Comprising of David Jones (vocals), Sam Harvey (guitar), Ben Winton (bass), Lee Irons (guitar), Andy Hobson (drums), and all aged between 21-23, The Departure aren’t just living the dream but also appear to be re-writing the script for unsigned bands up and down the country.
Now, just 10 gigs into their short career, and with the ink barely dry on them signing a deal with Parlophone Records, the Northampton-based five-piece are about to embark on their first nationwide tour in support of The Killers.
I caught up with David – “I only handed in my last essay at University yesterday!” - and Ben prior to their show at Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms.
I guess there’s no better place to start than from the very beginning, so when were the Departure originally formed?
David: We formed in January of this year.
Ben: It’s all happened really fast.
David: I’ve known Ben for a number of years through school and stuff, and I asked him if was interested in being part of this new project I was looking to form. We all got quite excited about the whole ethos of what we’re trying to do, which is to take 1980s reference points and transcend them into modern day, edgy, instant kind of sounds.
You’ve also managed to get signed to a major label on the back of your first demo recording.
David: Yeah, we signed to Parlophone in April.
Ben: We’re being managed at the moment by Sanctuary, who also deal with the Manic Street Preachers and Groove Armada, so we’ve got some pretty influential people working behind us.
David: They’re a great team, an excellent bunch of people to be working with. And we’ve got Penny Smith doing our photos as well as Alan Moulder producing the records.
What made you choose Parlophone?
David: I would say that over the past five years, Parlophone have got the best track record in breaking new bands.
Ben: We built up quite a good relationship with the A&R man as well.
David: I think that’s quite important. A label is only as good as its A&R man. I mean they offered us a five-album deal if all goes well.
Ben: And that’s why we signed. We’re about longevity and Parlophone see us in the same way.
Signing a five-album deal before you’ve even put out a record must have felt like signing your lives away. How does it feel to have somebody else managing everything you do at such an early stage?
David: It’s daunting but I think you just have to throw yourself into it. We were tempted to put our own record out, and we really respect bands who do that, but at the same time we also really respect what Parlophone have done with bands like Coldplay, Blur and Radiohead. I mean with bands like that, who’ve basically gone on to have international success, you can’t argue with the label’s ethics.
Ben: Parlophone have impressed me so much that it doesn’t really feel like we’re signing our lives away. It feels like they’re looking to our future by giving us as much help as possible.
Although your sound has drawn comparisons with the likes of Duran Duran, The Cure and the Psychedelic Furs, would you say any of the bands you mentioned on Parlophone have played a part in The Departure’s music?
David: Blur, definitely. We like the way they’ve created a scene…
Ben: …and how they continuously move with the times.
Does it worry you that The Departure may just be seen as a “scene” band?
David: Yeah. We’re worried that some people may think that but we’ve got enough substance in our songs and the way we produce our records will hopefully help us transcend any scene. I think it’s good to be able to grow with every album in that it remains focussed with what’s happening at the time. I quite like the fact that we’re doing stuff that’s “NOW!” because it’s good to be fashionable. I think it’s possible to be fashionable for a long period of time if you keep aware of what’s going on really. Again, look at Blur and Radiohead.
What about the songwriting duties within the band? Are they shared or do you have one pivotal individual that comes up with the lyrics and the music?
David: I think it’s more of a joint thing to be honest.
Ben: It always starts from a source, say I might play a riff on my bass or David might have some lyrics or a tune in his head…
David: …normally the melody carries the song and then we’ll… fuck it up underneath.
So what influences the lyrics?
David: I guess it’s a dark take on youth culture. I like to keep a lot of the subject matter ambiguous but at the same time make it so a lot of people can relate to it and read into it whatever they want. I guess what I really want our songs to do is make people’s hairs stand up on the back of their necks. I mean we’ve still only got 11 songs at the moment…
Ben:… but then we only had six when we got signed, which is crazy.
Have you felt any resentment or jealousy from other bands over the speed with which you got signed?
David: Yeah, but not to our faces! In Northampton there’s a few people that slag us off because the scene there is pretty stagnant. I mean there are one or two bands there, but not a lot ever happens. These people tend to be polite and charming to your face but then you read things on Internet message boards where people are slating us…
Ben: We just take it as a compliment really for the fact that we’re doing our own thing outside of their little “scene”.
A 45-second stream of forthcoming single ‘All Mapped Out’ can be heard on the band’s website. What are your plans in terms of releasing records over the next few months?
David: ‘All Mapped Out’ is coming out on August 2nd, the second single we’re aiming to get out in October and then the third single will be in January of next year…
Ben: … with hopefully an album to follow in February.
Your plans seem pretty structured. Where do you see yourselves in 12 months time, bearing in mind the way everything has happened since the turn of the year?
David: I’d like to us being established with an album that’s hopefully still in the charts. I mean we’re hoping to do our own headline tour by the end of the year. It’s difficult to say really because we’re also quite conscious that we don’t want to be thrust into the limelight. Both ourselves and Parlophone know that it’s not beneficial to us if they were to just push a new band like The Departure in people’s faces. I mean people might get suspicious for a start. I would rather just let people discover us for themselves. There are no expectations for the first single.
The number of live shows you’ve played is barely in double figures, so it must have been daunting to learn that your first touring experience was going to be supporting someone like The Killers.
David: Well our first ever show was on February 12th and by the time we played London in March, we’d just put together a demo and there were a lot of A&R guys there, and we were the first band on stage. After that we did about three or four shows where every gig was packed out with A&R, publishers, lawyers…
Ben: It was going crazy. Someone started a fanzine about us within two weeks and the phone didn’t stop ringing. It became weird, like everyone wanted a piece! It was all quite surreal.
David: To be fair, it is probably fair to say that we’ve been quite lucky but at the same time we’re happy with the material we’ve put together since day one. With regards to The Killers, I think we’ve just managed to take it in our stride. We really are an ambitious band. We didn’t realise how ambitious we were until we got chatting with other bands and other people who’d had success over a long period of time. When we started out on this tour I don’t think we were that good live but now our confidence is improving all the time.
Have you had much feedback from audiences on the tour so far?
David: People are really getting into it, clapping along to all the songs. We even had someone singing the songs at one show, which was quite amazing considering that we haven’t released anything yet. When you see people mouthing the words during the set it’s like, “Oh my God!”
Ben: On the first date of the tour in Portsmouth, I saw a kid with a Departure t-shirt on and I thought, “How did he get that?”
Do you think it’s important for bands now to get their name recognised before people hear any of their material? The Strokes and The Libertines to name but two did this to maximum effect and it seems to have paid off.
David: It’s important for people to see a band name but at the same time I don’t want people to just dismiss it as a brand, even though it is in a way.
Ben: The songs are fundamentally the most important thing. You can’t do anything without having good songs.
David: In 20 years it’s not going to be what we look like that matters.
At the moment there is a big influx of bands from across the Atlantic whose ideas are steeped in 1980s English new romanticism. Is it an ambition for The Departure to reverse roles and give the States something back?
David: Yeah definitely. I think American audiences are going crazy for English bands at the moment. It’s something about the English accent that seems to get them going!