An Interview with Parent Teacher: Infrequently Asked Questions

New York City-based musician and pigeon-whisperer Parent Teacher discusses his newly released album Impending Doom. Articulate, timely, and beautifully observed, the album adroitly mixes humor with despair over the “complete breakdown of American society,” and remains addictively listenable throughout. Hear/purchase the album here.

“Prepare for impending doom.” 

With these playful words of warning begins one of the year’s most slyly subversive indie-pop albums, Parent Teacher’s Impending Doom. Across fifteen tunes that span the gamut from pleasantly zapped indie-rock to folktronica and woozy lo-fi, Parent Teacher—who prefers to keep his real name private—confronts the buzzing absurdity of life in a declining empire. 

– Zach Schonfeld

Infrequently Asked Questions

Magpies: I’m curious about the name “Parent Teacher.” For me as a student and as a parent, the atmosphere of parent-teacher conferences ranged from well-meaning misunderstanding to passive aggressive hostility. Once, we were called in because my son was supposedly drawing a bomb, and it was actually a guy wearing a Fez. I think for anyone who has ever been a student or a parent, the phrase is loaded with meaning and memories. How did you decide on it for your music?

Parent Teacher: The dreaded parent teacher conference night always felt like a trip to the police station. As a kid, I had quite an adversarial relationship with teachers. We hated each other. I was really wild and completely unhinged. I was often kicked out of class, sometimes suspended and even expelled from a few schools. So, as you might imagine, this night was never fun for me. My early identity was carved out by teachers and principals casting me as “the outsider”. Well, here I am today still embracing that same childish energy but using it to make tunes. I’m still the outsider minus detention and with slightly less punishment.

One lesson of a parent-teacher conference is that a teacher’s job is much easier if everyone is exactly alike and nobody asks questions, which comes across as an uncomfortable feeling of injustice and powerlessness for a creative or curious child. Do you remember when or how you were able to better harness that anger or eccentricity? Did certain people or teachers help? Or making music?

There was one teacher who helped me: my 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Silverman. She used positive reinforcement and sat me right next to her desk in class. Instead of casting me out, she brought me closer. I did great that year and still do well with that kind of positive attention I suppose.

Jeffrey Lewis sings, “I’d leave home for New York/ But New York is where I’m from.” Does being from New York City give you a certain freedom? You’ve seen the scene, and you have maybe a clearer perspective on the mythology and glamor of it all. Does it help you to be strange in your own honest way and make the music you want to make?

100% . There’s so much of everything here and it’s everything all the time, like an IRL internet of people. The only natural place I can go creatively without trying to be someone else is inward. It’s a freeing feeling, especially in the moments of making music. We’ve seen all the scenes and all the styles come and go but time and time again it’s sincerity that remains, and that’s what’s most fun in the end.

In a similar vein, you’ve said of this album, “It’s much more personal—not trying to be this, trying to fit into that scene. This is actually just me.” When you make something that’s a true expression of yourself or your view of the world, there’s a sense of heightened vulnerability, and maybe a reluctance to “sell” your work. What’s your ideal audience for this work? What’s your idea of success for the album? How do you hope people will react?

I’d say my ideal audience consists of jaded revolutionaries and people barely hanging on to their sanity.

Yeah, I actually do feel pretty vulnerable once my music is shared with others. It then becomes someone else’s to judge, and it’s scary to let go of the material. I feel like a parent releasing my child into a wicked world of streaming sites and targeted demographic campaigns. But I do feel that the vulnerability is worthwhile as long as I get to keep creating. Maybe I’m naive, but I feel the struggle is probably part of the artform.

I’d say my ideal audience consists of jaded revolutionaries and people barely hanging on to their sanity.

What is the role of art/music in a society in which everything is for sale, and everybody is always trying to sell you something?

No clue where any of this is headed, but I believe our culture is structured to ensure that capital will always make the rules (which are meant to be broken). My aphorism is: Defeat your algorithm.

