Picture Parlour on Their Debut Single, Conspiracy Theories, and Future Plans | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Monday, March 4th, 2024  

Picture Parlour on Their Debut Single, Conspiracy Theories, and Future Plans

Fake News, Real Talent

Jul 17, 2023 Photography by Jennifer McCord Web Exclusive
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Once upon a time, a band’s debut single was generally judged on its musical merits. However, in today’s digital age, a disconcerting trend has emerged. A small but vocal group, who may have previously written angry and incoherent letters in blood red ink to the music press’s letters page, have, thanks to social media, bonded with similarly delusional kindred spirits to share their ill-informed hot takes on emerging artists. They seem to take an almost malicious delight in spreading the sort of wild conspiracy theories that would make even the most ardent members of the Flat Earth Society appear level headed. One particular narrative they push is the notion of the “industry plant,” which, for the unenlightened, is essentially a band put together by a record label. All too often, this label is attached to female artists, in a crass and often deeply misogynistic attempt to undermine their credibility and creativity.

London-based band Picture Parlour found themselves subjected to this nonsensical scrutiny after releasing their sparkling debut single, “Norwegian Wood,” last month. Guitarist Ella Risi admits that the reaction they received was far from what they had expected. “It became so ridiculous that it almost felt comedic; like one theory seemed to suggest we were oligarchs’ daughters. We couldn’t help but laugh.”

As I sit down to chat with Risi and singer/guitarist Katherine Parlour, it’s evident that they are baffled by some of the online reactions, especially considering their own backgrounds, which are a far cry from some of the more “out there” portrayals circulating online. Risi, hailing from North Yorkshire, and Parlour, a proud Scouser from the blue side of Liverpool, crossed paths while studying in Manchester. Risi explains, “I’ve been involved in bands and session work since I moved to Manchester at 18 to study music, and Katherine was finishing her degree.” Parlour adds, “Yeah, I was studying Philosophy and Politics, but I always had musical projects going on.” She also clarifies a lingering famous football dad rumor with a laugh, “Let’s debunk that football myth right now because it seems like everyone has a fucking take on it. I didn’t play professionally, but I did compete in football when I was young, even at some notable stadiums, but no, Ray Parlour [former professional footballer] is definitely not my dad!”

Risi and Parlour had been working on separate musical projects individually, but they shared a mutual bass player. “I had heard some of Katherine’s stuff,” Risi explains, “so I asked our bass-playing friend if she could introduce us. We arranged a little jam session, and that’s where it all began.”

Parlour’s idea for Picture Parlour took shape during a period when she was recovering from breaking both her legs. “When you can’t walk for a while, you have a lot of time to write,” she laughs. “When I finally recovered and returned to music, I had just met Ella. It was during that weird time in the pandemic when things were opening and closing sporadically. Live music seemed dead, and festivals a distant memory, so Ella and I started writing, thinking about the kind of songs we would want to hear at a festival that would lift our spirits. That was kind of our starting point, with an idea for big anthemic songs.”

From the very beginning, it was evident that they were on the same page. “Even from that first jam we ended up writing the song we now close our set with, ‘Moon Tonic,’” enthuses Risi, “so, we thought, yeah, this could be really cool working together.” With their prior experience as musicians and artists, they knew what worked and what didn’t, allowing them to refine their sound. As their songwriting progressed, so did their ambition. With the world slowly emerging from the pandemic, they began contemplating how their project would translate into a live performance. However, Parlour was set to move to London to begin a master’s degree, as she explains, “under different circumstances, we might have stayed up north to work on the project. But we took a leap of faith, and Ella decided to move with me and pursue her master’s degree as well. I even filled out her application for her!”

It was during this time that they decided to expand their sound to do justice to their songs. “We didn’t know where to start in London since we didn’t know anyone,” Risi explains, “so we decided to take the traditional route and join Facebook music groups to connect with musicians in London.”

Parlour continues, “We were searching for someone with shared values, who we could connect with on a human as well as a musical level. We found our drummer Michael [Nash] online, who turned out to be a really great guy. We wanted to see if he would understand our music, so we sent him a demo of ‘Norwegian Wood’ without drums or any reference. To see what he could add. He immediately got it, and the recorded version has hardly changed since his original input.”

“And as for Sian [Lynch], on bass,” Parlour adds, “I basically poached her. She was posting bass covers on Facebook and Instagram, and bands playing at venues like the Windmill and the George Tavern were all after her. I thought she might not be interested, but it was worth a shot. When I sent her the demos, she was really into them. We all met and jammed together, and it really was electric. I had a lump in my throat; it felt special. It was the first time we had played the songs fully fleshed out.”

The band managed to secure their first gig at the Brixton Windmill, a venue that has gained cult status for launching the careers of many bands. “Well, we emailed every other venue, but got nowhere,” Parlour explains. “The Windmill’s contact form is hilariously passive-aggressive, basically telling you not to email them promising you’ll pack the place out with your mates if your music is terrible—because that’s not how it works. We thought, ‘Oh great, we have no chance.’ But then Tim [Perry, the Windmill’s booker] actually replied.”

