Since Picture Parlour took their first steps onto Brixton’s notorious Windmill stage in December 2022, life has started to mirror the sails of the venue’s namesake, spinning faster and faster as the months have progressed. The band’s origin story began like that of many other budding musicians: meet a kindred spirit and start making songs together; decide to go all in and expand the band from its central core; start gigging wherever will have you. But that initial show at the South London hub of new music discovery marked a veering off script into a plot that only the most special acts get to follow.
The four-piece – founding members Katherine Parlour (vocals) and Ella Risi (guitar), plus later additions Sian Lynch (bass) and Michael Nash (drums) – quickly gathered word-of-mouth attention for their live performances as they became a fixture at the venue. Three months after first gracing its stage, and despite not having a shred of music officially online, they sold out the space for their debut headline show and swiftly became an almost go-to support act for some of music’s biggest names.
“There’s been a few surreal moments,” Ella reflects shortly after wrapping up the band’s sparkly photoshoot with DIY. “Some of the shows we’ve played this year have been beyond anything we could have imagined. We’ve played with some of our favourite artists, like Bruce Springsteen and The Strokes…” “Not WITH them,” Katherine interjects, grinning at the thought. “On the same bill. It’s not like we did a duet or anything!”
Despite the blaze of attention that has burned around them this year, Picture Parlour are clearly staying grounded. Instead of getting lost in the noise, they’re laughing in disbelief at the absurdity of everything that’s been happening and allowing themselves to be deservedly awestruck by the milestone moments they’re living on a near-weekly basis. Even between June’s debut single ‘Norwegian Wood’ and its October follow-up ‘Judgement Day’ – their first since signing with Island Records – they’ve felt a levelling up.
“Because we released ‘Norwegian Wood’ independently, the video for that was just us and a friend in Wales,” Katherine explains. “We just spent two days in our drummer’s family home and shot what we could. It was so much fun, but it didn’t feel like a music video – it felt like, ‘Let’s see what shit we can get and if we can make something out of it’.” On the contrary, ‘Judgement Day’ presented a far more professional experience. “Even though it was only shot in an afternoon, there was just a moment where I was on the stage doing a lip sync-y thing, and I was like, ‘Am I really doing this?! Is this real?!’”
“I remember watching you do your performance section, and it was one of those pinch-me moments,” Ella tells her bandmate. “It was like, ‘Oh my god, it’s actually happening’, and it was surreal to see you up there, just being so natural.”
I think anyone would have a tough time trying to mould me. They’d be like, ‘It ain’t worth it…’” - Katherine Parlour
Although Picture Parlour acknowledge that getting to this point in their story wouldn’t have been possible without talent, you won’t catch the pair buying into the idea that they’re some kind of indie chosen ones. “Obviously I believe that we’re good, but [it was] massively pot luck,” Katherine suggests. “It could just be any band, couldn’t it really, that get stumbled upon?”
There’s maybe some truth to what she says, but what makes Katherine and her cohorts so special also shouldn’t be diminished. This is a band who cut a formidable shape on stage but also have the tunes to back it up – songs that mix the louche, lounge spirit of Nick Cave with the slick, cinematic poise of ‘AM’-era Arctic Monkeys, the poetic lyricism of Patti Smith and more. With the four musicians’ own DNA – like Katherine’s throaty, rich croon – thrown in, they create something theatrical and refreshingly out-of-step with their peers.
There’s a confidence to Picture Parlour that makes it clear they know exactly who they are, what they want to make, and where they want to go. “I think anyone would have a tough time trying to mould me. They’d be like, ‘It ain’t worth it - we can definitely find someone way more malleable…’” the vocalist cackles. As contradictory as it sounds, she credits her and Ella never fully believing that this could be their job as the key ingredient behind their assurance. “There was nothing to lose. It was like, ‘Well, if this isn’t what’s meant for us, then we’re young women with our lives ahead of us’.” “It was always a dream, but it wasn’t ever something that we’d seen as a reality,” Ella nods. “Doing music for a living was something that we couldn’t even comprehend.”
TikTok might like to tell us that being “delulu is the solulu,” but Katherine and Ella only took a smidge of that rule to heart. Instead, they’ve balanced a healthy amount of fantasy with a far larger dose of grounding, inspired in part by the singer’s dad. “Growing up, he’d be realistic with me,” Katherine smiles. “He’d be like, ‘You’re not Beyoncé, are you love?’ But he’d also tell me, ‘You’ve got it, you can do it – why wouldn’t you be able to?’ Having someone in your corner being like, ‘The world and everything else is against you, but you can give it a go’, has been really helpful.”
