Interview

Q&A: Parquet Courts’ Sean Yeaton On The Importance Of Tool & His Nu-Metal Past

Last weekend, Parquet Courts played a late-night set at the new Brooklyn venue Villain, one night before their moshpit-inducing afternoon mainstage set at Governors Ball. For the Villain set, Courts’ bassist Sean Yeaton made a bold sartorial choice, donning his finest Slipknot T-shirt.

“It was kind of a last-minute choice. I didn’t even think of it as a thing until I was being asked about it after the fact,” he says, shaking his head. “I had a couple people come up to me like, ‘Could I ask you, what’s the deal with that?'”

Last year Rolling Stone called Parquet Courts “the most exciting young rock band in America,” and their witty lyrics, serrated guitar blasts, and twisty songwriting have made them indie rock standard bearers and the heir apparent of iconic groups like Pavement, Wire, and Sonic Youth. But Yeaton is happy to admit that the first rock groups he ever loved aren’t even remotely as venerated.

“I remember, man, my 8th grade talent show, the kids that were the jock kids, their thing that they did at the talent show was dancing to *NSYNC’s ‘Bye Bye Bye,'” he says. “Same talent show, my band played Limp Bizkit’s version of ‘Faith.’ At that time it was like I sided with Korn and Limp Bizkit.”

Though his tastes moved on to underground punk and hardcore, he continues to worship at the altar of alternative metal godheads Tool (who were never really part of the scene that included late-’90s rap-metal groups such as Linkin Park, Incubus, and Limp Bizkit, though there was often some fan crossover), who would later headline Governors Ball on Sunday night. “I’m so very excited to watch Tool play, because I know it’s going to be fucking insane. To me that’s no different, on a purely fundamental level, than seeing NOFX, or 9 Shocks Terror or, like, fucking Mayhem, or even Kenny G.”

I know Yeaton from my time working at the Talkhouse (when we first had lunch together in 2013, if memory serves, we immediately started talking about the Deftones). He’s always been a gregarious and hilarious voice, so I thought it would be worthwhile to get his opinions on Tool and his nu-metal past. The original plan was for us to watch Tool together after his set, but while we were watching Air, he got word the band’s crew was leaving and he had to help pack up; he ended up watching Tool’s set with Mac DeMarco, from whom I assume he bummed many cigarettes. But before that, and right after he finished FaceTiming a bedtime story to his two young children, Yeaton sat down for a chat backstage at Governors Ball about the importance of nu-metal on his growth as a music fan and musician, and what his bandmates think of his affection for Tool.

STEREOGUM: So, last night you wore a Slipknot T-shirt at Villain. How’d it go over?

YEATON: You know, I never even really realized that it would be an issue. I don’t know, it’s sort of hard to exist in the indie sphere, quote unquote, doing air quotes actively right now…

STEREOGUM: I can confirm this.

YEATON: I feel like there’s maybe pressure to abandon certain, I don’t know, guilty pleasures. I’m not saying it applies to everybody, but applying to me specifically, there was definitely a stage of getting into music that I jettisoned from any conversations I was having with fellow musicians or other people in the same music scene that I was in, in order to, like, preserve some credibility. I went pretty much with, ‘Yeah, you know, my first record I ever heard was R.E.M.,’ or something like that. But that’s not even as crazy as [the] people who’ll be like, “Yeah man, the first record I ever heard was Black Flag’s first SST release, whatever, yadda yadda.”

Obviously there are people who didn’t go through a nu-metal loving phase, but I did, very much. I guess I did reach a point where I sort of thought it was unfair to not recognize that it had a place for me. It was doing a disservice to my actual background, I think, because it did have a very significant impact on me, even though I look back on it now as being like, ‘Yeah, I’m not listening to these records all the time anymore.’ I think I have a fairly wide, eclectic palate or whatever. It’s almost like in Toy Story 3 when Andy decides he has to get rid of the toys.

I always found myself feeling a little marginalized, like, maybe I’ve just always had the wrong taste. But I guess at this point in time, I know that’s not true. It’s OK that I like all kinds of stuff.

STEREOGUM: When did you first hear Tool?

YEATON: Oh, man. My best friend Shawn growing up, his mom was like a Tool mom. Music wasn’t a thing in my family really at all. My mom, not that she wasn’t cool or whatever, but you got into my mom’s car and whatever the radio station was playing, that was what was up. And then I started hanging out with my friend, and his mom was into contemporary alternative rock. She loved Nirvana and God Lives Underwater and shit like that.

