Music Features

Interview: Retirement Party

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On May 15th, Chicago emo outfit Retirement Party released their second studio album, RUNAWAY DOG. Their sophomore release is a leveling up, filled with memorable melodies, raw and impactful performances, and refreshingly earnest and perceptive songwriting: It’s an album that any fans of pop punk, emo, or just regular old power pop will not want to miss, but also one of the year’s best in any of those genres. I had the chance to speak over the phone with lead singer Avery Springer about the album, releasing new material in the age of social distancing, what she’s been up to while under quarantine, and plenty more.

We have to start with the obvious questions. How are you doing?

You know, I’m doing alright, day-by-day. I’ve done a good job of falling into the mindset of “this is all out of my control” and I’m gonna do what I can, but we gotta all be out here protecting each other and doing what’s best for our greater society even if it means you can’t go on the road and make money or do all that.

How are you spending your days under relative lockdown?

When it’s nice out I try to spend a little time outside but I’ve mostly been working on a lot of music in general, a lot of solo stuff, so like writing and recording, or trying to record. *laughs* Also doing Retirement Party demos. James, our drummer, and I live together, so we’ve been going to our practice space and jamming things out and recording some demos and sending them off to Eddie. He’s in Philly right now, our guitarist and bassist. So we’ve kind of been doing a lot, at least being creative in that way. I’m also in the process of starting a little business venture within the music industry here having to do with royalty collections, so I’m kind of in the process of getting that all started.

Sounds like a very productive use of time to me!

Yeah! I’m happy, the first couple weeks I was watching CRIMINAL MINDS for six hours a day and then playing SIMS for the other eight hours, and now I’m working and doing productive things for eight hours a day and then playing Sims for six hours. *laughs* We’ve shifted a little bit, little bit more productivity in there, less CRIMINAL MINDS, more writing music.

Hey, whatever’s keeping you sane I think is probably the right move.

Yeah, exactly, agreed.

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Above all else, we’re here to talk about the new album! RUNAWAY DOG comes out about a week from now. Considering that it was obviously recorded prior to the COVID outbreak, how are you feeling about releasing it now, and what was the decision like to do so?

We had decided in November or December that we were going to put this album out in May, and there was really no question about pushing it back. You know, it sucks that we can’t tour off of it, in the grand scheme of things it might hurt this release, just not being able to do the proper promotion for it, but there was just no question. We’ve got these songs, we wanted to get this out into the world, I think people need new music more than ever. I really don’t understand some of the bigger artists that are pushing back giant releases and things like that, I don’t know, just put your music out! We’re all in this together and we don’t need to be pushing back releases, people need things to grab onto right now since live music isn’t there. I think people really appreciate new music coming out. Also, the record, it doesn’t fit with “quarantine vibes,” I want to say that, but it’s a big record about loss in several different avenues, whether that’s actual physical human loss, or your loss of motivation and your struggle to get through things, I feel like it touches on all of that loneliness and it kind of might fit. Some people might be able to relate to it in this time. I don’t know, it’s not like this big ol’ summer record about fun in the sun and being with my friends and doing things like that.

You’ve brought it up a couple times so I can just jump to this question now, but how are you approaching this album release with the usual idea of touring the record being kind of out of the question for now?

We are gonna do what we can to promote it online, I think a big aspect of this is going to be, once the record comes out, the interaction between us and our fans and the people who want to listen. I want to make it a personal experience for people and open up that personal discussion even if we can’t have that experience of seeing it at a show. We’re doing a lot of PR for this record obviously, we’re doing a lot of press and I’m trying to get the whole story out there, just trying to share best what I can, go in depth in the best way that I can. Once you create a personal connection with something, that’s when you want to share it, that’s when it sticks with you, instead of through the season, through the years. So just trying to create that personal connection right off the bat, right out the get-go… right out the gate! That’s the right word. *laughs*

It’s all good, get-go works too! *laughs*

So, to talk a little bit about the music specifically, in the last couple years we’ve seen a sort of “new wave” of emo music, of which you guys are a part, that’s somewhat reminiscent of old-school pop punk, with an emphasis on stronger melodies and heavier, more uptempo arrangements. Who are you listening to and who would you say were some of the artists you may have had in mind while writing and recording this album?

It’s a little hard, because I don’t necessarily think about that all the time, but there’s a few for sure. The Promise Ring has been an influence on our band, anything that Davey von Bohlen has done, Promise Ring and Maritime especially, those are two bands or projects that I take a lot from both in the way that he constructs his vocal melodies and just kind of the more power chord-based—you know we don’t really fuck around much with noodly stuff, especially on this record. It’s definitely pulling more from that era of emo. Nada Surf is a big influence on this one for me in that same power poppy kind of focus and emphasis on vocal melodies, especially on the records that came out in like the early-to-mid-2000s. There’s a song on this record that at the very beginning when I was demoing it out I thought had a Nada Surf vibe, so we were just calling it Nada Surf and then when it came time to come up with the official name we were like “Alright, ‘No Tide’ it is!” *laughs* And you know, the song went through different evolutions and things like that but that’s a little piece that sticks out there in I guess showing the influences on the record.

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The great John Prine passed away about a month ago. Not that you’re necessarily even a fan, per se, but your lyrics on this new album remind me of him in the way that they kind of take on the hardships and banalities of life with a shrug and a smile. Do you think that’s a fair representation of your outlook as a songwriter?

