Artist Spotlight: PARLOUR TRICKS

posted by Dan Murphy on October 30, 2014

PARLOUR TRICKS at Hotel on Rivington; All photos by Laura Baker-Finch

 (formerly Lily & the Parlour Tricks) have established themselves as a New York City music scene staple over the last few years, recently winning the Village Voice's Best Pop Band of 2014 award. The band's sound adopts classic '60s three-part female vocal harmonies while embracing contemporary tones and recording techniques, leading Spotify to deem them "Vintage pop for the future."

When following PARLOUR TRICKS' trajectory, you'll notice their original sound was something grittier with more of the early-2000s garage- and blues-rock influences present, while they're current aesthetic is still challenging to the listener but in a far more accessible fashion. The group has found a groove in major-key tonality, expansive effects, and honest, catchy songwriting. 

Before we caught their incredible set at the Buzzchips + MyFreeConcert Official CMJ Showcase, we sat down with frontwoman Lily Claire (joined later by bassist Brian Kesley) to discuss the band's recent festival activity, the move towards pop music, the new "Lovesongs" music video posted below, and upcoming releases. 

First of all, happy CMJ! I know the band has played in past years, so how's it been going this year and how has it been different from previous years?

Lily Claire: It's been great! It's a really nice schedule for us this year, we usually overload and this time we decided to just play the few things that we were really, really excited about. We had two yesterday, the Paste Magazine showcase in the afternoon and then the Outlaw Roadshow which was really fun last night.

That's run by the Counting Crows guy (Adam Duritz)?

Lily: Yeah, he is so nice, he's the nicest dude. And then tonight we're playing and Buzzchips showcase. 

So you guys played Bonnaroo this year, what was that like?

Lily: That was one of the most fun shows we've ever played and one of the most lovely experiences overall that we've ever had. Everyone at that festival is so nice and relaxed given the circumstances. Everyone's really welcoming, it was refreshing. We're so used to doing everything and taking care of ourselves, and there was this attentiveness that we had never really experienced before. It was a treat, and the show was great and lots of fun.

CMJ is really a different beast than Bonnaroo, could you talk about the differences between the two, like camping versus the city setting? 

Lily: Well, we actually go back and forth from Nashville all the time, so we rented a house in Nashville and it's less than an hour drive. So we all went back - actually except for Brian who we left there one night and found the next day. Here [CMJ] is really nice for us because this is home and [we can] stay in our own bed - beds, we don't all sleep together, contrary to popular belief [laughs]. It's hectic, obviously, but it's also much more relaxing for us because we can actually go home and change in the middle of the day or take a shower, you know? There's a little more flexibility which is nice for us. To me, CMJ is mostly fun for the out of town bands to see more what the New York music scene is normally, because frankly, every night - on a normal night - in New York, you're going to have twenty fuckin' bands per venue per night. So this is actually not all that different - except for the daytime showcases - but overall, this is how it is. We played a show at Bowery Electric last night, and then an hour later a friend's band was playing, and then another friend's band was playing at a different venue an hour after that. That's actually how a normal week is for us. It's nice for other people to feel that, because I don't know if that's the case anywhere else. I feel like that's a unique New Yorker experience.

How long has the band been playing together? How did you guys get together?

Lily: I think we're calling it two years and change. We met in college and formed the band after college. Fell in love with each other, became a six-headed monster. That's about it.

[Enter bassist Brian Kesley]

One thing I've noticed about this band is that juxtaposition - I think the term everyone uses is "pretty and gritty" - that combination of really tight three-part vocal parts with dirty guitar and distorted bass and loud drums. How do the songs come together and how does that sound come about?

Lily: Well, I write for the band. We know each other now so well that when I'm writing, I'm able to think in each band member's voice. It get progressively easier to think, "Oh, Brian's gonna hate that, I'm not gonna put that in." But also, with that set of feelings comes the feeling, "Fuck it, let's see what happens," because everyone's comfortable saying, "No, that sucks," or "Yes, that's awesome." It's become very familial. Our arrangements together have become much more of a group process than it used to be.
Brian Kesley: There's very little ego. No one minds getting made fun of for doing something stupid.
Lily: If anything, it adds flavor. 
Brian: Yeah, you play in a bunch of different projects and you realize how much ego is involved. The classic scenario of a band breaking up because of butting heads. This situation is so special to me, personally, because everybody is on the same page and can take a jab when they know they deserve it, and I think the end product benefits greatly from it.

You used the term "familial." Does it feel like a brothers-and-sisters situation?

Brian: Yeah, in a really stupid way.
Lily: It's crazy, it's the happiest family in the world. We're never not getting along.

So you guys won Village Voice's Best Pop Band

Lily: Yeah, how 'bout that? [laughs]

Did you see that one coming?

Lily: No! Nobody told us we were nominated. 
Brian: I didn't even know that was a thing!
Lily: Me either. And then my mom called, and she was like, "Did you see this?" And I was like, "Yeah," and she told me this is a yearly big thing they've been doing for like thirty years. And people wait for the results. I had no idea.
Brian: And it's not even the end of the year yet, so… We still have an entire quarter left in the year.

Well, I'm sure you guys won't ruin it in the last few months of the year.

Lily: [laughs] We better not.