STEREOGUM: She sounds like an awesome mom.

YEATON: And Tool. She loved Tool, it was her favorite band. And she brought us to see Korn when we were in 8th grade and she just was very informative and very supportive of the idea that we gravitated toward that thing. I was in a band with Shawn and his brother, and we’d practice at their house. Her understanding and knowledge and appreciation for bands like Tool and other, I guess, technical hard rock, came from an appreciation of bands like King Crimson and the Mothers Of Invention. I guess something like that hasn’t necessarily happened to me yet, but I can totally see how that can happen. You’re missing a certain element of this style, and then a band comes along and gives it to you, and that was what Tool was for her. She had a Tool box set, and she’d play it constantly at their house. Just like the artwork for it I remember being so amazing too. It was like something that didn’t fit in a CD collection; it was like an awkwardly long CD box. And she was always listening to it. I remember the moment that I really became obsessed with them is this track where it’s like a German guy … it sounds like Hitler is giving a speech, but it’s just a guy talking about cake.

STEREOGUM: Now, what do your bandmates think? Because I can’t imagine that they [songwriters and frontmen Andrew Savage and Austin Brown] are that into Tool.

YEATON: I’d say that typically, it doesn’t come up like I’d thought. Andrew is amazing in that he’s got a pretty encyclopedic knowledge of music in general, so it’s not like you can’t talk about it. There’s a different thing, for example, between talking about Tool and Limp Bizkit.

STEREOGUM: Oh definitely.

YEATON: Tool sort of exists to me in a different world altogether.

STEREOGUM: They’re a very respectable band. I mean, some indie people would roll their eyes at them back in the day. Pitchfork infamously gave them a 1.9 for Lateralus. But overall, they’re respected.

[At this point, the band’s sound guy Chad comes over to bum a cigarette off of Yeaton.]

YEATON: We’re talking about Tool. You know anything about Tool, Chad?

CHAD: Uhm…

STEREOGUM: I’m trying to ruin Parquet Courts’ indie cred by doing a thing on how much Sean loves Tool.

YEATON: I think it will bring in another element. I hope it will help people understand it’s OK to just like whatever the fuck you want to like.

STEREOGUM: But let’s get back to what we were talking about. What does the band think about your fandom?

YEATON: I’d say that I know enough that it’s not like it’s the only music I listen to or something, so, if I’m like riding shotgun in the van or something, and it’s my responsibility to put music on, I know that I can always pick something everybody’s going to like. But there’s always these ebbs and flows of everything, right? I feel like suddenly when we go on tour, there isn’t a playlist that doesn’t feature a few Nine Inch Nails songs. I feel like when we first started going on tour and I had “Head Like A Hole” on a playlist or something, that would be taken off and now it’s like… I think that it takes those sorts of bands to fill in the gaps for people to understand shit. How you get from, like, Flipper to Nine Inch Nails, that has sort of become like my goal in the band or something. Like I was saying to someone earlier, I play this game sometimes I call ‘Slipknot or Tragedy,’ and I’ll play 20 or 30 seconds of the beginning of a Tragedy or Slipknot song, and I’ll have people guess.

STEREOGUM: Sounds like a fun game.

YEATON: Tragedy is a band that I also love, like an arena crust band or whatever, but their credibility in the hardcore punk community is obviously massively well-respected. Slipknot, lesser so, but to me there are aspects that, on a purely fundamental level, they have in common. And just to discredit something based on its mainstream-ness or whatever is sort of, I think, a little unfair.

STEREOGUM: Everyone liked mainstream stuff at least at one point in their lives. It’s probably how they first got into music. Your first album might have been Fugazi, but I fucking doubt it. It was probably Green Day.

YEATON: Look, that’s the thing. I never saw Fugazi, but I saw Korn. And it’s like almost, if I hadn’t seen Korn, I ultimately would not have gotten to the point where, in a way, they would have led me to Fugazi.

STEREOGUM: Right.

YEATON: And dude, I just saw on Twitter a couple of days ago that Fred Durst tweeted a Minor Threat thing, like their artwork. I met him once, we were at a festival. I always was weirdly obsessed with Wes Borland as a character. Especially going through those angsty preteen years into being a teenager, it was so important.

STEREOGUM: Did they know anything about your band?

YEATON: No, but we played the sixth stage then. I mean, I talked to Fred Durst for a while.

STEREOGUM: What was he like?

YEATON: He was really nice, actually. We talked about how he couldn’t really hear out of his left ear. I never noticed it until he said it, but whenever he performs, this, like crouching thing, his head is tilted toward those monitors blasting in his left ear, so he’s, like, deaf in his left ear. And still, he carries on through it.