I am curious about the moniker “pigeon whisperer.” I love all birds, and I’m a huge fan of anything that’s overlooked or even maligned, but that is actually beautiful and endearing if you take a moment to really look at it, so I’m a pigeon lover. Do you “keep” pigeons? (I’m imagining a Ghost Dog scenario.) Or do you simply befriend your local pigeons? Did you notice a difference in the behavior of the pigeon population during the pandemic?

I wouldn’t say I’m a pigeon keeper. Rather I look after them like family. I make sure they have good food and clean feathers, and I sometimes remove strings tangled in their talons. If there’s a more serious health concern, I rush them to the Wild Bird Fund where you can find NYC’s most loyal bird caregivers.

Playing a small role in the urban ecosystem, I’ve taught the pigeons certain tasks and in return they’ve taught me how to read the sky – which is better than twitter.

Every winter, I become an emboldened pigeon guardian, shielding them from a constant barrage of hawk attacks. In collaboration with intimidating crow gangs and protective kestrel couples, I discourage the majestic apex predators from using my rooftop as a hunting ground with amplified recordings of various owl screeches. Playing a small role in the urban ecosystem, I’ve taught the pigeons certain tasks and in return they’ve taught me how to read the sky – which is better than twitter.

Many people fled the city during the pandemic, but it seems that you stayed? What was the city like at that time? As terrible as the pandemic was (and I think we can’t talk enough about how terrible it was, despite our collective attempt to pretend it never happened) there was a certain poignant quality to the time—a sense that life and the passing of time had more value. Do you think that certain aspects of life have changed irrevocably during/since that time? Did the enforced loneliness have an impact on the way you recorded this album?

The pandemic has changed all of our lives forever. I don’t think there will ever be a return to “normal”. I decided to use 2020 as a jump-off point from which to start a new life within a culture that is going to need 10-15 years or so just to begin to understand what the hell is going on. I saw the distancing as an opportunity to create a new space. It was both the physical and the spiritual distancing that created a much needed vacuum for a creative explosion.

This feeling was heightened (for me, anyway) because it came after years of Trump-as-president when it really started to feel that nothing mattered, no bad deed would be punished but there would be a constant numbing stream of manufactured outrage. This atmosphere and the pandemic itself caused a lot of artists to shut down on some level. But others found space to work, or even enjoyed exploring their new artistic limitations. It seems you were able to create something solid and important and express some of the absurdity of the whole situation. Did the situation make you rethink the way you create and make music?

Entirely! I can say that this project would not exist without the turmoil we’re all in – the hypocritical nonsense we’re subjected to on a daily basis. The chaotic atmosphere and worsening feelings of dread were extremely inspiring for content, and the limitations made it much easier to focus. In fact, I love limitations! Can’t live without ‘em.

As angry and frustrated as life may be, we’re still alive and that’s beautiful – all of it at the same time.

The fact that you recognize the absurdity, both of our dysfunctional systems and of the constant meaningless noise of social media and “news,” lends a wicked humor to your songs, an actual sense of irony. Your music is full of contradictions such as this. Cheerful beats and tunes to accompany gloomy, pessimistic lyrics, for instance. Can you discuss how you use humor and, let’s say “danceability” to convey a difficult and critical message?

I used Devo as my northstar. They might have been the angriest band of all time, but they chose fun instead of letting societal dysfunction turn them emo (no-offense to any emo fans). This is the cognitive behavioral approach I wanted in the project. There’s always something euphoric about lines being blurred and sensations being blended in a twisted fashion. As angry and frustrated as life may be, we’re still alive and that’s beautiful – all of it at the same time.

I believe that art or music that is clearly “of a time”–the product of a certain moment in history, as this album is for me–has more of an enduring impact than anything created to appeal to more people in a blander and less-immediate fashion. Was this something you considered when you put the album together?

Yes, very much so! That was actually the goal. Feeling so much pent up energy and so much to say about this era, I wanted to extract as much of it as I could and utilize it to fuel a magnitude of work on a scale of which I’ve never previously achieved . It was the energy of the time that possessed me.

Follow Parent Teacher on bandcamp, Instagram, and Twitter.

Categories: featured, interview, music

Tagged as: ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s