I very much agree with that description. I wouldn’t say that I often sing about super happy or exciting things, but there is a sense of positivity or a sense of… I don’t know, it’s more than just being down, you know?

Absolutely, and I think you get that off the two lead singles as well. It’s the sense that no matter what life throws at you, you’ll find a silver lining or a way to overcome it.

Yeah, it’s a lot about overcoming and finding feeling, just getting through, and I even feel like musically with the songs there’s a lot of them that reach these certain big peaks towards the end of the song, and then they end by settling back down into it, like “Better Off Now” does that. That’s sort of the musical personification of, you know, you get through the bad shit and then you just keep walking! It all kind of turns out ok.

Which feels very relevant for where we are right now.

*laughs* Yeah!

So your first album, SOMEWHAT LITERATE, was a big leap for you guys both creatively and in terms of your career. You have a slightly different lineup now than you did for that album, so I’m wondering what kind of step you think this album is for you both musically and in terms of just being where you want to be as a band.

Yeah, we’ve talked about this a lot as a band, but we feel that this record is kind of a first real evolution for us. Throughout these like three-and-a-half years of being a band we’ve gone through different sounds, a couple members, a lot of fill-ins and things like that, but we have settled down on the lineup of me, Eddie, and James. We did a summer tour that was just the three of us in the band, Eddie was playing guitar and someone else on the package, Jake (Sulzer) from Counter Intuitive Records, was playing bass for us on that tour, but he was traveling in another van so it was kind of just the three of us for a six-week summer tour. We all got… you know, our friendship strengthened, I think our musicianship has strengthened through all of this. Just playing with each other this long has kind of helped us all be more critical of each other, be more open about things, just creatively. The first EP was, I came into the band like a month before we had studio time, meeting these guys for the first time, and I was like “Well, I have these leads written, and this written, and this written, and so let’s just fill in drums and bass.” It’s not that anymore. I still often come to the band with a good start to something, but it just feels like this is the true Retirement Party evolution, this is us becoming better musicians and better friends.

You guys are based in Chicago, so what are some of your favorite places to be and play, and what are you most looking forward to getting back to once things start to open back up?

Oh man, yeah… I don’t know if you saw but there was a New York Times article about venues, and shuttered up on there was Sub-T (Subterranean), which is probably my favorite venue in Chicago. We started off playing our shows in their downstairs room which is 100 cap, our old guitarist had friends down there so I would be hanging out there every week, like several days a week, just catching shows or maybe playing them. It’s kind of an early home of ours and to see it all boarded up just absolutely broke my heart. So I’m really excited to go back to Sub-T, we were supposed to have our record release show upstairs in their 400 cap room, so that was an exciting thing like we finally graduated from the little room and we’re going upstairs, going up the big staircase, you know? Really excited to go there.

The Beat Kitchen is also a venue I frequent a lot, we’ve played there a lot in recent years as a band, excited to go back there. I don’t know, I’m excited to see my friends! This spring was actually supposed to be more of a downtime for Retirement Party while this release is coming through, we had a couple college shows and a weekend or two going on this spring, but it was like “Oh we’ll get to be home, focus on some things, get to hang out with my friends,” because we had kind of been on the road all winter, and, you know, none of that happened. So I’m excited to be able to see all my friends, hopefully enjoy being in Chicago for a little bit. I always say “God, I wish I wasn’t touring during the summer” because I love Chicago summers. I’ve only been able to spend, of my four summers here, one of them fully at home, the other ones spending months on the road. So I was like “I might get to enjoy a little bit of Chicago summer,” but we’ll see, the city’s on lockdown, as it should be, and I’m definitely willing to abide by that for as long as we need to, but hoping I get to enjoy that a little bit.

The mayor would have a few choice words for people who aren’t staying at home right now. I’ll just quickly wrap this up with this: Anybody who lives in Chicago has opinions on this, so I like asking people who are from here to weigh in… Best hot dog in the city, best pizza in the city, I want to know what you got.

Oh man, this is bad, because I don’t really care much for Chicago-style hot dogs, I don’t know, it’s just not my thing.

That’s fair!

However, The Redhot Ranch has some of the best hot dogs and burgers in the city that I enjoy.

Strongly agree.

As for pizza… you kind of miss me with like the really heavy deep dish stuff.

Doesn’t have to be deep dish, whatever you want.

Well this is what’s gonna be bad because my favorite is what I used to get in Michigan all the time, Jet’s Pizza, which is the national-ish chain. There aren’t a ton in Chicago but there was one that opened up right by my apartment, and it was the pizza I would always get when I was living in Michigan and in Detroit, so that’s my favorite Chicago pizza, my local Jet’s *laughs*.

I actually worked like a block from a Jet’s for a while so I’ve had a lot of Jet’s and I must agree that it’s very, very good.

It’s so good! I love it.

RUNAWAY DOG is out on Counter Intuitive Records. Listen to both singles, “Runaway Dog” and “Compensation,” over on Bandcamp

Jacob Martin
Jacob Martin is a writer and musician based in Chicago, IL. He is a blogger for UIC Radio and his own personal blog, CommodoreJones64, as well as the host of the show Sailing Through The Years, also on UIC Radio. His five favorite bands of all time are The Beatles, The Who, Steely Dan, Rush, and Radiohead, but he enjoys and covers all genres of music.

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