A current of anxiety crackles around the room. Fuelled up on coffee, and talking through bursts of shared laughter, the four members of Picture Parlour are standing in a Brighton photo studio, huddled together in a group hug. “Are you ready?”, their manager asks, motioning towards a speaker. The mastered version of their rollicking debut single, ‘Norwegian Wood’ (no, not a Beatles cover), has landed in the band’s inbox – and they are yet to hear it. Bassist Sian Lynch turns to face NME. “We’re a bit nervous to listen to this,” she says, bashfully. “It’s like, from this moment on, the band has finally become real for us.”
Lynch looks towards her bandmates, dramatising her indecisiveness for their amusement. It’s decided, eventually, that we’ll play Fleetwood Mac’s seminal ‘Rumours’ in its entirety instead – a formative album for a young band that is attracting attention both for an unabashed appreciation of their ‘70s heroes, while offering something genuinely new. Picture Parlour’s hesitation to listen to ‘Norwegian Wood’ this afternoon doubtless stems from the position they currently find themselves in: on the cusp of a breakthrough as they prepare to share the single with the world, a triumph of heart and ambition in a three-minute rock song.
Despite not having any material online prior to today (June 19), London-based Picture Parlour have fast become one of Britain’s most talked-about new acts. Led by an ‘if you know, you know’ attitude amongst new music fans, each move that they have plotted in the past six months seems to have been geared towards their gigs. They are fronted by Katherine Parlour, a dynamic performer with a snarling and distinctive croon – the culmination of years of self-taught vocal training, and a hunger to perfect her delivery. The band, completed by Lynch, guitarist Ella Risi and drummer Michael Nash, reinvigorate well-worn influences –‘Humbug’-era Arctic Monkeys; early St. Vincent – by filtering them through with a new panache, bringing a heady, youthful take on classic rock into focus for 2023.
It’s been a wild few months, Parlour acknowledges. With Risi at her side – who is proudly carrying a Picture Parlour tote bag – we meet in a quiet, gleaming coffee shop the day after the band’s photoshoot for The Cover, NME’s commitment to exclusively spotlight emerging and rising artists across the globe on a weekly basis.
“It’s like we’re in the middle of a perfect storm,” says Parlour. “Whenever we have played live shows, ‘Norwegian Wood’ is the song that we talk about when we all come offstage; we are always like, ‘Wow, that one was really special.’” Risi jumps in: “Playing live is a massive part of who we are. We’ve gigged so much, and embraced the reception to [‘Norwegian Wood’] so many times now that it felt like the obvious choice.”
Risi orders a strawberry-flavoured lemonade and eyes her phone for messages, explaining, apologetically, just how much the band have on at the moment. Beyond the release of their debut single, they are gearing up for festival appearances across the UK, starting with an oversubscribed show at Brighton’s Unbarred Brewery – for which punters end up standing outside of the venue’s glass windows just to catch a glimpse of Picture Parlour. “If there’s a ‘buzz’ around us as a band, then we’ll keep it going,” Parlour says firmly. “We’re sitting with NME right now. That’s massive for us. We’ve worked really hard for this – and this is just the beginning.”
Just six months ago, Picture Parlour were psyching themselves up to take the stage at south London’s premier independent venue, The Windmill, for their first-ever gig. The 150-capacity venue is written into UK guitar music lore, having played a pivotal role in launching the careers of Shame, Black Midi and Squid, and continues to promote emerging bands with its weekly gigs. “Towards the end of last year, The Windmill put us on a Friday night slot,” Parlour says, picking up the story; her Scouse accent sharpens and accelerates as she speaks with excitement. “And afterwards, people were like, ‘Fuck off, that wasn’t your first gig!’”
She continues: “We had to ask [promoter] Tim [Perry] if that was a normal reaction to shows at The Windmill. He told us it wasn’t – and immediately invited us back to play the following week.” Risi adds: “We had been rehearsing for so long before that show as we didn’t want to embarrass ourselves,” she says. “We said, ‘We cannot play this show unless we practise. We have one shot at this.”
A handful of audience members at that fateful gig filmed Picture Parlour’s set on their smartphones. With a total lack of music available across streaming services at the time, they could readily listen to the songs at home; others chose to upload footage to YouTube, which gave the band a significant boost of exposure. Former NME Icon Award winner Courtney Love even shared a live recording of Picture Parlour to her Instagram story earlier this year, praising the quartet’s “songs and swagger”. Risi giddily holds up a screenshot of the post as she talks: “It gives me a lump in my throat when I think about the fact that a legend knows who we are.”