The conviction Picture Parlour have in each other has been necessary, too, since they released ‘Norwegian Wood’. On the day the track was shared online, the band featured on the cover of NME – an achievement that sent the internet into a rage. Conspiracy theories clogged up Twitter, ranging from plain old payola to the very big reach that, actually, Katherine’s dad was ex-Arsenal midfielder Ray Parlour, and he’d clearly been using his mythical music industry connections to get them the spot. What should have been a celebratory moment for the quartet instead saw them plunged into a bilious swirl of conversation centred around industry plants and nepobabies.
“Let’s start to embrace the things that come our way - that’s really how we were dealing with everything from the get-go. If an opportunity comes, why not take it?” begins Katherine. “[But after that] there was a part of us that began not to embrace those things.” A few months on, however, and the band are now thankfully returning to their enthusiasm of old; if anything, the hate and “barbaric accusations” have left them stronger than ever. “Anything that comes our way after this,” the singer notes, “we’ve already dealt with the most absurd thing.”
Earlier this year, meanwhile, the band hit the road for their first proper tour, supporting The Last Dinner Party – another group who’ve been on the receiving end of similar claims. While the billing probably had bitter online commenters frothing at the mouth in fury, the tour brought together two of the most exciting bands in the country – and lived up to its promise. “It felt quite powerful, having these two groups of women just all on the road together, playing these fantastic venues every night and having a great time,” Ella grins.
“There was just an energy in the room,” Katherine nods. “It was just electric. We’re on the same label now, so we were [praying to get that slot] because we’d seen them perform before. Seeing what they do with a crowd is incredible, and they have unbelievable showmanship in the whole band. It was just the coolest experience ever.”
Anything that comes our way after [the industry plant accusations], we’ve already dealt with the most absurd thing.” - Katherine Parlour
Having the opportunity to tour and play live more regularly has subtly shifted Picture Parlour’s songwriting over the last year. Their singles so far were written back when the band was still just a duo, asking each other: “If we could make the perfect album, what would you want?” “That’s where ‘Judgement Day’ came from,” Katherine explains. “It was just the two of us imagining an orchestra and all these big sounds. But when you’ve got a band of four people in a small venue…”
“It’s made us lean into a… not a heavier sound, but something more upbeat,” Ella chimes in. “Things the audience can get into a bit more.” Lately, though, they’ve been learning that not everything has to be buoyant to get a reaction. “Some songs we had we thought were a bit too slow for the set, but then you get people coming up to you afterwards like, ‘That song made me cry’,” the guitarist smiles.
In between lots more touring, the coming months will find Picture Parlour sharing the results of this year’s big learning curve, starting with a new single in January. “It’s our favourite song [so far],” Katherine grins, adding that the band hope to have their debut album out by the end of 2024. Although they’re very much still in the process of writing for it, the record could take inspiration from two iconic – if very different – tentpoles of British culture.
“Do you watch Big Brother?” Katherine asks as Ella bursts into laughter next to her. “There’s a great love story going on between two guys, Jordan and Henry.” “We were literally like, ‘Let’s write a song about Jenry’,” the guitarist explains between giggles. “Aside from that,” Katherine continues, “the new Beatles song has inspired me. Maybe it’s ‘cause I’m a Scouser, but it fully got me. That made me want to write a song.”
Wherever they end up drawing inspiration from for their highly-anticipated debut, the band know exactly what world they want to build with it. “What is an unwavering reality for us is the lounge thing – below the surface, smoky bar, a bit of nostalgia, loads of intensity,” their frontwoman says. “That’s my goal for 2024,” Ella adds. “Tour loads, have the album finalised, and have a year that supersedes this one.” Should Picture Parlour come good on the promise they’ve shown so far, that goal should be well within sight.
New Year, New You
What sort of new year’s resolutions are on the cards for Picture Parlour’s central duo?
Katherine Parlour: Not to write in 3/4 [time signature] and I need to get to the fucking gym. I know it’s boring. It’s not like I had a good diet before [touring], but now it’s not even about food consumption. It’s if I don’t move my body, it’s not going to work. I need to start treating my arteries with respect – if we’re gonna live off Gregg’s, we need to move.
Ella Risi: All the things I want to stop doing, I know I won’t so live life and enjoy it – and don’t feel guilty for damaging your body. Live, laugh, love.
As featured in the December 2023 / January 2024 issue of DIY, out now.