by FRANK EGGLETON
Departure Party: Cajons And Cronies (First Published in NZMusician.co.nz)
Departure Party is a folk-punk, maybe emo/anti-folk three-piece, that has released two albums (the first in 2017 under then-band name Yor Cronies, titled ‘I Want To Quit’) and the just-released ‘Departure Party’. Based in Wellington, they have supported the likes of Joyce Manor, Listener, Wolfpack and the Starving Millions, and have toured the North Island several times. Frank Eggleton did the honours.
Starting life in 2014 as a questionable two-piece, Yor Cronies busked their way around Napier before moving down to Wellington.
“Our first show as Yor Cronies was a drunken mess,” recalls acoustic guitarist and singer Jojo Martin. “It was a house party. Benny was half off of his box drum, trying to smack it. I was on the floor, screaming Jolene because we couldn’t remember any of our own songs.
“Our next gig was by accident. Someone was setting up a show at Bodega in Wellington, we got on the bill. We insulted everyone there.”
“Yeah, we were too abrasive, for about a year and a half,” concurs Benny Jennings, who plays the cajon, the wooden drum you normally sit on.
During the early years, the pair were playing around with lyrical ideas about cannibalism and suicide and generally making audiences feel uncomfortable. Playing songs of dis-satisfaction that often take little more than 90 seconds to complete, their influences are varied, taking in sounds from all around the indie spectrum.
“So when we started the band we were influenced by Violent Femmes, they are the big one. I liked them because of their brattiness. I also like Modest Mouse, Pup and AJJ, the Dead Milkmen, Blink 182, and Green Day,” explains Jojo.
“Freddy Fudd Pucker is my greatest NZ inspiration. I’ve never been starstruck or anything, but Freddy Fudd Pucker is amazing!”
In Wellington, they were joined by Pete Beckers on bass.
“He is a fantastic all-around musician. He fills in bits and pieces that we want on our albums, he can kind of play anything if he wants to,” says Benny.
They have a very stripped back sound, bass yes, but no electric guitar or drum kit.
“We wanted to make acoustic music because we didn’t have money, we couldn’t afford to be an electric band,” Jojo helpfully explains. “But I had a dislike towards the classic guy with a guitar trying to pick up chicks. A few years later I realised, we were probably an emo band, hence the change to Departure Party later on. It’s a soft reboot.”
At the beginning of March this year the trio changed their band name to Departure Party, simultaneously releasing an album of the same name. The change was, their Bandcamp page says, a huge decision that took months of conversation and re-working, meant to reflect the changes they felt like people, in their music and self-identity. Bassist Benny explains his take on the release.
“There are songs on there with these really intense personal experiences that we’ve had, where we have written them in a way that’s humorous, but the humour gets cut off when you get to the point of the song. Thinking Of You, for example, is about sexual assault.”
Upbeat sounding songs from the ‘Departure Party’ album, like Summer Time and Low, are bittersweet, yet twirl and stick around the mind, playing themselves back to you well after the last beat of the last song. It’s the sound of a band, that has played into themselves. The album was recorded by Chris Winter at Avalon Studios, with all three playing at the same time. Mastering was by James Goldsmith, the package completed with Vincent Konrad’s artwork.
“The room we were in was perfect. All the songs existed already, we were playing them at gigs so we just had to play them.” Jojo again. “On this album, every time we recorded a song, we had to take a break from the intensity of the session, sometimes an hour, sometimes a day, because of some of the subject matter. Just to get our emotions back, because we’d feel so drained.”
“Our music’s not deliberately political, but by talking about personal experiences, like mental illnesses or whatever, it becomes politicised in some way,” Benny points out.
So, is there a difference between Yor Cronies and Departure Party?
“Yor Cronies was a collective, of us three, whereas now Departure Party is written by me [Jojo], and the other two jump in when they’ve either got free time or when they can. The big problem with Yor Cronies was that Benny and I have entirely different work lives, and we were struggling at times, just to get anything done because of that.”
“I work weird hours,” Benny agrees. “I’m a generalist audio guy, so I just do a bit of everything. Strange hours often, so it’s very hard to schedule around me.
So where do they find themselves fitting in the Wellington music scene?
“We are an acoustic band,” he continues. “That’s one of the reasons this band functions well because we can play anywhere. We can play a house party without any gear because we are acoustic. We can play in public, we are not restricted to venues. And we’ve played shows where we’ve had sound techs, who have been douche bags, and we’ve said, ‘Fine, we won’t use you, and we’ll just play acoustically on the floor.’ We seem to fit in pretty well with the Wellington punk scene like we love playing Valhalla.”
Their self-titled album is notated on Bandcamp as ‘a mix of frustration and feelings of defeat even at the light at the end of the tunnel’.
“Depression is also a part of Departure Party, as well as a lot of the songs we wrote as Yor Cronies,” Pete takes up. “We’ve all matured outside of our mental illnesses, and we’re a lot more aware of everything, and we are a lot better and stable people.
“Listening to these old songs, they’re not quite Yor Cronies anymore. It’s the sound we have wanted for a while, we’ve sort of got to where we want to be, and Departure Party fits with that. I think the labelling of it has made it a nice place to put the past versions of ourselves behind us, and to look forward to future music.”
“Yeah, we all seem to be in better places, to some degree,” Benny all-but agrees with him.
“Ish, yeah,” smiles Jojo.