Ode To Retirement Party

The thought behind Retirement Party was pretty simple. Singer Avery Springer had recently moved to Chicago and wanted to be in a band. She had built up her songwriting chops in Michigan with Sunglasses On a Plane and the acoustic project Elton John Cena once she moved to the city. But playing by herself was never the goal. It would make sense that someone who worshipped Green Day as a teenager would want to move beyond playing solo shows. There is still a lot to be appreciated listening back to pre-Retirement Party material though. Lyrically it is not as nuanced but there is still a strong sense of pop songwriting that informs what would come next.

Still being a recent transplant, Springer’s contacts weren’t quite as deep yet. She had to rely on the first bassist for the band to help solidify the lineup. This would lead to the next important connection for the band, guitarist Nick Cartwright, who had been orbiting the emo scene with his band Regular Oatmeal. He would prove to be an essential addition, cementing the band’s sound. He worked as the perfect counterbalance to Springer, filling in all the open space that added another layer to already great songs. By happenstance, Cartwright around this same time had joined local emo band Winter Classic. While they never went beyond the local scene their only full length had what I like to call “big Braid energy” and would lead to drummer James Ringness joining Retirement Party. We now had what would constitute the core of the band, at least for now.

While plenty of people have gotten together to try to start a project, this time was different for Retirement Party. The connection between each other was pretty instant. And this immediacy seems to be a unifying theme for the band in these early years. Everything came about naturally at least to an outside observer. Springer even booked studio time before the lineup even solidified, a move that now feels prophetic. They would go on to record with Seth Engel of Options, which was a key next step. It gave the songs the attention they deserved instead of the demo quality that is usually associated with a first release.

Everything would change once Strictly Speaking was released on January 1, 2017. Just as the emo revival was beginning to become stale, Chicago finally had its newest entrant. This was just as many of the main players in the city were on their second or third record or starting short-lived side projects. Having a new band to rally around and champion binds the whole scene together, especially in a town like Chicago. And just as important, Strictly Speaking felt novel, compacting all the best features of the genre into a digestible thirteen minutes. Cartwright’s lead guitar playing was just distinctive enough to stand out from his contemporaries. It didn’t feel as descended from the typical midwest emo cannon and allowed the band to not be fully pigeonholed. And Springer was able to talk about mental health in a way that appealed to listeners of all ages.

This ascent happened to coincide with a new class of bands that I’ll call emo 4.5. These are bands that don’t quite belong in the same breath as revival bands but weren’t birthed out of this current moment we are experiencing. Bands like Gulfer, I Love Your Lifestyle and Special Explosion are some examples of this phenomenon. But the leader of this era has to be Counter Intuitive Records and its owner Jake Sulzer. In 2017 the label had been on a tear, releasing defining records by Mom Jeans and Prince Daddy to name a few. So when it was announced that Retirement Party had signed with the label in 2018 it was momentous. It was exciting to see a band from Chicago get this level of notoriety from what was the hottest label in emo at the time.

Though it was only a year in between the two releases the arrival of Somewhat Literate represented the next step for the band. Eddie Rodriguez would join the band as bassist, marking the first of many changes that would come in the following years. He orbited the same scene as Ringness and Cartwright, releasing emo music under the name At Zero. Springer’s lyrics had also shifted a bit, moving towards an understanding of one's own mental health. This was also the first material that was a true collaboration and it shows. There’s a little bit more variety, from the punk leanings of “Are You Mother” to the mid-tempo indie contemplation of closing track “Seams”. It all leads to what was an extremely strong debut for the band that still holds up to this day.

The time after the release of the record would find the band touring as much as possible, fitting it along with Springer’s schedule as a college student. It would result in tours like this one following the release of the record, taking place over the summer of 2018. And later in the year, they would open for Mom Jeans, the first of many support tours for Retirement Party in the next couple of years. There would also be a membership change around 2019, with Cartwright leaving the band, which would ultimately color the next record. Rodriguez would take his place on guitar, with fill-ins helping here and there.

But unfortunately, the story stops abruptly not just for the band but the world and the entire music industry. Just as Retirement Party released their second record Runaway Dog, the realities of living in a pandemic were just beginning to set in. March 23rd was very uncertain and the idea of live streams was still a novelty. The reality of the situation had yet to set in. There was still hope that their tour with I’m Glad It’s You would actually happen.

Now with a bit of hindsight, Runaway Dog was another step forward even if I was too hardheaded to see it at the time. At the time of its release, I was a bit disappointed and felt like the initial charm of the band was lost. This was ultimately a dumb opinion listening back recently. All of the things I loved about the band originally were still there. It was even a more cohesive record and statement, one that could only come after years of touring together. Even with my grievances about this record in 2020, I could still admit songs like “Compensation” and “I Wonder if They Remember You” were rippers that I would return to several times. I tell this anecdote only because it’s an example of what happens when you take a band for granted. The idea that Retirement Party wouldn’t be a constant in the emo scene for years was truly impossible to fathom.

And on January 24th of 2022, we had the opposite of a surprise release: via social media Retirement Party had announced that they had broken up. Everyone at this point is at a different point in their life where continuing the band wouldn’t make sense, as they explained in their announcement. In a time when everything feels uncertain, this was still a shock.

While this announcement was unexpected, its arrival felt like a smaller death than the one that occurred with the death of the emo revival in 2016. For several years Retirement Party was the center of the emo universe in Chicago. There was a palpable excitement to those early years of the band. They were the anchor that allowed me to still feel tethered to a scene that I was deeply uninterested in at the time. Things are just a bit different now but not in a sad way. It’s quite the opposite to me at least. Snow Ellet, Your Arms Are My Cocoon and Thank You, I’m Sorry are leading the next generation of emo in Chicago and help keep me engaged with the current moment. Springer has continued to release great solo music under her own name and has recently started Rat Poison Records, a new record label that released a record from Gosh Diggity and has one from Arlen Club on the way. And I’m excited to see what comes next from Rodriguez, Cartwright, Cee Dertz, and Ringness in the future. But in the meantime, I’ll hold these 26 songs tight for whenever I need a bit of comfort, especially during these dreary Chicago wintertimes.

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