Parenthetical Girls of Portland, Ore. specializes in complex, baroque-influenced pop. Its latest project, Privilege, was released in a series of EPs that, pieced together and abridged, made a complete album. Singer and songwriter Zac Pennington spoke with staff writer Bo McMillan about the blood, sweat and tears of Privilege.
Diversions: Why did you release Privilege as EPs first?
Zac Pennington: Well, we released this album a few years ago called Entanglements, and after having released a series of records on our own, we decided to take the lead rather than go to a more traditional means of production and distribution.
We were dissatisfied with the way things came out, not because of the label, but that method just didn’t seem to fit the way we did things. I didn’t want to wait until we could put another release out, and it takes so long to make things that I can’t feel the energy anyways.
Dive: So the album works as a series that eventually leads up to a product as a whole?
ZP: Yeah. When we were making albums in the past that was it — we were writing and recording an album. There’s a certain kind of united voice that ends up happening when you’re writing for this bigger thing, this bigger idea. I think on the previous recordings I was leaning a lot on the arc and narrative of an album rather than the individual pieces, and I wanted us to have a series of songs that could stand on their own, regardless of the arc.
I wanted them to be strong and robust of themselves. Then the narrative thread kind of organically formed over the course of the whole thing.
Dive: Has your songwriting process been that way too?
ZP: Yeah, and I think it’s a lot harder for me to do that, but I feel a lot better about it when it succeeds. My hope was that we’d make something where the result wasn’t greater than the sum of its parts — I didn’t want the Ringo song or anything.
Dive: Does the band’s structured music make it more rigid when you perform?
ZP: I know what you mean, and that was initially a real difficulty with Parenthetical Girls. A lot of the bands that I really like are very boring to watch live, mainly because of that idea. Thoughtful pop music is very tedious to watch live, so there’s a difference between the recorded music and our live show.
The music stays relatively rigid, but there’s a performing aspect of it that’s not suggested in the albums proper. Sonically, the shows don’t change much, but the performance changes dramatically depending on the environment.
Dive: The limited-edition EPs of Privilege literally have the band members’ blood on them. Is that an extension of the visceral and sexual ideas behind songs?
ZP: I think a lot of the songs on this album and on our previous albums deal a lot with the corporeal reality of being human — that’s a fascination of mine. The idea of having the blood on the record wasn’t necessarily a narrative connection, I just have creepy preoccupations with gross body stuff. We tried to make these things as over-the-top fetishized as we possibly could. I think blood on the record was about as far as we could go with that.
Parenthetical Girls perform tonight at Local 506 at 9 p.m. with Cassis Orange, tickets are $8.
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