[June 29 2016]
Purple TV presents the exclusive music video premiere for Parquet Courts “Human Performance,” conceived, directed, and puppeteered by renowned English visual artist (and Turner Prize nominee) Phil Collins. The title track is taken from their new album ‘Human Performance’, out now on Rough Trade Records. Recorded over the course of a year against a backdrop of personal instability, Human Performance expands on their 2014 record Content Nausea, picking apart the anxieties of modern life, making it the bands most ambitious record to date.
To coincide with it’s release Purple spoke with singer-guitarist Andrew Savage, writer of the song, and Phil Collins to discuss puppets, Berlin, and modern day anxieties.
PURPLE — The lyrics of Human Performance veer into darkness early on. Can you explain to us the story behind the song?
Andrew Savage — It’s true. Well its probably no surprise that I was in a dark place when I wrote the song! For the story, I’d just refer you back to the song itself, as that really is the way I tend to tell stories, but essentially I was focusing on the malfunctions of my own humanity, in relation to a specific series of events in my life, which could not be ignored. It’s meant to be a bit self-evident by the way puppets are used in the video. As I see it, humanity is something that’s partly performed and party instinctual. Like puppets, we sometimes are controlled by parts of ourselves that we never really become acquainted with, but are always there. This song is me confronting that shadow.
PURPLE — How did you come to collaborate with artist Phil Collins for your new video?
Andrew Savage — I met Phil in Köln where he teaches and partly lives, we were both participating in an art fair happening in the city. I had a solo show and Phil was doing a screening and Q&A of his piece “Tomorrow Is Always Too Long.” I went the night after my opening and was immediately captivated by it. For those unfamiliar with the film, it chronicles several Glaswegian lives set to the songs of Cate Le Bon‘s album Mug Museum, with “non-actors” singing along to the songs scored by a full orchestra, woven into a mesh of public access television, late-night infomercials, and animated sequences. Each song corresponds to a different stage of human life, from infancy to old age. I meant to ask if this device was intentional; a sort of Dubliners for Glasgow, set in the present day, but I was too shy to ask in front of a full auditorium. I was not however too shy to tell Phil how moved I was by the film, and like the gentleman he is, he responded humbly and affably. It turned out we had some friends in common and we all went out for beers together. Phil made an impression on me as an artist and as a human being, so it seemed like a natural choice when I thought about artists to collaborate with for our video. The initial collaboration was for the song “Berlin Got Blurry”, which was to be set in Germany, where Phil lived. It wasn’t meant to be however due to time restrictions, but I was pleased to know that he was interested in the possibility of another song. I sent him the song and Phil responded by saying some very nice things about it, and that’s about the time when puppets were first mentioned.
PURPLE — Phil, you have conceived, directed, and puppeteered this excellent video. The video features puppet violence, puppet sex, and puppet/human relations. Can you explain how you came to this idea and why did you decide to use puppets instead of humans to reflect the story of the song?
Phil Collins — I was thinking about the track and how it paints a breakup both elliptically and with such devastating directness. And I wondered what it would be like if this drama was enacted not through naturalism or authenticity but through it’s partners in crime, doubling and artificiality. So puppets seemed an obvious choice. A puppet is a complex beast, animated by a human but which also, conversely, brings the puppeteer to life. I thought this kind of dialectics could work well with Andrew’s lyrics, and also found it funny to give starring roles to puppets in a track called “Human Performance.”
We filmed in Berlin which has a rich tradition of puppet theatre, from the squat scene to mainstream institutions. I was lucky enough to work with with two great companies. Das Helmi conjured Parquet Courts from foam and marker pens. They’re a legend in the Berlin free theatre scene, an anarcho-punk collective who perform The Name of the Rose, Rocky or The Magic Mountain in their own inimitable DIY style. Suse Wächter, on the other hand, is a magician of the hyper-real who creates uncannily detailed, life-like characters. With three of her puppets we staged polyamorous love triangle scenes, describing an arc of a relationship: from the heat of the first spark to the passion and the turmoil of physical intimacy to the rage of misunderstanding (cards, cigars, wedding veils, and rakı all optional).
