Parenthetical Girls is an experimental pop band from Portland, Oregon.
What's the Parenthetical Girls story? How did you come about?
Zac Pennington: The narrative arc of Parenthetical Girls is long, complicated, and not particularly interesting, to be honest with you. In brief: I am the only original member of a group that probably should have broken up at any number of definitive collapsing points. This suggests perhaps that I am not particularly easy to work with.
The line up as it stands presently—that of Rachael Jensen (keyboardist, violinist), Jherek Bischoff (arranger, producer), and myself—is the latest configuration in a long line of awkward departures and disintegrations that have occurred over the last six or so years. We've managed to make a few records over the course of this chasmal expanse, most of which have been self-released on a vanity label that I operated called Slender Means Society.
Your music has that "experimental" label attached to it. What do you attribute that to?
Though it's a flattering adjective, and one that we're guilty of using for some kind of shorthand ourselves, but it's not particularly accurate. We do draw inspiration from things that are often regarded as "experimental," but nothing we've ever made has really been the result of any kind of experiment. Maybe I'm being too literal. We think of our music as hyphen-free Pop. I think that some people have a difficult time wrapping their heads around that idea, either because they see Pop as some sort of derogatory term, or define the dimensions of the term a lot more rigidly than we do. It's also entirely possible that we're just abject failures at what we do, though—and that "experimental pop music" is just another way of saying "pop music that's bad at being pop music." This is a thought that haunts.
You are a big Brian Eno fans, what is it about his music that influences you?
Eno's ideas about sound processes and the role of the musician in music are both definite touchstones of my musical understanding, but I think more than anything it's his approach to space and atmosphere on his earliest pop works that I've found so inspiring. His presence on the Roxy records—and particularly his '70s pop albums—have pretty much informed everything we've ever done. For better or worse.
What outside of the music world inspires you?
Film, self-contempt, and death.
Parenthetical Girls has released three Christmas themed albums, what started that idea? Do you have a favorite Christmas album that kind of inspired you to do this?
I'm still a sucker for empty goodwill. Though I've sort of exhausted my patience for it at this point, I spent some years of my life as an avid collector of one-off Christmas-themed cash-ins, and have always had something of a weird obsession with the disposable/perennial dichotomy of popular Christmas music—the way a song as seemingly tossed of as Wham!'s "Last Christmas" is still part of our holiday lexicon a quarter-century on. This is mostly all just hollow justification to make myself feel better for still being sort of moved Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You."
I do have a favorite Christmas album (A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector, naturally), but what really inspired the semi-yearly Christmas releases were The Beatles' relatively obscure holiday singles, which were for the most part little-heard, charmingly indulgent fan club exclusives.
I think admitting you are moved by Mariah Carey is getting more and more socially acceptable. Somewhere along the line, pop music became cool again. Do you think there is any particular reason for that?
Being moved by Mariah Carey is one thing—Mimi is my girl—but being moved by "All I Want For Christmas Is You" is another thing altogether. It's a strange and wide issue, but the cynic in me thinks that the social acceptability of contemporary R&B, Hip Hop, and Pop music amongst the same privileged white audiences that would have at one point probably shunned it is largely reactionary—a means to further assert one's broadness of taste by projecting it beyond conventional norms of artistic credibility. More optimistically: I would hope that as indie rock music has become consistently more regressive and self-consumed/ing, it's just become more apparent to people how inherently forward-thinking and interesting a lot of contemporary pop music is by design.
None of this really explains my affection for Taylor Swift, however.
What's on tap for 2010?
A lot, strangely. We've begun work on what is for us a fairly ambitious project: the quarterly self-release of a series of five limited edition 12" EPs that will become our new record, Privilege. The first will be coming out on February 23rd. We're also performing in—and working on a series of songs for—a collaboration with an experimental theater company called Implied Violence, which will premiere this Spring in Austria. This will hopefully be followed by some touring as well. It's all a little daunting when I write it out like that.
Parenthetical Girls Interview