Social media is a fascinating thing because, depending on who you idolize, there’s a real possibility that you could simply reach out and talk to the people you admire. Places like Twitter and Instagram put everyone just an “@“ away from stardom, meaning that you’re closer to being able to have a real, meaningful exchange with famous artists and musicians than ever before.

When working on a recent Rediscover feature of Parenthetical Girls’ EP series/final album, Privilege, I found that I had some big questions about the lifespan of the series. Having interacted in extremely minor ways via Instagram, I felt laughably confident in simply going to the source for answers — namely, Parenthetical Girls leader Zac Pennington.

Since the end of Parenthetical Girls, Pennington has moved on to other projects, namely Popular Music, his collaboration with Australian composer Prudence Rees-Lee wherein the duo “deconstruct the language of 20th century cinema,” whose debut album, Popular Music Plays in Darkness, is a record that fans of Parenthetical Girls are legally required to devour right this moment. Despite the fact that Parenthetical Girls have ceased to be — and despite the fact that I invaded his DMs in the same way that I found myself powerless to not be a fanatical pest at their shows back in the day — he was kind enough to give me everything I needed. He also offered quite a bit more: about what took so long for the five Privilege EPs to be released, his creative partnership with the equally incomparable Jherek Bischoff, and about how close he may or may not be to the villains he used to write about.

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This is the big question, and it’s super broad so hopefully it makes sense: what made you do it?

It’s hard not to feel humorless and self-aggrandizing when talking about things from forever ago — forgive me the indulgence. I hope this helps.

Mostly impatience. It takes me too long to make things, and I had initially hoped that the incremental release “strategy” (loose as it was) would help me to more efficiently continue whatever conversation Parenthetical Girls had been trying to engage with in those years.

Privilege also happened to coincide with the dawning existential crisis of the early streaming era. The album as a format was only just beginning to feel arbitrary, and I’d always been inspired by the economy of EPs — how the really good ones manage to communicate something much more cohesive than most albums.

Also, we were nearly always compelled toward any opportunity for elaborate self-sabotage.

What caused the delays in the release of each of the five EPs? Was it simply a technical issue, or was it creative?

Yes and yes. The release schedule was much less a timetable than a personal challenge — there wasn’t ever really a plan.

The boring bits: I did all of the manufacturing more or less by myself, from manufacturing custom die cuts to stuffing the sleeves to mail order to hiring the phlebotomist, etc. The whole Privilege project turned out to be an exercise in taking things too far; the physical product was like some kind of maximalist, out-of-pocket expression of music-as-object. There were a lot of manufacturing issues.

The real reason, though, is that the writing and recording took much longer than expected. A lot of people very generously worked on the songs over the years, but the only real consistency between P. Girls recordings was the collaboration between Jherek Bischoff and I; by the time we reached Privilege, recordings had mostly whittled down to the just two of us. Jherek was always incredibly generous to Parenthetical Girls, but as much as he shaped the thing and allowed it to exist, he was never especially interested in taking the level of ownership or investment that I had. He was getting much busier with his own work, so we found time to record when we could.

What did the overall process of recording look like, timespan-wise — did everything get recorded in bulk or did each EP get recorded as you went along?

We wrote and recorded each EP in sequence, mostly in a cute little home studio shed behind Jherek’s parents’ house on Bainbridge Island, WA. I wish I could remember more detail than that, but the bulk of those years are kind of lost to me.

Was it intentional that Privilege was the last thing made as Parenthetical Girls, or was it because of Privilege that the band ended there?

The band more or less ended three times between the first and final EP. From the beginning, Parenthetical Girls had only ever really existed as a product of my own hubris and stubborn will — over the years, it died a lot of deaths.

I didn’t set out for it to be the end, but around the time of the EP4 or so, it became pretty clear to me that the object I’d been grieving in a lot of the songs had been Parenthetical Girls all along.

Knowing now what you learned through the process of releasing music that way, would you do it again?

As a last gasp, I am still proud of the ridiculous thing that we made, and I recognize that it could only really have been made in the way that we made it. I’m glad that it exists.

It was a spectacular shitshow, and by most metrics — critical, commercial — a total failure. In retrospect, I think it was naive to believe it could ever have been anything else. I would never suggest that Privilege was “ahead of its time” or whatever, but I do think that it — and Parenthetical Girls in general — was especially poorly-timed.

This one is mostly because I’m just curious: do you have a favorite song and/or lyric from that series?

I haven’t really listened to these songs in years, but on reflection, I’m surprised by how bitter and cruel most of the words are. “Oh rabbit, rabbit/ Righteous white undergraduate/ Is there an oven that’s big enough to fit your head in?” is just fucking mean, but it pops into my head more often than most. I think “Weaknesses” is maybe my favorite song I’ve managed to finish.

Where do you think that cruelty and bitterness came from?

I think if you had asked at the time, I would have said that a lot of the songs were written from a villain’s perspective. It’s not exactly satire, but the characters in the songs have a worldview that’s mostly pretty contemptible.

With a bit of distance, I can’t say with confidence how different I was from them at the time.
¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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