A mere six months ago, Picture Parlour were playing shows at Brixton’s The Windmill, the influential South London venue where the likes of Shame, Black Midi and Black Country, New Road all cut their teeth before bigger things beckoned.
While the gigs came at a formative, experimental stage of their career, they had no idea that one date would see them performing to straight-up rock royalty.
“Courtney Love shared a post and we were in the pub afterwards when our phones went crazy, which never happens,” remembers singer Katherine Parlour.
“We had no idea she was there, but I hope we get to meet. She just told us it’s all about the music. Keep thinking about the music. Yes Courtney, WE WILL!”
The group – completed by bassist Sian Lynch, guitarist Ella Risi and drummer Michael Nash – deal in the kind of atmospheric classic rock that leaves you with no illusions why Love, a titan of grunge-rock, has fallen in love with the group.
Their debut single ‘Norwegian Wood’ deals heavily in classic rock, but comes with a brilliantly contemporary edge. At its core is the remarkable vocals of Parlour – a distinctive growl that will allow the band to stand out on their own as a distinctive and powerful proposition.
Listen to ‘Norwegian Wood’ below and check out our interview with Picture Parlour.
You’ve been playing live without a single song being out there for fans to experience beforehand. What’s that experience like?
Katherine Parlour: There’s definitely a pressure to it. I do wonder when we do release it, what are people going to think of it and what is it going to sound like it? But we’ve been doing it for years together and we’re just desperate to get music out. There’s a mischief to it, because when we do put something out, we’re obviously going to believe in it.
Tell us about the creation of ‘Norwegian Wood’.
Katherine: As a song, pre-recorded, we’ve been sitting on it for a couple of years and we just couldn’t record it for financial reasons, so when were offered the chance to sit about it, we went fuuuck, it’s happening!
We both moved to London a few years ago and at the time I was doing what everyone does when you move your life to a new city. You wonder if it’s the right decision and whether you should be trying to do new music. I was just feeling crap and I remember seeing the book ‘Norwegian Wood’ by Haruki Murakami in Waterstones on the shelf and the blurb references the Beatles track which just reminded me of home so I thought fuck it, I’ll buy it. Then it became like a bit of a ritual where I’d read the book, listened to the song on the tube and I think I read it within like the week and you know how you’re in that world with the book and then it finishes and you’re like, ok, I’m back in reality now, now what?
It was just one of those moments and I was like, well, I still feel a bit shitty, the book’s a bit depressing. It came to me after that and I thought it was shit, but Ella came home that night and asked what I’d been up to. I showed the track to her and she immediately thought it could really be something, even if I wasn’t sure.
Ella: We just sat down and worked on it and it became our set opener because when we showed it to the band, they loved it as well. It kind of feels like a nice place to start, releasing that.
That’s interesting that Ella liked the song even if you didn’t have the same faith.
Katherine: We have a balancing act between us, I think where a lot of the time I can have like a stupid idea or one that I think is stupid and Ella is going to be like, well, well, hang on. Actually, this could be quite good.
Ella: It definitely helps being so in tune with each other and being able to have that like honest communication as well for sure.
What’s the story behind how you came together?
Ella: We’d just finished our undergrads at Uni and we were doing different music things but had the same bassist. I knew Katherine through social media, I’d had a stalk and thought she’s really good! So I got this mutual friend to link us up for a jam and came round to Katherine’s place and she opened up the door with a glass of Jameson’s, so I knew straight away it was gonna be good.
It was in that period where we were coming out of lockdown where the music industry hadn’t really opened up again, so I basically just stayed at Katherine’s for three weeks and we wrote together. We bonded over similar interests and just really clicked with it. It felt like we were musically finishing each other’s sentences, which is just fun. It was a special moment.
One of the things that really stood out to me is your voice, Katherine. It’s classically distinctive in a way that will let fans instantly know it’s one of your songs if that makes sense?
You know when you’re a kid and you try and sing a get a family member to record you? We’ve all done that right? My dad would be like ‘you’re not Beyonce love!’ and I never thought I was a singer. I’d be a writer but in bands where no one wanted to sing. And if you write them, you’ve just got to sing them! It was definitely that kind of thing. If you believe what you’re writing then it’ll come out in the way you intend for it to do. It’s probably something to do with what I grew up listening to as well, powerful women in rock.
You’ve spoken before about how the likes of Nick Cave and Patti Smith have influenced your sound
Katherine: Nick Cave, Patti Smith, Fleetwood Mac, T Rex, they’re all what I call classic musicians. It’s amazing what they can do to your emotions. When I go to a Nick Cave gig I can walk away and have a skip in my step because he’s affected me so much. But at the same time, when we last saw Nick Cave we were just in floods of tears. It’s so affecting and that’s the kind of thing that I think seeps into you being a human and when I write songs I’m always hoping it can do the same thing as those musicians have done for me.
Ella: On the guitar side of it, when we’re writing we always tend to make it as big as possible and to sound as big as possible. We imagine whether we could play it on a big festival stage. I want something that, like, if I was in the crowd, any audience member would be able to sing along to it.
Katherine: We go from that sort of perspective and I think that’s why him and Stevie Nicks have this way with words where they can say like the most simple things, but it’s in such a beautiful way, even like sonically, like how, how they sing each word.
Does that come from a place where like you were discovering it naturally or is this the kind of music you were brought up on?
Katherine: I grew up on Fleetwood Mac, but actually my dad was a big Motown fan, like Soul and Motown. Then I guess like you hit your teen years and you’re trying to like discover yourself and you want to be cool and that’s when you find like T Rex and Nick Cave.
Ella: I grew up on David Bowie, I was from a very small town so there wasn’t much music culture, but I could sort of find myself just having a passion for music and playing guitar. Then when I got to Manchester for uni, it was a big culture shock. I started discovering more artists through there.
You’ve just supported The Last Dinner Party who have attracted huge acclaim this year. Does it feel like the tide is beginning to turn for female-fronted bands?
Ella: It does feel like there’s a shift starting, even if it’s a long time coming. I look back at when I was at music uni and one of the only girls in the class, it felt like a space I wasn’t meant to be in. That plays into your self confidence and you keep pushing, so it’s nice to see things slowly beginning to turn with bands like us and The Last Dinner Party.
Katherine: I noticed it too when we began to play The Windmill in Brixton last year. And there’s actually like, feels that way. When we got that gig and it went really well, their booker Tim Perry asked us back the next week and we’d just play there all the time. The same thing would be said to us after every gig, people saying they were glad to finally be seeing acts like us at The Windmill. Which did make me wonder what’s been on there all that time before. But genres and cultures and waves change and I just think it’s our time now.
And there was a very famous fan at those shows in Courtney Love. She said she liked your “songs and swagger”.
Katherine: Apparently so! We’ve never met her, but we’ve spoken via Instagram. She shared a post and we were in the pub and our phone went crazy, which never happens. I hope we get to meet. She just said it’s all about the music! Keep thinking about the music! Yes Courtney, WE WILL!
Norwegian Wood is out now.