"Pop Group" kind of surprised me. A year ago I wouldn't have considered this band a pop group, but it's definitely moving towards a poppier sound. Has that been a conscious thing or did that just happen on its own?

Brian: I'd say a little bit. When we first started touring, we immediately starting putting on typical radio hits from the '90s as a joke. And then we starting realizing, like, oh my god, this music is actually really good, like Alanis Morrisette -
Lily: I remember our drive from New York to… somewhere, I don't even remember where… but we decided to listen to every song in the top 40 from 1997. It was a fuckin' trip! It was unreal. 
Brian: There were a lot of highs and lows. 
Lily: [laughs] Yeah, it got really dark sometimes. Recently, and by recently I mean in the last year, I feel like we’ve all collectively started being more open to pop music. Because every musician - everybody goes through a phase of being a fuckin’ snob. It’s like, “No, I can’t like that,” and it’s strictly based on the name of the artist, the genre of music, the way that they look, whatever.
Brian: The avenue you went through to find it, too.
Lily: Right, and that’s totally fine, everyone has to do that. But then all six of us came through the other side of that. And we’re like, “Wow, that song is really good. That John Mayer song is fuckin’ beautiful.” To really appreciate these songs just simply as songs doesn’t have to be - all the other connotations that come with certain artists and what it means to listen to a certain person’s music - well, obviously you don’t want them to be peeing on people or hurting anyone…

Not to name names…

Lily: Right. But to just be able to enjoy a song for what it is is something so freeing and so exciting. And so I really think we’ve become sponges for that. It really permeated the way we think about our own music, because what does pop music mean? It means popular music, it means something that’s awesome and gets stuck in your head and you can’t help but sing along to it after you’ve heard the chorus twice. To get down to the essence of it, that’s what popular music is.
Brian: It’s resonant, it resonates with people. It might be manufactured in the sense that it’s not one person in a room with a microphone. It’s a team of people who are very experienced in the music industry collaborating. It’s the same high-budget situation as a Hollywood movie, creating these tracks that are mint for mass-consumption. But it doesn’t mean that they’re less genius, and it doesn’t take away from the integrity of it. And it’s hard! It’s not an easy thing to do.
Lily: And we still have our snob favorites, and we listen to incredibly diverse music. But then we can all agree that when the bridge comes in in fuckin’ “Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry -
Brian: It’s the best goddamn thing ever! It’s the best thing ever. I threw my neck out to Katy Perry!
Lily: He did, actually. But it’s moving and it’s amazing. That’s good music. That’s it.

So over the course of the last few months, we’ve seen new singles and the Audiotree session had a lot of new material. Are we thinking about a new EP or album soon?

Lily: We are. We’ve spent the last year going back and forth to Nashville to record with our producer, his name is Emery Dobyns and he’s based there. We’ve amassed a large amount of recorded material, and we have a lot that we’re at the moment really enjoying releasing incrementally. It feels really good to get a sense of what the reaction is. Rather than unloading everything at once, we can actually get people a little antsy for it, a little excited.

Also a new release, the video for “Lovesongs” was pretty visually stunning. How did that concept come together?

Brian: We were on tour, or we were planning a tour and the scheduling worked out that we were going to have two days off in Nashville. We decided that since we have two days off with nothing lined up, let’s make the most of these two days -
Lily: Because we don’t ever want to relax. We’re not used to that. “Oh, we could have a day off… or we could fill it with some other shit.”
Brian: Yeah, so we knew we had this amount of time and we knew we didn’t want to spend a ton of money. We didn’t want to spend any money, actually. We kept it as close to zero as possible. 
Lily: Which was also the budget for the “Requiem” video.
Brian: That’s right, zero dollars. So then Dara - Dee Dee in the band - has a really nice camera. She got a hold of a green screen kit from a friend of a friend, work situation. We brought that and spent fifty bucks at a hardware store for other random stuff, schlepped it all with us and set up in the living room of the Air BnB we had in Nashville. Got a couple extra lights -
Lily: Put a tarp down.
Brian: Yep, Right, put a tarp down for all the paint we were gonna throw around, and just made it happen. We had a video editor in mind that we worked with for the “Requiem” music video. So the idea was to get a pretty focused idea: chest-level headshots mouthing the words, shots with different colors, different paints and green screen. Very minimal direction before passing it off and letting them do their thing.
Lily: And it just became this alien-karaoke.
Brian: And we gave them zero notes. We were just sort of like, “Here’s what we’ve got from two days of shooting,” and they just made it happen.
Lily: Yeah, there was a lot of trust involved. We really admire their work. It was not at all what we expected, but it was exactly right. 

Any more music videos on the horizon?

Brian: We’ll have a new single at the end of the year and a music video right after that for sure. It’s kind of like this routine we have.
Lily: It’s a challenge.
Brian: I feel like we’re getting into a nice flow, and it’s doing good things for us.
Lily: Yeah, everything’s feeling good. We’re in motion. 

Keep up with PARLOUR TRICKS on Facebook, Twitter, and their website, and stay tuned for their upcoming 2015 release.

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See Also:

CMJ 2014: Buzzchips and MyFreeConcert Present PARLOUR TRICKS at the Living Room
CMJ 2014: Exploding in Sound Records Third Anniversary Showcase
CMJ 2014: BrooklynVegan Present The Jazz June, Beach Slang, Pity Sex, Cayetana and Sport at Baby's All Right