Picture Parlour: “We wanted this to be ambitious-sounding, big, grandiose, unapologetic”

Only one track deep, and everyone’s talking about PICTURE PARLOUR. Maybe it’s time they shut up and listened.

Words: Jamie Muir
Photos: Jennifer McCord

Is there a more talked about new band at this very moment than Picture Parlour? With one track out in the world following a slew of talked-about shows that quickly made them a word-of-mouth sensation, there’s buzz, and then there’s BUZZ. Yes, it’s fair to say Picture Parlour are the talk of the town. 

“It’s been surreal actually getting music out there,” states singer Katherine Parlour. It’s only a day since their debut track ‘Norwegian Wood’ landed after months of anticipation. “Like, to see that reaction of people liking it, it’s been….” There’s a pause. “There’s an elephant in the room, but it’s been a crazy 24 hours.”

We’ll get to that in a bit. “It’s weird because I didn’t feel any pressure at all,” reflects guitarist Ella Risi. “I just felt excitement. Then it’s out, and you’re in this whirlwind of, okay then, now what? Where do we go next? What should we release next?” 

It marks the grand reveal of a band whose journey began during lockdown when the idea of stepping into a venue to see a band seemed distant. Both based in Manchester (Katherine originally from Liverpool, Ella from Yorkshire), they were quickly drawn to each other. 

“I was kind of aware of Katherine through social media and, y’know, gave it the classic stalk,” cracks Ella. “We had mutual friends, and I was like – I’m gonna get them to link us up. We ended up having a jam round at Katherine’s place, and immediately it was like I’d known you my whole life. All of the things we had in common – musically, personally, where we came from – it just felt like a real moment. From that point forward… well, I kinda just stayed at yours for weeks. It was like, let’s write, write, write!” 

“We wrote so much,” picks up Katherine, “and the way we made music together – it was like finishing each other’s sentences. It was one of those moments where you’re like, this is what we as individuals have been waiting for. We’d done our own projects, we’d worked jobs, and we’d done uni, but that was the first time something just clicked.”

Creatively bouncing off one another, Picture Parlour is theatrical, personal and powerful in equal measure. “When we wrote together, we had this shared vision,” recalls Katherine, pulling back to those early days and how it shaped into the band they are today. 

“What we bonded over was 80s, 70s, even 60s classic rock, but fusing it with modern womanhood and power. I guess we were just bored of not having that around. When I was a kid, I would have died to have seen a young female-fronted working-class rock band on the cover of a magazine. It would have just changed my life as a kid, honestly, and that was something we bonded over. We wanted this to be ambitious-sounding, big, grandiose, unapologetic. All of those things that we value in women in rock like Patti Smith and Stevie Knicks, for example, but also in femme like the T-Rexs, the Bowies, the Elton Johns. These powerhouse and classic modern musicians, we wanted to inject some of that inspiration into our own stuff.”

As the world opened up, they were left with a decision, as Katherine remembers. “We didn’t have the pressure of playing live because we physically couldn’t, but when it did open up again – it was like, what do we do? Do we stay in Manchester? Do we just try and make something happen?” 

Picking themselves up, enrolling in masters degrees part-time (“so we could say to our family and friends that we’re moving to London and their first reaction not being, ‘what the fuck!'”), without any friends, they headed to London. “It was the scariest thing,” notes Katherine. “We were like, oh god, what are we doing?” Diving in blind, they feverishly emailed and searched for any shows to put them on (“We got aired by a lot of them,” laughs Ella). 

Months went by, with their dreams driving them in the hope that someone would take a chance on them. Refusing to compromise on the vision they had in mind and without the financial means to record their music in a way which would match their insatiable hunger, doubts unsurprisingly kicked in. Yet it couldn’t grind down that connection and knowing that something special was in the works. 

Bringing in bassist Sian Lynch and drummer Michael Nash after meeting through a Facebook ad (“which sounds well dodgy when you say it out loud, but it wasn’t,” laughs Katherine), Picture Parlour rehearsed and rehearsed and then rehearsed some more just waiting for their opportunity. Then they finally got a response. 

“I remember as we were driving down to London, without anyone we knew living there, if we can have our first show at The Windmill in Brixton, then that would be a dream,” smiles Ella. “When we got a response from Tim at The Windmill, we were like, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!” 

The show proved to be a pivotal moment, with the bubbling South London scene firmly embracing the oozing star presence of a band who were primed and ready to fire their starting pistol into the night sky. Live, Picture Parlour are an unstoppable tidal wave of superstardom. Leaning into crooner-Vegas swagger, scorching riffs and arena-sized auras from a band who understand how to put on a show, it’s an experience that has you walking away with a new favourite band. 

