Thursday, June 23, 2011
I'm Still Fond of You: An Interview with Zac Pennington of Parenthetical Girls (Part II)
The second and final part of my interview with Zac Pennington of the ever awesome Parenthetical Girls. Here we dive into his upcoming new musical ventures, how he was convinced to appear and act on Portlandia, and the deeper purpose of both "The Pornographer" video and the band's discography.
The Creative Intersection: Has the process of creating Privilege differed or evolved from the way you originally planned for it to turn out? Like, you said you wanted the entire project to be completed in fifteen months, right?
Zac Pennington: Yeah, we did want that (laughs). We set up these sort of arbitrary confines, like “it’s going to be five records” for no reason what so ever just other than it’s going to be five records and “it’s going to be done in fifteen months” which is really impractical and not really thought out in terms of time line. Mostly because the process we work with is pretty much myself and Jherek (Bischoff) working on these recordings, and Jherek is busy with a million other projects, so ultimately it all depends on our schedules lining up. However, every time we work on it I feel it comes very quickly, it’s just he more than me is kind of unable to devote as much time to it as it would be necessary to make it come out as quickly as possible. The process has been weirdly organic in a way that nothing we’ve ever made has been, and I feel the working relationship Jherek and I have now is better than it’s ever been. I know that sounds really trite, but it’s actually true, things are working pretty well.
It’s a weird experiment, and in some ways it’s failed and in some ways it’s succeeded. Initially the idea was to be able to keep releasing things in a way that could the whole Parenthetical Girls project sustainable because of the practical matters of not being able to tour and...not that we’re challenging the idea of the album, but I feel like the way most media works. It still works around the notion of album as the definitive statement, so it’s been interesting to hear how people have responded to this project more than anything I think.
TCI: Have your non-Parenthetical Girls projects played a role in the way the music? For instance, you did a very extravagant play in Austria with an experimental theater trope?
ZP: Yeah, we did a theater piece with this group called Implied Silence that I think went relatively well. It was apparently big, and we made a bunch of music for it that I don’t know will actually come out. One of the songs we recorded from the piece in a different form for a seven inch that we released on Tomlab this year. Other than that though I don’t know if it will ever come out in anyway. In some ways that project, and some other things I’ve been working on, have allowed me to focus on what I want Parenthetical Girls to be. Because essentially Parenthetical Girls has always been a pretty open environment. We don’t really have a specific sound that we are aiming for, or we don’t feel people have that expectations about how we’re going to sound. It’s ultimately up to us, and where our whim are. But doing that Austrian show, which was really grand, ambitious, more orchestral than anything else, I was sort of really able to stream line and get down to a really different kind of Parenthetical Girls then we’ve had before.
TCI: When you say other projects, you mean Crying with Freddy Ruppert and Gareth from Los Campesinos! right?
ZP: Yeah, that’s one project I’ve been working on...
TCI: How’s that coming along?
ZP: Slowly. Gareth has been very busy with Los Campesinos! stuff, and we kind of lost touch after a while, but he finally got back in touch and finally announced his attention to be a part of this project. I’ve got a bunch of songs for it, but nothing that’s been finished, but we’ve committed to finishing a record by the end of the year, to ourselves. I’m very, very excited about it. I really love both those guys a lot, and I think the project been really fun. I’ve also been working on this project with my very good friend Claudia Meza who use to be in group called Explode into Color, who are no long but were a Kill Rock Stars band for a bit and we’ve been working on a new project for a bit that will hopefully get out sooner rather than later.
TCI: I adore Explode into Color, and would love to hear whatever come out of that collaboration.
ZP: Yeah, I’m excited about. Presently, we’re debating what we’re going to call the thing, but we’ve been working on it for some months now. Actually, it’s Claudia and I, and a man named Joe Kelly, who was the drummer for another Kill Rock Stars band Panther and was in another band called 31 Knot, years and years ago. I hope that we’ll be able to start playing some show really soon.