Like I said with regard to a lot of these kind of things, I’m not listening to these records all the time, but I guess I appreciate that there was a point where — imagine what it was like to be in one of those crazy bands in the middle of nowhere who decided that they were going to make music that didn’t even fit into fringe music. [For instance], Korn — they started out opening for Sick Of It All and these New York hardcore bands. And then to be, like, ‘We are even more different than that.’ It’s not that it makes it better, it’s just that it makes it interesting to me. And just the fact that they became massively popular for a blink of an eye, long enough to get those people mansions and crazy shit, it doesn’t limit its interest and importance.

STEREOGUM: Is there any influence of their music in what you do today? Do you feel there’s a Tool influence in Parquet Courts?

YEATON: Yeah. I think, there can’t not be. I guess on some level, I know sometimes I think about it almost the same way as I think about like… I have two kids, right? But my dad wasn’t really around as a kid, so I feel as though I’ve raised my kids as the dad that I didn’t have. I know what not to do because of the dad history that I have. And sometimes, for better or worse… not Tool necessarily, but Fieldy from Korn’s bass tone is part of a lexicon within our band that everyone understands. It’s a no-no to dip into that frequency of flicky bass tones.

STEREOGUM: It’s an example of what not to do.

YEATON: Maybe it’s not so much that it informs the way I play music, but sometimes it informs certain decisions I don’t make. But Tool, again, is kind of a different thing. We have a song, “One Man No City,” that, when we play it live, there’s like a whole other kind of feel to it, it’s a little more extended. [With] Tool, I remember always there would be rumors that they used the fucking Fibonacci sequence to write songs, and it’s like golden ratios everywhere and whatnot. Maybe there’s some influence from Tool or something in there, filling in weird notes.

STEREOGUM: Did you go through a period when you pretended you didn’t like this stuff?

YEATON: It wasn’t even that I pretended to not like it, it was that I got to a point where I was listening to hardcore and grindcore and metal, and it brought on a kind of unintentional pretentiousness, where I was, like, “Yeah, I’m listening to this weird Scandinavian black metal thing.” My friends were really into metal. They’d show me records and bands that I didn’t even really understand at that time as much as I might now and stuff, but I knew that they were cool. It wasn’t cool to be into Korn. But [with] Tool, you know, honestly, weirdly I always thought they kind of managed to sneak their way through. They were almost like an exception to the rule.

[After Tool’s set, I checked in with Yeaton to ask him his thoughts.]

STEREOGUM: So what did you think of the show?

YEATON: Man, amazing show! Truly surpassed my expectations. I’ve always heard the band is impressively loud and airtight through all the dizzying time signatures and clinically dynamic songwriting. Given it’s only guitar, bass, and drums; add to that the wild lights and visuals. I was also really excited to see whatever emblematic or chilling costume Maynard might have on. I loved it! He looked like an anonymous foot soldier on some Orwellian SWAT team.

STEREOGUM: They didn’t play any new material. As a fan, does that matter to you?

YEATON: I didn’t mind it. In fact, I was really excited to have known all the songs they played, and hearing them live brought this whole new life to them. As a musician, I’ve definitely felt the urge to play a set with some new, never-before-heard material, because it breaks away from the usual songs the band has played a million times. That said, I’m not a super big fan of bands testing out new material live that might not be readily available to hear on record. I think Tool did the right thing, getting the crowd all worked up with the hits.

STEREOGUM: Now that you’re a professional musician yourself, do you appreciate groups like Tool in a different way?

YEATON: I certainly do. I definitely found myself wondering what sound check was like for them. Still though, their songs hit me the same way they have since I was a kid. I definitely found myself fantasizing about how awesome it would be to be in their shoes up there.

STEREOGUM: Did any of your bandmates watch Tool? If so, what did they think? If not, what’d they say about you enjoying them?

YEATON: As it turns out, Mac DeMarco and I share a pretty mutual appreciation for Tool and that sort of niche genre of rock music. So we watched a lot of Tool’s set together. My bandmates did watch the show, and all I heard from them was that their minds were blown. I think at this point for all of us, in spite of whatever music we gravitated to as kids that ultimately led us to each other, we respect each other’s taste in general. I mean, we’re in a band together, and we spend a lot of time together, so something obviously clicks. Whether they’re willing to acknowledge how much of an influence Tool has had on that is kind of beside the point, but I can always know what’s up.