As the frontman of the audacious, theatrical, and visually striking Parenthetical Girls, Zac Pennington was refreshingly humble and grounded. Rattling off answers about his band, in which he plays alongside Amber W. Smith and Paul Alcott, Pennington managed to stay mentally afloat while wandering his surroundings looking for a store – a fuse had just blown during sound check.
“It’s always weird having these conversations because obviously, right now, I’m distracted in every capacity,” he said lightheartedly. “We have these 10 minutes to talk about stuff, and it’s very difficult to get to a place where it’s like we’re having a conversation rather than you asking me questions and me really awkwardly trying to answer.”
If it sounds like Pennington is familiar with the ins and outs of the ever-unpredictable interview process, it’s because he has now been on both sides of the telephone line: coinciding with the dawn of Parenthetical Girls was his stint as a music reporter.
“I got into writing largely because I had a relationship with music to begin with,” he said. “It was an easy thing to do as an offshoot of being involved with putting on shows and working on music.”
Having viewed the music world through a variety of artistic lenses, Pennington and his bandmates have confidently taken their image into their own hands. Based in Portland, the trio’s music videos supply eye-popping colours, sharp patterns, rich textures and a dash of the surreal. The final package digs its claws into the roots of the mind.
“The idea is for a vision of grandeur that’s maybe a little bit out of our reach,” said Pennington. “The concepts that we have created are supposed to work on their own, rather than to just comment on the concept of the [accompanying] song. They were supposed to be statements in and of themselves.”
While the videos are intended to be viewed and experienced from an artistic point of view, the lyrics supply the personal touches. More often than not, Pennington takes care of the songwriting, drawing inspiration from personal events and personal points of view. The rest of the music, of course, is collaboratively conceived.
As a precursor to their latest record, Privilege, Parenthetical Girls released the album in its entirety during a 15-month span in the form of five limited edition – think 500 copies per release – EPs. It was a rolling process, with each microcosm hitting the shelves as it was completed.
“The idea of a release series was as much a pragmatic decision as it was a creative one,” said Pennington. Typically slow and meticulous when making music, the prospect of having a couple of years to work on an album appealed to the band. “We were more comfortable working on the sort of tangents we might not otherwise consider were we working on a full length—and many of these experiments turned out to be some of the most gratifying pieces of the series.”
Following suit with their attention to aesthetic detail, each EP donned tailor-made artwork by Swedish artist Jenny Mörtsell. Aside from that, a series of short “commercial” videos as precursors to the Privilege releases. Directly inspired by Calvin Klein’s ‘80s campaign featuring Brooke Shields, they spoke to Pennington’s fascination with “the weirdly fetishized way they’ve been preserved for posterity—from distant televisions, to VHS, to transcodes onto the internet.”
Having released four albums and endless EPs and singles in the past 10 years, Parenthetical Girls boasts some steady output that has made for a progressive musical experience.
“The total lack of consistency in the band over course of its history has made for a fairly constant re-evaluation of what actually even constitutes ‘Parenthetical Girls’—every record that we’ve recorded has more or less been an entirely new band.”