This interview is a special one, and a bit more informal than most on account of the fact that Sean and I used to work together at the Brooklyn office of a magazine whose name rhymes with RICE. One of the last times I saw Sean was outside of RICE. I was standing up against a wall smoking a cigarette and he was exiting the building, having just finished his last day of work before embarking on a new life, sans day job, 100% bassist for Parquet Courts, which wasn’t as big of a band then, but is now almost as hugely popular as RICE itself. This was about three years ago.
Since that time, the band has released two full-length albums, Sunbathing Animals and Content Nausea (under the name Parkay Quarts); a live album called Live at Third Man Records; are on the brink of releasing an EP called Monastic Living on November 27th via Rough Trade Records; and are currently recording new material in a haunted church in the woods. Oh, and Sean got married, had a baby, and the band performed on David Letterman too. NO BIG DEAL. Sean has also returned to RICE, but on a much smaller scale, editing the album reviews in the print mag. His plan to focus primarily on his band, and now, his new family, is cemented.
What do you think about the act of “being interviewed” as a whole, and how that somehow came to be such a large part of playing music?
Sean Yeaton: Interesting question, Kelly. I guess I’ve done my fair share of interviews for the band. I even did one in French once, but that was crazy and I’d actually be pretty interested to see what the fuck I said. It probably wound up in the garbage someplace but I tried, goddamn it! I don’t think an awful lot about the act of being interviewed but I do think it’s odd the more I dwell on it at this exact moment. I’ve played the role of both musician being interviewed and interviewer interviewing musician, so maybe I have an unnecessarily complex opinion about being interviewed. Firstly, most people have probably stopped reading my answer to this question because I’m just rambling on with no clear sign of when I might stop or make a point. When I put myself in your shoes, I remember that being kind of annoying like, “what’s the point already?” or “can I use any of this in my piece?” On the other hand, as a musician, my job is to play music and put on a show for you because you paid to get in and you expect something from me. In this role as musician, it’s not really my job to do interviews, it’s more like an extracurricular activity that could help me or hurt me, depending on how seriously I take it. That was what being in this band was like when writing was my day job.
I recently asked your publicist, Sam, for a download of the band’s latest release, Monastic Living, and he wouldn’t give it to me. What are some of your favorite things about this album, since I can’t hear it for myself to pick my own?
This collection of songs is a lot different than anything we’ve ever done before. At this point, I’d say I only know a little more than you do. We recorded our asses off in a way that I’m really proud of. We’re a band that is always in some stage of writing, recording, or touring and I think that our most recent session was the most extreme blending of those three facets of our existence.
You’re playing in New Orleans early this month, which leads me to wonder this: what is your favorite thing about Anne Rice?
I know Anne Rice likes to snack on brie and macadamia nuts while she writes, which I like because she obviously doesn’t give a shit if she has brie and macadamia nuts gunking up her laptop, rendering some of the important keys like “a” and “delete” completely useless. We’ve never even played in New Orleans before, so that show, in particular, is really something I’m looking forward to. I know we all are, actually!
You recently revealed to me that you’re in the process of recording your next album in a haunted church in the woods. Can you tell me every possible spooky detail you can recall about that?
The spookiest detail I can recall at this juncture is pretty crazy, actually! So basically, one night we were working late in the studio or writing. One or the other but it was late and all of a sudden out of nowhere a Breeders song that The Breeders had recorded at the same studio started playing over the speakers in the control room. It made no sense at all because the computer wasn’t set up to play music off the control room speakers—not that we had the song cued up anyway—and even though we were using the tape machine to record, we brought our own tape to the session so it wouldn’t have been like, bleed or whatever from when The Breeders recorded there… there is no explanation for it at all! I took it as a good sign because I love The Breeders! Maybe the ghosts in the place were trying to be pretentious dicks about it and like, tell us we sounded like The Breeders? Whatever, ghosts, I take it as a compliment!
Sometimes your band goes by Parquet Courts and then sometimes it goes by ParkayQuarts. Can you tell me why?
Well, no. Not really. I mean, in a way, yes. I can tell you that we have for sure released a couple of records under each name respectively (though one release used a ‘z’ at the end now that I think of it) and that it makes total sense that people are flummoxed by our little dalliance with homophones. To be completely honest, I haven’t got a straight answer for you and I’m not confident that one exists. The closest I can come to giving a definitive answer is that we like to have fun.
You had a day job at some point. I know this, because I worked with you at that day job. You made the decision to leave the humdrum working world to focus on your music career, and that seems to have worked out very well. Were there some rocky moments between leaving your job and the shitload of success that you have now?
