Parenthetical Girls - Biography
Originally calling themselves “Swastika Girls” after a Brian Eno/Robert Fripp song, the northwestern experimental indie pop band Parenthetical Girls began as a bedroom-recording duo consisting of Jeremy Cooper and Zac Pennington in 2002. With a shared appreciation of Eno and Phil Spector they laid down seven lo-fi songs on an eight-track recorder and essentially left them for dead, before Jherek Bischoff (of the Dead Science) and Jamie Stewart (of Xiu Xiu) mixed those same songs into, not only useable material, but mixes that would become the nexus of their identifiable sound. Since that time, Parenthetical Girls—with the core constant of gender-bending vocalist, Pennington—have released two more LPs, and a host of EPs and singles. They’ve also evolved over time from a studio only entity to a four-piece band that now plays live gigs with various line-ups.
Cooper and Pennington were childhood friends in depressed Everett, Washington, with neither having any real musical aptitude. After putting out EPs as Swastika Girls (Christmas with Swastika Girls) and Parenthetical Girls (Christmas with Parenthetical Girls), Cooper faded away from the project and Pennington got the songs into the hands of chums Bischoff and Stewart, making the band more of a partnership between friends. Once in the hands of the two established musicians, Pennington put out (((GRRRLS))) in 2004 on his own label, Slender Means Society, exclusively a vinyl release. Bischoff’s mixes appeared on one side of the record (“X”), while Stewart’s appeared on the other (“O”).
Now called Parenthetical Girls, Pennington relocated to the more artsy Portland, Oregon, and—now with Bischoff and his Dead Science band mate, Sam Mickens—morphed into something more of an actual indie rock band. They did a tour as a trio for the first time, and later with just Pennington and Mickens. Pennington and Bischoff would collaborate on what would eventually become the critically acclaimed Safe As Houses (2006 Tomlab). It drew favorable comparisons to Marc Bolan and especially Xiu Xiu, given Pennington’s falsetto’d, manic vox.
After adding Portland-based multi-instrumentalists Matt Carlson, Rachael Jensen and Eddy Crichton to the mix—and Bischoff becoming more of an in-house engineer behind the band’s recording sessions—Parenthetical Girls was a real flesh-and-blood band by 2006, complete with the idiosyncratic signatures of each member. They toured the United States and Europe in Safe as Houses support and earned a cult following on both continents. The self-titled Parenthetical Girls (2006, Slender Means Society) came out next, which was an expanded CD version of (((GRRRLS))) along with a new track, “Inspirational Shortpants [Avec Paroles].”
The band’s most ambitious and densely multi-faceted release to date came in 2008’s Entanglements (Tomlab), a full gear-shifting foray into the always hinted at chamber pop of previous material. With Bischoff helming the knobs and Carlson’s fingerprints on every instrument on the record (synth, accordion, glockenspiel, marimba, and the harpsichord on the innovative “Young Eucharists”), the 11-track album was graced with lush orchestral arrangements by 25 classically trained musicians and heavily thematic. Lyrically, the songs ranged from adolescent sexual desire to broader yearning themes. Entanglements drew comparisons to The Decemberists to Rufus Wainwright to Final Fantasy, and was considered one of the better indie rock albums of 2008.
Parenthetical Girls toured as a four-piece in 2009. The band's 2013 record is titled Privilege.