesis that has to happen or else you’ll kind of miss the point.
Over the last couple of years, Parenthetical Girls have been releasing an ambitious series of EPs called The Privilege, its latest release in the series The Privilege IV: Sympathy For Spastics recently saw light via their own Slender Means Society label. Zac Pennington, the man behind all this madness, comes across as an intelligent, artistic, sort of awesomely depraved individual, and luckily for me he is also a very articulate interviewee.
I’ve read that you describe yourself as more of the creative director of Parenthetical Girls, that you solicit other musicians to enable arrangements and make your vision concrete. How did you, in the very beginning, build up that network of artists? What originally got your foot in the door of the music community?
I’ve moved on to “Artistic Director” of Parenthetical Girls, which has been a pretty lateral promotion, to be honest. To clarify a little bit: I tend to see Parenthetical Girls as a means of realizing certain ideas that I have about pop music in the abstract. I’m much better at framing and codifying my ideas than I am at creating the content to communicate them in a way that satisfies my sensibilities. My eyes much are bigger than my stomach. Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune of working with a lot of gracious people who have had the patience to help nurture and harvest these saplings—namely Jherek Bischoff, Sam Mickens, Jeremy Cooper, Matt Carlson, and Paul Alcott, among others.
Before Parenthetical Girls I spent a lot of time in my early 20s writing about music and producing shows for other musicians, as a means of intimately interacting with the one thing that I really cared about, but thought I was incapable of creating myself. I made quite a few acquaintances and even friends this way. The hardest part has always been willing the thing to stay afloat as collaborators inevitably come and go. It feels like we’ve finally figured out a sensible system. Knock on wood.
Considering your propensity towards the more epic side of pop, the choice to release the series of EP’s seems both counterintuitive and weirdly ideal. Have “The Privilege” EPs been a positive format choice for the project?
I’ve always loved the EP—I think it’s the perfect format. Sensible portions, concise, not too self-serious, not too much fat. The Privilege has been an incredible learning experience for me for a lot of reasons, not the least of which because of the format. It’s forced us to create stronger individual pieces, and not to rely so much on the arc of a full-length record. It’s forced us to write SONGS. It’s allowed us to foster a much greater breadth of styles and tone, and let us experiment with a lot of ideas that might have been discarded had we been trying to create a proper full length. It’s going to be difficult to find our way back.
After you complete a record, is it a challenge to work out the pieces for a tour? Your arrangements are so expansive, are there any tracks you just avoid playing live?
As most of our songs are written as we record them, we rarely put much thought into the logistics of playing them live. Which is a really stupid way of doing things. There are plenty of songs that we avoid, and more that we’ve never even tried to play. Most of Entanglements has been impossible to perform in a satisfying way, even when at the peak of our powers. Fortunately, the songs from Privilege are by their nature a lot more aerodynamic.
A lot of indie music these days is sort of sexless, Parenthetical Girls on the other hand is very much sexually charged, and from a lot of angles–not even necessarily in a vulgar way, although you do that quite well, too. Does the sexuality of the music ever create either misconceptions about the project or resistance?
My mother’s not crazy about it. I’ve been told by a handful of our younger listeners that their parents think of us as a corrupting influence, which is very flattering and also possibly appropriate. But of the common misconceptions people harbor about Parenthetical Girls, I don’t think many are based on sexuality—it’s safe to say that sexuality is at the heart of a good deal of it, just as it’s at the heart of everything, really. People certainly have had misconceptions about me because of it, however. Which I find mostly just awesome.
Is there more comedy or tragedy in your music?
Probably tragedy, if I’m being honest. But I’d say its something like 70/30. We’re not as humorless as appearances might suggest. Seriously.
What is the Privilege?
I fell in love with that word, mostly because it is so many things. It’s a powerful word that is also very elastic. The project started as a song cycle about emotional class warfare (which is phrase that is as gross to type as it is to read, trust me), and then became something different altogether—and yet it’s a word that still has continued to relate to all of the songs in different ways. And even though it had already been used as a title for several things that I love—a film, a pair of albums, a few songs—I felt that if I was going to be putting out five things with the same name stamped across their spines, it had to be a word that I was deeply in love with.
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