Zac Pennington is the founder and creative director of Comedienne, and was formerly the same for the pop group Parenthetical Girls. Once a salaried employee of several alternative weekly publications (The Stranger, Portland Mercury), his contemporary writing credits (VICE, The Quietus) consist almost entirely of undisciplined, undignified exercises in self-promotion. You can follow Zac on Twitter here.
Zac Pennington is the person behind the now-defunct band Parenthetical Girls, as you will read. Happily, he is also behind the brand-new project Comedienne, which includes Greg Saunier of Deerhoof and the composer Jherek Bischoff. We’re fortunate enough to introduce Comedienne to the world right here and now—below is their first music video and single, “Hideout,” along with a missive from Zac about what spurred this new name and identity into being. The video is directed by JJ Stratford of Telefantasy Studios.
—Amy Rose Spiegel, Editor-in-Chief, Talkhouse Music
For roughly a third of my life, I sang for a pop group called Parenthetical Girls. Perhaps you’ve heard of this group, perhaps not. Whatever the case, I spent a decade in the singular service of this one thing—a welterweight indie rock band with minimal growth potential. We made albums and booked tours and paid mostly out of pocket for them. Our failures always seemed to outweigh our successes.
As the sole, stubborn constant in a band whose membership policy was otherwise a relentless revolving door, my identity (such as it was) became synonymous with Parenthetical Girls. (Having put my face on the covers of a full three-quarters of our records, I acknowledge a certain amount of responsibility.) That cumbersome name, the petulant persona delivering the songs—these became inextricable from the rest of me.
As Parenthetical Girls neared the completion of our last record in 2013 (a weird, multipart money pit we called Privilege), something unexpected happened: a strange kind of revelation. I had been writing its songs—love songs, breakup songs, goodbye songs—about a muse I could never quite locate. As the pieces of the record took shape, an underlying truth seeped through: what I had been writing all along was a swan song, and the objet d’amour of Privilege was Parenthetical Girls itself. The realization was reluctant in coming, but there was no suppressing it once it surfaced. I wasn’t necessarily finished with Parenthetical Girls, but Parenthetical Girls made it clear that it was—at least for the time being—finished with me.
How does a thing that you created—that ostensibly is you—decide that it’s over? I still don’t know how to answer this, but I can tell you it’s neither mystical nor divine—not any more than any other kind of divorce. What I know is that I had devoted the best years of my life not to someone but to something: an idea. And sometimes ideas have an agency of their own.
Couldn’t it be said that every relationship is essentially just an idea? You go in with the best of intentions, you build up a lot of baggage, and then, before you realize what’s happening, you’re in the middle of a meandering goodbye letter to something you once experienced as a fundamental part of you.
The last song we recorded came out with uncharacteristic ease. It was called “Curtains,” and it lingered on the refrain “let it go, let it go.”
When the only thing you care about in the world decides it’s over, there’s only really one option: you mourn for a bit, and then you do what everyone else does—move to Los Angeles. Capote called it the place where “it’s redundant to die.” Maybe you lose yourself for a while. You write some new songs that feel different to you. They don’t come quite as easily as they used to. Maybe you doubt yourself. You miss that feeling of restless momentum. When you’re particularly depressed, you think a lot about athletes—the ones who surrender themselves completely to a singularly doomed purpose, and who still carry on with dignity as their own bodies betray them. You keep working, because it’s all you’ve ever done, and it’s all you know how to do. You reinvent.
Maybe it takes a couple of years, but eventually you do finish something. Something that feels different, and tender. You wonder to yourself: If I call this new thing by a different name, will people still pay any attention? You wonder to yourself: Were they ever paying attention to begin with? Maybe your friends will say, “Why wouldn’t you just call it the same thing? God, this is so classic you—you’re just shooting yourself in the foot.” Maybe they’re right. They’re probably right. It is, after all, just a name.
But that’s not how love works. Love is like this: You give yourself over to a thing completely, you try your very best, and more often than not, you still fail spectacularly. Those are always the stakes; it’s the essence of the romance.
If every relationship really is just an idea, couldn’t it be argued that every idea is also a kind of relationship? Sometimes the only honorable thing is to cut the kite string, open yourself again, and just see what happens.