Parquet Courts: How a ’70s football tactic influenced their best album yet

At the 1974 World Cup in Mexico, the Dutch football team gave the ultimate showcase of their brand of the beautiful game. Coined ‘Total Football’, the idea was simple: no one part is bigger than the sum of the team. Each player was able to fill the role of any position, creating a fluid style of play and collective responsibility among all outfield players. It was so successful, it took them to the final of the whole bloody tournament. Gareth Southgate, are you listening?

Parquet Courts’ new album ‘Wide Awake’ was so influenced by their love of the game – and the collective ideal on pitch, they named their new album’s opening song after it. ‘Total Football’ doesn’t act in isolation on their sixth record, which is out today. The title track, ‘Wide Awake’ is acutely aware of American society’s role to stop it sleepwalking towards the abyss, while ‘Before the Water Gets Too High’ tackles the legacy we leave on the planet – “In whose throat belongs the swan song of crisis, warming, denial, change?” The Brooklyn-based band are happy to switch roles, but ‘Wide Awake’ sees them up top, leading the charge.

We caught up with lead vocalists Andrew Savage and Austin Brown to talk about working with Danger Mouse, how to inspire hope in times like these and NFL Quarterback Tom Brady.

Talk us through why ‘Total Football’ was a big inspiration when you were making this record.

Savage: That is where the ideological springboard for the song comes from, the Total Football theory. But it’s more about this kind of new energy that I think is happening in America where young people are starting to have more of an inclination towards collectivism and less of the kind of hyper-masculine super individual cliché that America has emphasised that is rejected in the last line of the song, “Fuck Tom Brady”, you know. It’s about people’s desire to be together and stand for something ideologically.

What’s your beef with Tom Brady?

Savage: It’s less about him as a person. I don’t hate Tom Brady as an individual. He, in the context of that song, is an archetype for something that is becoming a bit tired in that people are starting to reject. There’s ‘Tom Brady the player’ which is unpopular because he plays for the New England Patriots which is like a powerhouse team but then there’s ‘Tom Brady the symbol’, which is what I’m talking about. The lone wolf, alpha male, quarterback idea of traditional independent American masculinity that we are all rejecting in that song. It’s Tom Brady the concept. Every sport has their Tom Brady; every civilization has their Tom Brady.

Why did you settle on the name ‘Wide Awake!’ for the album?

Brown: There’s kind of a new energy that’s happening with people, I hope a sign of better things to come. It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek but also serves an important purpose on the record, which I think at times can be a bit gloomy. So it sits on a spectrum of emotion and energy on the end of optimism, rather than pessimism.

Are you optimistic people?

Savage: I think in order to be an American you just kind of have to be. It’s all we have right now. Everyone is so scared and doesn’t know what to expect so I guess it’s either optimism or pure pessimism or nihilism.

The response to political uncertainty by the arts community has been united. Is that an important thing to be a part of?

Brown: There’s kind of like a dark cloud hanging over people’s daily lives at the moment and you can find a lot of solace and peace but also joy and happiness in being with a group of people that you can kind of tune out the ugliness of the world. I think the idea of being present and being a part of something bigger than yourself is less lonely and you make it through a culturally dark time together.

Savage: I do spend time listening to the radio and I do check news sites. You want to be engaged, I’m not trying to just ignore reality because of how grim it is right now. Even if it makes you feel like shit, which it often does, I still think it’s important to be aware of what’s going on. I want people to know what Parquet Courts stood for during this time.

Danger Mouse produced the record with you guys and it’s the first time you’ve ever had an outside hand producing your work. Did it feel weird to have someone new with you in there at first?

Brown: It didn’t feel weird. I think there was some apprehension that we had about the idea of working with any producer and one of those would be someone who would try and come in and control things and want you to do things in a certain way that would make you feel uncomfortable. I think we had more ideas about what we didn’t want, than what we did want.

I think he brought to the table a really great sense of rhythm, it’s a very rhythmic-forward record that we were planning on making. And his wealth of knowledge of music is vast and there wouldn’t be any sort of concept for a song that we could float past somewhere and he wouldn’t be, “I’ve never heard of that” or something. He brought that extra 10% that maybe we wouldn’t have had otherwise. It ended up feeling really natural having him around and having him guide us to reach the place that we were aiming for.

Did you expect or hope for these kind of collaborations when you were first starting out?

Savage: Of course not, how can you expect that 8 years in advance. We didn’t expect anything really, we expected to put out a record and go on tour. But no, of course not. I don’t even know if I would’ve expected that last year. I guess one thing I’ve learned is that, I don’t know if I ever really had any expectations in Parquet Courts. I think bands that have these expectations are always going to be disappointed and I think we’ve been really lucky but also part of that has come from maybe we don’t take ourselves all to seriously, even though we are serious about what we do. We don’t have really lofty ambitions other than we can be the best artists that we can be.

Parquet Courts’ new album ‘Wide Awake’ is out now