Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I'm Still Fond of You: An Interview with Zac Pennington of Parenthetical Girls (Part I)

Zac Pennington is a talker. This is meant in the best way possible. It means that in this interview I did with him, my longest and possibly most enjoyed, he manged to give context and shape to even the simplest questions that demanded even simpler answers. Here, split into two parts is the interview, where Pennington discusses band mates moving on, the concept and formation of the Privilege project, and why the album as a delivery system is not needed.

The Creative Intersection: The first question that springs to mind is what is it like now that Rachel (Jensen) is leaving the band?

Zac Pennington: It’s sort of been in the works for a while and only been officially been stated, but we’ve been dealing with it for a while. Presently we’re getting to play the first shows with this new group, and it’s seeming to be working out pretty well. Rachel’s way was very essential to the way the live band work for a long time, but for the most part she wasn’t that...essential to recording process, and the writing process, so we’ve been working on things this way for sometime without Rachel being...extremely...umm...

TCI: Crucial in studio presents?

ZP: Yeah, yeah. In terms of how the band operates, the only major difference is how the live band is going to work. That’s always changed pretty dramatically in short bursts of time. We’ve had a pretty heavy turnover so we’re pretty use to people coming and going.

TCI: I’m sure it must be a little bit different with how long Rachel has been with the band. I mean just a little.

ZP: Sure. No, it’s quite a bit different. I mean, practically speaking it’s not exceptionally different, but for the sake of the dynamic of the band it’s a lot different, and it feels like we’re starting the live band over again. Which is a exciting thing because I feel like it’s been a while since we’ve been super confident as a live band. We haven’t been playing a lot of live shows because it’s become more and more difficult schedule wise to do it with Rachel and other members of the band. At this point I feel like we are in a position were we can actually take playing live a little bit more seriously, and be more consistent with it then we have in the last year or so.

TCI: So you’ve been wanting to tour, it wasn’t the studio recording? I always assumed it was a concentration on recording Privilege that was holding you back from touring massively.

ZP: Well, it’s a number of factors. It’s mostly been personnel and getting to a place where we felt we had a consistent and reliable band, which we just haven’t had in a while. Essentially since Matt (Carlson) left some time ago we haven’t had a real consistent line up, so an opportunity to go on a tour, we would always have to scramble to figure something out. Because I don’t really play anything in the live band any more it ends up being a lot of focus and pressure on the people whom we get, and often time as such opportunities rise in such short order that we haven’t been able to capitalize on going on tour.

Ultimately, we haven’’s hard because the way the Privilege project works, because it’s not a full length album. Essentially the sort of cycle you have when you’re in a band, you put out a record, then you go on a few tours, and then put out another record. But because we don’t actually have a full-length coming out for a while, instead we are doing these sort of incremental things, there hasn’t been a real logical time to make it work.

TCI: But there was a consciences to do Privilege. In contrast with Entanglements, which was a sort of pinnacle work for you with you going leaps and bounds, working with all those classical musicians...

ZP: Mmmhhh...

TCI: Privilege is...not a step back, but a different path from that. You would think you would continue on, because the previous albums had been building to Entanglements, and now it is a step toward how those other albums sounded. I mean this obviously a concept that you’ve been considering and focusing. It’s very detailed: five EPs, four songs each, blood, the art work. It was very thought out wasn’t?

ZP: Yeah, these certain projects are...we always concentrate on making these cohesive statements in the way we make albums. We never sort of just write songs, we sit down and make a record. It’s not as if these songs organically arose and we put them on an album. So Privilege was in some ways a challenge to in some ways to try to do it a slightly different way, and try to focus more on songs than on the album. The whole kind of concept of the project is kind of based on object fetishism in some ways because I like making records and I like the process of making tangible work and so it’s exciting to be able to be in full control of that and make really ridiculous and narcissistic decisions about how were going to make these things (starts laughing).

Ultimately, the differences between Privilege and Entanglement I feel like Entanglements was more of a challenge to us and was a kind of logical conclusion that we came to, with every record sort of building in this weird grandeur. I feel like with Entanglements it reached it’s logical conclusion and there not anywhere to go from there. We can’t go any bigger than that, so we have to go slightly different and I feel like I’ve been more satisfied working on the Privilege project than I was with Entanglements, and feel a lot better with the way it is coming along. Entanglements is strange because it written over the course of a long time, but it was actually made in a fairly concise period, and so there was not a lot of room for playing around and because of way the recordings were arranged there wasn’t a lot of experimentation that could be incorporated....

TCI: Yeah, like the small ideas that pop into your head while your crafting a song in the studio.

ZP: Yeah, and were able to do some of that with Entanglements, but I usually find the things that are the surprising things the most awarding and there weren’t near enough of those with Entanglements because it’s just impractical to just play around with things the same way it is with something a little bit smaller.

TCI: You said part of enjoyment of Privilege was, as you said, that narcissistic joy of creating personal, your own thing. Is that why you decided to release the LPs through your own label Slender Means Society, your own personal label, as opposed to working with Tomlab again?

ZP: The reason we decided to do that was ultimately just to be practical because Tomlab had sort of slowed down when we started working with us. It was such an indulgent and expensive project to do Privilege that I didn’t really want...I wanted it to be this very specific way and that’s the way it is. I couldn’t really expect a label, Tomlab or any other, to be able to feel confident and comfortable putting out this very meticulous and kind of arcane project. We’re not making any money off of these records, and because they’re so limited there’s not any real chance for any real profit. The idea had occurred to me to have different labels put out each individual one. I just felt that I had done it before myself, and it seemed it would be easier to control the aesthetic and the specifics of the production. That’s not to say it would stop me from working with Tomlab again. Hopefully these records are going to be compiled in someway and released. We’re not really sure where it’s going to go yet, but we’re hopefully going to work with another label again.

TCI: Yeah, I was reading about that. Obviously, that was part of the original idea: we’ll create these five EPs and at the end we’ll compile the best or all of them. Was the idea of creating the LP series part of idea to be grand, so the simple fan can just purchase the compilation?

ZP: Right, there is some absurdity to this. (Laughing) It is especially absurd this idea of creating this box set of records and paying for it all yourself, as well as putting it out. Like I said before, there is this ridicules narcissism to that idea which I find kind of hilarious. Also, we took a long time to make Entanglements, from inception to completion. We are kind of slow at making things, and I really didn’t want to spend another year just putting together songs to make an album and it takes two years to come out. It’s kind of this hack thing, how strangely slowly these indie labels work in these really long term projects. It was more of a practical consideration of wanting to release stuff more readily and quickly.

I also feel with Entanglements a lot of the things people said about the record...they either said it out right or suggested that they didn’t have time with the thing, because it is a pretty dense record with it being so short. So the idea of kind of undermining the notion of the grand statement. The idea being that we would put out these smaller things that would be a little more digestible and also would allow use to release things more readily and also would make it so we would be able to work a little bit more on the fly than we have been in the past. I feel like part of the deal was the album seeming less and less relevant as also part of our consideration. I’m not as enthralled with a new record as often as I use to. I don’t feel like it is a real tragedy that the album format is kind of going away.

TCI: So you don’t, per say, support Record Store Day?

ZP: Oh no, no. Like I said the whole project of Privilege is making tangible things. It’s not so much the matter of the album as a tangible item as I mean as a unifying concept. I also like physical objects and so things like Record Store Day I’m glad people are still doing that, and there is support for the physical store. I don’t know, I guess the idea of putting out a forty-five minute thing, that is twelve to fifteen songs long just arbitrarily seems kind of like a dated idea. Music comes out in different ways now, and people relate to it in different ways now than that.

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