“I honestly couldn’t care less about answering people’s expectations. I know that we’re legit” – Katherine Parlour
One reason the band may already be resonating strongly with rock fans is their determinedly DIY approach so far. Parlour and Risi met while studying philosophy and music respectively in Manchester, having previously been part of other various bands and projects. Yet Risi was the only woman in her class of guitar players – and was often made subject to patronising comments from her peers. In an industry that continues to sneer at emerging female-identifying acts – Panic Shack and The Last Dinner Party have both been subject to unsolicited critique online in recent months – this is, sadly, not uncommon. “It was just so nice to be playing with another woman that really got me,” Risi says of meeting Parlour. “I’ve never heard anyone sing like her before. We could just be our authentic selves around each other – it was one of the first times I felt seen.”
Parlour adds that the band felt like “a last chance saloon” for the pair; they started out as a duo, before meeting Lynch and Nash last summer via a Facebook community page for fellow young musicians. Without any financial backing, they had to ensure any personal funds spent on rehearsal spaces always resulted in new material, meaning they work on multiple songs at a time; Lynch, meanwhile, still holds a full-time contracts manager role. The fervour around their early live shows, however, has led to Picture Parlour landing a deal with the same management agency as Wet Leg, and though they are currently unsigned, the record deal offers have recently started to flood in. They’ve also been booked for some major festival slots, including BST Hyde Park with Bruce Springsteen next month, and Live At Leeds in October.
It’s perhaps the speed in which Picture Parlour have emerged that has given them an old-school mentality. “It’s so funny to me when industry [execs] come to gigs to see if the ‘hype’ around us is real,” Parlour says, gently rubbing her face and sighing. “It is real. Come and watch us play, and you’ll find out. I’m very confident in our ability as a band, because the one thing we’ve got is sincerity.”
Parlour’s steadfast commitment to proving Picture Parlour’s worth is admirable. Though when conversation steers back to ‘Norwegian Wood’, she allows her piercing green eyes to drift away to some middle distance. Her nerves suddenly feel palpable. “We all go through it, where you feel like you’re drowning and you need to take a step back and think, ‘OK. I have to stop here’”, she says, describing the meaning behind the song. A coffee machine suddenly begins to rattle loudly over our conversation, allowing Parlour to savour a moment of silence. Saved by the bell, it seems.
Risi looks over at her bandmate. “When I persuaded you to play the song to me, I understood that the lyrics had come from a really special place,” she says. Parlour nods, and repeats a line back to us: “I’m not sure I know my body yet”, which, on record, serves as a prelude to a roaring crescendo. “Sometimes you write a song that comes from a place you don’t really understand,” she explains, with some hesitation. “It felt important to get that truth on the page and then communicate it with the band.”
Parlour has previously been on her own self-esteem journey as a teenage footballer; she trained with an Everton youth team before transferring all of her energy into music. Increasingly, then, she has come to realise that fostering an honest relationship with her bandmates is what matters to her. This became especially clear as Picture Parlour began to work on more unreleased material together, pairing a vintage aesthetic with enigmatic songwriting that poses but purposefully doesn’t solve riddles. “Beyond the music, the way I dress is super important to me,” she says. “It allows me to leave the house and look people in the eye – it’s all about taking the day by storm.”
A few hours later, at the Unbarred Brewery, a busy and colourful craft beer bar teeming with gig-goers, Parlour is surprisingly invisible for someone donning split-dye hair, heeled loafers, and an oversized blue blazer. As she slowly snakes through the crowd outside the venue, a rush of brolly-ruining wind threatens to unravel her green necktie. But if one thing is for certain, it is that the time when she can pass unnoticed is swiftly drawing to a close.
“I honestly couldn’t care less about answering people’s expectations. I know that we’re legit,” she says shortly before the band take to the stage, allowing that inner confidence to shine through once more. “There’s always a hill that you have to climb, right? But I fucking love the challenge. Bring it on.”
Picture Parlour’s debut single ‘Norwegian Wood’ is out now
Writer: Sophie Williams
Photographer: Garry Jones