PURPLE — Are there any videos or visuals that influenced you in the creation and style of the video for Parquet Courts’ Human Performance?
Phil Collins — We shot on 16mm which, after the puppets, was the second decision we made. I love its depth and the unavoidable emotion it harnesses, almost regardless of what’s on screen. In terms of the look we went for a cross between Yugoslav children’s television, Watch with Mother, and Fingerbobs raiding the medicine cabinet to explosive effect.
Andrew Savage — Phil and I had a conversation early on about influences, and I can recall names like Chantal Akerman and Mike Kelley were spoken, as well as Soviet television and the Eastern European puppet tradition.
PURPLE — The band are also represented as puppets in the video. Why did you want to include a performance by the band in the video?
Phil Collins — Because I’m a believer.
PURPLE — How much input did the band have in their puppet representative?
Phil Collins — None needed. Das Helmi were locked in a room plastered with photos of the band with a stanley knife, the insides of a flammable couch, and some synthetic wigs. Stir, add water, leave to cool. And, as they say, here’s one I made earlier.
PURPLE — Is this the first music video you have directed?
Phil Collins — I’ve pretty much always worked with musicians and most of my work is still indebted to pop videos and the ways they emerged in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. I’ve worked with Gruff Rhys on a radical teleshopping show and Lætitia Sadier on a film about former Marxist teachers. In April I released an experimental film for Cate Le Bon’s certified genius new album Crab Day, as well as a video for her latest single “Love Is Not Love” on which I collaborated with Berlin choreographer Constanza Macras.
PURPLE — Andrew, the album Human Performance is said to pick apart the anxieties of modern life. Can you give us some examples of such anxieties you touch on in the album?
Andrew Savage — That’s certainly something that has been said about Parquet Courts before, but I’m not sure the anxieties on this album are all that modern. They are told from the point of view of someone who lives a modern life, who experiences the anxieties that are part and parcel to that life, but I was chiefly thinking about things like heartbreak, the extreme disappointment that we sometimes have in ourselves, about the confusion and bewilderment we have about “who we are” and they way we express “who we are” and how “who we are” can deeply hurt ourselves and those around us, depending on how we communicate that. Subjects that aren’t exactly new or modern, but still, I try to find a modern way of approaching them.
PURPLE — The album was recorded in an entire year, much longer than the ones released prior to it. Do you think that this prolonged amount of time helped with the narration of the album?
Andrew Savage — It’s true that we spent much longer on this record, though really it took about three and a half non-consecutive months over the course of the year. The thing about time in relation to art is, it isn’t always the alchemical process we think of it as. Case in point: I know there are people out there whose favorite Parquet Courts albums are Light Up Gold or Content Nausea, both of which were recorded in less than a week. I don’t view those records as any less realized. Time can do a lot of things, but if the idea is there, if you know what you want to say and you say it directly, well, theres no amount that is going to make what you say clearer or more powerful. In fact, that sort of site-specific type of emotion can really become diluted. In the case of Human Performance, I know that I was operating from a place of severe pain and confusion, that could not immediately be articulated, that needed to be explored, but some days I just didn’t have any interest in doing that, so some songs came slower. It’s a different type of meditation, and depending on how you look at it, it could be called “less spontaneous” or “more considered”. I don’t know which really, maybe its both, but I am confident that the decision to take as long as we did on the album was a necessary one.
PURPLE — You will be performing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on July 14th, what can be expected?
Andrew Savage — Well Amy Sedaris will be doing guest vocals. I’m not going to throw around crazy words like “Strangers with Candy reunion” or anything, but… well perhaps I’ve said too much. Really I just want to find something sharp to wear and do my best.
The band is announcing the August 19th release of the “Performing Human” 12″, which will feature an alternate take of “Human Performance” as well as remixes of the song by Eaters and Chris Pickering from Future Punx. “Performing Human” is available to pre-order on Rough Trade Records. The band will be on tour from August 19th, playing in cities such as New York, Austin, Los Angeles, London, Berlin, Milan, London and more.