Parlour continues, “But when we were scheduled to play, my dad fell really ill. Since it’s only me and my dad and uncle in the family, I had to go home to take care of him. We felt like we had missed our big chance, and Tim might have thought we were flakey and unreliable. But then he reached out again and said he knew we had things going on but had a great slot for us in December. So my dad said, ‘Just go down there and do the fucking gig.’ The band came up to Liverpool, we rehearsed, and then we went down for the gig. It was magical; everything clicked. Afterwards, Tim asked us how we felt, and we said, ‘Great … we think.’ He wanted us back, so we kept playing.”

As non-Londoners, Risi and Parlour weren’t fully aware of how much of an A&R hotspot the Windmill had become for major labels. Parlour reflects, “Yeah, we knew it was a vibrant and supportive scene, but we never expected big labels to be at the Windmill. But that’s exactly what happened to us. After about our third gig, we received an email, and honestly, we thought it was a scam. So we sent it to Sian, who has a proper 9-5 job and knows about legal matters. When she showed it to her colleagues, they said, ‘You better get ready to leave this job because you’ve just been approached by a major label.’”

Risi adds, “In the end, we didn’t sign with a label, but we were introduced to a music lawyer. We didn’t even know we needed one. Through them, we also met with managers, and the one we chose truly believed in us. He’s the reason we were able to record ‘Norwegian Wood.’ And then not long after, Courtney Love gave us a shout-out on social media, which garnered even more industry interest. It’s been crazy how it all snowballed. That’s basically how we ended up on the NME cover. Courtney was like, ‘You gotta check out this band.’”

The band did indeed appear on the NME’s “cover,” which isn’t particularly unusual considering that NME is now a digital-only publication. “The Cover” is a section of the NME website that pays homage to its print days but now focuses on championing a new band or artist every Monday. However, that didn’t stop keyboard warriors from spreading misinformation about the band. They claimed that the band lived a life of luxury not dissimilar to the aristocracy. Or their parents owned the music press. And then there was that famous football dad rumor.

Parlour is clearly annoyed as she explains, “Initially, it’s funny, then it’s just weird. It was such a big moment for us; we were so excited and nervous about the reaction to our debut single. And the next minute, our phones are buzzing, and it’s like a Black Mirror moment. I mean, people jumping on a bandwagon to criticize a new band without knowing anything about their background is just wrong. I understand when people perceive others as having gained an unfair advantage; I’ve experienced that myself. But these baseless tweets do actually have the potential to damage somebody’s career before it even begins. It’s fucked up. It’s easy to say it will pass, but the injustice and baselessness of these rumors really piss me off.”

Risi agrees that what should have been a joyful moment turned into something frustrating. “It’s so far from the truth, but ultimately, you start wondering, ‘Why should I feel forced to reveal my family’s struggles just to justify our existence as a band?’” But Risi and Parlour acknowledge that some people are so deep into conspiracy theories that it’s impossible to engage with them, even if you present them with all the facts. “I could show people my family tree,” reasons Parlour, “but some still wouldn’t believe me, so we’ve chosen not to engage with it. We know the truth. And besides, how much do you owe strangers on the internet? How much of yourself do you have to give? And you know what? Female artists getting lucky isn’t a bad thing; men have gotten lucky in the industry without comment since time began. But personally, it really annoys me as a Scouser because we get criticized for our accent, especially down here in London. I overheard these posh twats on the bus the other day, going on and on about how annoying Scousers are. And I’m itching to say, ‘You absolute bastards!’ But I feel like I can’t win either way.”

Despite their exasperation, both musicians remain genuinely excited about what the future holds. “We didn’t expect any of this; we were just happy to be playing at the Windmill,” Risi explains. “It’s been a crazy journey so far, and we’re really grateful for the people who have supported us and believe in us. And it’s great to see all the nice things people have said about ‘Norwegian Wood.’”

It’s a debut single that showcases Parlour’s smoky vocals, drawing comparisons to Chrissie Hynde, Amy Winehouse, and even Alex Turner. However, for Parlour, it wasn’t the most obvious choice for a debut single. “Even when we meet with labels, although we didn’t sign with any, they were all into ‘Norwegian Wood.’ We even open our set with it, so I guess I succumbed in the end. I suppose it does serve as a good introduction.”

The band’s upcoming plans don’t involve any trips to America just yet, nor is there a debut album on the horizon. “Hey, if a label wants to fund that, we’ll have it,” laughs Parlour. “But for now, no, we’ll release a new track, maybe in September, and then see how it goes.”

Later in the year, Picture Parlour will head out on tour with the hotly tipped The Last Dinner Party. “Yep, we are on the road with everyone’s favorite imaginary nepo-babies,” laughs Parlour. “They’re all genuinely lovely people and super talented,” adds Risi. “Every time we see them live, we’re blown away. And it’s a really powerful line-up of women, which is definitely a good thing.” Parlour mischievously adds, a parting shot laughing, “And it has the added bonus that us touring with them will send some people into an absolute rage.”

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