Band To Watch: Chumped
There’s one song on Chumped’s upcoming debut, Teenage Retirement, that’s built around the following refrain: “We get old/ Time moves faster/ You stay the same.” The song is called “Pains Of Being…” and it serves as something of a thesis statement for the album as a whole. Teenage Retirement attempts to navigates the messy transition from adolescence into adulthood; it’s a treatise on both the perils of growing up too fast and not growing up at all. The band views “teenage retirement” as a state of being — “moving out of your mom’s basement but not losing what was awesome about living in your mom’s basement,” as one of the band members put it. Each song on the album explores that theme in some way.
Some tackle it positively: “Songs About Boats” comes across as an empowerment anthem, though it’s a little unclear who exactly is on the receiving end of said empowerment. “If you feel restless and you feel tired and you decide you want to save a little money/ You want freedom, and a new thing/ Well, I say go ahead and take it, honey.” The bridge operates in fuzzy space, where you can’t be sure if the band is trying to impart the wisdom to someone else or attempting to reassure themselves. That reassurance can turn downtrodden on some songs. Closing track “Old And Tired” has a fantastic part that captures all the feelings of inadequacy and the lack of forward motion that comes with young adulthood: “You have a résumé or two to pass around/ But it’s been blank from 2003 until now/ Except the year you spent waitressing through the breakfast shift/ You quit it quick because you’re too old to be treated like shit.” Taken as a whole, though, Teenage Retirement is a pretty positive record: most of the album assures you that things are probably going to be okay.
Chumped’s sound mirrors their attitude about life: even their slower songs are still punchy, marked with searing pop-punk hooks and an endearing fuck-it-all attitude. Teenage Retirement was recorded live to tape over a period of a few days, and that condensed recording process comes through in the music in the best way. These songs are urgent and a little frenzied, crisp and unfussy. The band channels all of their frustration and anxiety at the idea of growing up into their music to great effect.
“Please don’t say anything you’re thinking/ It would only complicate things,” Anika Pyle sings at one point on the album. It’s a nice sentiment: things would be infinitely less complicated if you didn’t speak up, but you’d also be perpetually unhappy. So it’s a good thing that Chumped don’t follow their own advice — they’ve unleashed everything they’re thinking and feeling out onto the world through their songs, and it’s so passionate and genuine that it sometimes hurts. Growing up is hard: finding a job (or at least following your passion), settling down, paying your bills, filing your taxes — these are all boring but necessary things. But Chumped embrace the mundanity of everyday life with the same overeagerness that is a sign of youth. They manage to find maturity while still having fun, and it’s a marvelous thing to listen to.
I sat down to talk with the band before their show in Brooklyn a few weeks ago. You can also watch the video for “Hot 97 Summer Jam” below for the first time.
STEREOGUM: Let’s start with origin story stuff. How did you guys meet and start doing the whole thing?
DREW JOHNSON: Anika, Dan, and myself all grew up in Colorado together, went to high school together. We all played in our own bands — Anika played a lot of solo shows, Dan played in bands, I played in bands — and we all hung out around the same group of kids. Anika and I came out here to go to school, and we were living together and writing stupid, sad acoustic songs in our room. We met Doug randomly at work.
ANIKA PYLE: At the farmer’s market.
JOHNSON: [laughs] Yeah, at the farmer’s market — crucial detail. And, yeah, he was totally into playing in a band and doing some dumb shit, so we took these songs that we had written and just started playing them electric. We had left all of our gear in Colorado and all we had was acoustic stuff, so we bought new stuff out here and slowly starting building this thing together. We practiced for probably over a year without a drummer, then Dan moved out from Colorado to New York without any intentions of joining the band or anything. He lived with me and Anika and was like, “Yeah, I’ll try drumming out,” and so he did. The first couple practices sucked and then it started to suck less.
PYLE: No, it didn’t suck at all! It was so great.
DAN FRELLY: We didn’t really expect to do anything. We were just screwing around. And very quickly we were like, “Oh shit, let’s keep playing because this is cool.”
PYLE: I think there was something about the chemistry between the four of us. Being in a band is a lot about how you connect with the other people you play with. Even if it was no so great at first musically, it felt really right.
FRELLY: I think that’s 90% of it: just being able to vibe together.
JOHNSON: And it was just like hanging out, shooting the shit, just having an excuse to go get a drink after a long day of work. That was cool. And we finally played our first show because our friends were touring through from Colorado and we knew that had to be our first show we were had to play. We got a good response from that and you just start feeling that momentum rolling and actually thinking, “Okay, maybe we’ll be a band.”
STEREOGUM: What was the conversation for that like? When did you start talking about things like putting together an EP and actually do the whole “thing”?
FRELLY: All the songs that are on the [debut] EP, we recorded with strictly the intention of just putting them online. We just recorded because we wanted to put music online, and then we ended up meeting Neil [Shulman, from Anchorless Records] and he offered to put out the record. That’s how we started to be like, “Oh, maybe we should be a band, instead of just goofing off and playing music.
JOHNSON: We sent the demos to some of our friends and said, “Hey, we’re gonna put this on Bandcamp tomorrow!” Nothing was mastered, we were just so excited that it sounded better than we ever thought it would so we were like, fuck it. And then we were like, “Hold on, let me just send these out to a couple people that I know and see if anyone is into it. I love these songs, let me just see if anyone else might be into it.” And that’s when Neil hit us up and said, “Don’t put those up on Bandcamp. Let’s get a drink and we’ll talk over some shit.”
STEREOGUM: What do you think has changed about the band in the past year now that you’ve become more established?
JOHNSON: We all quit our jobs. That was a thing
PYLE: I think making the switch from being like, “this is what we do as an emotional release from our daily lives” to “this is a life” … I think that’s changed. We’re in a band because I think we have to be.
JOHNSON: We should also specify that we’re not in any way making money off of this. We just all worked specifically with the intention of saving up.
FRELLY: One thing that’s changed is that we’re much more comfortable making rash decisions like that. Because it’s worth it to us.
PYLE: I think that’s the biggest thing. It’s been really hard … It’s scary. We’re going to throw away stable jobs, we live in the most expensive city in the country, and like … we’re gonna be in a punk band. It’s stupid, it’s the dumbest, stupidest thing ever, but it feels so right at this moment that we have to do it. I think that’s the biggest shift in our attitudes right now.
STEREOGUM: Shifting away from that, what’s the songwriting process for you like?
FRELLY: Very democratic. Especially this last record. The first EP was pretty much written more or less, at least the structure, and then we just formed it together as a full band within a couple weeks, and then played those songs for a really long time. The full-length is almost down the middle as far as songwriting goes. Somebody comes with an idea and within a couple practices, we flesh it out as a full band.
JOHNSON: Before this band started, we all played guitar. Dan was a guitar player before this, Doug was never a bass player… So in our own way that kind of helps because someone will come up with a cool riff they just wrote and say, “Hey, I’ve been fucking around with this,” and then Anika will start singing a melody to it and we’ll start building off of that. That’s how a lot of those things build, but yeah, a lot of the songs on the first EP were super old acoustic songs that we had written. These are a mix: some are really old songs, like as old as the ones on the EP, and then some songs we literally wrote the day before we went into the studio.
STEREOGUM: What was the studio like?
PYLE: We recorded with John Meredith from the Mollusk Studio. It’s just a basement in Brooklyn. He’s an old-school kind of dude who has been in bands forever and started up a studio to record other punk bands.
JOHNSON: He’s a metalhead from Colorado.
PYLE: He’s awesome. We had been referred to him by our friends in the Marine Electric, and we couldn’t have asked for a better situation. We had the same feeling as we had being in a band. John just gets it. He made us feel really comfortable. We tracked everything live. We recorded the first EP in a day, and then for the LP we gave ourselves two days, three days.
FRELLY: That was a big step for us. We were like, “Oh man, we’re taking more than a day?” That’s weird. And then days afterwards mastering.
PYLE: He’s really cool and very low-key too.
FRELLY: It’s cool because he could have easily just been like, “You guys want to record? Cool,” and just sat in the back and pressed record and let us fuck around. But he gives us a little direction sometimes. He has a good ear and is on our team, so it’s cool.
JOHNSON: Again, he also listens to a lot of metal so he knows all about these techniques that we don’t ever think about. He brings a great dynamic to recording and always has just the right amount of input to push us where we’re like, “no, dude, fuck you,” and get angry at each other a little bit, but then it’s always for the better.
FRELLY: He’s also got the tightest cat named Yoda who will just climb on you and sit there…
[Bassist Doug McKeever enters]
STEREOGUM: So let’s move onto the album as a whole: what do you think the through-line of Teenage Retirement is?
PYLE: I think the underlying theme of the record has a lot to do with age. Grappling with getting older and dealing with things that you’ve never really dealt with before that come with age and going into and out of young adulthood. Trying to find the balance between doing the things that you need to do to be an adult…
JOHNSON: Like quit your job.
PYLE: [laughs] But also holding onto that sort of youth that hangs out in the ether that we’re all sort of grasping to hold onto forever, but can easily fade. There are a lot of songs that are about watching yourself get old, watching your parents get old, seeing your friends go through things that are heavier, and trying to find the liminal space between adulthood and youth. I think Teenage Retirement as a phrase has this double meaning. Like, “OK, I’m going to retire as a teenager who just wants to chill and eat and pig out on ice cream and drink a whole bunch of beer and hang out with my friends and eat pizza,” but also to leave behind some of the bullshit that you encounter as a young person and try and grow as a human and improve yourself.
DOUG MCKEEVER: Moving out of your mom’s basement but not losing what was awesome about living in your mom’s basement.
JOHNSON: But keeping the Nintendo.
FRELLY: It’s a nice balance of seriousness and sadness and realization, but also realizing your priorities at a very young age. I think that you have these priorities when you’re a teenager and then you go through … I mean, I don’t know, I’ve never been 40, but from what I’ve seen, there’s this arc and then when you’re 70, you’re supposed to get back to those priorities. I think Teenage Retirement is about how to keep those priorities your whole life while managing not to die.
JOHNSON: The whole key is figuring out how not to die.
FRELLY: Being happy with simple things.
JOHNSON: And not dying.
STEREOGUM: What kind of influences did you have while making the record?
JOHNSON: I think seasons. This record has a lot of shit that literally just sounds like the times during which it was written. There’s a lot of references to weather and seasons. I definitely feel like living in New York, you definitely feel that. Every season is really a season here and it has a very serious effect on your behavior and your patterns. It’s coincidental and unintentional that the first track is called “December Is The Longest Month” which is into the next track, which is “Hot 97 Summer Jam…”
MCKEEVER: Which we wrote a year apart probably.
JOHNSON: I’d say that was a big influence, because these songs were written over such a long period of time.
STEREOGUM: Are there any really old songs on the record that you’ve been kicking around for a while?
PYLE: Yeah, “Penny For Your Thoughts” is probably the oldest.
JOHNSON: “[Songs About] Boats,” too.
FRELLY: And “Something About Geography.”
STEREOGUM: Why do you think you sat on them for so long?
MCKEEVER: “Boats” was something that we tried to do and were unsure about and other songs took precedence, and then we revisited it when we were getting ready for this project and we were like, “Oh, that’s it, that’s perfect.” That kind of separation and that kind of growing as a band … We went at it from a new angle and figured out that was exactly what we wanted there. We don’t want to put anything out that we’re not 100% happy with because it’ll be on the internet forever.
PYLE: I think when we approached the EP, we decided what songs we wanted to put on it and thought about it as this cohesive unit and anything outside of it was something different, so we revisited a lot of those songs and some of that material that was older but didn’t really fit on the EP.
FRELLY: The EP too was just so fast. We recorded it so fast. I remember sitting and waiting for the train to go to the studio and right then and there, we were like, “what order should the songs be in?” We just didn’t put that much thought into it. So for this record, we put a lot more thought into it in regards to song order…
MCKEEVER: We’ve listened to it so many times…
STEREOGUM: Are there a lot of leftovers?
PYLE: There’s a few b-sides that we put on that digital EP.
JOHNSON: And there’s one song that didn’t make it. It’s definitely a song, it just didn’t feel like right with that. We recorded this entire thing live, and I feel like that’s a song that has certain dynamics that don’t exactly mesh with that kind of recording process. So we decided to hold off on it and keep it in the back pocket for later.
FRELLY: We also wrote this record pretty fast. We had these vague ideas of songs and sat down and fleshed them all out in a matter of one or two months. We knew we wanted to write it, and I think the brevity of us writing it rings true to our style. We like to get things out real fast.
JOHNSON: Yeah, bands that spend all their time just thinking about releasing shit and recording demos and recording it again. I get anxiety just from hearing that because I know I obsess about the shit that I’m doing and the more that I obsess about it, the more I don’t like my own stuff. I like to just do it if it feels right and release it to the world and let it be organic.
MCKEEVER: For our fourth album, we’ll be able to rent out a villa for six to twelve months.
FRELLY: Twelve hour recording sessions, it’ll be awesome.
STEREOGUM: Where’d the cover art come from?
PYLE: The album artwork was pretty stressful and exhausting for a long time. It means a lot, and I think it fits perfectly with the record in a lot of ways. It was our friends Dave Williams, who is a very skilled photographer and has taken a lot of photos for us and he’s a Colorado kid too. He took the photos. The kid on the cover is our friend Cody, who did all of the art direction and layout for the album. The pool in the photograph is one of Drew’s aunts’ pool in Howard Beach, and she passed away this year. I think if if there was anyone who embodied the idea of “teenage retirement” as much as an adult could have, it would have been her. She was very spirited and young at heart and supported us. We didn’t intend for it to be that way, but it means a lot to have that as part of the record because it fit emotionally.
JOHNSON: It’s definitely for us — and for me — very personal. That pool is thirty years old. My dad grew up there. I remember playing in that pool ever since I was a kid. We always had our family gatherings there. With her passing, we just sold that house this month and it’s like this record, along with the theme, is an homage to the cycle of life and how it works. It was unintentional and that’s just us putting our own subjective spin on it, but it is definitely really meaningful that it came out like it did.
FRELLY: It also encapsulates … Cody’s just chilling in this scummy pool and he’s totally cool with it. I think that goes back to what Teenage Retirement is.
MCKEEVER: He’s not even in the water.
PYLE: The cover is still on the pool.
FRELLY: That’s a crucial shot.
MCKEEVER: I didn’t even notice for a while, and then I was like, hell yeah. He’s just dealing with it and he’s just chilling. It’s kind of great because the sky is great and it’s nice.
JOHNSON: Sipping his mai tai.
STEREOGUM: Three of you are from Colorado — I feel like there’s a lot of home state connections that you’ve been bringing up. What does Colorado mean to you guys?
JOHNSON: Legal drugs.
PYLE: Well, even Doug’s brother lives in Colorado. We’re all really excited to go play there because we get to connect to our family members and see friends. For Drew and Dan and me, that’s where we learned to love music and play music. I think it has produced a lot of fruitful friendships and relationships for us, especially in connection with music.
JOHNSON: But it’s also the shittiest place to try and start a band. You are landlocked and if you want to get to a city outside of there, your options are Wyoming or Albuquerque.
PYLE: Yeah, I mean, there’s a reason why we don’t live there anymore.
FRELLY: But it’s great. Our heart is still there. And we have friends who still live there and know bands. We’re spending two days in Colorado just because of that.
STEREOGUM: Are you looking forward to touring?
FRELLY: We’re all admittedly babies to touring. We’ve done one five-day tour.
JOHNSON: This is larger than any tour we’ve been on before.
FRELLY: I can’t speak for everyone else, but playing live is my favorite thing to do so I think I’m going to enjoy it.
PYLE: Sleeping on a wood floor and never showering are my favorite things to do so I think it’s gonna be awesome.
MCKEEVER: I really like driving, so I’m looking forward to it.
JOHNSON: Doug ponders a lot. You can always tell because he’s rubbing his beard and is on a whole other planet.
STEREOGUM: So where do you guys see yourself in a year?
JOHNSON: Hopefully recording again and touring more.
PYLE: I have no idea. I think we’ve all been humbled and really shocked … If you had asked us that a year ago, I don’t know if we would have said right here. And I hope that in a year, we’ll be recording another record or putting something else out. That’s where I would like to see us. Making more music.
10/30 Gainesville, FL @ 1982
11/01 Gainesville, FL @ Palaminos
11/03 Cincinnati, OH @ MTOR Pub #
11/04 Pittsburgh, PA @ Brillobox #
11/05 Washington, DC @ DC9 #
11/06 Philadelphia, PA @ Barbary #
11/07 New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge #
11/08 Boston, MA @ Brighton Music Hall #
11/09 Cleveland, OH @ Grog Shop
11/10 Fort Wayne, IN @ Brass Rail
11/11 Chicago, IL @ Township
11/13 Fort Collins, CO @ Surfside 7
11/14 Denver, CO @ Hamsterdam
11/15 Oklahoma City, OK @ The Blue Note
11/16 Kansas City, MO @ TBA
11/17 St. Louis, MO @ TBA
11/18 Bloomington, IN @ TBA
11/19 Columbus, OH @ Ace Of Cups
11/20 Pittsburgh, PA @ Mr. Roboto Project
11/21 Richmond, VA @ The Broadberry
Teenage Retirement is out 11/18 on Anchorless Records.
[Photos by Erik Erikson/Stereogum.]