Parenthetical Girls' Zac Pennington Learned To Loathe Popular Music While a Music Journalist
It's not easy being beautiful. Just ask Zac Pennington, frontman of experimental pop group Parenthetical Girls, whose vocal strains fall halfway between Perfume Genius and Lightspeed Champion, complemented with the baroque pop stylings of Belle and Sebastian. Pennington, known for his gender-neutral lyrics and his Morrissey-borrowed wit, pens some brutally ambivalent lyrics focusing on lust, identity, and looking good.
We spoke to Pennington -- who's scheduled to stop by the Trunk Space on Saturday, March 9 -- on the phone for this week's issue but ended up with more good stuff than we could fit in print. Here are some choice Outtakes.
New Times: You live in Portland. Is the environment conducive for your music?
Zac Pennington: I guess as much as anywhere else. I'm able to do everything I need to do here in a way that's relatively affordable, which is the main thing that makes it conducive.
So I guess your original band name, Swastika Girls, didn't work out, even though it was a great reference to Brian Eno and Robert Fripp's No Pussyfooting. Did you get a lot of negative reactions to the name?
It wasn't a name for long enough to garner any attention one way or another. That was only the name for a couple of months.
You really made your last release [Privilege] pretty elaborate. Five EPs, released over 15 months, numbered in the blood of the band members. How did you come up with this idea?
The record that we did before Privilege was a record called Entanglements and in its own way, it was very involved process. I had grown weary of putting out albums in a traditional way and really wanted to be sure that we could release music in a more efficient way. We tend to take a really long time to make things, so I really wanted to use our time more deliberately and try to release as much stuff over a period of time instead of waiting a few years to get a record finished. The other aspect of putting the record out that way was mainly about making these items as rarified as we could. They were all released as a limited edition of 500 records each.
So all that was pragmatic to a certain extent, but the idea was trying to make these things as fetishistic as we could. Because it seems like records are increasingly fetishistic anyway. People buy them, wanting things that are very rarified. I'm really interested in that as someone who collects records. I understand that desire.
Do you have any cool records in your collection?
I guess I probably do. I'm not as active of a collector as I'd like to be because I don't have the disposable income to allow it. I've got some things I think are pretty fancy.
I wish I had known about the album release a long time ago. It would have almost been like a subscription. Do you think it went successfully?
About as successfully as it could have. We sold out of almost all of them. The fifth edition, we still have a handful of copies of, but yeah. I wish that hadn't taken as long as it did [15 months] that was the main failing, but aside from that I was very pleased with how everything came out.
Why blood? Was that anything to do with Wayne Coyne's Austin City Limits screen prints?
No, we actually did our thing way before that happened, I think. I think we beat him.
Well, it's not really a competition. I was just wondering if you were inspired by that. Because I think it's meaningful and useful. It's not like he can be the only one that can do that . . .
Yeah, no, I do think it's a competition and I think we won. [Laughs.]
For those that didn't get the five EPs, you released Privilege (Abridged). What are you missing by getting the shorter version?
The shortened version is shorter by about eight songs, eight songs that at this point are exclusive to those EPs and -- I think as far as I can see -- will remain that way. And then, the boxset, if one were to have the whole box set, there were a few other things: a large-scale booklet with all of the lyrics, a letterpress print, and stuff like that. But it's primarily the blood, I think. Not the music. It's the blood that you'll miss. [laughs.]
You were a music journalist at one time. Why did you quit?
I quit because I, well, mainly because I felt like it was a toxic job for me. It made me really loathe popular music because I had to write about it all the time, and I also felt like I was incredibly mean-spirited as a journalist. It made me feel like a bad person. [Laughs.]
I think being away from it has helped me have a much better relationship with music. Some people, I feel, are better at having a separation between being critical and having some positive relationship with music.
What did you do that made you feel bad?
It's interesting; in taking the music I make more seriously, it became sort of clear to me. I felt like it was my duty as a writer to be as critical as possible. I felt like that was my role. Not to say critical in that I would necessarily be totally negative or anything. Music journalism isn't about bolstering people as much it as about guiding. It's not about bolstering musicians as much as it is guiding an audience. Working at a weekly paper, as I'm sure you can sympathize with, you end up writing about a lot of stuff that doesn't necessarily interest you. And if you are a particularly negative person, it's very easy to get into a place where you equate being critical with just being brutally honest.
In my situation, I'm freelancing, so I don't really ever have to do stories I don't want to do. It's nice to get e-mails saying, "This person is coming to town." And I want to talk to them and just see what they're about. So, who was your favorite person to interview?
You know, I was a terrible interviewer. I was the worst because I would get really nervous and uncomfortable about it . . . I was just bad at my job. I was the music editor when I worked there, so I would assign all my interviews to other people. I did do interviews with people [on occasion], but my favorite person I ever interviewed wasn't a musician at all -- it was this film director named David Gordon Green. More recently, he directed more weird comedies like Pineapple Express. But he did a couple around the time when I interviewed him called George Washington and All The Real Girls. But anyway, I'm very sympathetic to interviewers.
I really dug the Yacht remix [of "The Pornographer"] on Noisey, even if it didn't prominently feature your vocals. What'd you think of it?
I really like it. I asked them to do it for us so I'm glad that they did it. I'm old friends with those guys. I've known them for years and years.
They did your song justice.
I feel like a lot of the time remixes are sorta pointless because they don't do something that merits its existence, but I really liked that.
Parenthetical Girls are scheduled to perform Saturday, March 9, at Trunk Space.
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