Parlor Walls Juxtapose Beauty and Horror with Video for “Game”

Parlor Walls photo by Michelle LoBianco.

Post-punk darlings Parlor Walls weave a deadly spell in their latest music video for “Game.” The initial drone, followed by an unnerving pulse of a beep, reminiscent to a heartbeat on a hospital monitor, is almost as unnerving as the video itself. It comes from the band’s most recent LP, Heavy Tongue, released in February.

The Brooklyn-based duo comprised of Alyse Lamb and Chris Mulligan utilize an element of surprise in their videos, as well as in their multi-layered live performances showcasing Lamb’s electric guitar and Mulligan’s synth-savvy. The way they build each song in a live setting amounts to a slow boil, adding each new element slowly: first synth, then drums, guitar, and finally Lamb’s eerie vocals, laying out the vision in full.

“Game” has a similar trajectory, beginning with glitchy colors, bubbles floating up from the dark, settling on a woman’s masked face looming above a bathroom floor. It’s the repetition of those initial heartbeats that pull the listener in, the odd angles which make it difficult to see whether there is one woman or two, and then suddenly seeing both women, in early 1900s bathing suits. laughingly repeating the chorus into the frame. In that split second of a frame, we see they are beautiful to the eye, but what lengths did they to go to in order to achieve perfection? The song questions what beauty is, who defines it, and asks whether we can pull ourselves away long enough to make a difference.

Read our interview with the band and watch an exclusive premiere of “Game” below.

AF: Why do you make music? To feel something or to say something?

CM: Definitely to feel something. I’m sure Alyse is different as she is certainly saying something with her lyrics, but for me music is about expressing something you don’t know how to put into words. It’s like when you go outside at night and it’s warm and the smell of the wind gives you this overwhelming visceral reaction. You feel connected to something in a gut way. There’s no anxieties in that moment, time stretches out and goes silent. You feel present and have total perspective that we are in space right now but it is okay and not scary. Like I said, it’s a feeling I don’t know how to put into words without sounding like a 14-year-old stoner. But yeah, I hope to get to a point where I can make something and it gives someone that kind of reaction.

AL: I make music to process what is going on in the world around me – it helps me like a filter. It also builds connection. Connecting with one another is soooo important to me – it’s imperative for any attempt at harmony and understanding. I also just looove the physical aspect of playing as well – it shakes me up.

AF: When did you start writing music? And what was your first song about?

AL: I got a Casio keyboard when I was seven. I played around on that thing every day. My mom had a seamstress/costume shop in our basement and my first song was about her being in the dungeon weeping with the spiders. It was a sweet little tune with dark lyrics. Clearly I was watching a lot of Conan The Destroyer and Nightmare on Elm Street (shout out Freddy Krueger). In middle school/high school I would write a lot about my relationships, stresses and insecurities. I’ve always needed it.

AF: The band has gone through just a couple lineup changes over time. How have you and Chris’s musical relationship changed over the years? Do you write in a similar way to when you first started?

AL: When Chris and I first started playing music, it was very loud and very fast. We were exercising some demons. Eventually we settled on a mostly atonal, discordant landscape with sweet melodies hovering above. I love playing with harshness and softness and mixing it up. It has been a beautiful journey to examine all these little cracks and flows, and sort of let the tide take us where it wants. We keep digging deeper and deeper and uncovering new sounds.

AF: There’s a beautiful tension to your live performances, especially as you each settle into your instruments at the start of a song. Do you improvise at all during your concerts?

AL: Yes! We love improvising live. It keeps us on our toes, and it lets us read the room before going into our set. We always improvise transitions between songs too – it’s such a treat to hear what Chris has up his sleeve for the night.

AF: Your Instagram has a glitchy, 1970s LSD symposium vibe to it. How do visual arts play into your music? Are there certain fine artists you identify with as inspiration for Parlor Walls?

CM: Don’t know if this is considered fine art, but we’ve been obsessed with Triadisches Ballet by Oskar Schlemmer. It’s otherworldly and extremely simplistic at the same time. Better than any pop song.

AL: We are both visual artists so yes, it’s a large part of our process in Parlor Walls. Our album art, music videos, live visuals, merch… everything is connected. Chris found a bunch of amazing public domain footage from the 1950s and ’60s, very blown out and campy, and this has influenced some of our art for Heavy Tongue. I’m very much inspired by Dorothea Tanning, Egon Schiele, Kandinsky, Hen Douglass, and the composer Erik Satie.

AF: Tell us about the music video for “Game.” What’s the narrative here (or is there one)?

AL: The song is about my frustration/disgust with certain people in the spotlight pushing and pedaling toxic ideas and products to young people. It is unfathomable how some celebrities use their voice and platform for money and profit rather than making this world a better place. This directly ties in with body image – we are taught from a young age that we are not enough. There’s always something being pedaled to us to make us prettier or more beautiful (Jameela Jamil is deeply inspirational to me, she has been a frontline soldier in this fight!). I stumbled upon an article about Helena Rubinstein’s Glamour Factory of the 1930s. Women went to absurd lengths in the name of “beauty.” The video for “Game” reflects the grotesque and bizarre. I wanted it to feel like being trapped inside a horror house. I’ve co-directed a number of videos but this was my first solo directing project. Chris edited it, Emma McDonald shot it, and my co-star was Andrya Ambro (Check out her band Gold Dime). Chris and I run an art collective/production company called Famous Swords. This is our latest visual project.

AF: What music are you currently listening to purely for pleasure?

CM: Resavoir. That’s the band name and album name. It gives me that feeling I was rambling about in that first answer.

AL: Too Free’s new album is wonderful. They’re a group from DC.

AF: What’s your favorite NYC spot right now?

We recently played a show at TV Eye in Ridgewood. Check it out, it’s a beautiful space!

AF: I’ve left a Parlor Walls show. I’m having a drink with friends at my local haunt. What feeling or message do you hope I’ve left with?

Shaken up. Titilated. Feathers ruffled. Inspired to create.

Parlor Walls’ latest record Heavy Tongue is out now.