Picture Parlour talk buzzy beginnings and debut single 'Norwegian Wood'

Interview Picture Parlour: “All I’ve wanted since starting out is buzz”

With debut single ‘Norwegian Wood’ immediately laying down the gauntlet of ambitious, anthemic intent, Picture Parlour are opening the doors to their world of magic and melodrama.

It takes considerable balls, as the Scouse singer of a four-piece guitar band, to name your debut single after a track by the most famous Liverpudlians in music history. But chutzpah is clearly something that Katherine Parlour is not lacking.

Decked out in a ‘70s-cut leather blazer and neckerchief, a wide streak of blonde hair giving her the aura of Cruella de Vil if she’d had a thing for Marc Bolan, Katherine and co-conspirator, guitarist Ella Risi, are supping pints in the top floor of a Soho boozer, laughing about how they ended up calling their opening calling card ‘Norwegian Wood’. “It’s just funny to me!” the frontwoman chuckles. “When I showed Ella the song and told her what it was called, she was like, ‘It’s fucking not…’ But why not!?”.

‘Why not?’, in fact, seems to be something of a motto for the pair. Why not try and start a band in the middle of lockdown when there’s no live music to be found? Why not pack your bags and move to London on a whim in pursuit of your dreams? Why not dress like you’re auditioning for the remake of Shaft on the first blisteringly hot day of the British summer heatwave? The answer to the latter is obvious; a visual extension of the loungey, melodramatic world that ‘Norwegian Wood’ cracks the musical door open to, Picture Parlour are a band with an eye for the seductively cinematic. And as for the former two questions? It seems that destiny and alchemy essentially made the decision for them.

Both studying in Manchester having come from similar working class Northern backgrounds (Ella is a North Yorkshire native), from the moment the pair met for a trial jam session, the sparks began to fly. “You answered the door with a Jamesons in hand and I thought, ‘This is going to go well’. And that first day we wrote ‘Moon Tonic’, which is what we now finish our set with,” Ella recalls. “When we first started writing together, it was almost like finishing each other’s sentences, but musically.”

“Usually, in the moment you don’t realise things, but even after we’d written the first three songs I remember thinking that everything I’d ever wanted to do musically was happening here,” Katherine continues. “I was gonna move to London anyway and I didn’t wanna let it go, so I just said to Ella, ‘What do you wanna do?’”. Ella grins: “And I decided to come.”

Despite making their London debut at Brixton’s Windmill - a place that’s become something of a stage home ever since - there’s nothing about Picture Parlour that fits in with the straight-faced post-punk scene most associated with the area. Citing the likes of Father John Misty, Pulp and “strong female leads like Patti Smith, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez” as influences, the pair (now joined by bassist Sian Lynch and drummer Michael Nash) instead lean into theatricality and an Alex Turner-like penchant for lyrical wordplay, with their female bond playing a pivotal role at the centre. “Not to say that men and women can’t make incredible music together, obviously they can, but it was a comfort for me to meet you and for there to be no ego in the room and nothing to prove,” notes Katherine.

Picture Parlour talk buzzy beginnings and debut single 'Norwegian Wood'

“The buzz thing is this badge of shame at the moment but all I’ve fucking wanted since I was [starting out] is buzz.” - Katherine Parlour

The two songwriters, they joke, are like “good cop, bad cop”. “I don’t have a filter and you do, so sometimes I need Ella to rein me back in but then sometimes she needs me to be like, ‘Go on!!” the vocalist enthuses, shaking her bandmate with rallying gusto. Mutually, however, there’s clear ambition here - with the scope and scale of their debut’s stadium-sized swagger only a taste of what their current live set has to offer. “It’s ambitious, sonically. It feels big to me, and it’s emotive and has a punch,” suggests Katherine of the track, while Ella has a stance on their current MO as a whole: “We write with the intention of wanting to make something big and ridiculous and anthemic. That’s the aim.”

When they first started writing their set, says the singer, “it was like putting on a really good pair of shoes and feeling like you’ve got a skip in your step”. “That’s the music that we enjoy where, when you watch a show, you leave and you feel fucking cool,” she grins. “That’s what, to a degree, it’s about to me - about doing something where you can go out and look people in the eye and feel confident.”

Before they’d even released a note of music, the strut of Picture Parlour’s live wares had already earned them a considerable amount of hype. At May’s industry-centric Great Escape, their midday set was packed to the brim with a queue snaking down the road; this month, they’ll support Bruce Springsteen at Hyde Park; the day we meet, their radio plugger informs the band that both BBC Radio One and 6 Music are confirmed to spin ‘Norwegian Wood’ on release day.

Following mere months after The Last Dinner Party became the latest targets of the online ‘industry plant’ accusation brigade, Picture Parlour are aware of the double-edged sword of being a buzz band. But they equally - brilliantly - are just as positive and can-do about it as they are about everything else.

“The buzz thing is this badge of shame at the moment where everyone’s scared to be called buzzy because it means there’s a question mark over you. But all I’ve fucking wanted since I was this big is buzz,” Katherine says, her hand indicating her child-sized former self. “It’s so early so we don’t wanna get too excited but call me buzzy, I’ll be buzzy. It’s what we want because it means people’s ears have pricked up. We want to be musicians, so bring it: I’ll be the buzziest bee in Soho.”

Tags: Picture Parlour, Features, Interviews

As featured in the July 2023 issue of DIY, out now.

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