TCI: Wonderful. I’m debating which of these I should ask first...You were in Portlandia were you not?
ZP: Yes I was.
TCI: How did that happen, and how did they convince you to piss yourself on TV?
ZP: Well, that’s a good question. (Laughing) Portlandia happened...strangely it was a totally random circumstance. I ran into a guy who was doing casting for the show, who was neighbor of a friend of mine and he asked if I wanted to do it. I know Carrie Brownstiene, so I went in and did a day’s work. I kind of expected nothing to come of it, and so I’m under a subtle pressure to do this gag, and...I don’t know how I was convinced to do it. It was incredibly humiliating to wet yourself multiple times in front of a large group of people, and ultimately the nation. I’m going to say I regret doing it, if only because the only major thing that is really embarrassing about it was that I’ve had more people talk to me about doing that show and pissing myself for two seconds than I’ve had anything, collectively, in my entire life.
TCI: (Laughing), I’m so sorry.
ZP: No, it’s funny. It’s really funny. (Both of us laughing) It was really an honor for me.
TCI: OK, final question. What was the inspiration, besides the song name, for “The Pornographer” video? That seems incredibly, I don’t know how to frame it, ballsy move to fuck or pretend to fuck on camera for a song. I mean, it’s part of your band to always go to whatever extremes to convey the art and pop in your music. But...did you come up with the idea or the director?
ZP: Well actually I directed it, so I did both. I had this idea...(laughs). This video is another thing that’s been a weird point of embarrassment, and pride, and contention in my life of late. I was kind exploring some of Andy Warhol’s movies because they kind of surfaced on the internet. Stuff I had read about and never actually seen. I was looking at a couple movies he made: Blowjob 1 and 2. It was a joke, like most of the things we do, but I don’t feel it reads as a joke to most people (laughs). Also, I’ve been kind of curious of this recent wave in the last year or two of “not safe for work” music videos. These music videos that...I wouldn’t say it’s a fad, but there’s been this tremendous push to this concept of sexually explicit music videos, or nude music videos, and they’ve been generally very attention getting. I thought it was really funny of independent musician as a contemporary pornographer, so I decided that the idea of taking that to the logical conclusion. For the most part there hasn’t been videos were in the actual performers are engaging in this “not safe for work” behavior, and I thought that was kind of a challenge.
TCI: You honestly view your music as an inside joke, because I think anyone looking in would view you as one of the most...not serious but conscious and detailed mind with your music. It seems like you view it not as jokes, but as art if you understand what I’m trying to say.
ZP: No, I know what you mean. I wouldn’t go so far as to say...I certainly don’t think we’re doing anything disingenuously. I feel that it’s very important for me to do things that are serious, but not so serious to the point of...I don’t know. I feel there is this sort of difference between authenticity and integrity, and that in order to be a real artist/musician you have to be this certain kind of way. Generally, that kind of way is humorless, self-serious and smug. And I think there are a lot of people who maybe see what we do as being those things, but I feel like it’s the same thing as Leonard Cohen or Morrissey. I think there is this notion in both of those cases that there are these incredibly dower, smug, sad, and melancholy creators, but when you actually pay attention to the work they do there is a lot humor in what they do. And it kind of escapes a lot of people because it is presented in such a way that you have to dig for it. And I feel in terms of our visual ascetic, and the things we do with videos especially, most of those things have been fun and intended to be kind of humorous.
Also, a lot of the imagery for our records...to call them jokes is maybe going to far, but there is a winking, self-awareness to the absurdity to what we do. Like, (laughs) we know that putting my face on every record we put out pretty much is hilariously vein, and so we’ll make a record like Safe as Houses were that vanity is taken to the ridiculous extreme of like having sex with your self on the cover of your record. I feel like it’s essentially, we do things because we care about them and because they are important, but we also feel we have a sense of humor about things in a way that might not be immediately apparent to people.