“There was a magic in the room,” recalls Katherine. “Hearing people, actual humans, be like – that in front of me has just happened, and I enjoyed it. That was like, WHAT? We need to do this again immediately! Just to make sure it’s actually real.”

From that point on, Picture Parlour became the underground band that everyone in London HAD to see. Constantly playing live drew attention, and before they knew it, everyone was paying attention. “We had no idea how the industry worked,” admits Katherine. “So to suddenly get emails from people asking for more info about us and for demos and stuff… we thought it was a scam! Sian had to email people she knew asking if we were being scammed!” 

The connections made during those initial shows and the fever rush that came from all those lucky enough to be in attendance wanting more (including a certain Courtney Love) became the foundation for Picture Parlour to begin their launch into the stratosphere. “We were so lucky to meet the people we did, but it didn’t come from…” Katherine pauses. “What were they saying? Our dads who have Wikipedia pages?” 

“When I was a kid, I would have died to have seen a young female-fronted working-class rock band on the cover of a magazine”

Katherine Parlour

In the 24 hours since that anticipated debut ‘Norwegian Wood’ landed, amid the blaze of celebration, the ugly side of social media forced its way into the frame, with comments, lies, accusations and insults thrown about as to how a brand new band could make such a splash with their very first release. 

“It’s fucking ridiculous,” states Katherine. “I feel actually upset about it because it may sound cheesy, but my working-class identity is so important to me. That’s something that I cherish. That’s what my Dad instilled in me, y’know? Work hard, have ambition; you’re no better or worse than any rich or poor. I’m so proud of where myself and the band come from, and it does upset me that the target’s on the wrong head. They couldn’t have jumped on a more rickety bandwagon there; you’ve got the wrong dudes!” 

“It’s frustrating that you ended up feeling a responsibility to then explain your whole family history,” continues Ella. “People should definitely call out things in the industry, completely agree with that, but don’t create a false narrative without knowing the facts… Some of the stuff being said I can’t actually believe is still being said in 2023.” 

“People don’t stop to think,” adds Katherine. “I get it because this is wider than just music. There’s social, political… I mean, we could get into everything about the state of the country and the unfairness we see. Nepotism in music is such an issue in the same way it is across various parts of society. People just seem ready to misdirect anger towards people, and I just hate the fact that it’s a bunch of young women. Who are working class. Like, ahhh, you’ve picked the wrong one!”

“I don’t care what you think about our music. I care about my identity as a working-class girl being shat all over. I care about the hate being sent our way. I care about race erasure for one of our band members and personal attacks and misogyny. It’s rooted in that, and I know people don’t like to accept that.” Katherine pauses. “Also, like people pretending to know us, that’s weird! Apparently, someone was saying that they know our guitar tech?! We don’t have a guitar tech!”

“That would make my life a lot easier,” smiles Ella. 

“The bottom line is, we came down to London and have made ourselves a nice little fucking life that we’re proud of. We got lucky in the process, and I hope it keeps happening for all new bands. For whoever! We are really proud of what we’ve released, and we’re not going to stop,” states Katherine. Evidence of that determination can be seen directly in what Picture Parlour were doing as the comments piled in. “We were literally making a demo as it all started to come in. We were in the middle of making this demo, and we were like – can we even carry on today? Then we were like, no, fuck that. We all put our phones in a box in the corner of the room, and by the end of the day, we came away with the sickest demo. Like it actually, yeah… it did motivate and fuel us.”

In defiance of them all, Picture Parlour’s ambition can only be the biggest. Already feeling like they’re destined to take on the grandest of stages, if there’s a band to catch in 2023 before they go stratospheric – they’re right here. 

“It’s a continuous evolution, I guess.” admits Katherine. “Now we’ve got ‘Norwegian Wood’ out, it does feel like we’re established. What do we want to do next? I guess it’s not good to have that big expectation, but there’s nothing that’s going to stop us. We’re ready. If we can play bigger and better gigs. We can release albums… we want it all. We want this.”

Their significance now, after every reaction seen, may be more important than ever. As Ella notes, “Going through uni and stuff being one of very few women in the whole class, it just automatically sets the precedent of like – this is not your space. I hope when we’re on stage, there are young people and young women in the audience who look at that and go – I’d love to do that one day, and like, it’s actually possible.”

“It’s a wider thing, too,” notes Katherine. “If there was something to take away from coming to see one of our shows, I would just want you to walk away with a skip in your step. That’s my favourite kind of show, where I leave, and I’m like – fuck I feel good. I don’t want to go home now. That’s the kind of thing that I’d love this band to grow to be. Just a place for people to go vibe, leaving with a skip in their step.”

So, that question about why so many people are talking about them? Well, the answer is simple: Picture Parlour are THAT fucking good. ■

Taken from the August 2023 edition of Dork.


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