Parenthetical Girls: Guilty of Association
Indie music, despite its many subgenres, is really nothing more than a fraternity: once you’re in, you’re in. Some bands become legacies simply through association – old friends in hometowns (every band on the Saddle Creek roster exemplifies this idea). The key to success in this genre is networking. Zac Pennington, lead singer of Parenthetical Girls, knows this and plays the game well. Parenthetical Girls have clawed their way into indie media outlets such as Pitchfork and have played larger European festivals like Primavera Sound —using the pull of praise and association. Having their songs covered by the bands Casiotone For The Painfully Alone, Deerhoof and No Kids certainly helped. However, for the most part they’ve used their associations with The Dead Science and Xiu Xiu to get their name out there. Pennington is fully aware of his networking skills. “I know that a lot of people heard about us through Casiotone. A lot of people have heard about us [from] our loose associations with Xiu Xiu. I feel like most people come to us not on our terms, but on other peoples terms.” People are coming – and isn’t that what a fraternity is all about?
Parenthetical Girls (originally the Swastika Girls) started out in Everett, Washington in 2002. After having no luck in finding a label to release their debut, Pennington started his own, Slender Means Society. “It’s essentially a vanity label that I started to put out our first record,” Pennington says. After their first release, Christmas With Swastika Girls, they ditched their original name for their current and slightly wordier one. In 2004 they released their first full length (((GRRRLS))) with the help of The Dead Science’s Jherek Bischoff and Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart. Despite a relatively inconsistent line-up, the only constant being vocalist Zac Pennington, they have released three full-lengths and numerous EPs. Their newest album, Entanglements, was released on Tomlab. The move to a larger label has provided some relief despite Pennington’s control issues. “It was a lot easier to just handle everything myself than to rely on other people to do it—to allow other people to have input on the project,” he said. It was a lot easier to accept a minor loss of control for the financial support though it has become nearly impossible for SMS to recoup costs. “It was a relief not having to pay for everything,” Pennington says. And of course, Tomlab seemed the obvious choice with friends like The Blow, Final Fantasy and the other previously mentioned bands already signed.
In keeping up with the ‘fans by association’ publicity scheme he knows so well, Pennington tried to orchestrate an album made up entirely of friends covering their songs to promote Entanglements. “We started this somewhat crass commercial attempt to promote the record by having musician friends of ours do covers,” he said. “If people don’t like us, and they do like … say Deerhoof, which is probable, we can still have our album be promoted by having our friends in Deerhoof do a cool cover of our songs,” Pennington said. Unfortunately this plan fell through after only three of the enlisted bands (No Kids, Deerhoof and The Dead Science) came through with the cover tracks. Deerhoof’s cover of “Gut Symmetries” can be found on Itunes. The others are floating around the Internet somewhere. Pennington hopes for a future release of these covers (and possibly more) so they will end up as something more than “blog fodder.”
Last September, Parenthetical Girls released their third full-length album, Entanglements. Despite maintaining an outlandish songwriting style and overthe- top vocals, this album was a drastic change instrumentally. The songs have just changed from slightly minimalist pop-narratives to extremely orchestrated narratives. This was something that was in the works for years before finally getting around to production. “We had a plan to make a record like this for a long time … I didn’t feel really confident we could pull it off,” Pennington says. Even with the help of their new label, they still had a hard time crafting an album of this scale, but with the aid of about 25 of their slightly less prominent friends they made it happen. “We didn’t have a budget so it ended up being people donating their time,” he said. “We recorded a lot of stuff in people’s living rooms and weird basements throughout the few months that we were recording it.”
If you missed their SLC show last October like most people did, you must be wondering how this heavily orchestrated album will translate into a smaller venue like Kilby Court. “It’s just a shitload of keyboards,” Pennington said. He points out that it wouldn’t be very practical to play with a full orchestra at Kilby (I think that’s debatable). One thing that is to be expected from the show on March 15 is a grandiose performance from Pennington. The few people at the their previous appearance at Kilby were treated to quite the show, with Pennington leaving the main room and singing to them through the window. The upcoming show, (even though it’s on a Sunday) should have a bit more energy than the last, with the burgeoning fan base growing daily. With the help of their Northwestern Indie brethren, an extremely strong album and a new label, things seem very promising for Parenthetical Girls.