What’s even more insane is that I kind of still work for this place you mention and I kind of actually have one of the jobs you had there when we met. I think you did it a lot better than I do though. There were definitely some rocky moments making the transition, and those rocky moments rear their jagged little heads from inopportune time-to-time, still. When I initially moved to New York after college, I had been in a band that toured a lot for a few years. We were able to tour the U.S. many times and even make our way to Europe and Australia. In hindsight, it was a completely different experience than what I’m doing with Parquet Courts but I had felt, at the time, that I was ready to move on and pursue a career in writing, which has always been a passion of mine. How I was able to land a job at an actual magazine without a degree in journalism is either an unmistakable symptom of my own delusions or total luck. But I still played music all the time as an outlet, I guess, and I’d be completely full of shit if I said it wasn’t thrilling to have an opportunity to earn a decent living making music. It was also really scary because I was aware of how lucky I was to have the job I had in the first place, and aware that there were plenty of people who were more qualified to do it and could replace me, probably for less money than I was making—actually, almost certainly. Okay, definitely.
When I went on my first-ever tour with Parquet Courts, I had to use my entire year’s worth of combined vacation days and sick days to do it and also sort of suggest that I’d never do it again since it was such a massive show of faith that I was encouraged by my editors and bosses to give it a whirl. On some level, I really did think it would be the only time it’d happen. We weren’t particularly well known when we left on our first tour and we played a lot of basements and empty bars at first. By the time I got home, I knew I had to choose between the desk job or the band, which came as a shock to everyone, including the other guys in the band. I also used every dime I personally made on that tour to buy a modest engagement ring for my now-wife, who has put up with her fair share of bullshit and was, more or less overnight, bound to an unexpected, unpredictable schedule of constant touring, which was a complete 180 from what we were used to. I can’t explain how grateful I am that she didn’t just dump my ass as soon as the words “band” and “job” were used interchangeably in a sentence leaving my mouth.
If you ever had to go back to having a day job, what would be your fantasy day job?
Fantasy day job, eh? I really love spending time in the studio. It’s easily my favorite aspect of being in a band and always has been. When I see people who have transitioned from being touring musicians to spending the bulk of their time in the studio working on a range of uniquely challenging projects, I think to myself that I want to wind up where they are someday. Working on film and TV scores on top of personal projects or collaborations with others seems like a dreamy way to pay the bills, and being able to spend more time at home with family, while still being able to make music regularly sounds amazing to me. Maybe someday!
You seem to really like people, and performing in public, which is something I cannot personally comprehend. What sort of fulfillment do you get from being part of the team-like atmosphere that a band brings?
[laughs] I get a lot of fulfillment out of the whole process from writing to recording to playing live. I’m not sure exactly how to articulate why that is in any kind of precise way but I guess since I was a kid playing art spaces and basements and drawing inspiration from my peers and idols, I’ve always hoped to be able to communicate something to people in a way that utilizes loud, annoying sounds as well as more dynamic, pretty sounds. Over the course of my varied attempts at this, I’ve seen it go horribly wrong and beautifully right. The first few times that it was really wrong sucked so much and were really disheartening, but I couldn’t stop doing it anyway. One
time, on my first band’s first-ever tour, when I was still a teenager, I overheard someone at one of our shows describe us as sounding like “The Locust, but shitty,” which, if you’re familiar with The Locust, was like, the most deriding insult I could fathom at the time [laughs]. With Parquet Courts, there are definitely some shows that don’t go as well as others and it’s not like we have our “thing ” down to a science, but it’s by far the least amount of pressure I’ve put on myself to “prove myself ” in any capacity and just try to have fun. Not that I put much thought into it at all but while we’re on the subject, Parquet Courts, like any band I’ve been in, started as an excuse to hang out with my friends and have fun doing something we collectively enjoy doing. I think that energy is still there with us when we play live and that we haven’t become jaded or whatever but who knows, there’s gotta be some people out there spouting vitriol about us at this point—that means we made it though, right!?
You have a baby and a wife now. I’ve seen them on the internet. Here comes the question that every woman in a band is asked: how do you juggle family life with the pursuit of your financial and creative endeavors?
I juggle them as delicately as possible, like the way someone who can juggle chainsaws probably practices with a few blunt objects that resemble chainsaws but can’t kill you before they gas up and head to try-out day at the circus. I’m grateful that when I’m not on tour or recording that I can give 100 percent of my time to my family. There are times when it seems like it would be way easier if I had a nine-to-five so that there wasn’t as much pressure to map my personal life out months in advance. Being a musician for a living puts a lot of stress on my family that they didn’t necessarily ask for and missing out on milestones my son makes truly sucks. My family is incredibly supportive of me and they know it’s something I feel passionately about, which I try not to ever take for granted. When I’m in dad mode at home, I try to go the extra mile and fill every minute with fun activities that I wouldn’t be able to do with a nine-to-five schedule. There’s no telling how long this wild ride might possibly last, which is another factor I let ruminate in my mind and I want my family to know that it’s good to pursue your dreams as long as you don’t take other people for granted or screw up your life to do so. If this all came to an end tomorrow, I wouldn’t want my family to think I failed, and I’d want them to feel just as able to go after their dreams knowing I’d support them 100 percent because they supported me.
Parquet Courts will be at One Eyed Jacks on Monday, November 9th. For more info, check out parquetcourts.wordpress.com