At the very end of “Total Football,” the rollicking first song on Parquet Courts‘ wondrous, outspoken new album, Wide Awake!, there’s a lyrical barrage worth further contemplation: “Swapping parts and roles is not acting but rather emancipation from expectation / Collectivism and autonomy are not mutually exclusive / Those who find discomfort in your goals of liberation will be issued no apology / Fuck Tom Brady.”
“The song is supposed to be a bit like a manifesto; it’s got that bold and declarative language, with each line emphasizing the larger ideology,” Andrew Savage tells Exclaim! on a conference call with Austin Brown. The pair are the primary singers, guitarists, and lyricists in Parquet Courts, and first met swapping records at Savage’s weekly gathering of music fans, “Knights of the Round Turntable,” while studying at the University of North Texas.
“‘Total Football’ comes from an association football theory stating that any player on the field can play any position or role,” Savage continues, enthusiastically contemplating the universal implications of soccer, a sport with which he and Brown have become fascinated. “To me, that was a good starting point to write a song that was broadly about the duality of collectivity and individuality.”
The seventh proper album from the prolific Parquet Courts, Wide Awake! is a letter-perfect musical contemplation of modern times, where social uprisings are actually affecting positive change. It’s urgent and potent music that’s thought-provoking and danceable, and whose rage is measured by a pointed optimism. As such, an easy corollary can be made between the album’s title and being “woke.”
“That one is paying attention, is ‘switched on,’ ‘with it,’ you’re wide awake — everything is so clear,” Savage says of the title. “People like to brag about how ‘woke’ they are these days, don’t they? It is a bit tongue-in-cheek in that regard, I suppose, but it is supposed to reflect the euphoric notion of getting it all.”
The kind of conscious protest music that Parquet Courts have crafted for Wide Awake! is certainly punk-infused in spirit, and it’s also refreshingly anchorless rock’n’roll. Produced by mastermind Danger Mouse, the band’s gritty, open-minded aesthetic is intact, with elements of almost every (good) genre signifier you can name: “Mari Gras Beads” evokes the contemporary country of the Sadies; the title track is a block party funk workout; and “Violence” has a breakdown with a synth line that Dr. Dre would contemplate copping and evokes the band’s recurring interest in hip-hop.
“I don’t know how much I buy into ‘human music’ or ‘machines’ as distinguishing factors,” Brown explains, when asked about the band’s penchant for employing eclectic production flavours. “They’re just tools, and when you use them the right way, they sound human and like music. When you misuse them, they sound contrived and more mechanical. But to use those kinds of tools, just like we’re using the internet to have this conversation, it’s still a human conversation.”
The discussion about humanity brings us back to “Total Football.” Brown views such a song as reflecting a sea change; even traditionally apolitical, entertainment-driven entities like say, the NFL, now have figures like Colin Kaepernick engaging peers and the general public to consider the potency of non-violent protest.
“He did a very brave thing, drawing attention to a pressing issue in our country — police brutality and violence against black people,” Brown says, of Kaepernick’s revolutionary stance. “It was an immensely successful protest; it gets people who aren’t engaged in such things to think about it. There was a backlash and he lost his job, but he took that responsibility and started a conversation, and I think it’s really important that people feel inspired by that.”
“It’s largely about this craving young people have to unite under something collectively,” Savage adds, reflecting upon both “Total Football” and other threads pulling Wide Awake! together. “It’s looking for a redefinition of autonomy, and not as it’s been emphasized in American culture typically. I think there’s a more nuanced version that can exist with collectivity that people are seeking.
“It’s nothing against Tom Brady as a person,” Savage clarifies. “It’s about what Tom Brady represents — the quarterback, the individual lone wolf, hyper-masculine male. It’s becoming harder and harder to find a sector of American society that you can truly be apolitical in. So, right now, football is being focused on because of Kaepernick, who’s the anti-Tom Brady. Brady represents the old guard.”
Wide Awake! is out May 18 Rough Trade.
Listen to this interview with Parquet Courts on Kreative Kontrol Apple Podcasts or below: