Avery Springer is back part-time with Retirement Party

By Max Cohen

Photos provided by Alec Pugliese

Being a DIY musician can be kind of shit deal. It’s not just writing and performing songs, to get anywhere you wind up taking on several less glamorous jobs – publicist, tour manager, merch salesman, social media head, van driver. Not to mention you’re fronting your own capital for studio time, mixing fees and gas money with paychecks from your other full time gig (if you’re lucky enough to keep one while touring for weeks at a time) and navigating how to work with bandmates who all also have needs and rent to pay. The stories we tell of scene bands who “make it” either glaze over or fetishize the fact that most of them were poor for a long time, that they sacrificed stability and a social life for a shot at success. And they definitely leave out that not everyone, even if they really grind, gets there. 

Avery Springer is one of the most hard working, clever DIY artists in the game. As the frontwoman for Chicago band Retirement Party, she’s crafted avalanche sized jams out of shrugging anxieties, dependable push pit emo from heartbreak and tongue in cheek turns of phrase. From college she built a respectable, growing base for her group while managing a solo side project, Elton John Cena, and working in various facets of the music industry. Things were looking good for Retirement Party as they prepared to release their sophomore album, Runaway Dog, a denser, more mature follow up to the bopping Somewhat Literate, until their rollout was stunted by the pandemic. Runaway Dog released in May of 2020 and, feeling like they had no way to promote the album, the band bided their time until venues opened up again. But they couldn’t catch a break – multiple tours got canceled and after years stewing in isolation and uncertainty, Retirement Party went the way of many emo greats and announced their break up in January of 2022. They embarked on a short farewell tour the following April with rising Philly band Carly Cosgrove and later in June released a gentler self-titled “final” EP.

But then, in March of 2023, Retirement Party announced they were coming back for a 10 show stint that summer to support Pet Symmetry for their 10 year anniversary. The tour was a success and opened the door for a new incarnation of Retirement Party to get working again, at least part time. Having since landed two festival slots this summer and given that they’re currently working on new music, it felt right to share this conversation I had with Avery back in June. We chatted for a long time, moving backwards chronologically from the Pet Sym tour to the break up to the writing process and sadly underwhelming reception for Runaway Dog

Avery revealed some heavy truths about a project she put everything into and still didn’t work out how she dreamed. But there were bright glimmers of hope, joy and ease in her voice as she shared about all of the good things in her life she now has time for. Just because Retirement Party can’t currently be a full time band doesn’t mean Avery has failed or given up. She’s redefining what success looks like to her – “making it” can mean making room for new professional aspirations, meaningful relationships, and creative work in a way that’s balanced and fulfilling.

This conversation was originally recorded on June 13, 2023 and aired on Taking Notes on WRGW on Feb. 1, 2024. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Max Cohen: How are you doing today? What’s going on?

Avery Springer: Doing alright. Just a busy day at work. 

M: How have you booked this interview into your day? Are you at work?

A: I’m at work right now. I’m in the little conference room, but the law firm I’m at is really small, it’s four people including me. I’m the assistant at the firm, I’m the only non-lawyer. So I do a lot of things. And one of my bosses is the only other one here in Chicago. So I was just, like “Hey I booked this interview, I’m going to go do it in the other room.” I didn’t have any other calls at this time, so he was like “Okay!”

M: Cool, great. How was the LSAT?

A: I think it went fine. It’s one of those tests that you kinda don’t know. You can go off how you kinda felt taking it, but it’s like…I don’t know. It felt like every practice test I took. And some of those practice tests went well and some of them went bad. We’ll see. But I’m just happy that it’s over at least for now, hopefully I don’t have to take it again.

M: You’re interested in music law specifically?

A: Yeah, that’s the only thing I’m interested in. I had no desire to become a lawyer before I started working at this job.

M: You studied music business, right? 

A: I did. Yeah. That’s kind of how I got hooked up. I got this job through one of my professors after I graduated – worked out! I’m pretty happy. 

M: Let’s talk a little bit about tour with Pet Sym. How was that? How did you enjoy touring?

A: It was awesome. They are good friends of ours. They were some of the first people I befriended when I moved to Chicago. So it was very nice. It’s very nice getting to just tour with your friends. And we just had a lot of fun with it. It was a relatively short tour in the grand scheme of what we’ve all done in the past. They’re great people and a great band to tour with. It was all around a great, fun, successful time.

M: Any specific highlights from the tour? Any shows that stick out as really fun?

A: I mean, D.C. was one of my favorites just because the crowd was so active. That’s not a thing we always get. There’s certain cities…Boston is another one where the crowd gets pretty active, but then there’s places like Chicago and New York – both cities we do well in and we sell a lot of tickets– but people don’t move around and do things. And that’s fine. That doesn’t necessarily make it a bad show. But it’s a lot more fun as a performer, when you can tell the people are really into it. So D.C. was probably my favorite one this time around just for that reason.

Retirement Party at Comet Ping Pong with Pet Symmetry, May 24

M: So they sold out the Comet show. Did you guys sell out any other shows?

A: We sold out Chicago. And I think that was it. We were very close in Cleveland and New York as well. But it was definitely a tour full of packed rooms which always makes it easier. 

M: Do you think that a big part of that had to do with there being a lot of excitement about Retirement Party coming back? I felt that in the room that I was in. 

A: Yeah, it definitely felt like that at Comet and I think throughout it definitely helped. There was a lot of hype there. I don’t know, I think the hype will hopefully be even stronger once we come back with new music. Because we were only gone for like a year – it felt kind of lame honestly, but I don’t know, it was at the time I didn’t feel like I could continue with the band. And then Pet Sym gave us the opportunity that was too good to refuse. And I’m like, “You know what? Let’s bring the project back, because I missed it too.”

M: What was the conversation like where they offered you to come on tour?

A: I got a text from Evan that was like “Hey would you be interested in bringing Retirement Party back to do 10 shows with Pet Sym for our 10 year? We can fill in for whatever band members you need to play with and you guys can come in the van with us. We just want to help make this happen if you’re down to do it.” That was a big thing- I don’t have a vehicle anymore, the band doesn’t have a vehicle. It’s a lot harder to tour, it’s expensive to rent a vehicle and things like that. It was very helpful and all the right circumstances fell into place to make it something that we could do. And obviously we’re not coming out with a record tomorrow; we’re not really fully prepared to be an active band again, but it was just one of those things, like, let’s do this now. And then it’s gonna be a bit until stuff properly happens. But here’s a treat, we’ll play this tour.

M: I thought it was a treat! I want to address the elephant in the room. What made it feel like Retirement Party wasn’t the project to continue?

A: I mean, it was just a thing with members expressing that they kind of wanted to leave. Being in a band together for six years – and starting when you are kids and then growing into adults – it doesn’t always fit in everyone’s life in the same way that it once did. I don’t want to dive in too much with my bandmates for their privacy and stuff like that. But I think that the general consensus with the band – or at least with my other longtime members – was that they were kind of done being a part of this, or they wanted to take an extended break. We hadn’t been doing a lot during the pandemic. We just wanted to let it run its course and not try to force online content and things like that down people’s throats. So we lost a lot of momentum over the years and it didn’t feel like we were fully running as a band when everyone kind of expressed that they were done with this. I just didn’t feel that we were at a point that I could pick this up and continue it with the same velocity that I was trying to do it at. It just didn’t feel doable.

M: Yeah. You had a tour with Diet Cig that got canceled right? 

A: Yeah, yeah, we did.

M: Were there any big blows that really sucked during the pandemic? Was that one?

A: That one definitely sucked. And I’m just gonna say it because I don’t care: we did not know that that tour was canceled until it was publicly announced that it was canceled. That was definitely a thing but it was a short run, so it wasn’t that bad. Honestly, the big one that I think was the nail in the coffin was we were supposed to go to Boston and play Counter Intuitive Records’ holiday showcase for 2021. It was the first gig we were ever flying into. We took all of our COVID tests before we left, all negative. And then we fly to Boston, wake up the next morning, and I test positive for COVID and I clearly have symptoms. So we didn’t get to play the show. We had to rent a car and drive back 11 hours from Boston to Chicago. And that was tough on all of us. And we’ve gone through a lot of tough things as a band, as every band does. Being a band is not an easy thing, but I think that morale wasn’t at its highest and it was clear that not everyone wanted to do this anymore. And then you go through something like that, I don’t know, it was just hard. I think that that was a bit of the nail in the coffin for us as a band. It was like, “I don’t know if this is gonna work anymore.” Yeah, so it’s really sad, but it happens, life happens.

M: Yeah, it sucks when you really need a win and it doesn’t go your way.

A: Right, right. 

M: So you knew that the band was coming to an end. When was the Retirement Party EP recorded?

A: That was recorded after we decided to call it quits. We had been working on some music together and those three songs kind of rose to the top like, “alright, if we’re going to record something, let’s do these three, these are our favorites of these ones we’ve been working on.” And some of those songs had been in development for several years. So it just felt good to get those out and let everyone that was a part of writing them be on the recordings. I’m happy we did that. It was definitely hard, just emotionally, for all of us. Because when your band breaks up there’s some rifts no matter how much you love each other – it’s a hard thing. It’s a career and a relationship tied into the same bundle. So it carries a lot of emotional weight. But I’m really glad that we were able to do that together and it was definitely nice closure for the previous lineup that Retirement Party was. I’m also trying to separate – once new music is ready – the two eras, just out of respect. Because they’re all my songs in a way, but it doesn’t discount the contributions that James, our drummer, and Eddie, our guitarist and bassist for several years, made to the band. I am trying to not make it the Avery show because it’s easy sometimes for it to come across that way. The EP was a nice way to tie that up. And when we come back, I’m going to try to present it in a little bit of a different way.

M: Were you living with James at the time when you recorded the EP? 

A: Yeah, I was living with James and Chris, or “Cee,” who is our bassist. He joined officially in 2020, right before the pandemic so he was definitely the newest member. Him and I are back at it and him and I and James all lived together there for a year or so. 

Cee getting ready to pluck a note real hard

M: How was the farewell tour?

A: Overall I’d say it was really good. Again, it was hard because there’s a lot of emotions flying around between people. It was kind of funny; our very last show was kind of the worst show of the tour. 

M: Oh no! That was the Retirement Party? 

A: Yeah, yeah. It was in Philly. And we normally do really well in Philly and have a lot of people there that like us. I don’t know if we were up against different shows that night or something but lowest energy, lowest attendance probably of the whole tour. But the last tour was really good. I mean, it was more bitter than it was sweet because I was like “Damn! I don’t really want this to be done because there’s a lot of people who really like what we’re doing.” And the hardest part is kind of getting fans and people to care about your band to begin with – that first base level of fans. And I’m like, “we have that and now I’m kind of throwing it away.” But overall, it was good. It was nice, nice to play in front of a lot of people who really care about you and a lot of fans came out of the woodwork and gave us really nice letters or told us some really heartwarming things. So it was nice to get to connect with people when we thought that that was kind of gonna be the last chance to do it.

M: Well that’s really good to hear. So Retirement Party went away and is now back, which is exciting. But, before Retirement Party came back, you also retired Elton John Cena?

A: Oh yeah I retired Elton John Cena while Retirement Party was still a thing. Just the name. I uploaded all of my music under Avery Springer. The name was fun. I came up with it when I was 18 and freshly getting into weed. So I was high on a train and I was just thinking of names and I’m like, “Oh, this one’s too good. I gotta use it.” It was fine. The big reason I left it was I got a cool write-up in Stereogum for my solo EP that Lauren Records put out and I was so excited and the comments section was going crazy. There were over 100 comments and I was like “this never fucking happens, holy shit.” I looked through all the comments and none of it was commenting on the music. It was all just people doing their own before-and-after names or complaining about the format of the name and things like that. I definitely have some silly elements to the music I write – but it was a little too serious for the name so that, paired with the attention that the name took away from the music, I’m like “this doesn’t fit anymore.” And I’ve also wanted to establish myself more as an actual songwriter. The big lofty dream of mine is to make a career as a songwriter, writing songs with and for other people, things like that. But, at this point, that’s a little far gone but I was like, “if I just use my name, that’s a way to get it out there.” I have not really had a lot of luck developing that name or listenership with that name which is whatever.

M: With Avery Springer or with Elton John Cena?

A: With Elton John Cena, the project as a whole. Which also made me appreciate what Retirement Party has, as far as base listenership. I just decided it wasn’t a good fit anymore. I brought it back, I brought the name back, for one show. Because I’ve known the Michael Cera Palin people for a long time and back when I still was using the Elton John Cena name we were like, “we got to do a show together.” But they just didn’t play shows for four-ish, five years or some long time. 

M: I’m so glad they came back. 

A: Yeah. Then they came back last summer and I was like, “alright, you can put the billing as Elton John Cena because it could be fun.” It was at a cool venue here in Chicago called The Metro. And on the marquee it had Michael Cera Palin and Elton John Cena, and I’m like, “Cool! Yay!” It was a good excuse to get rid of the last of my merch that had the Elton John Cena name on it; I was practically just giving it away for free. So I brought it back for that show just for that silly reason. But, yeah, it’s all my solo music anyways. Even if I kept the name, I would still be releasing the same songs underneath it. You know?

M: You said you had a dream of being a songwriter and writing for and with other people. What makes you say that it’s a little far gone?

A: Just because, in this day and age, it’s very hard to just be a songwriter if you’re not a producer as well. And I don’t have any of those producing skills. I have tried to learn – not tried that hard – but it’s not really within my skill set. Unless I want to be a country songwriter, there’s kind of no place for me at this point. Not to say never but, in order for me to make it happen, I do think I’d have to drop everything in my life and solely focus on that. It might come in the future but I’m still pursuing the other more reliable options for the future of my career and how I make money.

M: I read a lot of your interviews and that was an idea that I felt kept coming back. There was one where someone asked, “What’s your main piece of advice to give to young musicians?” And your first one was, “keep your day job.”

A: I started Retirement Party when I was 18. I was in my first semester of college when we recorded our first EP. I did live a lot of those years making absolutely no money. Just what I could from odd jobs and for music. It was really rough on my mental health. It’s hard to be broke and be relying on touring income that you don’t know if you’re actually going to make. I don’t make a lot with my day job but I make enough to be able to pay my rent and my bills and be able to live life a little bit, which is helpful. It’s really, really hard to try to do something where you don’t know if you’re going to make any money while having none. But there’s value in finding yourself a job or a type of field where you can have flexibility. That’s of course a privilege that I’ve had and that not everyone has. It’s really hard when you work in the service industry to be like, “Hey, I need to go on tour for six weeks. Can I have my job back when I get back from tour?” and they’re like, “No, we’re gonna fill your position because we need someone now.” In my last couple years, I’ve been able to have jobs where I can work remotely, so when I go on tour, I also work during the day and do things like that. For me, and I know for a lot of people, security is really important for mental health and being broke sucks, especially when you’ve got to self-fund things for your band. I’ve been very lucky to find myself in this space where I can work a job and my job is also cool with letting me go on the road when I need to.

M: You made an Instagram post at the end of the tour, where your caption was something along the lines of: “Learning to make music fit into my life without it being my whole life.” Do you think that you’re threading that needle well? How are you taking steps to do that?

A: I’ve just kind of realized that Retirement Party probably isn’t going to get to a level ever that it makes me and all of my bandmates and collaborators enough money to live comfortably and not worry about that kind of stuff. For a while, while the band was first going, I kind of didn’t know how to stop or let up on the effort I was putting in so it consumed my whole life. I didn’t date anyone really until the pandemic. Being on the road was easy. I had nothing, really, to miss at home and that has since changed as I’ve gotten older and took a couple years off while we had the pandemic. I have other priorities in my life other than grinding super super super hard to try to get my band to be as big as it can be. I still want to make music and I still want to tour and I still want to do these things. But I’ve just reached a point where there has to be balance in order to make it work. And now there’s just other things in my life that I want to pursue including the career of being a music lawyer, which I’m still at the very, very beginning of. Part of the reason that I felt like I had to break up the band when my other members quit was because I didn’t know how to continue at the velocity that I always have while losing my two biggest collaborators and losing access to a van and losing all these different things. It felt like we would have had to take a step down in how much we were trying to do in order to keep things moving and sustainable. And so I’ve just had some healthy perspective. There’s more to life than the band – which there wasn’t for several years for me. Now there is, so it’s figuring out how to adjust that.

Luckily a lot of my friends, like the Pet Sym guys, they all work their lives in a way that they still do all their music stuff, but they’ve got partners and a job and social life and all these other things that they’ve worked in. I’ve learned a little bit by observing people like that and observing other bands that aren’t super active all the time. There’s bands like Prince Daddy [and the Hyena] who are going to go on tour for four months out of the year, minimum. And while that’s really cool, I don’t know if at this point in my life, that’s what I want or what is going to work for us. If we were a little bigger of a band that would be something that could happen, but with our size it makes sense to figure out a way to balance me doing that with the rest of my life.

M: Do you ever have the nagging feeling that it’s compromise? That it isn’t all that you want? Or do you feel good? 

A: I mean, for sure. It definitely feels good to have all of that, because now I do have a partner of three years and a dog that I miss when I go on the road. There’s been something nice about just being at home a little more. The touring really is a big thing. I love being on the road, but it’s very taxing. It takes its toll. I don’t want burnout to happen either. Because all of a sudden you find out you’ve been working towards this thing all these years and then you grow to resent it. And then it’s like “well, I don’t have any other options in my life because everything I’ve done has been for my musical career.” Retirement Party found where we sit, which doesn’t mean we can’t ever get popular, but the money that does come in, the listeners that we do have, the opportunities that we get, at this point it’s not enough of a career. Can’t live off that money, unfortunately. But it is what it is. I’m happy that we just have people that listen to us. I just am grateful that I can write and release music and I know at least a handful of people are going to be super excited that it’s coming out and listen to it and love it.

M: This has been a very informative conversation, but it’s also been very heavy.

A: Yeah, sorry. 

M: No, no, no! These are all things I’ve been wondering about. This may not be a productive question, but it’s one I wonder if you think about: Do you think that Retirement Party would be the same way had there been no pandemic? 

A: Oh, absolutely not. It would have gone so much smoother. And we would all still be playing together, potentially. I can’t say that for sure. I mean that for sure kiboshed our album rollout for Runaway Dog, which, the way the numbers look, it looks like a sophomore slump. We really couldn’t do much to promote that album aside from touring. The way that our country and our world was when we released it – it was not really an appropriate time to talk about music and care about music; there were other things out there. Our first full U.S. headlining tour, actual headlining tour, not just like, “we’re a DIY band and we’re booking a full U.S. tour where we’re playing last sometimes and we’re the only band on this tour, so technically, it’s headlining” none of that, our first actual headlining tour got canceled. We were a band that gained a lot from being on the road and we weren’t able to or do what we knew how to do because of the pandemic. So things would be very different if that hadn’t happened, but life happens and things happen. Instead of being resentful towards that and thinking of what could have been, I tried to think, “it is what it is.”

M: Man, it’s such a bummer to think of Runaway Dog as a sophomore slump. That record sounds fucking tight.

A: Yeah, thank you. I mean, I think it’s very good and a great progression for the sound that Retirement Party had. I was really proud of it. We all were. I still am. I still think it’s better than the last record, but the kids don’t agree. Or the algorithm doesn’t agree. The algorithm really said “fuck Runaway Dog.”

M: You had a one-off line earlier where you said “if I wanted to be a songwriter I would have to pivot to country” or something like that. But I feel like in your last solo release there’s some twangy stuff!

A: There is some twang! And trust me I’ve thought about it. I’m like, “damn, maybe I should just make a Dropbox” – write some country songs and put them in a Dropbox and then try my luck with my few connections I have and send them around or something. So maybe I will have my country arc. If it ever happens you can be like “damn, I remember when that was forming!” It’d be cool to be a songwriter and maybe I will be someday but there’s just not much of a place unless you go full pop-country which I don’t know that I can do. 

M: Yeah. 

A: If I’m going country, I’m going old-union-working-man-country.

M: Woody Guthrie…

A: Yeah, not beer-drinking…racist country. I do know someone who’s in the pop-country world in Nashville and I don’t know if I want exactly that. But everyone else wants to write their own songs. I can’t just write songs for other pop-punk emo bands because they want to write their own songs, they’re not going to record songs that I’ve written. That just doesn’t happen in our world.

M: Have you and Cee started writing together? 

A: Well, he just moved back from being in Philly for a year. And he lived downstate, like three hours away from me right now. So we haven’t been in the same room doing stuff. And I’ve been so focused on the LSAT that I have hardly been writing on my own. But we’re just starting to get back into it. I’ve got a vault of song ideas and things like that, that I’m going to kind of sift through and see what’s worth pursuing further. We’re just getting back into writing together and my goal is to release a single maybe before the end of the year or the start of next year. And then go and write a record or something like that. But I don’t think we’re going to be gone and hiding away until we’ve got a record ready to be released.

M: Is that what it was like to write records? Was it like, “I’m setting down, I’m writing an album”?

A: It kind of was for me. Records definitely came from six month periods of writing for me. Sometimes there’s older ideas that I would take but both Somewhat Literate and Runaway Dog were written in the same period of my life which, in a sense, made them cohesive both in subject matter and style. Runaway Dog came after I hadn’t been able to really write songs I was happy with for a certain period of time. It kind of worked out that some of those songs are about the struggle of not being able to write things that you’re happy with and working through that. Then I hit a roll and I wrote all the songs and I was like “this feels like the record.” There hasn’t been a lot of like, “alright, well which songs are we going to put on the record out of all these ones that we’ve written?” For Retirement Party, it’s been clear to me what songs are going to be on what collection. Maybe that’ll change now that I have like a whole bank of unused things from the last six years, but also, start fresh, you know? Maybe someday I’ll finish writing all these songs and do like a B-sides record or something like that, but I don’t know. Then I’m also like, “why aren’t I just writing a new record?”

M: “Fresh start.” What does that mean for the sound?

A: I don’t know yet. Because even the music that I listened to when writing Strictly Speaking and Somewhat Literate is different – my music taste is so different and expanded since those days. Cee and I, our writing is going to be different at times. I think it’s going to be a little softer, like the last EP suggests. That was the direction that Retirement Party was moving in. But I also still love writing my push-pit pop-punk Green Day inspired songs. I would love for it to develop into a healthy mix of those things. It’s probably going to move away a little from the traditional ‘emo’ sound. But I don’t know, all emo bands say “we’re not emo anymore.” So we’ll see what it turns into. I’m excited because I know whatever it’ll be, it’ll be a bit different.

Avery Springer on her go-to songwriting tropes and “The Things We Do (To Feel Alright)

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